The above event, jointly hosted by The Cordoba Foundation and the Enough Coalition Against Islamophobia, took place on 11th February 2014 at the London Muslim Centre, London. It was part of the Cordoba Seminars series, which analysis issues and developments in the arena of research, dialogue and current affairs.
Moderated by William Barylo, Research Assistant at The Cordoba Foundation, the event was opened by welcoming remarks by Dilowar Khan, Executive Director of the London Muslim Centre (LMC), and Abdullah Faliq, Head of Research at The Cordoba Foundation. Khan explained how the LMC has been targeted by racists and extremists connected to the English Defence League who were trying to create tensions in the community. Faliq echoed the same and added that the recent attempt by the so-called Christian Patrols to protest outside the East London Mosque were trying to stoke-up religious tensions, namely between Christian and Muslims.
Following the introductions, Konrad Pedziwiatr, an Assistant Professor at the Tischner European University in Krakow, Poland delivered his presentation. Pedziwiatr holds a PhD in Social Sciences from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium), MA in European Studies from Exeter University, UK. and an MA in Sociology from the Jagiellonian University, Poland. He is a member of the American Sociological Association and the International Society for the Sociology of Religion. Konrad is also a Pierre et Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of Bradford, UK. His research interests comprise sociology of migrations, religions, cultures, ethnicities and questions of identity and citizenship at a transnational level. He has published widely on various dimensions of Muslim presence in Europe and was featured as an expert in William Barylo’s documentary, “Polish Muslims: an Unexpected Meeting”.
Pedziwiatr started his presentation by presenting relevant concepts of sociological citizenship in relation to cultural diversity and religion. As some authors do not necessarily agree with the inclusion of religion as part of citizenship (Hobbes, Hollenbach), others find it helpful (Verba, Putnam, Weithman) to offer a so-called “good” life to society.
Some European Muslim thinkers (e.g. Tariq Ramadan) urge Muslims to participate in the social life of their societies, rending them as active citizens. This is a vision most young European Muslims agree with, which has backed-up by Pedziwiatr’s fieldwork, participant observation and through interviews, although a minority fall into what he calls “an uncompromising religiosity”.
Pedziwiatr stressed that Islamophobia is widespread even in areas with an extreme minority of Muslims like Poland (0.1% of the population). More paradoxically, people from these areas, according to statistics, tend to have a more negative image of migrants in general and Muslims in particular. Pedziwiatr calls this phenomenon “Platonic Islamophobia,” as people are afraid of Muslims, even if they have never met one in person. He regards that the Polish media as one of the most important factors to the spread of Islamophobia in this context, as they mainly relate sensational events, even if not linked to Poland or to international events, for example so-called Muslim Patrols in London. He drew a parallel with a similar situation in Hungary where nationalists protested against the Jewish community.
Pedziwiatr concluded his presentation saying that in spite of the climate of fear, suspicion and challenges faced by Muslims, key Muslim figures are active in the public sphere such as in the political scene. These Muslim elites can be a motivational factor to younger generations that could perhaps emerge in the future, and this trend may intensify in the near future.
The roundtable was attended by students, academics, policy-makers, media and activists from all faiths and none. The presentation was followed by a dynamic session of questions and answers. The audience was content to find a topic of common interest and an intelligible scientific analysis.