- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Center for the National Interest Belfer Center Newsletter

Deconstructing Islamophobia by Emphasizing Individuality

    Author:
  • Bret Hauff
| Summer 2017

Nadia Marzouki grew up in Tunisia surrounded by politics. Her father, an oppositional politician who eventually succeeded former authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, held political meetings in their living room. Police snooped in windows and tapped their phones.

She left the north African country for France before she finished high school: police imprisoned her father for his political activity. That was 1995.

“All this has remained in the background of my own trajectory,” the Middle East Initiative fellow said.

Since then, Marzouki has studied Islam and how those who practice it are perceived in the United States and France, where she began her research.

The French-Tunisian political scientist said Islam is often seen as a problem in western society: a hegemonic identity that outsiders project as the sole determinant for the whole of another’s behavior (addressed in her latest book, Islam: An American Religion.)

“For people to identify as Muslim is something that has a political dimension,” said Marzouki, who practices Islam. “As soon as you identify as such, it creates a lot of emotions, questions; it triggers lots of insecurity around people you speak to.”

“As academics, it’s important for us to continue fighting against oversimplifications of groups and communities and always try to tell multiple stories, with data and nuances and details.”

—  Nadia Marzouki

The trouble is that many people don’t recognize an individual’s autonomy within the overarching structure of Islam, Marzouki said. Not all Muslims have an opinion on the hijab, terrorism, or the Palestinian conflict—but these political issues are often attributed to the Islamic identity.

“You’re immediately made accountable for a series of political processes that have nothing to do with your daily life,” Marzouki said.

It’s this distorted perception of the Muslim identity that Marzouki is working to dissolve. Her research focuses on the society’s perceptions of Muslims in an effort to deconstruct ignorance about Islam through emphasizing individuals’ autonomy to accept—or reject—societal structures.

“With the context of populism everywhere, and authoritarianism in Turkey and Russia, nuance and complexity is not very popular,” Marzouki said. “As academics, it’s important for us to continue fighting against oversimplifications of groups and communities and always try to tell multiple stories, with data and nuances and details.”

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Hauff, Bret. “Deconstructing Islamophobia by Emphasizing Individuality.” Belfer Center Newsletter, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Summer 2017).

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