Aamir Mufti speaks on identity of Muslim immigrants in Europe

Greer Ingoe-Gerney

Visiting Professor of English Aamir Mufti delivered a lecture titled “Unveiling France: Muslim As Minority” on Friday in Griffin. Mufti, an associate professor of comparative literature at UCLA, is a renowned postcolonial scholar, specializing in former French and British colonies.

In his lecture, Mufti read from the third chapter of his forthcoming book project, Strangers in Europa, which explores the experience of immigrants in Europe. He prefaced the excerpt with a brief background on how he came to be writing about religious diaspora in particular. He began the project many years ago, but it “sat on the backburner” until the 2016 presidential election. At that point, he said, the tone of the work became much more solemn.

“It was supposed to be a fairly straightforward study on the culture produced by second generation Europeans, children of immigrants in Britain and France, from their former colonies,” he said. “As time progressed, this object of study changed dramatically.”

“The figure of the Muslim,” he said, plays an important role in the conversation about immigration across the European Union today. He said he uses the term “figure of the Muslim instead of simply Muslim or Islam” to emphasize the complexity of the identities and experiences of a wide range of people who are often seen as a collective, especially following the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mufti then delved into the exploration of Muslims in France, examining how the dynamic and diverse peoples who are often categorized under the “figure of the Muslim” exist within French history and contemporary politics — or, as he put it, the “Muslim question in France.”

Mufti then engaged in detail with “the preoccupation with the veiled body” in modern-day France. “The French white male ethereal subject demands that the Brown, Arab, Islamic female body be unveiled and put in circulation in the patriarchal symbolic economy of colonial relations, hence the long history of French fantasies about the alleged sexual excesses of the harem as a traditional domestic institution in the Islamic world,” he said.

In other words, the body of the veiled woman defies objectification and consumption by the male gaze that is expected in Western society. From a historical perspective, he said, the veiled female body in regards to the domestic ha- rem has always been a point of interest for the French male collective because it is “other.”

Mufti’s lecture finished with a discussion of the intersection between xenophobia, antisemitism, and white supremacy in France, though he indicated that his complete project also examines this intersection in other European countries.

Strangers in Europa will be Mufti’s third book. He has previously published Enlightenment in the Colony: The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture and Forget English! Orientalisms and World Literatures. Both of his previous volumes have focused on postcolonial literary criticism, while his new work addresses similar issues in the context of the contemporary phenomenon of mass migration to Europe.

“It is somewhat experimental in nature for me in that I am massively stepping outside of my comfort zone,” Mufti said. “But it has been really fun.”