Turkish women, west German feminists, and the gendered discourse on Muslim cultural difference

By Rita Chin

, by Eurozine

Islamophobia has become the "defining mental state of the new Europe", concentrated mainly in the image of the female Muslim immigrant. In a discourse mainly driven by feminists, writes Rita Chin, what began as the expression of concern for Turkish women and their problems in West German society became the articulation of boundaries between East and West, between feminist praxis and unreformed patriarchy.

Since the 1950s, a massive influx of labour migrants has dramatically transformed the demographic makeup of Europe. Whether they came as guest workers or former colonial subjects, migrants from North Africa, South Asia and Turkey produced the first significant Muslim communities within Europe. During the half century that these groups have resided in Europe, the national debates about their presence have changed radically. Broadly speaking, public discussions initially focused on the economic manpower and the impact of employing migrants on the native working class. As Europeans began to acknowledge that temporary labourers had become permanent residents, political discourse shifted to migrants’ cultural differences based on their nationality. Since the 1990s, the emphasis has been on religion (especially Islam) as the primary characteristic that separates these migrants from the societies in which they reside. "Islamophobia", in short, has emerged as "the defining condition of the new Europe" [1].

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