Islam: The frightening religious otherness

  • 1 Institute for the Study of Societies and Knowledge – BAS, Sofia,


Against the backdrop of the changing role of religion in geopolitical relations, and in connections with the identified global threats to humankind (such as terrorism, organized crime, human trafficking, etc.), a considerable number of theorists and ideologues focused on the problem of security are relating these threats to the growing activeness of religious minorities in various parts of the world, and specifically of supporters of the extreme, fundamentalist version of Islam. Speaking of security, we must inevitably think of fears. The latter are about personal and public safety or the anxiety that society may stop functioning. Widespread fears have a corrosive, long-term effect on social cohesion and stability. The social exclusion of ever-greater groups of people spreads to more and more spheres, such as those of the economy, the market, politics, education, healthcare, etc. The increasing marginalization of groups of people, and the inability of institutions to resolve the problem, result in the search for a scapegoat – the role of such may fall upon the political elites, ethnic minorities, migrants. Identifying an enemy is a precondition of social conflict. We are increasingly afraid of one another as we have become accustomed to believing that our worlds are so different that there meeting would bring about the end of at least one of them. Labeling, supported by passionate qualifications, has proved to be a universal way of dealing with the unfamiliar. Woe to him who cannot define himself and continues naively to believe we can live together without the aid of stereotypes. The oldest and strongest human emotion is fear, and the oldest and strongest fear is that of the unknown. Some of the images related to contemporary Islam are formed not within the House of Islam, but where the religious community is obliged to coexist with others. The change of representations of the so-called European Islam can be identified in Bulgarian reality as well. The willingness to adopt and follow certain principles of conduct typical for the arguments of fundamentalism grows in direct proportion with the growing variety of the immediate social environments of Muslims. In fact, the spaces of fundamentalist interpretation of the religious canon are formed not within the traditional Muslim communities but at the points of their active contacts with other cultural and religious models.



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