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Book review Mixed message on complex realities of Muslim life in Europe

The Daily Lives of Muslims
by Nilufer Gole
(Zed Books, £20)

THIS book is written with an essential goal in mind — to try to understand how Europe’s Muslims relate to questions of faith, identity and citizenship.

Very much a community who are ignored and demonised, it’s fair to say that while the vast majority of Muslims reject Islamism, a significant number would also struggle with what could be called liberal secular values.

Or do they? As just one part of a longstanding academic and multimedia project, Gole references major players engaged with the question and visits key areas of debate and conflict, where meetings have been organised to bring together sometimes irreconcilable voices.

There are observations on the consequences — or not — of public prayer at a pro-Palestinian demo in Bologna, heated discussions around blasphemy in Denmark, the minaret ban in Switzerland and mosque construction in Germany.

Gole sees her role as a collector of information and mediator of tension — by no means an easy task. The left has quite rightly opposed the wave of continent-wide Islamophobia and is a consistent opponent of the neo-populist right and their racist, if not neonazi, bedmates.

But, in other areas, its position is far less clear. Where does religion really stop being a private matter and become a public issue? How do we understand Islam in terms of the historic and Enlightenment-grounded insistence on the separation of church and state? And the left's approach has sometimes been marred by a cultural relativism that fails to contest outright reaction.

Make a random search of leftist newspapers and websites and its clear how little consensus there is on these central issues.

I’m not entirely convinced that Gole's book is a particularly useful tool in the debate. Despite setting its stall out to record the views of “ordinary” Muslims, it’s surprising how little we hear from them and there’s a frustrating, if not downright annoying, emphasis on meandering and overly verbose narratives about methodology.

Gole comes dangerously close to accepting the “clash of civilisations” thesis and if you're looking for any examination of, say, the effects of imperialism or the way in which ruling elites deliberately create racism as part and parcel of a divide-and-rule strategy, then you'll be sorely disappointed .

This is very much politics defined through the lens of religious identity and while it may be worth a look, it's by no means a groundbreaking work.


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