Jocelyn Cesari: It’s worse in Europe

Jocelyn Cesari

“I would really put into perspective what Muslims here are calling discrimination. Because at the end of the day, we know that the group that remain the most discriminated in this country are the blacks. Period. It’s not very politically correct, but it’s true.”


I met up with Jocelyn Cesari at Harvard’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program office. She is a Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University and directs the Islam in the West Program at Harvard University. She explained to me why Europe’s Muslims have it much harder than America’s:

I would say that, even when it concerns the Islamic or religious signs only, the discrimination is higher for Muslims in Europe because it is not automatically an institutional discrimination, while I think in the U.S., most of the discrimination comes from policy-making or institutional settings, but not automatically from the society, although you will find groups that will say, “Yes, it has increased,” but if you look at where Islamophobia comes, it comes in police or law enforcement, it comes in airport and air traffic regulation; it’s not dominant in civil society, despite what Muslims are saying. But in Europe, it’s both an institutional discrimination — and a strong one, sometimes — but it’s also day-to-day discrimination by people who are not Muslim and who would attack women with hijab, or refusing to provide halal food, or refuse to acknowledge when kids are fasting. You have more of these things going on, that come more from a daily life perspective. I know that activist groups here tend to say that Muslims are in a bad situation; I’m not saying that there are no reality to that, but if I compare to the life of Muslims in Europe — immigration, they are at stake; ethnicity and culture, they are at stake. Economically, too, when people talk about underclass or ghettos, they think Islam. It’s not the case in the U.S. Any kind of laws about security of the country, they are at stake. And then you have the daily discrimination. And very little recourse.

She also explained why the biggest problem in the U.S. is not the media, but the politicians:

When you hear politicians — and I have heard them — all this started against the building of mosques in the U.S. and some politicians saying that Islam is not a religion and cannot be protected by the first amendment. These are very — for me, this is much more worrisome. Because then, what do you expect the media to do? They have to report on that, too. They are not making things up. They are also giving visibility to things and positions that people have that are far from being favorable or easy on Muslims. The whole shari’a campaign. It was not a media campaign. It was really orchestrated by anti-Islamic groups in different cities with the role of so-called experts coming and being concentrated in different localities. And Muslims have not even asked for shari’a in this country, which is mind-boggling to me. It’s whole construct — yes, the media report on it — but I would say they are not building it. I would say that some are trying to be more fair in the way they are report about Islam.

Check out my interviews with Omid SafiCarl ErnstEli CliftonHaroon MoghulHussein Rashid and Hind MakkiLearn more about my project.