Organized Reaction to Experiences of Stigmatization: The Identity Politics of a Muslim Organization in Switzerland

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 3:50 PM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Michael NOLLERT , University of Fribourg, Switzerland
Amir SHEIKHZADEGAN , University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland
The success of the Anti-Minaret Referendum of 2009 in Switzerland was due to a long, intensive campaign of the far right political parties.

Whereas the pro-referendum campaigners highlighted the signal effectof the legislation as a means to contain the “Islamic threat” in Switzerland, many Muslim organizations regarded the campaign as a concerted effort to stigmatize Islam and to discriminate Muslims.

This perception motivated a group of young Muslims to institutionalize their efforts in countering the anti-Islam activities of the far right. Thus, in 2009, the Islamic Central Council Switzerland (ICCS) was founded.

The current study investigates the identity politics of ICCS as well as its strategy to cope with what its members regard as a “conspiracy” of the far right political circles to “subjugate” the Muslim population.

The paper draws on in-depth interviews with active members of ICCS as well as on data collected through participatory observation of the public events of the association.

It is argued that ICCS, very much inspired by identity politics of other minority groups, strives for what Jürgen Link (1999) would call “production of normality” – namely the recognition of Islam as a “normal” religion equal to Christian and Jewish communities.

The paper also highlights the following strategy of ICCS: Whereas the far right clearly aims at eliminating the visibility of Islam in the public spaces, the ICCS activists try not only to publicly observe an orthodox Islam, but also to propagate it.

It is finally argued that the dialectics of stigmatization and provocation seems to serve the xenophobic agenda of the far right much more than the ICCS strategy of establishing the normalcy of Islam in Switzerland.

The study is a part of a larger project funded by The Swiss National Science Foundation investigating the narrative identities of Muslims active in voluntary associations.