Islamophobia and the Body Politics of Public Space

Thursday, Oct 27, 2016 | 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

691 Barrows Hall

CRG Thursday Forum Series presents…

Islamophobia and the Body Politics of Public Space

Geographies of Islamophobia in Sydney and the San Francisco Bay Area: Mapping the Spatial Imaginaries of Young Muslim residents

Rhonda Itaoui, Center for Race Gender

A rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in the ‘West’ has invoked wide debate on the impacts of Islamophobia on Muslim citizens living as minorities in Western nations. The ‘Bay Area Muslim Study’ (Senzai and Bazian, 2013) reported that the number one challenge faced by Muslims living in the San Francisco Bay Area (SFBA) was ‘Islamophobia’ with 77% of participants specifying that Muslim discrimination was a problem. Australian government publications have also reported similar experiences, espousing community and scholarly concern with the impact of Islamophobia on everyday Australian Muslims.

In the context of these discussions, this presentation responds to Noble and Poynting’s (2010) speculation that racism impacts young Muslim sense of belonging in and across public spheres. Despite ongoing testimonials of racial experiences occurring in the public space, the impact of racism on how ethnic minorities, such as Muslims translate this sentiment into mental maps of exclusion has not yet been conceptualised or empirically examined. In an attempt to address this gap, this paper provides a comparative analysis of how young Muslims living in the SFBA, and Sydney ‘map’ the spatial distribution of Islamophobia across their surrounding urban spaces.

The Exclusion of Visible Muslims from French Public Spaces: the Rise of Respectable Sexism and Racism?
Fatima Khemilat, Center for Race & Gender

“Occupation without tanks and without soldiers, but still an occupation.” These are the words the far right leader Marine Le Pen used in December 2010 to describe the Muslim prayers performed weekly in the streets of Paris due to a lack of space in the mosques. This quote can seem insignificant – the French “Front National”‘s leader’s long-lasting animosity towards Muslims was never a secret.

However, the reference and comparison to the occupation of France by Germany was a new thing. Indeed, the Muslim visibility in public space has been presented as problematic since 2004 and conflated as a sign of Islamic invasion. In 2004, the French National Assembly voted for the ban of headscarves in public schools. In 2010, the niqab –a veil hiding the entire face- was prohibited in public spaces. In April May 2016, the veil was equated to a Nazi symbol and Muslim women were described as “American n**** supporting slave trade” by public personalities.

Several other measures were decided, or are still being debated, to limit the veil and illustrate the process of ongoing limitations being placed on the freedom of speech and religion in the name of laïcité and gender equality. These measures predominately affect Muslim women, mainly veiled ones. They are limited in their movements and access to the market, to the gym, to accompany their children in school trips, etc. The mosques, the priest in the street, the Muslim libraries and shops, the physical visibility of Muslims (whether identified by their clothes, beard, or veil) in public spaces has become a contentious topic. The public sphere is the theater where these different ideologies materialize and face each other.


Rhonda Itaoui is a PhD candidate at Western Sydney University and Visiting Student Researcher at UC Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender. This visit is being funded by the Endeavour Postgraduate Scholarship, a competitive, merit-based Australian Government Award. Her PhD project explores the relationship between Islamophobia and the spatial mobility of young Muslims in everyday public spaces of ‘Western cities’. Under the supervision of Prof. Hatem Bazian from the Islamophobia Research Documentation Project, Rhonda will be conducting fieldwork with the Bay Area Muslim community from April 2016 – 2017. Her interdisciplinary research and teaching interests in ethnic/racial studies, and cultural/social geographies are particularly focussed on critically examining segregation, and diversity in urban spaces.

Fatima KHEMILATis currently a PhD Student in Political Sciences at the IEP (Institute of Political Studies) in Aix-en-Provence (south of France). Thanks to her training in law and social sciences of religion, she approaches her work from a multidisciplinary viewpoint, drawing from intersectional analyses of gender, racialization and gentrification. Through law, sociology, political sciences and rhetoric, she endeavors to critique the controversies linked to the visibility of Islam in the European public space. She is a Visiting Scholar with the CRG and IRDP and is compiling a bibliography of the different works dealing with islamophobia in France.

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