Former Muslims in Europe: Between Secularity and Belonging 9780367682187, 9780367698591, 9781003143574

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1. Religion, secularism, and the production of discourse
2. ‘We are the tsunami that is coming’
3. ‘When I finally heard my own voice’
4. ‘It’s not just about faith’
5. ‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’
6. ‘Speaking out would be a step beyond just not believing’
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Former Muslims in Europe

Within contemporary Western European academic, media, and socio-political spheres, Muslims are predominantly seen through the lens of increased religiosity. This religiosity is often seen as problematic, especially in the context of securitised discourses of Islamist terrorism. Yet, there are clear indications that a growing number of people who grew up in Muslim families no longer subscribe to Islam or call themselves religious at all. Drawing on fieldwork in the UK and the Netherlands, this study examines the experiences of people moving out of Islam. It rigorously questions the antagonistic nature of the debate between ‘the religious’ and ‘the secular’, or who is in and who is out, and argues for recognition of the ambiguity that most of us live in. Revealing many complex forms of moving out, this study adds much-needed nuance to understandings of secularity and Muslim identities in Europe. Maria Vliek is a guest researcher and lecturer in the Department of Islam Studies at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Routledge Studies in Religion

Heresy and Borders in the Twentieth Century Edited by Karina Jakubowicz and Robert Dickins Clothes and Monasticism in Ancient Christian Egypt A New Perspective on Religious Garments Ingvild Sælid Gilhus Religion and its History A Critical Inquiry Jörg Rüpke Cosmologies of Pure Realms and the Rhetoric of Pollution Yohan Yoo and James W. Watts Former Muslims in Europe Between Secularity and Belonging Maria Vliek Religion and Violence in Western Traditions Selected Studies Edited by André Gagné, Jennifer Guyver, and Gerbern S. Oegema Jewish Approaches to Hinduism A History of Ideas from Judah Ha-Levi to Jacob Sapir (12th–19th centuries) Richard G. Marks Spiritual, Religious, and Faith-Based Practices in Chronicity An Exploration of Mental Wellness in Global Context Edited by Andrew R. Hatala and Kerstin Roger For more information about this series, please visit: https://www.routledge. com/religion/series/SE0669

Former Muslims in Europe Between Secularity and Belonging

Maria Vliek

First published 2021 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10158 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2021 Maria Vliek The right of Maria Vliek to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record has been requested for this book ISBN: 978-0-367-68218-7 (hbk) ISBN: 978-0-367-69859-1 (pbk) ISBN: 978-1-003-14357-4 (ebk) DOI: 10.4324/9781003143574 Typeset in Sabon by Taylor & Francis Books

For Sofia Lynn


Acknowledgements Introduction

viii 1


Religion, secularism, and the production of discourse



‘We are the tsunami that is coming’



‘When I finally heard my own voice’



‘It’s not just about faith’



‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’



‘Speaking out would be a step beyond just not believing’







This book is the result of nearly five years of exploration, curiosity, and amazement. I have only been able to write it because so many people were generous with their time and support during the course of this project. In hindsight, when I started in the winter of 2015, I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into. The journey not only led to the book that is now here, but also to my growth as a researcher and as a person, and I could not have done it alone. First and foremost, this book would not have been possible without my inspiring and supportive supervisors: Professor Dr. Karin van Nieuwkerk and Professor Dr. Gert Jan van der Heiden. I could not have wished for a better team by my side. Insights from their different disciplines shaped me and this project in very unique ways. Indeed, I am very grateful for their guidance, invaluable feedback and insights, unwavering support, ability to make me keep my eye on the ball, generosity when teaching me the ropes, and positive encouragement. Their trust, which let me develop my own ideas and approaches and grow as a scholar, has been invaluable. I am also grateful to the Radboud University for providing such a nurturing environment for me as a PhD student and supporting me to revise my dissertation for publication. I also wish to express gratitude to the four anonymous reviewers at Routledge who gave very helpful suggestions and ideas to finalise this project and make it the best version of itself. In the past I was lucky enough to meet some of the most inspiring scholars, who undoubtedly influenced my thinking. I thank colleagues from the department of Islam Studies at the Radboud University for welcoming me in their small but fantastic group. Thanks to Nicolet Boekhoff-van der Voort for introducing me to teaching and all its joys. It has been tremendous fun, and she taught me so much. I am grateful to Jan Hoogland for being such a great ‘roomie’ for two years and Lieke for being such a wonderful neighbour. I thank Martijn de Koning en Roel Meijer for the many corridor or cigarette chats. And, of course, I thank Gert Borg for his kindness and always having his door open. Thanks especially to Jamilah, Fitria, and Asad for their comments on earlier research plans, chapters and ideas as well as the coffee and making me feel not so alone in trying to accomplish this all. In addition, I want to thank the amazing people from the NWO project at the University of Utrecht: “Beyond ‘Religion vs Emancipation’: Gender and



Sexuality in Women’s Conversions to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Contemporary Western Europe”. I wish to thank Professor Dr. Anne Marie Korte for welcoming me so warmly in her ‘circle’ as one of her own and sharing inspirational insights on the study of conversion. Lieke Schrijvers, Mariecke van den Berg, and Nella van den Brandt included me in their projects, and I gained invaluable knowledge from all of those chats and meetings. They all have been truly inspirational. Also, thanks go to Jelle Wiering for so generously inviting me to the NOSTER reading group and extending an invite to contribute to the book! Special thanks also go to Sadiq Bhanbhro at Sheffield Hallam University for helping me delineate the field. The long chat gave me a grip on concepts and phenomena that had eluded me in the UK, and I hope he will enjoy the outcomes. My deepest gratitude goes to all of the former Muslims who contributed to this project. Their stories (big and small), their experiences, their optimism and pessimism, their senses of humour, sometimes their sadness, sometimes their happiness, and their overall generosity in sharing with me have truly humbled me. Thank you. Thank you all so much for your contributions and insights as well as the coffees and beers we all shared. I hope I have done your stories justice. This book is the result of my interactions with you, the amazing people I had the privilege to meet. We have written this together. I also wish to thank the welcoming and courageous people of the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain, including Sadia Hameed and the team, for having me around during some of their events, sharing their own insights, and helping me find my way in Britain. Thank you to Aliyah Saleem from Faith to Faithless for helping me get in touch with others; the London meet-up group for having me over; and the Humanistisch Verbond in the Netherlands, especially Paulien Boogaard, for including me in their meetings, keeping in touch, and exuding general kindness. Last, but not least, I wish to thank the mostly anonymous people from the many social media groups for generously welcoming me, letting me ‘read along’, and allowing me to get in touch with their members. Thank you so much Lin, Dave, and Sam for your unconditional love and for welcoming me in your home to let me ‘do’ my research. You put up with me without question, and I am so grateful to call you my family. Then Zusje, what would I do without you? We have taught each other so much these past few years; you have truly been there at every turn to laugh, cry, or celebrate the small victories and the big ones too. Thank you for your tips and tricks, your experience, the wisdom that you shared, your incredible sense of humour, and the delicious coffee. I love you! Anna, my closest friend, you are always there for me when I need you the most, and you remind me to stay true to who I am. I am so lucky to have you. Pap en Mam, I cannot thank you enough for your love and for making me the curious human being that I am today. ‘Rug recht, neus in de wind’. Despite all of my shortcomings, you never stop loving me, and I can always come home. I love you so much. Ben, my love, thank you for putting up with it all: our crazy adventures and our home life. Sharing the experience of raising our little girl together has been



the most wonderful roller coaster, and I cannot wait to see what life has in store for the three of us. She came into this world during the course of this project, and I dedicate this book to her for reminding me what life is all about.


Somewhere in central London a tiny basement is lined wall-to-wall with chairs, which are themselves covered in books. I sit at the back, and some familiar faces trickle in – some unfamiliar ones too. I am at the first ever ‘coming out party’ hosted by the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain (CEMB). It is April 2018, and I attend the gathering in light of my research among people moving out of Islam in the Netherlands and Britain. During this particular meeting, people are invited to come up and receive their ‘apostasy certificate’. It is a special occasion for many, since it is an informal recognition – but a recognition nonetheless – of something that is often not acknowledged or accepted: ceasing to adhere to Islam. Sadia, the spokesperson of ‘the Council’, and Maryam, its founder, start hosting the event with short speeches, but they emphasise that it is about the attendees tonight. One by one – all rather nervously, mostly with laughter, and often with few words – people come forward and receive their certificates of unbelief. One of the girls, who I had spoken with extensively a few weeks earlier, leans back, grins at me, and whispers: ‘Look! It’s official’. As she holds it toward me, she points to the header, which presents the first words of the shahada: There is no God. (Field notes, April 2018)

This anecdote, taken from my field notes, describes an event organised by an association specifically founded for so-called ‘ex-Muslims’ in the United Kingdom. They host (online) support groups for those who have moved out of Islam, provide a network and support for people who are under threat from relatives or community, and organise events, such as the August 2019 ‘Celebrating Dissent’ festival in Amsterdam. The gathering described above was a so-called ‘coming out party’. In a conversation that I had with Sadia, the organisation’s spokesperson, I learned that, besides the celebration of dissent, there were a couple of reasons for hosting such an event. First, it was a response to the certificates that were reportedly handed out to converts at mosques. If becoming a Muslim is ‘certificate worthy’, then ‘unbecoming’ one should be too. The second reason was more formal. The Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain (CEMB) regularly deals with people who migrate to the UK and look to claim asylum because they are being persecuted for dissent in their home countries. For these immigrants, who have to prove to the authorities that they are persecuted, a ‘certificate of unbelief’ is a public statement of dissent that could be a first step towards proof. On their website, CEMB DOI: 10.4324/9781003143574-1



explains: ‘Apostasy frees our hearts and minds. Our coming out parties are a celebration of our freedom from the shackles of theology’ (CEMB, 2020). In this book I describe the experiences of people who have moved out of Islam in the Netherlands and the UK, approached ethnographically, whilst considering their religious, secular, and national contexts. The following situation, also taken from my field notes, took place in the Netherlands: I open the door of our apartment in Groningen. My former classmate, who towers over the girl standing next to him, grins widely: ‘Good afternoon!’. I am moving to a different city, which means finding tenants for the old apartment. I found one (my former classmate), and he is now showing it to others, who could potentially share the place with him. This is prospective tenant number two, and she sticks out her hand with a decisive ‘Hi!’. I ‘put the kettle on’, and after having shown her around, we sit down for a chat. She finished her psychology degree a while ago, and she now works as a researcher for a private company. I finished my own degree in religious studies some time back myself, and I explain that I am now working on my PhD researching people with Muslim backgrounds born and raised in the Netherlands and Britain who no longer believe in God. She looks up from her coffee in surprise: ‘Really? Is that actually a thing? I guess that includes me!’ She bursts out laughing. Three weeks later she opens her door to me for more coffee and a long conversation about her experience of moving out of Islam. (Field notes, February 2017) Hiranur’s experience of ‘moving out’ of Islam did not involve self-awareness per se, at least not to the extent that it was ‘something’ to be studied. In her view, what she went through was something perhaps quite common. It was not necessarily something that you talk about, let alone receive a certificate for. Yet she recognised herself in the description I gave of moving out of a religion. She was a ‘former Muslim’, and therefore her narrative was as qualified for inclusion as any of those who self-confidently ‘came out’ in London in the spring of 2018. These two anecdotes capture the vast variety of people that I encountered, the different attitudes that were presented to me, and the beautiful diversity of human experiences of religious change that coloured the four years of research that I conducted. They touch upon issues of (non-)religious identity, national religious and secular discourses, speaking out about (non-)belief, and relationships to one’s former religion. In contrast, they also show potential differences in how people understand religious decline. From the need for formal recognition of one’s non-belief to a certain lack of awareness of ‘being’ something in the first place, this book thoroughly examines a variety of experiences whilst considering them in their religious, secular, and national contexts.

Introduction 3

Islam and ‘apostasy’ I just think it is the belief around it. That whole, ‘the apostates’ – the way the Qur’an speaks about apostates, and the way that Muslims believe apostates […] they believe that […] There is no worse thing. That’s what it comes down to, and, yeah, you’re ruined by the devil. I can understand why Muslims see it that way, and that’s why you don’t really want to identify as one. But I know the whole theory behind it. Like that’s one of the reasons I’m leaning towards ‘moving away from the religion’. (Murtaza interview, 2018)1

I met Murtaza in Shoreditch for a bite to eat and a conversation about his experience of moving out of Islam. As people rushed by outside and the Pret a Manger echoed with the loud hustle of lunchtime, we talked. Or rather, he talked. In true London style, he had only an hour and a bit, so we managed to address various issues in depth, although not exhaustively. When I asked him about his childhood and religion, he explained that it played ‘kind of a big role’, especially with regards to ‘being a good person’: ‘Always it was like God was watching everything you do’. The rules – and especially breaking them – made him feel quite guilty, instigating phases of religiousness, repentance, and good behaviour. The excerpt above is indicative of his story, which regularly referred to both Islamic doctrine and his upbringing. For Murtaza, therefore, ‘apostasy’ as a term made sense from a religious perspective. However, he described the fluctuations of religiousness and rule breaking throughout his childhood and early adulthood as ‘movements’. He also described his experience as an eventual and, at the time of our conversation, permanent move away from Islam. In this short excerpt, theological or substantive matters come to the fore (‘the way the Qur’an speaks about apostates’), but also social-relational issues (‘that’s why you don’t want to identify as one’) as well as implicit functionalist understandings of apostasy and Islam are evident. This book sets out to uncover how people experience moving out of Islam in Britain and the Netherlands as well as how they negotiate both the religious and secular contexts in which they live. It thereby aims to investigate from an interdisciplinary perspective how people experience religious transformations. It takes into account both the contextual and the (inter)personal, as well as their interaction, by analysing the narratives of people with Muslim backgrounds who grew up in both the Netherlands and Britain, no longer subscribe to Islam, and have not converted to another religion. Murtaza already hints at the contested status of ‘apostasy’ among Muslims. Indeed, the spheres such research is conducted in are neither neutral nor free of polemics. As such, reflection on the various societal, political, and theological discourses surrounding ‘moving out of Islam’– as well as how this book relates to them – is warranted. Critics of Islam routinely point to the contested nature of ‘apostasy’2 – turning away from one’s faith – within the Muslim tradition. There is no such thing as freedom of religion, or so the argument goes, since in some Muslim-majority countries dissidents are put to death (BBC News, 2014; IHEU, 2018; McKernan,



2017; OHCHR, 2018; Salih, 2015). Countering this, there are also those who claim that there is no punishment for apostasy within Islam since there is evidence in the Qur’an for absolute freedom of religion (i.a., Saeed & Saeed, 2004). Apostasy (and blasphemy) laws are merely utilised as a political tool to silence dissent (Manea, 2016). From a substantive point of view, when turning to the scriptures that most Muslims hold as their guidance in life – i.e., both the Qur’an and hadith – these arguments can both be upheld. First, the often-quoted hadith that underscores lethal punishment translates as follows: ‘He who changes his religion, kill him’,3 whilst the often-quoted Sura which supposedly argues freedom from religion reads: ‘And say, “The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve”’ (Quran 18:29, Saheeh International Quran Translation). Or, ‘There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong’ (Quran 2:256, Saheeh International Quran Translation). According to this reading of the texts, disbelievers will only be punished in the hereafter, and there is no evidence for earthly punishment available in the holy scripture (Amirpur, 2016). Indeed, various scholars of Islam agree that, within the Qur’an, there is no evidence that explicitly states that those who have lost their belief in Islam should be killed (Hallaq, 2011; Saeed & Saeed, 2004). However, there have been fierce debates over what exactly constitutes apostasy and the other offences for which earthly punishments are stipulated. For example, besides apostasy, there are also cases of and punishments for ‘heresy’, ‘hypocrisy’, ‘blasphemy’, and non-believers in the scriptures. How are we to distinguish one from the other? Even within theological debates, these matters remain highly contested. Indeed, today individuals are being prosecuted for alleged blasphemy or apostasy in a number of Muslim-majority countries (IHEU, 2018). Göran Larsson (2018) has argued that the apostate, in particular, has been regularly interpreted as one who ‘turns renegade from religion and leaves the group’ (p. 4). He further noted that, historically, religion has been a powerful tool for uniting large groups, and religion is thereby capable of punishing those who violate social codes and norms. Indeed, it seems logical that, from a functionalist perspective, in the early days of Islam the charge of apostasy or blasphemy was used to eliminate political opponents (Saeed & Saeed, 2004). However, during the twentieth century in the West, via inter alia the acceptance of the United Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, it became widely acknowledged that religious affiliation was a matter of personal choice, rather than a functional tool to bind people under one religious dogma. Larsson (2018) argued, however, that in cases where the state is weak, the social function of religion may stay in place. It may provide stability where the state does not, especially in times of hardship. In such circumstances, any threat to order, particularly when it is perceived to be from the inside, is punished. Of course, it follows that it is up to legislators to determine what precisely constitutes apostasy, heresy, or blasphemy and what punishments should be accorded. Through various readings of Islamic scholars, Larsson (2018) noted that ‘accusations of apostasy go hand in hand with rebellion: that is, when a person changes his religious affiliation,

Introduction 5 he is also likely to join the enemies of the state’ (p. 9). Political scientist and human rights activist Elham Manea (2016) has argued that blasphemy laws in some Muslim-majority countries are indeed used for political survival, and as such they are tools for oppression rather than symbols of cultural and religious difference. To further illustrate the (legal) complexities of apostasy, Maurits Berger (2003), in his analysis of apostasy court cases in Egypt between 1950 and 1990, distinguishes between the act itself and its legal consequences. He observes that cases were primarily concerned with inheritance, i.e., the legal consequences, rather than the ‘vile act’ of apostasy, which in and of itself was hardly scrutinised. Berger noted that even the infamous case of Nasr Abu Zayd, where behaviour was a central issue, it was not so much about him ‘turning away’ from religion – he never claimed to not be Muslim anymore – but rather that the case was initiated by university colleagues who were after his position. This does not mean that blasphemy and apostasy laws do not affect people’s daily lives, however, there is often more at stake than persecution for an individual’s lack of religious conviction (Berger, 2003). From a more social-relational point of view, interpretations of apostasy and blasphemy as alleged political betrayal are not only made by Islamic scholars or threatened politicians. Rather, as some of my interlocutors noted, perceptions that becoming a non-believer is a betrayal of one’s community are sometimes also highly ingrained among Muslim minorities in the West, a subject I will elaborate upon in Chapter 6. These perceptions are not only informed by Islamic scholars and their fatwas. There are also prominent cases of so-called ‘ex-Muslims’ speaking out about their non-belief and criticising their former religion (e.g., Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Ali A. Rizvi).4 Supposedly, such ‘ex-Muslims’ have created a discourse wherein those who leave their religion also simultaneously vehemently attack Islam; therefore, they are considered to betray their own community because they side with the so-called ‘secular enemy’. Furthermore, the contested status of Muslims and Islam in contemporary Europe has not only created a rift from the perspective of secularists who view Islam as inherently incompatible with modern democracy. From the perspective of certain Muslim corners, attacks by right-wing politicians, conservative media outlets, and others have created divisions between religious minority selves and secular majority others. In her ethnography on German converts to Islam, Esra Özyürek (2015) noted the underestimated influence of that ‘contested status’ on religious affiliation. Crossing the religious and secular divide – which, in the case of converts to Islam, was opposite to secular and modern expectations that people become less religious – opened up questions of race, religion, and belonging in Germany. In the case of those moving out of Islam, both the factors of Islamic theology, politics, and doctrine, on the one hand, as well as the contested status of Islam in Europe, on the other, have contributed to the potential perception of apostasy as being problematic within these communities. As I will further elaborate in Chapter 6, when the formerly religious openly profess their non-belief, the so-called apostate can be viewed as having betrayed the former in-group from both a theological as well as a social perspective.



So where does the contested status of apostasy within Islam leave us when we study those who become non-religious? Larsson (2018) critically noted that researchers studying such contested topics are at constant risk. In some cases there is the risk that their work will picked up by those wishing to criticise Muslims or Islam, especially when documenting human rights violations. In other cases researchers risk accusations of being apologetic for Islam, particularly when pointing out the vast differences in opinions and practices: This is especially the case in the world of today, where questions about Islam and Muslims (especially in the West) are charged with political connotations, and Islam and Muslims have become a dividing line that is often used to promote and uphold political divisions within society. (Larsson, 2018, p. 20) In addition to Larsson’s point, I wish to add that researchers also risk appropriation by religious authorities, who wish to point out the unlawfulness of those who turn away from religion. The contested status of ‘apostasy’ within religious traditions in general, and Islam in particular, has complex theological, social, and political roots, as noted above. Nonetheless, some religious authorities, such as religious leaders or Islamic scholars, have been keen to point to the alleged moral depravity of those who turn away from Islam. It is true that many of my interlocutors negotiated various old and new moral or ethical (embodied) frameworks, such as experimenting with different clothing or their sexuality. Being aware of these issues and the risks that are involved, with this research I intend to present my interlocutors’ experiences as considerately as possible. My goal here is not to provide any exclusive or definite answers to questions regarding why people leave Islam, whether there is freedom of religion in Islam, or whether those leaving Islam are morally depraved. Rather, in this book I wish to present the ambiguous nature of moving out of Islam in contemporary Europe and open up further investigation of this evolving social phenomenon in relation to the supposedly secular age we live in. By hinting to the complexities of the contested status of ‘apostasy’ and Islam, Murtaza justified his identification and use of terminology. Rejecting the label ‘apostate’ because of its contested status and religious connotations, he preferred ‘moving away from religion’. Of course, his understanding is but one example of how my interlocutors dealt with different denominations for the transformative process they all went through. Others reckoned they ‘lost their faith’, ‘fell off their religion’, ‘became an atheist’, ‘religion stopped playing a role’, ‘apostatised’, and so on and so forth. To emphasise the ongoing transformational processes associated with religious change, this book follows Karin van Nieuwkerk, who has argued for ‘moving out’ as analytical category to encompass all empirical descriptions and self-definitions encountered, despite their functional, substantive, or social-relational implications (van Nieuwkerk, 2018). My approach to terminology, narrative models, and religious trajectories in the study of moving out of Islam will be discussed extensively in Chapter 4,

Introduction 7 where I explore analytical categories and how these relate to empirical realities with regards to processes of religious transformation. As briefly touched upon here, I differentiate between theological and sociological terminology as well as the empirical classifications I came across. Furthermore, I refer to the various models, analyses, and labels previously coined in the study of moving in and moving out of religion. These studies have been fundamental for my own work, especially with regards to the narrative themes that I discovered among my interlocutors when they talked about moving out of Islam. However, one of my main concerns with previous literature is the centrality of negative religion. In the chapters that follow, I suggest exploring the relative weight of religion in the complex life-worlds negotiated by my interlocutors, including not only religious discourses, but also social, political, ethnic, and gendered ones involved in the search for self and identity.

‘Former Muslims’ A whole different world suddenly opened up for me. And it was as if I had been living in a parallel universe or something. I thought that world was right, and actually that world was not serving me at all. […] It was a complete new start, I was a new person, I had a new identity. […] Even talking about it is really strange. Like, how did I talk myself into such mental bind? (Helen interview, 2017)5

This study is about people who move out of Islam, but it is not about all people who move out of Islam. Helen (her real name) was one of the first people I met in Britain who had left the religion behind. Actually, before moving out of Islam, she had also ‘converted’ to it, or ‘reverted’ as she preferred to call it then, which is what she refers to in her reflections above. We met at the 2017 International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in the 21st Century organised by the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain, where we shared a table and a sense of humour on the first day. Our motivations for attending were, of course, rather different. Whilst for me it was part of my fieldwork, she considered it a place to find an alternative voice on a societal and political level among people who, like her, had inside knowledge of Islam. Four months later I travelled to Durham to stay with her and her daughter for a few days. Her stories about moving in and moving out revealed a deeply personal journey and a search for a way to live a life that she felt had betrayed her. When Islam ‘presented itself’ to her, Helen perceived it as a ‘whole different world’ that she was meant to live by, but she never knew it existed. It was ‘a new identity and a new start’. However, the realities of what she called ‘Islamic life’ later made her turn away from the communities and, eventually, her religion. Apart from a brief discussion here, Helen and other former reverts are not included in this project. In her study exploring female converts to Islam in Britain, Mona Alyedreesi (2016, 2018) did include some interlocutors who had also moved out of Islam, like Helen. Her comparison showed some interesting



themes occurring throughout five of her interlocutors’ ‘conversion’ and ‘deconversion’ trajectories, chiefly relating to religious doctrine and biographical crises. Whilst some have argued that ‘deconversion’ and ‘conversion’ are two sides of the same coin (Bromley & Shupe, 1986; Fazzino, 2014; Gooren, 2010; Pauha & Aghaee, 2018; Streib et al., 2009), I would argue that some caution is necessary when analysing them in tandem. At the start of my fieldwork, I was open to the idea of including in my study a group of so-called ‘former reverts’ to and from Islam. In light of religious transformation, they seem – and probably are – a particularly relevant group because they have vacillated between Islam, secular life-worlds, and potentially other religions. However, I decided not to include Helen and others like her because, whilst the processes and the people involved in them are undoubtedly related, at times they revolved around rather different issues. A clue to their relatedness but fundamental difference can be found in popular and academic terminology. In her introduction to Moving In and Out of Islam, van Nieuwkerk (2018) noted that contextual, religious, secular, political, and historical elements play a crucial part in how terminology around these transformative processes is constructed. ‘Conversion’ is used in relation to those moving in. However, ‘deconversion’, ‘apostasy’, ‘atheism’, ‘religious disaffiliation’, or ‘exMuslim’ are used for those moving out. Moving in to religion is often perceived and categorised as a positive process, whereas moving out often has negative connotations, both from religious perspectives and in academic literature (see also, Cragun & Hammer, 2011). In addition, matters concerning the public and personal perception of these movements in and out of religion should be taken into account. Whilst Özyürek (2015) explored how people embracing Islam in Germany face stigmatisation for converting to a racialised minority religion, Simon Cottee (2015, 2018) pointed to the issue of stigmatisation directed toward ‘apostates’ by Muslim families or communities. Including all of these matters was simply too much for the case at hand. Last and perhaps most importantly, the stories I encountered often related to being born into the religion as well as questions of not wanting or being able to ‘become completely Western’ (Chapter 5). Being born into and raised in a (stigmatised) minority religion raises different issues than converting to a minority religion out of either a majority religion or the secular prior to moving out. Whilst particularities surrounding moving in and out of Islam by single individuals would undoubtedly raise some serious questions about religious, secular, racial, and national belonging, it is a field too large and complex to tackle in this study. During my fieldwork, I realised that there were other factors to also take into account when looking for people who have moved out of Islam. Not only did I meet ‘reverts’, I also encountered people who had migrated to the Netherlands or the UK at a later age. From the outset it was rather difficult to find study participants, especially in the Netherlands. I decided to include anyone who was able to speak the respective national language. As such, any ‘new’ Dutch or British person who was able to be interviewed in either Dutch in the Netherlands or English in Britain could be included as well.

Introduction 9 As with the reverts, it turned out that there were some very specific issues at play for those who had grown up in Muslim-majority countries before experiencing migration. However, the group that I interviewed included three ‘new Brits’ and three ‘new Dutch’. The reason behind this was partly discursive: in both countries, references were made to international political issues surrounding Islam and apostasy as well as the right to the freedom of religion. Whilst wholly acknowledging that migrants and refugees face vast socio-political differences with regards to ‘apostasy’, the perspective that they brought to the table was valuable for understanding transnational movements and national social belonging. Since the book’s focus is on the personal process of moving out of Islam in Europe, these transnational and national belongings have not always been explicated as such. However, as interlocutors they were often particularly well versed in matters of ‘Islam in Europe’ and debates related to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, as a ‘control group’ (three from each country are included in the interviews), they also confirmed much that was experienced by interlocutors born and/or raised in Europe. Therefore, when they speak in this book, their migratory history is explicated only when it is relevant. This project includes both men and women. It does not discriminate based on ethnicity. Partially, this is because I did not have the luxury to turn down anyone who was willing to be interviewed. More importantly, it was because research into people moving out of Islam is relatively ‘young’. Therefore, it makes sense to first approach the subject broadly before refining the questions further. It seemed premature, for example, to assume that issues surrounding moving out of Islam are gendered and therefore select only men or only women to participate.6 The same argument goes for ethnicity. Whilst fully realising that, discursively, matters are rather different for a Dutch-Turkish man from the countryside in the Netherlands compared to a British-Pakistani woman from Blackburn in Britain, it was necessary to adopt an inclusive approach before delving into such specifics. It should be noted, however, that these biographical and intersectional qualities are taken into account and carefully considered wherever possible and relevant. Causal relations based on such characteristics, however, are not suggested since this project has neither the scope nor the scientific parameters to do so.

The Netherlands and Britain After entering the huge Victorian hall, I sit down at one of the round tables arranged in front of the podium. The ceiling is overwhelmingly white, and ornaments are scattered from the centre on out. There is an excited buzz going through the crowd which is gathering at the start of the Conference. On my way in I had spoken to Fauzia, who I had met before at an event in the Netherlands, and Sadia, spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain. The first thing I write down is: ‘How far removed is this from those I met in the Netherlands’. (Field notes, June 2017)



This book moves in and out of comparisons between the Dutch and the British contexts. The comparative element was incorporated chiefly in response to various studies into Muslim minorities in Europe that chose to take a single country as their vantage point. These studies rightfully argue that individual countries have specific histories of colonial projects, political developments, migratory movements, media responses, and so forth, and they therefore deserve separate attention. Moreover, it could be argued that a ‘European’ approach is simply too broad for a study looking into religious change in a post-migration context. However, I contend that it is through comparison that we can discover the different national trajectories and specificities of each (Chapter 2) as well as how they may influence personal experiences of religious transformation (Chapters 4–6). Before deciding to focus on Britain and the Netherlands in this study, I was mainly ‘throwing out my net’ in the first weeks of designing the project. I turned on ‘Google alerts’ for specific search terms, such as ‘apostasy’, ‘exMuslim’, and ‘deconversion’, in order to receive notifications for any media attention related to my key words. Furthermore, I conducted extensive internet searches for already existing non-academic materials related to moving out of Islam, such as newspaper articles, human-interest stories, documentaries, Reddit pages, Facebook groups, older forum discussions, television debates, books, online testimonies, blog posts, vlog posts, political debates. Basically, I searched for anything in written, spoken, or video form. I found some online/public presence in the Netherlands for my research topic, but not much. Between 2003 and 2006, Ayaan Hirsi Ali stirred up public debate surrounding Islam in the Netherlands with her story of leaving Islam behind. She politically addressed issues related to what she called ‘a suppressing religion’. In subsequent years, however, attention to the topic diminished somewhat. I only found some opinion pieces on the topic as well as a few human-interest stories (e.g., Ezzeroili, 2013; Groen, 2013, 2016; Landeweer, 2016). I heard that a documentary from Humanistisch Verbond (the Humanist Society) titled Ongelovig: Vrijdenkers op de vlucht (Non-believers: Freethinkers on the Run) (Forma, 2016), which was to address the stigmatised position of atheist refugees in the Netherlands, was scheduled to be released later that year. Comparatively, in Britain so-called ‘ex-Muslims’ were much more visible. This is not to say it was a ‘hot topic’ in general, but there was simply more ‘going on’ with regards to moving out of Islam. I quickly found the CEMB, which hosted an online forum on which hundreds of people shared their experiences, talked about thorny issues, and generally created an virtual community. The organisation Faith to Faithless organised various real-life events, such as meet-ups, lectures, and drinks. The issue was also addressed in the British media. Channel 4 released a documentary titled Islam’s Non-Believers (Khan, 2016), BBC Newsbeat had an ‘I’m an ex-Muslim’ segment (BBC Newsbeat, 2015), the BBC covered the trending #exMuslimbecause hashtag (Tomchak & Brosnan, 2015), and VICE published a video and accompanying article on the matter (Cottee, 2014; VICE News, 2016). The list goes on. This obvious discrepancy made me wonder what led to such a



difference between the two contexts. Chapter 2, which was inspired by my attendance at the abovementioned summer 2017 conference organised by CEMB in London, investigates these national constellations. It was during this event that I started to see hints of the underlying currents of discourse that could have led to differences in the prominence of moving out of Islam in the public sphere. As noted above, in Britain I found a ‘community’ among which I could ‘do’ fieldwork, initially a virtual one and during my fieldwork a real life one. In the Netherlands, however, such a community was relatively absent.7 From the outset, this presented me with some methodological questions. First, I was rather unsure how to even start my search for interlocutors in the Netherlands (see Chapter 6). Indeed, it took time, effort, and patience to find people who had not only moved out of Islam but were also willing to (anonymously) talk about it with a researcher. I managed by extensively utilising my own primary and secondary networks as well as by addressing Facebook groups which were rather conspicuously named or ‘hidden’. In Britain, the process was a bit easier. Although I live and work in the Netherlands, my network is not as strong there as it is in Britain, where I completed the ‘interview’ part of my fieldwork within eight weeks (compared to eight months in the Netherlands). The manner in which I found my interlocutors directly relates to questions of context. First, people who have sought support from organisations, such as Faith to Faithless, an informal London based group, or the CEMB, are likely to have had a different experience than those who never needed or sought support. Second, groups tend to produce ‘group-narratives’ (see Chapter 4), which may influence the way they present the stories they tell me, a researcher. In order to balance such factors, I was careful to also find people in Britain who were not affiliated or even familiar with such groups. In both countries, about half of the interlocutor groups I conducted formal interviews with consisted of people found in ‘groups’ – in the Netherlands, for example, groups included Vrijdenkers over Turkse Shizzle (Freethinkers on Turkish ‘shizzle’), Marokkanen zonder religie (Moroccans without religion), and Vrijdenkers 2.0 (Freethinkers 2.0);8 in Britain groups included the online forums of organisations mentioned above as well as real life meetings. The other half was found through a combination of my personal offline network and a consecutive snowball effect. In Chapter 4, I address how these factors may have influenced the analysis and outcomes of the narrative constructions and themes in each respective country.

Some theoretical reflections This research takes a dialogical approach for the close reading of narratives as well as the analysis of the interviews. Dialogical Self Theory was originally developed by Hubert Hermans primarily for clinical diagnostic purposes (Hermans, 2002, 2008, 2012; Hermans & Gieser, 2012; Hermans & Hermans-Konopka, 2010), but it has since been utilised by various scholars as an analytical and theoretical tool for the discussion of the development of the constitution of the self in an increasingly heterogeneous post-secular society. Sunil Bhatia (2002), for example,



deployed a dialogical model of acculturation in order to explain and analyse the ‘psychological complexities, contradictions, and cultural specificities involved’ in the experiences of diasporic communities in Europe (p. 55). Through his analysis of Edward Said’s autobiography, Bhatia showed how a dialogical approach can unveil the reworking of heritage and ethnicity in a context of feeling simultaneously ‘assimilated, separated, and marginalized’. With regards to religious transformation, Marjo Buitelaar (2013a) showed how a specifically religious diasporic self is constructed dialogically in the case of Muslim women in post-migration contexts. By recognising the continuation or discontinuation of parental voices, Buitelaar illustrated how levels of parental support ‘play an important role in the women’s appropriation of the Islamic heritage and their construction of exclusive or inclusive religious selves’ (Buitelaar, 2013a, p. 269).9 However, thus far Dialogical Self Theory has not been applied to the trajectories and experiences of people moving out of Islam in contemporary Europe. In Chapter 3, I undertake a detailed analysis of a long conversation I had with one of my interlocutors. It aims to illustrate the benefits of the dialogical approach as a methodological tool for the analysis of narratives of people moving out of Islam in a post-migration context. Furthermore, in Chapter 4, I reflect on how Dialogical Self Theory helped me identify the themes of narratives presented there: it shows the relative weight of the religious voice in narratives of people moving out of Islam, rather than assuming its centrality. Using Dialogical Self Theory and considering the self as a society of mind greatly aided me in coming to grips with the multi-layered narratives that people shared with me. It allowed me to analyse each and every narrative, not only on the basis of what it said and reflected upon, but also in terms of the larger web of (significant) others; political, social, and religious discourses; internalised voices, and arrays of I-positions. It functioned as a form of ‘mapping’ narrative in order to look beyond the conceptualisation of stories as linear trajectories out of faith. Rather, the liminal spaces inhabited by my interlocutors became more and more evident: rational knowledges versus emotional attachments, still engrained embodied practices, other secular knowledges not embraced, social ties that interlocutors did not want to cut, or the refusal of secular expectations to speak out about one’s transitions in life. All of these findings became evident through dialogical analysis. Over the past fifteen years, religious studies has experienced a turn to the material experience of religion. There has been a shift from a focus on belief to an emphasis on religious experience including material objects, one’s body, and ritual practices. This material approach further assumes that ‘practitioners’ appeals to the supernatural, god(s), the sacred, or the holy have powerful material consequences for how they build their identities, narratives, practices, and environments’ (Vasquez, 2011, p. 5). David Chidester (2005), for example, noted the body’s place in religious and cultural studies: ‘As material site, malleable substance, and shifting field of relations, the body is situated at the center of the production and consumption of religion and popular culture’ (p. 25). Earlier prominent concerns ‘with religious beliefs and doctrines’ have been supplemented by an increased interest in embodiment and the material (p. 25). According to



Dick Houtman and Birgit Meyer, this recent turn to materiality in the study of religion was a welcome corrective to the previous subjective, Protestant focus on belief alone (Houtman & Meyer, 2012). Whilst not abandoning interest in the place and importance of personally held beliefs and existential convictions, they suggested that scholars could take objects as an entry point: relics, dress codes, or the written word, as well as feelings and sensory experiences, bodily performances in the form of gestures, rituals or festivals. In the anthropology of Islam, ample attention has been paid to the materiality of religious experiences by prominent scholars, such as Talal Asad, Saba Mahmood, Charles Hirschkind, and others. This study, like many others, is greatly indebted to the influential work of the late Saba Mahmood. Whilst much scholarship has followed since and has been in dialogue with Mahmood’s (2005) Politics of Piety (and her 2001 work on the anthropology of agency and ritual, specifically salat), it still stands as one of the pivotal contemporary works in the anthropology of Islam. In this ethnographic analysis of women in the piety movement in Egypt, Mahmood described their ethical self-formation through embodied practices, as well as how such work can contribute in the making of subjects and the creation of distinct social and political imaginaries. In the preface to the second edition, Mahmood responds to both the praise and criticism that the book received. Some hailed the work for its alleged ‘restoration of agency’ of those religiously devout Muslim women often portrayed as (faceless) victims of patriarchal religion (Mahmood 2012, x). Others criticised it for a rather similar reason and alleged that it ignored that these women themselves upheld the patriarchal system, and she failed to criticise them for it. Mahmood (2005) responds to these criticisms by explaining that solving this argument or supporting either side had not been the purpose of Politics of Piety. Rather, Mahmood offered an exposé of the agency of religiously devout Muslim women and how such forms of resistance have the power – through embodied and self-reflective practices – to transform and grapple with forces of power. In the Chapter 5, I address issues of embodiment in relation to moving out of Islam and attempt to answer questions of embodied belonging and resistance to both religious as well as secular life worlds. Following from Mahmood’s work, among others, and larger discussions over Islam’s relationship with the secular, scholarship has gone beyond the idea of ‘the secular’ as the institutionalised power of the nation state and its desire to shape its relation to religions. In line with Mahmood’s analysis of the transformative power of resistance in embodied and reflexive practices, the secular is increasingly studied in light of its entanglement with affect, emotion, and embodiment itself, especially in relationship to Islam (Amir-Moazami, 2013, 2016; Asad, 2003, 2011; Cannell, 2010; Wiering, 2017). Charles Hirschkind (2011) posed the question of whether there actually is a ‘secular body’. In line with Scheer, Fadil, and Johansen (2019), in Chapter 5 I attempt to answer the call for empirical inquiry that makes such a body visible or perhaps recognisable by mapping not only concerns over religious beliefs and doctrine, but also the bodily experiences of my interlocutors when moving out. This includes, for example, their bodies’ resistance to stopping certain habits, adopting others,



performing non-religion, or continuing religious practices. Whilst beliefs and doctrines have not been displaced, of course, the material experience of religion, spirituality, and non-religion will be thoroughly interrogated. One central argument of this book is that more attention should be paid to what people are, rather than what they are not, when moving out of religion. This leads firmly to the study of non-religion and secularity as well as debates surrounding their anthropology, which I wish to reflect upon briefly here, and I will return to throughout the book. Although I do not wish to enter complex debates surrounding definition of ‘non-religion’, a brief note is warranted.10 Lois Lee (2012) set out to bring some conceptual clarity to the field of study and defined non-religion as ‘anything which is primarily defined by a relationship of difference to religion’ (p. 131, emphasis in original). With this definition, non-religion accommodates atheism, a position primarily defined by its relation to theism as well as agnosticism and humanism. It excludes, however, alternative forms of spirituality since they are not primarily concerned with their relationship to religion, and they are considered ontologically autonomous from religion (also see Cotter, 2017). According to Lee, it also includes forms of indifference to religion, since these presume some awareness of religion to start with; but more on this later. It is important to note that Lee set out to include forms of difference, something she calls ‘meaningful differentiation’ (Lee, 2015, p. 32), rather than opposition only, which was the previous state of affairs when ‘irreligion’ was defined. Another benefit of Lee’s approach is that she recognises that areas of study should be defined by ‘a quality or characteristic – non-religion or non-religiousness – which they appreciate as existing in the social world in intersection with other qualities’ (Lee, 2012, p. 133) and not by empirical merit. Following this logic, the people studied for this book all possessed non-religious characteristics. But the question arises whether, for this ‘group’, non-religious characteristics were always dominant. Was it non-religion that bound them, if they were bound at all? Christopher Cotter (2017) takes up some of the problems with defining the field in his critical approach to the term ‘indifference’ in the context of the study of non-religion. According to Cotter, there is an inherent relationality to the concept of ‘indifference’: being indifferent paradoxically has to entail a certain engagement with (non-)religion. In addition, he saw extreme variety in the ways people consider themselves indifferent, and he argued, therefore, that scholars should embrace the relationality and contextuality of the term. Cotter advocated a discursive approach to ‘indifference’ to (non-)religion, whereby he conceptualised non-religion as a contextual discourse on religion, much in line with Lee, who saw non-religion as a relational characteristic (Cotter, 2020). Furthermore, Lee (2015) admirably sketched an ethnography of the ‘non-religious’ as a form of what she considers the ‘substantial’ secular, understood primarily in relation to religion. However, the primacy of a relationship with religion can become problematic. In selecting the group I wished to study, sometimes there was a discordance between the analytical tools utilised and self-definitions found in the field. Of



course, although I did not interview anyone against their will or anyone who did not identify as being part of my interlocutor group, some would not primarily define themselves as different from or in relation to religion, but they would generally claim a certain indifference. As is common in empirical research, I observed a tension between self-identification and existing analytical tools and theoretical approaches. Are the individuals defined as non-religious by the logic of the research setting actually ‘non-religious’ people, or at least people with non-religious characteristics? Looking at certain anthropological studies, including Matthew Engelke’s (2015a, 2015b) work on the British Humanist Association, Lee’s approach would firmly set studying humanists within the realm of the anthropology of (non-)religion. There is, indeed, a clear connection. Engelke once told me that his interlocutors seemed to talk about religion more than religious people. I also encountered this phenomenon with people who had moved out of Islam. Generally, those who left a while ago had to revisit the process, and they often expressed what Lee would call, ‘ambivalent’ views toward religion. Those who recently left or were still in the process of leaving often focused on the fallacies of Islam and organised religion in general. Many were, indeed, firmly embedded in the study of non-religion. However, as explained above, there were people who did not view their self-hood primarily in relation to religion, but did so only in the context of the research and when asked about it. In light of such observations, as I argue in Chapter 4, the relative weight of the religious voice should be taken into account, but not for granted, when studying people who have moved out of religion. Indeed, it has become increasingly popular to study those who are unaffiliated to any religion (Smith & Cragun, 2019). In line with one of my interlocutors, this book modestly argues for paying a little more attention to what such lives entail, rather than first and foremost focusing either on what they are not or what they supposedly (primarily) are in relation to religion. Because even suggestions to move away from the ‘religious/non-religious’ terminology and adopt different terms, such as ‘the sociology of existential cultures or worldviews’ (Coleman et al., 2018; Lee, 2015), do not seem to cover the phenomena at hand. For some of my interlocutors, there was a desire to be recognized as not being Muslim – to not be associated with that anymore. They desired positive (not in the normative sense) identification with what one is rather than with what one was. Also, in terms of self-understanding, there were people who did not view themselves primarily in relation to religion, yet they felt they could be included in this study. Therefore, in line with a dialogical understanding of the self, I assume that it is possible for people to not have a static identity. Rather, especially from the dialogical point of view which I will illustrate in Chapter 3, one may assume different roles in different settings. One can be ‘non-religious’ in one setting, but something else in another. It is but one of the many I-positions and intersecting identities that people may assert. Sometimes it is dominant, at other times it is dormant. Sometimes it may be all-encompassing, yet as time goes on people may find their non-religious selves to be absent from their daily lives.



Finally, a note on the public performance of non-religion in relation to Islam in Europe is warranted. In the secularised context of Western Europe, it has been suggested that so-called ‘freedom of speech’ stands in fundamental opposition with religious (i.e., Muslim) sensibilities. This was especially visible in worldwide discussions in the wake of the Salman Rushdie affair in the late 1980s, the Danish cartoon affair in the early 2000s, the debate that unfolded after the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, as well as the republication of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in the autumn of 2020. When cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad were projected on various buildings throughout France, for example, it was done under the banner of ‘freedom of speech’. Some hail the concept as a Western value which should at least allow for the critique and possible ridicule of religious dogma. As evidenced by the visible uproar caused by these affairs, Islam and its advocates – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – impede this freedom and, therefore, the religion is conceived as being incompatible with the modern European nation state. Or so the argument goes. In Chapters 1 and 2, I extensively address differences in these debates in the Netherlands and Britain, which have been historically produced and include vocal former Muslims’ critiques of the religion. Furthermore, as can be read in the introduction to Chapter 6, early in my fieldwork I became aware of the weight that speech and its potential performance may carry for my interlocutors. In light of public debates and the contested status of Islam in the West, my interlocutors regularly found themselves in an ‘in between’ position. They wanted to address certain issues they saw with religion or religious communities, but they did not want to feed into the anti-Muslim narrative or risk their own narratives being appropriated by ‘secular crusaders’.11 In this final chapter, I explore how my interlocutors balanced various factors when it came to ‘speaking out’. I depart from the concept of testimony in relation to conversion and deconversion narratives as well as secular expectations over modern subjectivity, especially with regards to freedom of speech. Presenting some of my interlocutors’ contemplations over speaking out about non-belief, both privately and publicly, I explore how speech can be considered an ultimate performance of non-belonging that was often neither possible nor desired. Moreover, when people did speak out privately or publicly, they mostly did so after careful consideration of the risk of discursive appropriation of their narrative as well as their familial relationships.

Some reflections on my own subjectivity I notice that I’m very opiniated, and that I struggle to distance myself. (Field notes, October 2017) Another thing he said: ‘Maria, the idea of “values” is Christian, we are raised with rules’. (Field notes, November 2017)



As with any study examining self-making, identity, religion, politics, gender, and racial intersections, some notes on the researcher are warranted. My own religious trajectory and transformation as well as how I came to study others’ undoubtedly influenced the conversations I had with all my interlocutors. To start, one has to consider the inevitable so-called interviewer effects. These variables co-constitute the relationship built between the interviewer and interviewee, as well as how much an interviewee decides to share. Besides the need to establish a level of rapport, certain power dynamics and preconceived ideas of who one is as a person as well as one’s position as a researcher are always brought to the table. This is important to realise, since it considerably impacts what is said and what is left unsaid. For example, being white, a woman, and an ‘outsider’ has perhaps allowed many of my interlocutors to tell their stories freely. Under the cover of anonymity, some told me that they felt they could share more on this particular subject than they had done previously. On the other hand, having perhaps grown up in an entirely different environment, there were also topics that I may not have understood as well. Of course, my own history and experiences also impacted my behaviour in meetings and conversations with people. For example, as one of my interlocutors remarked, I assumed that ‘values’ were relevant as a category. However, according to him, it was about rules rather than such ‘Christian’ musings. I am a thirty-something, white, Dutch woman born and raised in a farmer’s family, where Christianity was always present. My parents, my sister, and I attended what was then called the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (The Reformed Churches of the Netherlands).12 I attended a Protestant Christian primary school, went to Sunday school with some irregularity, and picked up on my parents’ flexible church attendance. For me as a child, though, religion was important. My interest increased during adolescence, when I explored scripture, attended bible study groups, and regularly visited Taizé, an ecumenical Christian monastic fraternity in France. During my early university years, I was less interested in the protestant church than the church attended by some of my friends: the Mennonite church in Groningen. Through the years, however, I realised that I went to the church’s groups to see my friends rather than for my own spiritual fulfilment. From then on, I gradually ‘moved out of religion’. This current project made me confront sides of religious dogma, communities, and institutions that I had not encountered before. Sometimes stories were recognisable: religion stopped playing a role in people’s lives. Sometimes they were heart-breaking: biographies of physical and emotional abuse in which religion was invoked to ‘make it OK’. I noticed myself becoming increasingly anti-religious, especially during my second time in the UK when I was mostly on my own and solely focussed on conducting interviews and attending meetings, events, and socials. Continuously listening to people’s grievances about and against their former religion as well as their stories of structural issues in certain religious communities had me angrily and frantically typing my field notes. How is anyone still religious? How can these dogmas and conservative ideas still find support in the twenty-first century? Having lived most of my life with a soft spot for religion



and religious people, I was overwhelmed by the deeply personalised ‘dark side’ that was presented to me. At times I struggled with the harshness of anti-religious sentiments, and I developed (temporary) critical thoughts about religion myself. After coming back to the Netherlands and taking some time away from my fieldwork, I eventually sat down to transcribe the interviews. Interestingly, after the break what I heard was not an overshadowing narrative of complaint or victimhood, but the honesty of people struggling to find their way in times of religious transformation whilst attempting to hold on to loved ones who may not understand. What happened to me during my fieldwork is possibly the result of having grown up in a rather protected, privileged, middle-class environment, where I received leftist ideas from my parents and ample education. Religion was a part of that, but never forced. Naturally, I think having this relatively positive image of religion continuously shattered during my fieldwork amongst those moving out of Islam did not leave me unmoved. As researchers, we inevitably take some of our own histories and outlooks with us when conducting research and writing about our experiences in the field. For example, I utilised my own extended network to find interlocutors, therefore many of them were (university) educated. I believe that this also affected the reflexive design of the structuring of the interviews. Learning how my own interests in certain aspects of moving out, such as the effects of doubt and uncertainty, triggered more self-reflexive dialogue with interlocutors than, for example, theological matters, and it generated data that was specific to both myself and my interlocutors. In addition, the cycle of data collection and the order of interviews was arbitrary; however, it undoubtedly had an effect on how interviews were conducted and what narratives were elicited from interlocutors. For example, coming home at 2 a.m. after my very first (5-hour long) interview with Omer in Groningen, the Netherlands, I noted the following: I realise how different his story was from my expectations of moving out, or even of being Muslim. For example, I had expectations of praying in a ‘traditional’ sense, perhaps not regularly but as ritual. But for him, prayer was about asking God for that girl to fall in love with him. Furthermore, he said he felt Muslim, but never in a religious way. Not believing was a footnote in his narrative. (Field notes, January 2017) These reflections show specific, preconceived ideas about moving out of Islam that I brought to the interview and, more importantly, how they were immediately challenged. Whereas I assumed that religion was central to Omer’s identity and narrative of moving out, he showed me that it was actually an accumulation of a life history in which religion simply had no place anymore. The reflexive analytical cycle has ensured that such challenges have, as much as possible, enhanced this research, rather than hampered it. Lastly, the people I met were in some ways relatively similar to myself: often well-educated, European, non-religious people. In other ways, it could be



argued that radically different ontologies were at work: they were people who were raised with Islam, had migratory backgrounds, had been part of a (stigmatised) minority for most their lives, and simply had very different life histories. These similarities and differences inevitably produced a unique set of dialogues. By being reflexive about such processes, not only here but throughout the duration of the project via field notes, I aimed to be as methodologically and theoretically open as possible.

Chapter overview Over the course of the following chapters, I approach the topic of moving out of Islam in contemporary Europe from various angles. I take into account the experiences of my interlocutors, their orientations, narratives of transformation and religious change, negotiations over belonging and believing, and their situatedness in their own discourses. Further, I pay ample attention to not only what is left behind, but I also take into account the relative weight of religious meaning and the spaces this opens up, which offers a positive approach to moving out of Islam. In Chapter 1, I situate the study in light of the recent histories of the Netherlands and Britain, specifically with regards to Islam in Europe. This provides the discursive background to which my interlocutors moved out of Islam. By descriptively outlining both global and local historic, political, and other influential events; prominent participants in the debate; and media representations, the chapter sketches the contexts in which this research took place. Without going into the analysis of the specific production of secularity (which is the subject of Chapter 2), the chapter sets the discursive lay of the land and provides details to help understand certain forms of knowledge production and my interlocutors’ contemplations over how to behave and whether or not to speak out. The contextual nature of Chapter 2 builds on the first chapter, but it more specifically uses the interpretative device of ‘multiple secularities’ to interrogate the presence of ‘secularist ex-Muslim voices’ in the British debate on Islam and freedom of expression. By contrasting Britain with the Netherlands, it specifically examines ‘secularist ex-Muslim voices’ as expressed at the July 2017 International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in London, which was hosted by the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain. The chapter suggests that these voices surfaced because of Britain’s particular history of secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity. They challenge institutionalised levels (state-church relations, multiculturalism, and communitarianism) as well as social and cultural forms (debates on freedom of expression and Islamophobia). Such voices are relatively absent in the Netherlands due to the dominance of secularity for the sake of social/national integration. Due to particular national histories of secularity, problems that surface in Britain have less bearing on the Dutch situation. The chapter brings together the broader research contexts and, as mentioned above, the analysis of the specifically British phenomenon of ‘secularist ex-Muslims’ as well as their relative absence in the Netherlands.



Chapter 3 outlines the methodological underpinnings of this study and proposes a dialogical approach to the analysis and interpretation of moving out narratives. With leaving one’s religion, complex mechanisms of doubt, uncertainty, and ethical self-making come to the fore. Post-migration contexts raise additional issues of intersectionality. Dialogical Self Theory is well-suited for the close reading and in-depth analysis of such trajectories out of Islam. First, it considers actual voices and their interaction in self-narrative. Second, Dialogical Self Theory allows for recognition of the complex embeddedness of these voices in discursive power structures. Third and lastly, it considers the agentic properties of self-making. The usefulness of this particular approach will be exemplified through the application of its analytical tools to Yagana’s story of moving out. This will illustrate that is particularly useful to consider the self as dialogical and a ‘society of mind’ – and take into account the plurality of voices and I-positions – during in-depth analysis of both individual narratives as well as the dataset as a whole, rather than assuming the centrality of religion or being (non-)Muslim. Chapter 4 focusses on analysing all of the interlocutors’ narratives of moving out. Rather than focusing primarily on ‘leaving faith’ (i.e., a predominantly negative and religiously centred approach), it presents four thematic trajectories which consider the interlocutors’ broader life-worlds and experiences based on dialogical analysis. These themes illustrate the religious voice’s relative weight in trajectories, rather than presupposing the centrality of religion in one’s (former) identity. It thereby suggests a broader understanding of experiences in negative relation to religion alone: religious as well as political, social, ethnic, and gender boundaries provide the contexts in which people moved out of Islam. The themes (religious break, social break-away, entrance, and unconscious secularisation) are illustrated by four case studies. A fifth case study is presented to illustrate the potency of intertwined themes. The chapter sheds light on experiences in narration by chiefly taking an emic perspective. Chapter 5 looks at the particulars of embodiment. It refers back to the discursive production of religious and secular boundaries in both Britain and the Netherlands and how, in turn, individuals negotiate such seeming dichotomies, especially when they cross them. Indeed, the Muslim identity and its bodily performance is highly contested in European public spheres. Both religious and secular discourses ascribe certain features to what it means to be Muslim. Religious voices may do so to demarcate the contested ‘own’ and secure a sense of belonging, whilst secular voices may do so to demarcate what is ‘other’ and thereby implicitly define the self. In light of these discourses, the chapter explores what happens when alleged boundaries and demarcations become blurred by analysing how bodily expressions and performances may change or remain unaltered. In the narratives of moving out of Islam, questions of believing and belonging became particularly salient in light of the bodily practices that either ascertain or terminate one’s membership in religious or secular environs. Whilst (internalised) discourses may have particular expectations regarding how a certain body should look or behave, my interlocutors (re)negotiated these expectations in very individualised ways in order to form their



own sets of bodily ethics. First, the chapter considers how performances of ‘knowledge, practice, and embodiment’ (Hirschkind, 2011) change or remain unaltered when moving out of Islam. Second, it considers how the ‘distinct modes of power’ (Hirschkind, 2011) of a secular and religious body play a role in the way people negotiate ideological and existential conviction alongside practical being in the world. The final chapter, Chapter 6, focusses on the performance of non-belief in the form of speech. By critically examining the role of testimony in conversion and deconversion narratives, the chapter problematises the assumed boundaries between belief and non-belief as well as the function of the performance of identity. It does so by investigating and contemplating private and public performances, since the performance of speech has different effects in each sphere. Whilst public discourses on leaving Islam and speaking freely were always weighed, in private these discourses related to familial bonds, love, and belonging. At the same time, considerations about speaking out in public were often contextualised in terms of the potential for secularist appropriation of stories as ‘native testimonial’. As such, my interlocutors show that, in the case of moving out of Islam, testifying one’s religious transformation was neither central nor conditional. Speech was mostly considered a ‘step beyond’ not believing. Chapter 6 illustrates the discursive power of certain political, social, and public debates regarding individual behaviours when moving out of Islam. It shows the interlocutors’ ‘in-betweenness’. They were neither fully secular nor fully religious, and they did not necessarily want to pledge allegiance to either, even though it was sometimes expected or desired in public or private religious and secular environs. This book clarifies how people experience moving out of Islam in the UK and the Netherlands as well as how they negotiate both the religious and secular contexts in which they live. Taken together, the chapters constitute an interdisciplinary perspective on the subject of ‘moving out of Islam’. Each chapter deploys a particular theoretical approach to the subject. However, this does not mean that the merit of each chapter is not incorporated throughout. The concept of ‘multiple secularities’, for example, is only specifically mobilised in Chapter 3 in order to critically unpack the discursive and historic production of the situation that has given space and rise to ‘secularist ex-Muslim voices’. However, whilst not mentioned explicitly elsewhere, the outcomes as well as the scholarly tradition of the concept are incorporated in Chapters 4, 5, and 6. Furthermore, as explained above, Dialogical Self Theory was fundamental to the analysis and conceptual framework of this project. By analysing the self as inherently dialogical with oneself and one’s surroundings, and by recognising the simultaneous plurality of identity, the application of Dialogical Self Theory contributed to all of the main conclusions of this project. The final two empirically oriented chapters are detailed descriptions of what it means to move out of Islam in very practical and lived ways. Chapter 5 utilises the concept of a ‘secular body’ in order to bring together the individual experience and the simultaneous situatedness of that experience. Chapter 6 shows in detail how the



complex negotiations involved in speaking about moving out of Islam in both the Netherlands and the UK are inherently equally discursively situated, again bringing together the individual experience in religious and secular contexts. I conclude by pointing to some recent developments surrounding moving out of Islam in contemporary Europe. I also highlight some of the trends observable throughout the various chapters. One of the key dimensions experienced by most of my interlocutors – and explicitly referenced by one of them – was the feeling of being ‘neither in nor out’. Having moved out of Islam, there were certain expectations in both the religious and secular realms regarding what one was supposed to ‘be’. However, people negotiated certain dispositions and external discourses to create their own unique subjectivities as to what it means to no longer be Muslim in a secular world. This ‘in-betweenness’ is a theme that repeatedly resurfaces, connecting not only the chapters in the book, but also the interlocutors who generously shared their stories with me. This book is not a statement. It is not meant to be a political tool to be injected into polarised debates surrounding ‘Islam in Europe’. It does not aim to break free or obscure, neither does it claim to improve the lives of people struggling with religious doubts or uncertainty. Ultimately, I hope this book will be a modest addition to the variety of narratives about people moving out of Islam. Perhaps, it will add nuance to the ways religious or secular environs are viewed and how claims are laid upon them. Furthermore, I hope this work draws some attention to the plethora of non-religious realities that are often forgotten when Islam is concerned, particularly in public debate and academic discussions.

Notes 1 Murtaza quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London, UK, on 6 February 2018. All interlocutors’ names throughout the book have been anonymised, unless indicated otherwise. 2 I will refer to the process of moving out of Islam as ‘apostasy’ only when religious perspectives are concerned. 3 Sahih al-Bukhari. Book # 52, Hadith # 260/Vol. 4. 4 Salman Rushdie is the Indian-born author of the contested novel The Satanic Verses (Rushdie, 1988). In 1989, Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini pronounced a fatwa in response to its publication, sparking fierce international debate on freedom of speech and Islam. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-born Dutch politician currently residing in the United States. She left Islam after moving to the Netherlands, which she addresses in her autobiography Infidel (Hirsi Ali, 2006). Elected as a member of the House of Representatives in 2003, she advocated for Muslim women’s self-determination and actively criticised Islam. Pakistani-born Canadian writer Ali A. Rizvi is the author of The Atheist Muslim (Rizvi, 2016), an autobiography about leaving Islam as well as a critique as to why and how Islam should be reformed and enlightened. 5 Helen quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Durham, UK, in October 2017. 6 Gendered issues surrounding embodiment do come to the fore in Chapter 5. 7 It should be noted that some events around moving out of Islam have been organised, for example by the Humanist Society, and small online initiatives for ‘meet-ups’ exist. Their scale and publicness, however, are rather different.



8 The groups were accessed at the time fieldwork was conducted. Affiliations and popularity may change over time, of course. At the time of writing (Autumn 2020), other groups, such as ‘nederlandse ex-moslims’, are gaining popularity. 9 Other dialogical analyses in the humanities include: Aveling & Gillespie (2008); Buitelaar (2006, 2013b, 2014); Buitelaar & Zock (2013); Gregg (2013); Pitstra (2013); Zock (2010, 2013). 10 As numerous scholars have shown, and as I elaborated on above, religion cannot be understood or conceptualised merely in the sense of a belief in a deity. Therefore, recent contributions to the debate about adopting the term ‘being Godless’ (Blanes & Oustinova-Stjepanovic, 2017) are rejected. Here, I wish to focus on the more widely accepted notion of ‘non-religion’ and how my interlocutors relate to this analytical category. 11 The ‘secular crusaders’ term is borrowed from Nadia Ezzeroili’s comments in de Volkskrant in 2013: ‘I rarely speak about it. Outside my circle of friends. About my apostasy. Not out of fear for Dutch Islamists (polderislamisten) who wish to behead me. No, what I have tried to avoid is that I, as an ex-Muslim, will be hijacked as spoils of war by the fanatical secularists in their crusade against religion’ (Ezzeroili, 2013, my translation). 12 In 2004, the ‘gereformeerden’, ‘hervormden’ (meaning both ‘reformed’ and in Calvinistic tradition), and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church united as the Protestante Kerk Nederland (PKN), a denomination still in place today.

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Religion, secularism, and the production of discourse

It has been widely observed that the position of religion in Europe has become increasingly contested over the last few decades. Religion, and Islam in particular, seems to have become the contested ‘other’ for the secular subject as well as the secular state. In the dominant Euro-American societal discourse, political secularism is perceived as a pillar of modernity. This chapter outlines the discursive production of socio-political public debate with regards to ‘Islam in Europe’ in both the Netherlands and the UK. By moving out of Islam, study interlocutors had to navigate these religious and secular spheres, crossing over the alleged divide on a daily basis. Such secularist contexts also provided some so-called ‘ex-Muslims’ a platform from which to voice their motivations, opinions, experiences, and, often, victimhood. Their specific (political) positionality will be partially elaborated in this chapter and discussed more extensively in Chapter 2. Previously, the secular was conceived of as merely that which remains when religion is stripped from public and private life altogether. In recent years, the function of ‘the religious’ and ‘the secular’ in private and public life has become increasingly contested. Any supposedly binary opposition or clear distinction between the two has been called into question. As Graig Calhoun, Mark Juergensmeyer, and Jonathan VanAntwerpen so aptly state in their critique of secularism: ‘The very use of the term “secular” signifies that we are buying into a secular/religious distinction that in some way defines not only the secular sphere itself but also the realm of the religious’ (Calhoun et al., 2011, p. 5). Furthermore, the celebrated ‘secularisation theory’, which claimed that modernisation inherently implies secularisation and the disappearance of religion altogether, has been refuted. For example, the Islamic Revival in the contemporary Middle East (and beyond), the expansion of New Age religion in the Euro-American context, and the increasing prominence of religion (and most notably Islam) in public debate have started to invalidate the claimed universality and inevitability of the theory (e.g., Von Stuckrad, 2013). Many contemporary scholars have pleaded for a ‘one cannot do without the other’ approach: religion and secularism are intrinsically interwoven and interdependent. This line of thought calls for careful scrutiny of secularism: rather than defining it negatively as ‘what is left after religion’, it ‘is something, and is therefore in need of elaboration and understanding’ (Calhoun et al., 2011, p. 5, emphasis in original). DOI: 10.4324/9781003143574-2

Religion, secularism, and discourse


Whilst an extensive discussion of an anthropology or genealogy of either the secular or religion (Asad, 1993, 2003) is beyond the scope of this chapter, it is worth noting their mutual dependence and production. For now, suffice it to say that I follow Saba Mahmood (2016) in that the secular ‘is not the natural bedrock from which religion emerges, nor is it what remains when religion is taken away. Instead, it is itself a historical product with specific epistemological, political, and moral entailments’ (p. 3). For the sake of clarity, the term ‘secularisation’ refers to the ‘process of differentiation’, which includes the decline of religious belief and participation as well as the dwindling mutual influences of the social and the religious (Asad, 2003; Casanova, 2009). When I use the term ‘secularism’, I refer to ideological content expressed as political secularism, which encompasses the ways the state governs and regulates religion (and thereby itself) (i.a., Berg-Sørensen, 2013; Cady & Shakman-Hurd, 2010; Soper & Fetzer, 2007). The term refers to the ideological program that strives to completely separate the religious and secular domains as well as their co-constitution. Secularists, then, are its advocates. Secularism is often conflated with the social practices and institutions that abide by these ideologies. In Chapter 2, I distinguish the two by explicitly looking at ‘secularity’ – a concept which includes the analysis of the institutional forms as well as the social and cultural arrangements, such as public debate, that contest and regulate such ideological demarcations. In this first chapter, however, I turn mostly to societal contestations over what is deemed appropriately religious, how images of the secular self and the religious other have been foregrounded, as well as the specific sexual politics that often underline them. Saba Mahmood (2016), in discussing religious minorities in contemporary Egypt, argued that the modern state produces religious minorities, playing a pivotal role in the polarisation and transformation of pre-existing religious differences, ‘and mak[ing] religion more rather than less salient to minority and majority identities alike’ (Mahmood, 2016, p. 2). She pointed out that if religion and secularism indeed condition one another in the modern period, ‘then the question is not so much how modern society can expunge religion from social life […] but how to account for its ongoing power and productivity in material and discursive terms’ (p. 15). Furthermore, she argued that two paradoxical notions underlie ‘secular political rationality’. First, the modern state, which claims religious neutrality, has become extensively involved in the regulation and management of religious life and praxis, ‘thereby embroiling the state in substantive issues of religious doctrine and practice’ (p. 2). Second, modern secular governance explicitly transforms interfaith inequalities by allowing them to freely develop in society and allowing ‘religion to striate national identity and public norms’ (p. 2). Mahmood questioned how such paradoxes helped to produce the particular shape and form of interfaith relations in modern Egypt. Although it focuses on geographically different discourses, this chapter pursues this line of thought by asking questions regarding how and in what manner secular discourses produce religious minorities. How is religion, and in particular Islam,


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discussed by politicians, activists, the public, and the media?1 Furthermore, it is worth acknowledging that, in addition to producing religious minority discourse, the secular, through its definition of religious space, also defines and produces majority, secular, ‘default’ discourses and spaces (Amir-Moazami, 2013, 2016). This chapter also discusses the sphere in and by which religious practices and their place in society are chiefly discussed. The production of these discourses illuminated through discussions of political and historical events, the influence of the media, and specific gendered issues provides insight into the interlocutors’ relative places and presences in the different socio-political realities of the Netherlands and Britain.2 Whilst Mahmood was primarily concerned with political secularism and its sovereign power to reorganise substantive features of religion and religious practices, I focus on secularist discourse, which is produced by political secularism. I refer to the products of the discursive operation of power, i.e., the public, private, political, and religious spheres, their boundaries and contents, as well as what its inhabitants consider a natural environment. This chapter expounds differences and similarities between the production of both secular and religious practices in the UK and the Netherlands. While much contemporary scholarship seeks to overcome the perceived secular-religious binary, I focus on the characteristics and nature of the binary’s production, especially since social debate and confrontation often seem to centre around it. In Chapter 2, I will turn to the histories of secularity in the Netherlands and the UK from a comparative perspective. I use the concept of ‘multiple secularities’ in order to explain the relative presence of certain ‘secularist ex-Muslim voices’ in British debates regarding Islam and freedom of expression. The next chapter will touch on similar themes of secular governance, multiculturalism, free speech, and other contestations over the ‘appropriate’ position of religion in the secular (public) sphere. To lay the groundwork for Chapter 2, this current chapter discusses how Islam and religion have been delineated by and featured in public life and debate in recent decades. It stays closer to home, so to speak, in that it extensively describes the workings and contestations of ‘Islam’ and the ‘Muslim other’ in the public sphere. Chapter 2 also touches on these matters, but it places an emphasis on the particularities of national secularisms, i.e., histories of the governance of religious life and praxis through law and state policy. Here I contemplate the academic and public debates that unfolded during the decades when my interlocutors lived in and moved out of Islam in order to explicate the religious and secular boundaries and contexts that they crossed on a daily basis. First, I interrogate the two national discourses on the ‘Islam debate’ in Europe: the Netherlands and the UK. Initially, I explore historic and political developments, influential global and local events, prominent participants in the debates, and media representations beginning around the late 1980s, which is when the ‘multicultural debates’ emerged in many Western European countries, such as the Rushdie affair or the veil debates in France. Sarah Bracke (2013) noted that 1989 marked ‘the fall of the communist bloc and the subsequent emergence of a new hegemonic geopolitical power, i.e., the “clash of

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civilizations”’ (p. 211). Whilst I consider such events and the ‘new’ visibility of Islam symptoms rather than causes of a ‘new era’, for the purposes of this chapter I limit myself to describing the debates and formation of discourse (i. e., the public body of knowledge and understanding considered accessible and true) since the late 1980s. Further elaboration upon the larger constitutive formations of (secular) governmentality in each country will follow in Chapter 2, where the distinct histories of secularity and the particulars of national political secularism are elaborated from the mid-sixteenth century. The current chapter’s descriptive investigation is mainly based on secondary literature concerning the interpretation and analysis of certain events, prominent figures, and their relevance for the production of secularity.3 Second, the chapter explores the comparative and intersecting roles of sexuality, gender, and the media in these discourses in both the UK and the Netherlands. They are referenced by interlocutors moving out of Islam, both as public discourses to relate to and as factors that affect the personal negotiation of embodiment and belonging. Initially, however, the following paragraphs outline general European trends and phenomena in recent decades, particularly the dominant discourses, new realism, and the postracial in contemporary politics.

Some notes on discourse When discussing and outlining a ‘public debate’ or ‘public discourse’, it is worth considering the implications and meanings of the terms. First of all, Sipco Vellenga (2008b), a sociologist of religion and leading scholar on Dutch political debates regarding immigration and Islam in the Netherlands, noted the impossibility of Jürgen Habermas’s definition of a discussion or public debate, which states that debate is always rational, open to all, and free from power.4 Instead, Vellenga reckoned that such an ideal situation simply does not exist in the world. A public debate – specifically the debate on Islam – is never free from power or influence. Therefore, according to Vellenga (2008b), ‘debate needs to be analysed as a forum of power struggles on issues of representation and identity in a multicultural and multi-religious setting’ (p. 23). Furthermore, he states that, despite having a separate focus, public and political debate are thoroughly interwoven and interrelated, and they influence one another. Politicians participate in the public debate, and the content of the public debate partially determines political agendas. In both the Netherlands and the UK, the Islam/immigration debate has been dominated, on the one hand, by pro-multiculturalist or pluralistic discourse and, on the other, by pro-assimilation discourse (Jansen, 2013; Vellenga, 2008b).5 Very broadly speaking, multiculturalism as a political theory was conceptualised in response to modern or liberal conceptions of equal citizenship, the same conceptions upon which Habermas based his theory of the public debate.6 However, during the 1980s, philosophers and scholars argued that it would be unjust for members of society to have to abide by a standard of normalcy based on the white, heterosexual, able-bodied male (Kymlicka,


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2002, p. 327). Instead, multiculturalism argued that equal citizenship should refer to ‘differentiated citizenship’ (Young, 1989). Multiculturalism assumes that various power relations between dominant and minority groups are at work at all times, and minority groups should be actively incorporated into society. Individuals can belong to several groups at the same time, and boundaries are blurred (Jansen, 2013). Assimilation, on the other hand, can be understood as a homogenising process which expects minority groups to unquestionably integrate into the core group or dominant culture. Minorities and migratory groups are more or less forced – or at least expected – to shed their cultural backgrounds and practices whilst simultaneously adapting to the cultural and civic competences of the dominant group. However, members of an out group are ‘allowed’ to express their cultural and/or religious backgrounds in the private sphere as long as they participate in public life like the dominant majority group (Jansen, 2013). Whilst multiculturalist theory developed in response to the assimilationist understanding of citizenship that was prominent in Europe in the 1970s, proassimilation advocates have re-entered the public domain and increasingly represent the dominant discourse (i.e., they chiefly set the agenda to which others are forced to respond) since the 1990s in the Netherlands (de Koning, 2016a; Jansen, 2013; Lucassen & Lucassen, 2015; Vellenga, 2008b) and since the late 2000s in the UK (Goldberg, 2013; Vellenga, 2008a).7 This criticism of or backlash against multiculturalism argues that Islam is taking over the liberal European way of life and leftists, who set the agenda for multiculturalist policy throughout the 1970s and 1980s, were in bed with the Islamists and accommodated their alleged take-over. Alana Lentin and Gavan Titley (2012) observed that this (European) narrative rarely responds to specific policies; rather, it is a racist rejection of difference.8 Different appropriations of multiculturalism and assimilationist discourses in both the Netherlands and the UK, as well as the perceived discursive dichotomies that have emerged, will be discussed below. However, first I will provide a brief theoretical and general description of the characteristics of the dominant contemporary European (assimilationist) discourse that is in place. ‘New realism’ is a term coined to describe the phenomenon of reverse political correctness, which arose in the Netherlands during the 1990s and, to a lesser extent, in the UK during the late 2000s. Instead of emphasising moderation and discussion, new realism focuses on ‘saying it as it is’. Today it is a discourse that is prominent throughout Europe. According to Baukje Prins and Sawitri Saharso (2008), new realism has five features. First, it emphasises that the political elite should listen to ‘ordinary’ citizens, i.e., the ‘autochthonous’ suburban lower classes: ‘The ordinary people deserve to be represented because they know from daily experience what is “really” going on in society, and because they are not blinded by “politically correct” ideas’ (Prins & Saharso, 2008, p. 367). Second, new realists despise ‘political correctness’ and believe that they are ‘telling the truth’ to the political establishment and breaking taboos – the politically correct is the new politically incorrect and vice versa.9 Third, new realism argues for a break from elitist political power, which has supposedly dominated the public

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realm for too long. It is thought that lax policies of toleration allowed for the fading of purportedly ‘Western’ values, and new realism calls for an affirmation of national values over and against Islam. Fourth, new realism also calls for reaffirmation of national identity and renewed patriotism, as evidenced in public discussion of ‘Britishness’ and ‘Dutchness’. Fifth, and finally, new realism is highly gendered: the suppression of Muslim women is used to confirm the new realists’ own superiority over Islam. Indeed, many aspects of this categorisation are evident in the dominant discourse and public debate in the Netherlands and the UK. The concept of the postracial contemporary deserves elaboration since it has shaped the Islam debate in both the Netherlands and the UK.10 Furthermore, it provides insight into the particular positions in the socio-political discourse some former Muslims have taken, as well as how my interlocutors relate to socio-political discourse and negotiate its boundaries. The postracial contemporary, which has been discussed primarily in the United States since the election of President Barack Obama, refers to a presumed claim that a nation does not see racial difference. In the 1970s, cultural theorist and political activist Stuart Hall (1978) noted that racism is always present; the form it takes depends on historicity and the ‘cultural and ideological traces which are deposited in a society by previous historical phases, it always assumed specific forms which arise out of the present – not the past – conditions and organisation of society’ (p. 26). According to David Theo Goldberg (2013), today’s postracial paradigm has roots in post-Second World War ideas of racelessness, and, more importantly, it resonates with the ideals and characteristics of neoliberalism (see also, Lentin & Titley, 2012). Neoliberalism assumes the responsibility and development of the individual – people are responsible for their own actions, not the group’s. Furthermore, an entire racial group is never assigned responsibility for the actions of the individual. According to Goldberg, the selfminded individualism of neoliberalism allows the postracial condition to flourish: [R]esponsibility for racist expression is reduced to individualised account, to a bad apple, a rogue element, denying responsibility to structural conditions or larger social forces. For neoliberal postraciality, racism is anomaly, the mark of a past historical moment, an irritating residue to be gotten over as quickly as possible, or even simply recreational (‘I was just kidding’). It remains merely a stain on the social fabric now, to be washed away as quickly as possible. (Goldberg, 2013, p. 18) The result is that by denying that there is any form of racism present in society or within the individual, racism can flourish. This is exemplified by comments made by Rob Liddle, the former editor of the BBC’s Today programme, in response to a question posed by the Evening Standard regarding whether or not Islam was good for London:


Religion, secularism, and discourse Islam is masochistic, homophobic, and a totalitarian regime. It is a fascistic, bigoted, and medieval religion. I have plenty of friends who are Muslims, and I know other Muslims I don’t get along with. I may be Islamophobic, but I am not against the religion. As long as we’re able to say what we think about Islam and Muslims without fear of censorship, being accused of racism, or having our heads cut off, then we’re heading in the right direction. (Liddle, 2007)

Liddle starts by characterising Islam in opposition to his beliefs, describing it negatively, and conflating it into a monolithic ideology and regime. He denies being racist or generalising people negatively by claiming that he knows Muslims, both people that he gets along with and people that he does not. He characterises the issue as ‘nothing personal’ and something that ‘he simply believes’. In summation, he claims that he should be allowed to uncritically utter such statements because of the right to freedom of speech: ‘we’ British (white) critics should be able to say what we want about ‘them’ (Muslims). Hence, simple denial removes the possibility of criticism based on racist claims or accusations of being politically (in)correct. Liddle exemplifies what Goldberg described as the postracial contemporary: The Postracial Contemporary, then, is the instantiation – the instancing of and instant recourse to – the racial while denying that it adds up to racism or indeed that racial characterisation is being invoked. And denying the denial. It has become – it has been made – the default mode of globalisation’s neoliberalising political rationality, the seams of its social logic. (Goldberg, 2013, p. 24) What Goldberg refers to the ‘default mode’, I refer to as a ‘dominant discourse’. Nonetheless, we can easily recognise commonalities with the discursive genre of ‘new realism’ (Prins & Saharso, 2008). Many of the characteristics attributed to new realism can be found in the description and reality of the postracial contemporary. Indeed, it could be argued that new realism, as a political strategy, is a product of the neoliberal postracial individualism that is prominent in Euro-American contexts today.11 Below I will further elaborate its contested link with Islam in the public sphere and the postracial contemporary when I discuss the racialisation of Muslims. The following section illustrates the development of Islam’s position in the Netherlands by briefly describing its political and social history since the 1970s and 1980s with a focus on immigrants, responsive policies, and (adverse) outcomes. It assesses certain national and international events since 1989, as well as the prominent voices and opinion makers that significantly influenced the debate, such as Martijn de Koning’s (2016a) analysis of the discursive influence of Pim Fortuyn on the racialisation of Muslims in the early years of the twenty-first century and examinations of the ‘death of Dutch tolerance’ by Vellenga (2008b)

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and Lucassen and Lucassen (2015). The section also discusses key events, such as the Salman Rushdie affair and the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, as well as the simultaneous rise of new realism and the strong polarising political discourse in the Netherlands today. The meaning and appropriation of sexual liberty, freedom of expression, and identity politics have continually changed over time, a fact which will resurface throughout this national narrative.

‘The multiculturalist drama’: Secularism and assimilationists in the Netherlands In 2015, the Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek [CBS] (Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics) estimated that there were approximately 850,000 Muslims above the age of 15 in the Netherlands, or about 4.9 percent of the population based on survey research (Schmeets, 2016). The vast majority of the Muslim populace is of Turkish or Moroccan origin or descent.12 The number of people who no longer identify with Islam is unknown. However, it has been observed that disaffiliation with Islam may be more common among Iranian communities that moved to the Netherlands after the 1979 Iranian Revolution (Van Herten & Otten, 2007; see also, Kamerman & Van Twillert, 2007). During the 1950s, after the Second World War, the first significant influx of Muslim immigrants came chiefly from Suriname and Indonesia, former Dutch colonies. Their numbers increased drastically during the 1970s and 1980s after the Dutch government announced the independence of Suriname and allowed an increase in migrant ‘guest workers’ (gastarbeiders) from Turkey and Morocco in response to the mass emigration of Dutch nationals to former (British, white-settler) colonies and the degradation of infrastructure due to WWII. The intention was that guest workers would only stay as long as they were required, however, this is not what happened. Many guest workers stayed permanently and used their worker rights to bring their families to the country (Lucassen & Lucassen, 2015).13 Furthermore, at the end of the 1970s, various political refugees and asylum seekers entered the Netherlands from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, and other countries. In response to this immigration influx, policies of the 1970s and 1980s were characterised by the ‘integration with the preservation of identity’ slogan (de Koning, 2016a, p. 18).14 However, the slogan was not uncontested among the political establishment of the 1980s, which led to a compromise stressing equality without assuming any danger of migrant culture. This group approach changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when individual responsibility and participation in society were expected from immigrants. Religion and culture were gradually relegated to the private sphere (de Koning, 2016a). From the early 1990s, and in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair, which spread images of violent Muslim men eager ‘to kill the animal Rushdie’ (Cats & van Run, 2004), the political establishment in the Netherlands started questioning the presence of ethnic, and specifically Muslim, minorities for the first time. Considered a national landmark in Dutch history with regards to multiculturalism, Frits Bolkestein, a prominent member of the Vokspartij voor


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Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD), the Dutch Liberal party, delivered a speech at the 1991 Liberal International Conference in Luzern (Bolkestein, 1991b). During this speech, he linked the fall of the Soviet Union, as a new geo-political moment, with the national debate on immigration and multiculturalism (Bracke, 2013, p. 214). Subsequently, he published an article in one of the country’s leading newspapers, de Volkskrant, elaborating on the immigration and integration policy debate. Instead of ‘integration with preservation of identity’, he called for full-blown integration (Bolkestein, 1991a). He was considered the first person to challenge his competition on the integration debate, which had previously consisted of ‘pragmatist discourse’ ‘characterised by technical sophistication and [pragmatists] argu[ing] there is a need for moderation and management rather than passion and drama’ (Uitermark et al., 2013, p. 238). Prins and Saharso (2008) mark this intervention as the beginning of the ‘“new realist” approach to immigration in the Netherlands’ (Prins & Saharso, 2008, p. 367). Bolkestein’s commentary was echoed almost a decade later by Paul Scheffer’s influential and controversial ‘Het Multiculturele Drama’ (‘The Multiculturalist Drama’) (Scheffer, 2000). In this opinion piece, Scheffer castigated the leftist elite for closing their eyes to the problems of unemployment, criminality, and school drop-outs among immigrant groups, which, according to Scheffer, were the sole responsibility of the ‘poldermodel’, the culture of Dutch politicians governing through compromise and deliberation. Much like Bolkestein, he argued that Islam, due to its refusal to accept the separation of church and state, was fundamentally irreconcilable with Western democracy and, therefore, Dutch society. Scheffer indicated that immigrant policy should be more proactive in integrating these groups through, for example, Dutch language, history, and culture lessons. In a reflection he wrote 20 years later in the same newspaper, he stated: ‘Now, I wouldn’t write such an essay anymore. In the midst of all the contrapositions, I started searching for what brings people together: a shared future is more important than divided origins’ (Scheffer, 2020, my translation). After 11 September 2001, a new player entered the political scene: critical columnist Pim Fortuyn. In the same vein as Bolkestein, he believed that migrant culture, and more specifically Islam, was not compatible with modern Dutch society (de Koning, 2016a). Pim Fortuyn was murdered on 6 May 2002, just over a week before the national parliamentary elections (he was convincingly leading the polls at the time of his death). His murderer turned out to be an environmental activist who was apprehended soon after the attack. According to Johan Snel, the killer’s motives remain unclear to this date, but his deeds were triggered by the politician’s sudden populist rise (Snel, 2013). Fortuyn was one of the first politicians to directly attack publicly the ‘backward religion of Muslims’ ‘and the threat Islam posed, according to him, to Western values’ (Snel, 2013, p. 128), such as gay rights and gender equality. His convictions were particularly motivated and endorsed by an anti-immigrant agenda, and the national and international media portrayed him as racist and sometimes even fascist. He differed from previous right-wing political parties by being openly

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gay and favouring Israel and Judaism. Furthermore, he endorsed values of emancipation and individualism, which were previously considered ‘progressive’: ‘In that sense, Fortuyn presented his populist, conservative, and anti-immigrant movement with a more progressive agenda, the one that has continued to dominate Dutch politics ever since’ (Snel, 2013, p. 128). Snel noted that, in order to justify his at times offensive criticism, Fortuyn invoked the phrase ‘freedom of expression’ as a successful political slogan, a slogan that has become a flagship of ‘modern secularist society’. The second murder that shaped Dutch discourse was the assassination of Theo van Gogh on 2 November 2004, by a young Muslim who had recently joined a group of radical Islamists. The assassin declared in court that he had wanted to punish van Gogh for producing the film Submission, which was made with Somali-born, former-Muslim politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali (van Gogh, 2004). The film openly criticises Islam’s treatment of women and is regarded as highly provocative by Muslims and non-Muslims alike worldwide. Again, the theme of freedom of expression became relevant, because van Gogh and Hirsi Ali defended their right to express their opinions. Snel (2013) observed that no one in the Dutch media had opposed Islam with freedom of expression until the murder of van Gogh: ‘From now on, however, this idea turned into an almost nationally held conviction’ (p. 130). Subsequently, many media articles, online blogs, public debates, columns, and so on explicitly described Islam as being in ultimate opposition and a threat to so-called freedom of expression. In 2006, Hirsi Ali published her autobiography, Mijn Vrijheid (My Freedom), which was published in English under the title Infidel (Hirsi Ali, 2006). Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, on 13 November 1969. After a troubled childhood, she fled to the Netherlands via Germany, where she applied for and obtained refugee status. She studied social work and later enrolled as a student at Leiden University, acquiring a master’s degree in political science. Subsequently, she started working for the Wiardi Beckman Foundation, a research bureau for the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA), the Dutch Labour party. In 2001, after 9/11, she became actively involved in the integration debate and Muslim women’s rights, voicing strong criticism of the multicultural tolerance of Muslim practices in the West. She characterised Western thought and philosophy as superior and enlightened, and she thought Islam needed to undergo the same process of enlightenment in order to be able to integrate into Western society. As her popularity rose, so too did her unpopularity, and she started to receive death threats. Hirsi Ali ran in the 2002 parliamentary elections for the Vokspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD), the Dutch Liberal party, and became a member of parliament on preferential votes in 2003. In 2004, she and Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh produced Submission, which depicted Muslim women as physically and psychologically abused due to the laws set out in the Qur’an. After it was found to be highly offensive by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, Theo van Gogh was murdered on 2 November 2004. When his body was found, a long, threatening letter addressed to Hirsi Ali in the style of a fatwa was knifed


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to it. For security reasons Hirsi Ali spent most of her time under guard in the United States until May 2006. That summer, after Hirsi Ali made it public that she had lied on her refugee-status application, Rita Verdonk, immigration minister for the Netherlands, revoked her citizenship. Although the revocation decision was overturned after pressure from the Dutch Parliament, it sped her permanent departure to the United States. Since then, Hirsi Ali has worked for various think tanks and is now connected to Harvard University’s Kennedy School. Both Hirsi Ali’s autobiography and political use of her ‘native testimonial’ (Mahmood, 2009) to criticise Islam proved rather influential in Dutch political spheres. As Snel (2013) noted, not only did ‘freedom of expression’ become diametrically opposed to ‘Islam’ for the first time, but Hirsi Ali (2006) also mobilised it by drawing from her own experiences with ‘Dark Africa and Islam’ and by telling this ‘story from within’ to the Dutch public (Bosch, 2008; Mahmood, 2009). It was a highly effective strategy. Mineke Bosch (2008) argued that Hirsi Ali’s ‘orientalist’ approach, as well as the way both her autobiography and the telling of her story were structured to address a predominantly Western (male, liberal) audience, greatly contributed to the success and effect of her testimony. Firstly, her depiction of Muslim women as abused, beaten, suppressed, and helpless (in both her testimony and the movie) ‘links up seamlessly with the orientalist images and stories about Islam that are inscribed in Western culture’ (Bosch, 2008, p. 144). Secondly, the Enlightenment plot, which a certain audience could quite easily identify with, reinforces the idea of Western superiority over the backward Muslim other. Mahmood (2009) further notes that the power of this narrative, and others like it, lies specifically in the Muslim-woman author simultaneously embodying both the position of ‘insider’ and ‘victim’ whilst claiming high levels of veracity. Although Mahmood argues against the rhetoric of this genre by debunking its main tenets, it is worth noting the mediation of selves that Hirsi Ali presented. Marc de Leeuw and Sonja van Wichelen (2005) analysed the selves and roles that Hirsi Ali adopted in the presentation of her narrative and testimony. They made a distinction between ‘the mediated self as “other”’ and the ‘mediated self as “one of us”’ (p. 329). The former represents ‘the female exotic other, as insider expert, and as victim of Islamic violence’ (de Leeuw & van Wichelen, 2005, p. 330). They noted specifically that the media has aestheticised and exoticised Hirsi Ali via various photographs and references to her African beauty. She has been represented as pure and innocent. Furthermore, the media (and she herself) has represented her as an expert with inside knowledge of the evils of Islam. The status of victim gives her ‘an authoritative and powerful voice in resisting the source of that violence’ (p. 330). The latter distinction – self as ‘one of us’ – represents her as a liberated, free convert and women’s rights activist: ‘By dedicating her “mission” to being the spokeswoman for “silenced” […] women, she gathers the support of many people who were disillusioned by earlier Dutch “uncommitted” and corporate “consensus” politics’ (p. 330). They added that her move from the leftist PvdA party to the more right-wing VVD party gave her legitimacy as a voice against the political establishment: ‘she

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could legitimately state her discomforts with the way in which the politics of the left have handled the issue of multiculturalism in the past’ (p. 330). The political stances Frits Bolkestein, Pim Fortuyn, and Hirsi Ali resonate in the work of other contemporary politicians and critics, most notably Geert Wilders, a right-wing politician for the nationalistic Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) (Freedom Party). Wilders has declared on multiple occasions that democracy and Islam are irreconcilable. Despite there being many counter voices in the public and political arenas, the dominant discourse remains that of the assimilationists. As Vellenga (2008b) noted: ‘We speak of dominance when the representatives of a particular discourse are able to set the agenda of the debate, and other participants are forced to respond to their contribution’ (p. 23). This remains the case today, both in parliament as well as the (print) media. In an informative article comparing the public debate after two major events (the 7/7 bombings in London and van Gogh’s murder in the Netherlands), Vellenga (2008a) reckons that the nature of the Dutch debate is ‘more open’.15 Most likely, he is considering what Prins and Soharso refer to as ‘new realism’: If we ask ourselves whether there is any correspondence between the shifts in the public debate and policy plans, the answer is clearly ‘yes’. New realisms [sic] insistence on Dutch culture as Leitcultur and the reaffirmation of Dutch national identity and values thus achieved a clear translation into public policy. (Prins & Saharso, 2008, p. 371) Uitermark et al. (2013) applied the label ‘neoculturalism’ to the general tendency of opinion makers and politicians to critique the old ‘poldermodel’ of pragmatist discourse, which supposedly ‘lacked flexibility and was burdened by too many consultative and regulatory structures’ (p. 240). ‘Neoculturalists challenge an entrenched liberal tradition of pragmatist policy and moderate language by marshaling and organizing audiences through affect, focusing on a fear of Islam and distaste with mass immigration’ (p. 242). Whilst these scholars coined the term ‘new realism’ in response to the Dutch context, the characteristics mentioned here are visible throughout contemporary Europe. Anthropologist Martijn de Koning proposes another perspective and commentary on the discussion of Islam in the Netherlands as well as social and political developments and debates surrounding it. In his somewhat controversial essay, Een Ideologische Strijd met Islam (‘An Ideological Struggle with Islam’) (2016a), de Koning elaborates on Pim Fortuyn’s pivotal role in sharpening the debate, the emergence of ‘new realism’, and, more specifically, what he calls ‘the racialisation of Muslims’.16 Since the idea of ‘racialising religion’ is not only controversial among scholars, but also among some of my interlocutors, a word on its use is warranted. Steve Garner and Saher Selod (2014), critical scholars of race and racisms, situate ‘racialization as a way to explain and understand Islamophobia, as racism towards a Muslim population’ (Garner & Selod, 2014, p. 11).17 They continue, ‘Embracing [racialisation]


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means giving up the conjoined twin false binaries underpinning the fixation that religious affiliations are never to do with the body, and that “race” is only to do with the body’ (Garner & Selod, 2014, p. 11, emphasis in original). They argue that, historically, racism is not just about phenotype, as it is often understood these days. Rather, it has always been comprised of three elements: (1) a set of ideas that assume you can ‘divide’ the human race into other ‘races’; (2) a historical power relationship in which certain groups become racialised and are ‘treated as if specific characteristics were natural and innate to each member of the group’ (p. 11); and (3) forms of discrimination, ranging, for example, from limited access to the labour market to genocide. Indeed, as Garner and Selod note, the crux of the problem in discussions around the terminology of ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘racialisation’ is that opponents base their definition of racism solely on phenotype. Therefore, religion cannot be raced, or so the argument goes. But if we follow Garner and Selod’s trifold definition, we can see that race and racism are not historically based solely on appearance, but also on other cultural characteristics, such as religion. As such, Garner and Selod (2014) point to the way in which this logic sidesteps the problem of whether a phobia can be directed at a religion, as in Islamophobia. They summarise: ‘people (physical bodies) are the ultimate site of racism, even if the path toward those bodies lies through cultural terrain’ (p. 12). I agree that acknowledging ‘racialisation’ opens up spaces for looking at certain phenomena in real life, such as the experiences of non-Muslims who suffer from Islamophobia (Awan & Zempi, 2018). In short, under the ‘“religion can be raced” logic, it is the relationship between people, culture, and religious observance that constitutes Islamophobia, while racialization provides a concept that enables an understanding of the process of linking them’ (Garner & Selod, 2014, p. 14). In the Netherlands, de Koning (2016b) describes three aspects of this process of racialisation. Firstly, he observes the idea among politicians and policy makers that migrant cultures pose a threat to society, which is partially a threat to social peace and cohesion, but increasingly relates to ‘terrorism’ and violence. Secondly, de Koning recognises that politicians and policy makers perpetually distinguish between ‘autochthonous’ and ‘allochthonous’ Dutch people, which, according to him, represents a neo-colonial and paternalistic distinction between the dominant white majority and certain minorities. Thirdly, de Koning notes that the role and place of religion in society has changed over time. In recent decades (post-Fortuyn and post-9/11), the dominant discourse has changed in relation to categorical assumptions, as witnessed in new realism. In the Netherlands, Haleh Ghorashi (2015) observed that, despite the trends described above, there remains a strong resistance towards the term ‘racism’. She further noted a parallel with the 1980s. Within a pillarised society, toleration of the other is not so much about respecting and understanding the other’s existential beliefs; rather, it is about tolerating the borders between groups. As such, there is no need for mutual interaction. The same applies to migrant minority groups: they are to be distantly tolerated but not interacted with. After

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events such as 9/11 and the murder of Theo van Gogh, this became a negative distance, and Muslims were perceived as a potential danger. According to Ghorashi, historical indifference about migrants has been the basis of categorical thought and therefore it is also a justification for contemporary disgruntlement regarding migrants. Those who practice exclusionary rhetoric view themselves as victims, not as perpetrators. They believe they are defending what is rightfully theirs, making it unacceptable to accuse them of racism or contributing to the rise of the postracial contemporary. As Ghorashi concludes: Within this frame of thinking, discriminatory acts and words towards migrants are legitimised as a natural defence mechanism, making it impossible for them to be viewed as racist. Rather, use of the term ‘racism’ is viewed as a defence by ungrateful and spoiled migrants and their supporters. (Ghorashi, 2015, p. 196, my translation). What we see here is how historic and political developments have contributed to the emergence of the postracial contemporary in the Netherlands. Racist assumptions about and discriminatory practices towards migrant groups have entered Dutch public spheres, and in recent years this has been aimed primarily at Muslims and Islam as a group of negative references and through the process of racialisation. Of course, in addition to open and dominant anti-Muslim sentiments among politicians and within public debates, other voices are responding to and partaking in the discussion. For example, VrijLinks (Vrij = free or rather; Links = left) is an online platform established in 2018. I wish to highlight it because of its recent engagements with so-called ‘ex-Muslims’ and the CEMB. In 2018, it published a manifesto in response to what it considered the ‘failing regressive left’. The manifesto called for ‘free and unrestricted debate, a religiously neutral state, secular education for all children, and re-evaluation of individual freedom’ (Aynan et al., 2018, my translation). The platform castigates the ‘racism of lowered expectations’ with regards to the approaches of the state and, specifically, the political Left, which aim to ‘protect non-Western Dutch’ and allegedly keep certain (religious or cultural) practices out of the public debate: ‘Not a single idea, religious or profane, is above critique in the free world. Ideas have no rights, citizens have rights’ (Aynan et al., 2018). VrijLinks advocates for what they consider ‘neutral’ absolute secularism: they want to abolish the constitutional right to freedom of religion, arguing that when secularisation is under pressure, so too are personal freedoms, which creates an environment where homophobia, gender inequality, and pressure to believe can flourish. By abolishing religion or religious practices from governance and policy, they claim to stand for the absolute equality of all human beings. VrijLinks is a small platform, but one that interestingly adopts the rhetoric of British secularists (see Chapter 3). Specifically, it challenges the alleged accommodation (i.e., ‘racism of lowered expectations’) of Islam, Muslims, and ‘non-Western Dutch’. Furthermore, between its July 2018 inception and the time of writing, it published 27 articles relating to ‘ex-Muslims’, which include a number explicitly about the British CEMB and other international activists.


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Being ‘postrace’ and the construction of ‘Muslim otherness’ in Britain According to the most recent survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around 3.2 million people in England and Wales identified as Muslim in 2017, constituting around 5.7 percent of the population (ONS, 2017). The survey also indicated that between 2011 and 2017, the number of people affiliating with Islam increased by 1 percent. Muslims were identified as the largest minority religious group in London (Tower Hamlets and Newham, in particular, were 40.3 and 43.1 percent Muslim respectively). Other areas with Muslim populations greater than 20 percent included Birmingham, Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, and Luton. The most recent data on the ethnic composition of British Muslims dates from 2001, when 42.5 percent were of Pakistani descent or origin; 16.8 percent Bangladeshi; 8.5 percent Indian; 7.5 percent ‘other white’, which includes individuals of Turkish, Arabic, and Northern-African descent as well as Eastern Europeans; 6.2 percent black African; 5.8 percent ‘other Asian’; and 4.1 percent British (ONS, 2011). The ONS 2011 census only registered the ethnicity and religion of the non-UK-born population of England and Wales. Although historic perspectives on the presence of Muslims in Britain vary, the first consistent patterns of Muslim immigration emerged during the eighteenth century (Ansari, 2004), particularly within certain areas, such as Manchester, Liverpool, and London. From the early nineteenth century until the end of the Second World War, Muslim immigration was fairly limited and uncoordinated. However, not unlike patterns in the Netherlands, increased demands for labour after World War II prompted workers to come to the UK (Rehman, 2007). Economic migrants to the British Isles mainly originated from post-independence Commonwealth countries, particularly from the South Asian subcontinent. They were mostly unskilled workers. By the 1980s, they faced problems of unemployment and ‘alarmingly high levels of racism and social exclusion’ (Rehman, 2007, p. 844).18 Whilst a new 1971 immigration policy led to a drop in migrant workers as well as family and marriage-resettlement programs, higher birth rates among immigrant communities and conversions to Islam contributed – and continue to contribute – to growth in the British Muslim population (Orenstein & Weismann, 2016, p. 4).19 Multiculturalism in Britain has had many meanings over the years. From the 1960s onward, prominent social movements advocated for the minority (and, in particular, multi-ethnic, anti-racist) citizenship rights that ‘South Asian, African, and Caribbean settlers had due to the legacy of the British Empire, and by the existence of anti-colonial politics in these regions’ (Kundnani, 2012, p. 156). These social movements identified ‘black’ people as a political minority, and they included (and attempted to unify) anyone who had a different cultural history and shared politics of anti-racism. During this time, multiculturalism was seen by the political establishment as either a demographic way to describe a new reality or a way of living that was perceived as a reaction to post-War anti-fascism.

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During the 1980s, large-scale urban disturbances prompted the government to come up with new policies to manage these new multi-ethnic realities, rather than merely observing them. As opposed to the Netherlands, where multiculturalism remained a descriptive, retrospective term rather than an active government policy, in the UK multiculturalism was implemented as a political ideal to manage cultural diversity. Minority groups were supposed to have ‘cultural outlets’ for their activities.20 Indeed, during the course of the 1980s and 1990s, the government gave considerable autonomy and support to minority groups, passed anti-racism laws, and supported education programs to provide sensitivity to cultural diversity: ‘While never officially formalised by the British government, multiculturalism became, in the words of one specialist, “an unwritten constitution”’ (Orenstein & Weismann, 2016, p. 4). Kundnani (2012) observed that, by the end of the 1980s, two different interpretations of multiculturalism could be identified: top-down multiculturalism, which was primarily about managing communities, and the bottom-up political struggle of minority groups. For the former, culture and ethnicity were the main ways in which minority identity was conceived, while blackness as a positive political identity was seen as problematic. For the latter, the growing focus among the intellectual Left of the 1980s on cultural and ethnic differences as key sites of liberatory struggle led to the notion of a shared black political identity increasingly coming to be seen as passé. (Kundnani, 2012, p. 157) In addition, Nicole Falkenhayner (2014) noted that the ‘black activism’ movement pleaded for racial equality: ‘Nevertheless, demands for the acceptance of cultural difference took precedence over demands for political equality by the mid1980s’ (Falkenhayner, 2014, p. 14). The discourse that universal citizenship gave everyone in society the same status, thereby linking it to equality, was increasingly criticised (see also Young, 1989).21 In contemporary society in recent decades, Falkenhayner contends, instead of a collective socio-political ‘black’ minority, British Muslims have been identified as a distinct quasi-ethnicity or political collective identity (Falkenhayner, 2014). What changed, and more importantly, how did this change occur? According to Falkenhayner, dominant identification markers, such as ethnicity or religion, change over time, and media events can function as catalysts. The Rushdie affair was one such event. Multicultural policies had already come under scrutiny before 1989. However, after the publication of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in 1988 and the Muslim and worldwide reaction that followed, which included protests in the Netherlands, the 1989 Bradford book burning in the UK, and the fatwa pronounced by Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini, prominent MPs and commentators collectively attacked Muslims as a minority and criticised multiculturalism for allowing fundamentally different, anti-liberal people (i.e., Muslims) to live and thrive in Britain.22 Jill Tweedie, liberal commentator for The Independent, stated that the multiculturalist philosophy:


Religion, secularism, and discourse was predicated on the expectation that the minorities would also demonstrate tolerance, and the implicit belief that all manifestations of cultural diversity would be benign. It is becoming disturbingly apparent that this is not the case. The time has therefore come for an examination of how a tolerant, multi-cultural society should handle the intolerant behaviour on the part of a minority. (cited in Orenstein & Weismann, 2016, p. 4)

The Rushdie affair, the media attention it was given, the Bradford book burning, and the consequential depiction of a ‘new’ minority group in the press allowed for the recognition or even creation of the figure of the British Muslim. Of course, the construction of social representations can only take place through history and its players. In the case of the British Muslim, the previous distinctive categories of race, ethnicity, and religion used to describe the ‘other’ had become collated into ‘religion’ (Falkenhayner, 2014). That is, in an effort to diversify race from its postcolonial history and interpretation, figures of ethnicity were constructed. However, religious divides were made to further diversify these figures (e.g., Asian into Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani), especially since Muslims became visible as a minority group after the Rushdie affair. Paradoxically, after the Rushdie affair and Bradford book burning, figures or representations of ethnically and racially diverse people were grouped into a single religion: Islam (Modood, 2013). In the Netherlands, the Rushdie affair had a similar effect after images of violent Muslim men burning books were shown, which according to commentators indicated the irreconcilability of ‘modern’ Western values, such as freedom of speech, and non-Western Islamic values, such as blasphemy.23 The July 2001 Bradford riots also sparked a wave of commentary regarding multiculturalist discourse in the UK. In reaction to a far-right march in the centre of the city, Muslims took to the streets in violent protest, leading to police officer injuries and considerable property damage. The unrest instigated debates concerning ‘integration’ as well as policy strategies that promoted ‘community cohesion’ and ‘inter-community interaction’ (Cantle, 2001). The concept of Britishness and questions about British values and the meaning of citizenship were also raised. Not long after the riots, the 9/11 attacks in the United States placed increased strain on Muslim and nonMuslim relations worldwide, especially in the UK due to the country’s active participation in the US-led ‘War on Terror’ in the Middle East. Rehman (2007) notes: The deficit of maturity, foresight, and transparency in British foreign policy since the 11 September 2001 has antagonised all segments of Muslim minority communities. Anger and infuriation have been translated into demonstrations, protests, and violent dissent and were a contributing factor behind the 7 July bombings. (p. 857)

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After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration in the US committed to retaliation against Al Qaeda, which led to a coalition with the UK and other allies. Bombing in Afghanistan started on 7 October 2001, less than four weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Consequently, in the UK ‘the allied aerial campaign accompanied by evidence of indiscriminate bombardment and civilian casualties, presented an unfortunate development for the Muslim minorities of Britain’ (p. 859). Indeed, many British Muslims (and non-Muslims) opposed the military operations even before the extent of atrocities and human rights violations became fully apparent. The invasion of Iraq in March 2003 also came under scrutiny from the British public. It is now known that the justification for the invasion, which was that Saddam Hussein was in the possession of weapons of mass destruction, was fallacious. Furthermore, arguments that Hussein violated human rights, and therefore the population should be ‘liberated’, were considered a double standard since they had not been raised prior to the invasion. Additionally, British national policy in the wake of the 9/11 attacks involved considerable ‘draconian measures’, such as the incarceration and detention of individuals without trial. Numerous UK terror suspects were held by authorities for years without trial, in violation of international human rights laws, which fostered anger and frustration amongst the British populace in general and the Muslim community in particular. These phenomena and events are closely interrelated with the discursive production of secular and religious spheres. However, whilst they received media coverage and were publicly discussed in the Netherlands, they did not influence its public discourse as much since the country was not part of the coalition that invaded Iraq. One additional event and its aftermath are particularly relevant for the UK context. On 7 July 2005 (more commonly referred to as 7/7), four ‘backpack’ bombs exploded on a bus and in the London Underground, killing 52 people and injuring over 700. The four suicide bombers were later identified as Mohammad Sidique Khan, Germaine Lindsay, Hasib Hussain, and Shehzad Tanweer. Three were born in the UK; one was a Jamaican-born convert. None had prior records with the authorities. The 7/7 bombings, perpetrators, and historic situation allowed for the conceptualisation of an ‘enemy from within’.24 Previously, foreign strangers posed a threat to British society, such as communists during the Cold War or Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Following the terrorist attacks, however, the perceived threat shifted to an unseen enemy ‘living among us’.25 In the immediate aftermath, politicians did make a distinction between ‘Muslim terrorists’ and the vast majority of Muslims, who detested the attacks and any form of violence or terrorism.26 Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, and Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, responded in the same spirit and called for unity among British citizens. However, ‘[t]he London Underground bombings […] were another blow to non-MuslimMuslim relations, confirming the image of the latter as a security threat that required monitoring and surveillance’ (Orenstein & Weismann, 2016, pp. 4–5). Indeed, media and politics continued to position Muslims as ‘the other’, a conception which rested on two arguments: first, the increasing realisation or


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perception that Muslim demands for certain policies and values were irreconcilable with British values or ‘Britishness’; and second, the rise of Islamic extremism and violence. Orenstein and Weismann (2016) observed that multiculturalism was often seen not only as the cause of social unrest and political disagreements, but also as a cause of security issues and threats to British society. Whilst critiques of multiculturalist policies existed before the Rushdie affair, including from the black activist movement itself, multiculturalism had been continuously implemented as a proactive and, in more recent years, inclusive policy of Britishness. The New Labour government of Blair and Brown, which was in power from 1997 until 2010, remained convinced and communicated in both speeches and policy that the multiculturalist approach was the right way forward. In an 8 December 2006 lecture – one-and-a-half years after the 7/7 attacks – Blair deepened his convictions, analysis, and defence of multiculturalism in the UK: ‘He stated that the problem of the terrorist attacks in London was not a function of “a flawed theory of multicultural society” but of a “a particular ideology that arises within one religion at this one time”’ (Osler, 2009; Vellenga, 2008a, p. 460). As noted above, the Prime Minister’s approach was criticised. First, it ignored connections between the terrorist threat, home-grown Islamism, and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, it failed to reject multiculturalism. According to a number of critics, such as British scholar Gurharpal Singh (2005), American commentator William Pfaff, and French scholar Gilles Kepel, multiculturalism officially died with the 7/7 bombings, (Orenstein & Weismann, 2016; Vellenga, 2008a). From within Blair’s own government, Trevor Phillips, at the time Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality [CRE], warned in response to Blair’s lecture that Britain was ‘sleepwalking […] to segregation. We are becoming strangers to each other, and we are leaving communities to be marooned outside the mainstream’ (quoted in Osler, 2009, p. 89). He argued that the elite’s failure to recognise that society was still highly segregated only reinforced inequality. He, along with Tony Blair and later Gordon Brown, argued for a focus on ‘common values’ that bind society. According to Phillips, diverse lifestyles are compatible with common values that are fully accepted within British society. Osler (2009) noted that, in a backlash to Phillips’s critique, media commentators and the public alike used his claims to argue for assimilation and, moreover, portray Muslims as a homogeneous group threatening ‘our values’. The strongest opposition to Tony Blair and the then dominant pro-multiculturalist discourse came from the far-right British National Party (BNP) led by Nick Griffin. The BNP has a strong nationalist and anti-immigrant (more specifically, anti-Islam) focus. In a leaflet, they described Islam as a threat to ‘mainstream’ society and ‘British culture, heritage, and ways of life’ (Vellenga, 2008a, p. 461). Most mainstream parties strongly opposed the BNP for being xenophobic and preaching hate. However, Vellenga (2008a) noted that the dominant discourse in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings in London was that of multiculturalists pleading for the transformation of British multiculturalism, a policy of

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inclusion, and the re-establishment of ‘Britishness’ through the education system. However, this debate was commonly considered one-sided: any criticism on the multiculturalist approach of inclusion was ignored or corrected by the political establishment, particularly members of the ruling Labour party. As opposed to the Netherlands, where ‘new realism’ was a political reality, socalled political correctness was still considered a virtue in the UK, ‘and [it was] kept alive by prominent figures in British society’ (Vellenga, 2008, p. 462). However, various cases linked to the multiculturalist ‘politically correct’ paradigm and considered problematic by prominent policy makers came under public scrutiny. Almost always, these cases were associated with Muslims or Muslim customs (Kundnani, 2012). For example, women’s veiling practices were publicly criticised. The discussion reached its height in 2006 – a year after Phillips’s remarks – when cabinet minister Jack Straw commented on the fact that a Muslim woman wore the niqab to a meeting in his constituency. He expressed discomfort with speaking to a person whose whole face was covered. He described the veil as a ‘visible statement of separation and difference’ (Straw, 2006). This notion is an example of how, according to some, ‘Britishness’ and Islam are irreconcilable. Although I elaborate on issues of gender and sexual politics below, for now suffice it to say that after the 7/7 bombings discourse regarding integration, and specifically Muslims, began to change from a uniform multiculturalist approach to one that questioned this policy and philosophy, particularly in light of the perceived problem of reconciling or including Islam with ‘Britishness’. As noted above, criticism of multicultural discourse and policies increased after the London bombings. The 2010 election of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron ended 13 years of Labour governance. In February 2011, Cameron announced that multiculturalism had failed. According to Cameron, British society consisted of segregated communities, which led an increasing number of young Muslims to be attracted to violent Islamist extremism. To counter this, he suggested new policies that promoted British values in all sectors of society whilst respecting and tolerating other religions and cultures (Meer et al., 2010; Orenstein & Weismann, 2016). This inclusionary policy, which sought to renew British identity or ‘Britishness’, was not entirely new. It was prominent and there were attempts to implement it in the late New Labour years under Gordon Brown. However, it was not until the Tory government was elected that it became the dominant discourse, especially within schools.27 The promotion of Britishness remains contested. Its opponents find that the concept of Britishness is significantly racially biased, as is the concept of Englishness. According to the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain (CMEB): Britishness, as much as Englishness, has systematic, largely unspoken, racial connotations. […] Britain confronts a historic choice as to its future direction. Will it try to turn the clock back, digging in, defending old values and ancient hierarchies, relying on a narrow English-dominated, backward-looking definition of the nation? (CMEB, 2000)


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It has been argued, not only by the CMEB, that the new policy of inclusion in combination with the postracial contemporary juxtaposes what is non-Muslim and ‘good’ with what is Muslim and ‘bad’, or what is a British national identity with multiculturalism (Meer et al., 2010; Osler, 2009; Smith, 2016; Uberoi & Modood, 2013). In recent years, other terrorist attacks, such as those in Manchester and London in 2017, have increased anxieties towards and among British Muslims. Furthermore, the election of Donald Trump in the United States, the Brexit vote, and the international rise of extreme-right groups (Hungary, Austria, and Germany are but a few examples) have created spaces for increased Islamophobic hate crime, which has been unprecedented since 9/11 (Awan & Zempi, 2018). Recently, Imran Awan and Irene Zempi empirically investigated the racialised position of Muslims by analysing the narratives of non-Muslim men who suffered Islamophobic hate crime in the post-Brexit era. Their interlocutors saw a drastic increase after the Brexit vote. One commented: ‘On Facebook, someone wrote on my timeline “Shouldn’t you be on a plane back to Pakistan? We voted for you being out”’ (Awan & Zempi, 2018, p. 8). My interlocutors further identified Trump’s election and ‘ISIS inspired terrorist attacks’ as triggers for Islamophobic hate crime aimed towards them. Not only do these findings indicate a more violent climate for Muslims, but they also confirm the racialised nature of the figure of ‘the Muslim other’ in Britain. In summation, whilst the dominant contemporary discourses in the Islam debate in both the Netherlands and the UK are pro-assimilationist, anti-multiculturalist, new realist, and postracial, the previous sections have attempted to describe each country’s different trajectory and particularities towards such a paradigm. It is important to note that this discourse did not become dominant (again) until the late 2000s in the UK, whilst in the Netherlands it has been a more common feature of politics since the 1990s. These dominant discourses become more pronounced when gender-specific issues in the debate are considered. In their introduction to The State of Race (2013), Nisha Kapoor and Virinder S. Kalra rather crudely, but illustratively, summarise the construction of the Muslim other in Europe: Much work was done to construct the figure of the ‘terrorist threat’ which encompassed drawing on age-old notions of the oriental Muslim; the male simultaneously barbaric, pre-modern, hyper-aggressive and hyper-sexualised, whilst also displaying homophobic and patriarchal tendencies denying the Muslim woman – veiled, submissive and without her own agency – the rights and freedoms deemed the foundations of liberal, democratic civilisations. (p. 2) To illustrate the importance of gender-specific issues in debates on Islam in general and the racialisation of Muslims in particular, the following section comparatively elaborates on sexual politics, veiling practices as well as the debates surrounding them, honour crime, and gender-specific policies in both the UK and the Netherlands.

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Gender, sexual freedom, secularism, and Islam The gendering and sexualisation of different public, political, and media discourses concerning Islam in both the UK and the Netherlands must be discussed. According to Oskar Verkaaik and Rachel Spronk, sexuality and religion ‘may be called mirror discourses of the authentic to the extent that the most heated identity politics revolves around these issues’ (Verkaaik & Spronk, 2011, p. 86). Considering the discursive production of religion by the secular, we may similarly consider the secularist discursive production of how citizens ought to think about sexuality, especially because of its political appropriation in policy. It will become clear that, whilst both countries’ discourses have a similar tendency to discuss these matters in terms of gendered stereotypes, there are also significant differences in the manner they are appropriated. In her influential book on the question of whether Afghan women ‘need saving’, Lila Abu-Lughod (2013) observed the neo-colonial tendency of politicians and feminists alike to utilise the alleged aim of liberating Afghan women from the shackles of the Taliban regime and their veils, which are symbolic of their suppression, as an excuse to invade the country. Indeed, the construction of Muslim woman as victims of oppression was a key argument made by the US, the UK, and their allies to justify the invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. The image of the suppressed female ‘other’ penetrated European national contexts and public debates, and the bodies of women were contested over and juxtaposed with ‘modernity’ and national identity. Heidi Safia Mirza (2013) argued: [I]n the virulent discourses of Islamophobia and multiculturalism in contemporary Europe, the banning of the face veil does not represent a concern with the Muslim women’s human rights and social conditions, as is often invoked. Instead, it constitutes a post-modern reworking of the heroic colonial stance, only now ‘White men and women are seen to be saving Muslim women from Muslim men’! (p. 100) Mirza referred to the famous, rather cynical words of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1988), who described neo-colonial practices as ‘white men saving brown women from brown men’. In contemporary Europe, the dominant discourse surrounding the veil debate has shifted from an international neo-colonialist tendency, which wishes to liberate the Oriental other, to a desire that claims to liberate Muslim women by forcing them to unveil.28 Now, the debate about the hijab is effectively no longer about ‘liberation’ – despite the claims of some liberal feminist journalists – but a reflection of the anxiety over perceived threats to ‘national culture’, ‘our way of life’, and the very future of the nation. (Williamson & Khiabany, 2010, p. 93)


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Whilst these topics are extensively discussed throughout Europe, there are national particulars to these debates, both historically as well as politically. The following sections will attempt to elaborate upon sexual politics and gender-specific discussions in both the UK and the Netherlands. First, I discuss ‘the sexular’ – the role of homosexuality and alleged sexual freedom and how, particularly in the Netherlands, they have been utilised to emphasise the supposed irreconcilability of Islam and secular liberalism. Second, I provide some examples of how, especially in the UK, the bodies and gender-specific characteristics and conflations of Muslim men and women have been created to juxtapose Islam with national identity. Third and lastly, I examine the role of policy making concerning gender-specific issues in minority Muslim communities and illustrate how secularist discourse simultaneously defines itself and the religious sphere in the name of sexual equality and freedom. The desire to define itself goes hand in hand with a desire to mould, change, and define the religious (i.e., Muslim) other as well as the confines of its spaces.

Dutch ‘sexularism’ and its British other An elaborate explanation of the historic normalisation of gay sexuality, emancipation, and sexual freedom in both the Netherlands and the UK is beyond the scope of this chapter. However, it is pertinent to note their recent utilisation in neoculturalist and populist politics, especially in the Netherlands. Furthermore, sexual freedom as an intrinsic ‘modern’ value often defined at the expense of religious freedom should be examined since it is a prominent theme in former Muslims’ motivations for leaving their faith (Cottee, 2015; see also Chapter 5). The subject of sexual politics has been touched upon a few times in the previous sections; however, it is worth elaborating on it and issues of gender, sexual freedom, and emancipation considering the univocal stance taken across the Dutch political spectrum as well as the position of the public and politics in the UK. Joan W. Scott (2009, 2017) coined the term ‘sexularism’ to point to a particular constellation of sexuality and secularism. In what follows, I give a brief overview of pertinent scholarship from the past decade, especially on Dutch ‘sexularism’. Jelle Wiering (2017) convincingly and empirically illustrated a particular formation of a ‘sexular body’, which he traces back to the 1960s, in which cultural secularisation and depillarisation not only took place, but also went hand in hand with the ‘sexual liberation’ movement (Verkaaik & Spronk, 2011; also see Bracke, 2013). This is a dominant narrative in the Dutch conscience that is prevalent today, and its effects will be outlined below. Uitermark et al. (2013) argued that sexual politics play an increasingly important role within identity politics, new realism, and neoculturalism: ‘Discourses of feminist and sexual progress have been pivotal to the ascent and growing entrenchment of neoculturalist perspectives in the Netherlands’, while ‘Muslim immigration is delineated as a threat to the stability of the Dutch progressive and moral order’ (p. 242). As Judith Butler (2008) noted,

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(sexual) freedom is appropriated by state discourses and privileged by the modern nation ‘to produce distinct notions of sexual minorities and distinct communities of new immigrants within a temporal trajectory that makes Europe and its state apparatus into the avatar of both freedom and modernity’ (p. 2). Uitermark et al. (2013) similarly commented that the neoculturalists have positioned liberal, progressive, and Dutch cultural and sexual freedoms against a ‘knowable’ other: the conservative, restricted, fundamentalist, traditional Muslim. Such classifications and terminology bind neoculturalists’ discourse with pro-gay activism and feminist progressive politics, thereby associating any solidarity with Muslims with homophobia and conservatism. Interestingly, the Netherlands is quite unique in doing so, as Jan Willem Duyvendak explained: Where in other countries the autochthonous public and political opinion itself is heavily divided on issues of gender and most definitely (homo) sexuality, in the Netherlands the entire autochthonous political spectrum supports progressive values. Political parties that thus far had not stood out by their support of women’s or homosexuals’ emancipation, now pose as the champions of equality on the basis of gender and sexual preference. (quoted in Van Stokkom, 2009, p. 156, my translation) Neoculturalists in the Netherlands have successfully claimed the values of sexual progress and emancipation as their own and, more importantly, have equated ‘Islam’ with fundamentalist and traditionalist Islamic views on sexual freedom, homosexuality, and gender (in)equality. As mentioned above, the politician Pim Fortuyn capitalised on sexual progress as an essential Dutch value by being openly gay whilst actively opposing Islam and describing Muslims as ‘backward’. This combination of conservative views on immigration and progressive sexual values reshaped the Dutch political climate. Fortuyn’s approach defined who ‘we the Dutch’ were as well as who ‘they, the cultural and threatening other’ were. As anthropologist Peter van der Veer summarised, ‘Fortuyn capitalized on the trope of sexual freedom as inherently Dutch and was pivotal in ingraining it deeper into the Dutch self-image’ (quoted in Mepschen et al., 2010, p. 968), thereby shaping the dominant assimilationist discourse. The case of Imam Khalil El-Moumni deepened the divide in the Netherlands, paved the way for Pim Fortuyn, and helped place the issue on the political and public agenda. In 2001, El-Moumni proclaimed on Dutch national television that homosexuality was dangerous and a disease, and in doing so, ‘[t]he imam had trodden on one of the cornerstones of Dutch cultural self-representation’ (Mepschen et al., 2010, p. 967). The affair led to increased public interest in the issue and produced a wave of commentaries from politicians and publicists. As noted by Baukje Prins, public opinion polls indicated that 91 percent of respondents agreed that ‘newcomers should tolerate our tolerance or should leave’ (quoted in Mepschen et al., 2010, p. 967). In the commentaries that followed, simplistic comparisons were made in which allegedly basic Dutch values of


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tolerance and liberalism were opposed to El-Moumni’s views.29 Muslims were afforded no place in this debate on homosexuality. After El-Moumni’s statements, several prominent Dutch publicists who had previously opposed ‘public display of queerness’ purported that gay rights were exemplary of Dutch traditional values.30 Popular commentators wanted to make it appear that, with the appearance of Pim Fortuyn and new realism on the political stage, homophobia had factually disappeared from the wider (non-Muslim) society in the Netherlands. Of course, such changes in the public representation of opinion merely highlight how it was no longer acceptable for opinion makers and commentators to express homophobic sentiments in the dominant discourse. Since Fortuyn’s death, sexual politics have been invoked continuously when discussing issues related to immigration. Ayaan Hirsi Ali addressed what were, in her eyes, the problems of gender inequality in Muslim culture, the Netherlands, and beyond. Geert Wilders insisted on the causal relationship between anti-gay violence and Moroccan culture and cultural diversity. As Uitermark et al. (2013) summarise: ‘It has become almost impossible to discuss lesbian and gay emancipation without it being associated with migration and the “problem” of multiculturalism’ (p. 245). This has led to the problem that ‘taking up the defence of lesbian and gay rights and public gayness comes to be associated with Islamophobia, while solidarity with Muslims against Islamophobia is represented, especially by the populist right, as trivialising or even supporting “Muslim” homophobia’ (Butler, 2008; Mepschen et al., 2010, p. 965).31 However, it should be noted that Dutch society is still rather homophobic itself, and the framing of homophobia as merely a Muslim or migrant problem is, indeed, unfounded. Of course, within the political sphere, there are voices that attempt to combine pragmatist views with progressive sexual values; however, they appear to respond to the neoculturalist dominant discourse of ‘Muslims [being] backward and against sexual liberties’, which indicates the assimilationist, new realist, neoculturalist discourse remains dominant (Mepschen, 2018). Butler (2008) noted that the appropriation of the values of freedom is an intrinsic part of the modernity project, which coerces immigrants and, in particular, Muslims, to abide by such values. Butler specifically points to the immigration policy of the Netherlands and the test given to those wishing to apply for citizenship, which explicitly asks how one should behave when witnessing two men kissing.32 Test respondents are asked whether images of two men kissing are thought to be offensive, whether they are thought to express personal liberty, and whether the respondents are willing accept such practices. Butler rightfully asked the question: Does the exam become the means for testing tolerance or does it carry out an assault against religious minorities, part of a broader effort on the part of the state to demand coercively that they rid themselves of their traditional religious beliefs and practices in order to gain entry into the Netherlands? (Butler, 2008, p. 5, emphasis added)

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Such policies show that it is not merely the neoculturalists who have appropriated the values of sexual freedom in order to establish a dominant and superior culture over the ‘backward’ Muslim other. Coercively, the state demands its new citizens to adopt a set of values before they acquire rights of citizenship: Within this framework the freedom of personal expression, broadly construed, relies upon the suppression of a mobile and contestatory understanding of cultural difference, and that the issue makes clear how state violence invests in cultural homogeneity as it applies its exclusionary policies to rationalize state policies towards Islamic immigrants. (Butler, 2008, p. 5) First of all, Butler noted, a certain paradox becomes evident: the struggle for sexual freedom is at the expense of certain religious freedoms. Second, the uncritical domain of the culture of liberal freedoms relies on a hegemonic understanding of a culture called ‘modernity’. Whilst Butler further argues for overcoming these mutual exclusions, for now it suffices to note that, in the Dutch context, it is apparent that policies and an assumed hegemonic understanding of sexual freedom and modernity predominate over religious freedom and ‘Islam’. In the UK, the relationship between sexual politics, secular freedom, and Islam differs from the Netherlands on three levels. First, sexual freedom and LGBTQ+ rights have not been priorities in political parties’ agendas or manifestos. In other words, sexual politics have not entered politics as predominantly in the UK as they have in the Netherlands. In his examination of party manifestos for UK general elections between 1945 and 2011, Paul Chaney (2013) observed that although parties were increasingly aware of LGBTQ+ voters and electoral programs courted them more, they did so in a limited and reductive manner. Chaney concluded that aspects of institutionally homophobic practices are still common in contemporary UK electoral politics. According to him, recognition of international human rights laws and statutes is limited in electoral programs. Second, because progressive sexual politics have not prominently entered the UK political arena, the default mode of politicians and party members is not necessarily pro sexual freedom or gender equality. Whilst the tide is slowly turning, politicians’ voting records are both pro and con. For example, the candidates to take over the Conservative leadership from David Cameron after the Brexit vote had mixed opinions on certain gay rights laws.33 Indeed, politicians affiliated with certain Christian or evangelical churches voted in the past and continue to vote today against issues including gay marriage and equality rights (Roberts, 2013). Third, in the UK homophobia is not primarily associated with the Muslim community; rather, it appears in and is associated with most levels of society. Whilst studies show that homophobia in British society is declining, a 2013 study indicated that 18 percent of Brits believed that ‘homosexuality is a way of life that should not be accepted by society’ (Clements & Field, 2014, p. 528).


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The study, which compared polling data on British attitudes towards homosexuality, further found that in 2012, 26 percent of the population indicated that they would feel fairly to very uncomfortable if a homosexual individual became prime minister (p. 535). In the UK, homophobia is generally associated with certain parts of society, such as sports, conservatism, right-wing political parties, conservative Christianity, and, indeed, Muslims.34 However, when it is associated with the Muslim community, it is mostly self-directed homophobia. As Tim Stanley (2016) noted in an opinion piece in The Telegraph, ‘Islam does have a problem with homosexuality, but so do Western conservatives’. The reasons for differences in UK and Dutch discourse are threefold. First of all, in the Netherlands, whilst not free of societal non-Muslim homophobia, sexual freedom became a political spear point when Pim Fortuyn gained popularity, and he introduced the association of homophobia with Islam. This lead to an assumption that ‘own’ Dutch values were irreconcilable with ‘their’ Islam. Second, the above-mentioned policies implemented in the Dutch immigration process indicate an intrinsic desire to assert the assimilation of religious spheres in terms of sexual freedom. Third – and in contrast – in the UK sexual freedom and homosexuality are contested within the political domain, and they are associated not only with Islam, but also with Christian circles, the Conservative party, and sports. In sum, whilst sexual politics is discussed within the Islam debate in the UK, the emphasis is somewhat different from Dutch politicians’ and opinion makers’ univocal stance on sexual freedom and values. In the UK, the discussion gravitates more towards debates on policy and multiculturalism as well as media representations of supposedly oppressive Muslim men and submissive Muslim women in opposition to ‘Britishness’, rather than juxtaposing particular beliefs or values of the Muslim ‘other’ and secular liberal ideas of sexuality and freedom. The following section provides some examples of politicians, media, and opinion makers who expressed the opposition of gender-specific characteristics and Britishness. Abu-Lughod (2013) and Mirza (2013) analysed the neo-colonialist desire to ‘save’ Muslim women from Muslim men. In the UK, this phenomenon shifted from an international critique of the Afghanistan invasion (Abu-Lughod, 2013) to a national concern regarding the need to liberate supposedly vulnerable and submissive Muslim women from barbaric, suppressive, aggressive, and medieval Muslim men. In the Netherlands, whilst similar topics have been discussed in the public sphere, the tone and concerns were geared more towards the desire for religious neutrality in public spaces.35

Veil debates in Britain and the Netherlands In order to illustrate how hegemonic and often dogmatic understandings of gender have informed the public debate on Islam in both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, this section briefly elaborates one particular discussion that has taken a prominent position within European public discourse: the veil debate. As mentioned above, in the UK the debate transitioned from an

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international concern regarding the liberation of Afghan women to a national debate. On 5 October 2006, Jack Straw’s weekly column in the Lancashire Telegraph discussed his twofold reservations about the veiling practices of some Muslim women who visited his office. His first concern was interpersonal: removal of the veil would allow him to engage more effectively. In his opinion, conversations with a woman wearing the face-veil were not ‘face to face’. His second concern was societal: face-veils were ‘a visible statement of separation and difference’ that made ‘better possible relations between the two communities more difficult’ (Straw, 2006).36 According to Meer, Uberoi, and Modood (2015), Straw’s comments legitimised and encouraged journalists’ and critics’ portrayals of certain members of the Muslim community (i.e., veiled women) as being unable to be British: ‘This was because of the apparent incongruity between the signals which indicate common bonds – the entirely English accent, the couple’s education (wholly in the UK) – and the fact of the veil’ (Straw, 2006). His comments were some of the first that strongly differentiated between Muslims and other Brits, and the veil was used as a contested signifier of this difference and irreconcilability. In her examination of the Labour government’s political discourse on patriotism, citizenship, and multiculturalism (under the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown), Audrey Osler (2009) commented on representations of Islam in Britain: In this discourse, both multiculturalism and the niqab are associated with ‘separation’ and with problems of ‘communication’ between communities. Muslims, and especially Muslim women, are seen as isolating themselves; multiculturalism and Islam (through specific symbols) are both blamed as causing us to live ‘parallel lives’. (p. 91) The debate on the face-veil has intensified over the past decade in the UK, and for some it has come to signify the irreconcilability of Islam with Britishness: the veiled Muslim woman challenges certain ‘British’ values and perceived freedoms. As Sara Ahmed, writer and independent scholar, explained: ‘She becomes a symbol of what the nation must give up to be itself, a discourse that would require her unveiling in order to fulfil its promise of freedom’ (quoted in Mirza, 2013, p. 103). In their extensive analysis of representations of Muslims in the British media between 2000 and 2009, Baker, Gabrielatos, and McEnery (2013) noted that the veil and its lexical collocates were the words most associated with Muslim women. They concluded that the British media collectively represented veiling as an Islamic practice oppressive towards women and contradictory to human rights. Whilst the face-veil came under political scrutiny, and calls for a ban were heard, regulations against the niqab or face-veil proved to be unconstitutional under British law and irreconcilable with the establishment of church and state as well as under Article 9 of the European Commission of Human Rights (Kilic, 2008). The only restrictions that have been implemented are in schools, which can devise their own policies on student dress codes.37


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Dutch policy makers, on the other hand, have partially restricted the wearing of certain face-covering garments. Following various court cases in the early 2000s, which discussed veiling in public office, it appeared there was considerable differentiation between offices and allowances for the expression of religion. The Commissie Gelijke Behandeling (Commission on Equal Treatment), a general advisory body consulted on these matters, ruled that in schools there can be no discrimination on the basis of religious belief, and therefore the headscarf should be allowed for both teachers and students. In 2011, the Commission judged that a Catholic secondary school was guilty of religious discrimination for not allowing a student to wear a headscarf (ANP, 2011). However, in other cases, such as the wearing of a headscarf whilst serving in the judiciary or on the police force, the Commission ruled more strictly. Public officers are not allowed to express any form of religious belief (i.e., no headscarf, but also no crosses). In 2001, the same code was implemented for those serving on the police force or in the army (Haakman, 2011; Opstelten, 2011). Furthermore, in 2015 the Dutch liberal government proposed a restrictive policy on any full-face cover in certain public spaces (Back, 2015). The most recent development was the passing of the Gedeeltelijk verbod gezichtsbedekkende kleding (partial prohibition of face covering) legislation that was proposed in 2015 and enforced from 1 August 2019, which states that face coverings are prohibited in certain situations and locations, such as public transport, educational and health care facilities, and governmental buildings. Whilst coverings such as balaclavas and full-face helmets are officially included in the ban, it was designed in response to public debates regarding Muslim women’s face coverings, according to an explanatory memorandum (TKSG, 2015). In the Netherlands, therefore, conflicts over the veil were generally (legally) decided in favour of Muslim women; however, rules in recent history have become less about them and more about a desire to protect public secular spaces. The debate generally centres around equality and non-discrimination principles, although religious freedom is acknowledged. However, where public spaces, such as government institutions, are concerned, the state and legal bodies wish to ‘retain religious neutral ground’. Also, since the COVID19 outbreak and pandemic-related calls to wear facemasks, the so-called burqa ban has come under scrutiny again. Under the legislation, the wearing of (medical) facemasks is prohibited in public spaces, although currently the law is not being enforced when it comes to medical facemasks. The Algemeen Dagblad, however, reported the story of a Muslima who was denied service when she came to pick up an identification card whilst wearing the niqab. Although she took it off and only wore a medical mask, she was still not served, showing a bias towards Muslim women among the clerks involved (Rubio, 2020). The public debate surrounding the veil, as Saharso and Lettinga (2008) analysed, involves various discourse frameworks. They concluded that initially (until about 2003), the most salient frame was open neutrality and freedom of religion, which was in accordance with the dominant multiculturalist discourse of the time. With the rise of the neo-culturalists and new realists, such as Pim Fortuyn, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Geert Wilders, the more dominant frame of discourse became that of

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Islam as a threat and, consequently, victimisation. It is worth noting that, in comparison with the UK, the veil debate in the Netherlands rarely – or to a very limited extent – became a gendered discourse regarding Muslim women being suppressed or in need of saving, and the veil was rarely the contested signifier (Saharso & Lettinga, 2008, p. 472).38 Saharso and Lettinga (2008) argue that this is mainly due to the fact that gender roles are not as strongly contested in the Netherlands, as well as the long tradition of religious freedom in a pillarised society. However, as in the UK, the veil did become a symbol of alienation and the presupposed incompatibility of Islam and Western democracy. In conclusion, the veil debate in both countries shows similarities in the way the veil has been utilised to stress the supposed irreconcilability of Islam and Western society, especially in the public debate. However, there are marked differences in politicians’ approaches and implemented policies. Whereas in the UK there have been no restrictions on the wearing of the veil other than schools’ student dress codes, the Netherlands has imposed a restrictive ban on the wearing of the full-face veil in certain public spaces. Indeed, in the Netherlands, the national veil debate has been utilised to demarcate the religious spheres as well as define secular spaces and their contents. In the UK, however, no such demarcation has taken place; rather, the debate has focussed on the veil’s symbolic challenge to Britishness and national identity. Lastly, it is worth noting that in the UK, the veil has been a signifier of Muslim women’s supposed suppression. To understand this claim more thoroughly, the following section elaborates on gendered stereotypes that have been ascribed to Muslim men and women.

Honour crime, multiculturalism, assimilation, and policy Another theme that has attracted particular attention throughout Europe is honour crime, a term invoked when ‘honour’ is said to motivate or justify male violence against women. This does not mean that such acts are in fact ‘honourable’; rather, they are crimes that take place in response to an alleged damage to (male) honour. Even though human rights agencies have stated that so-called honour killings occur across a range of cultures and religions, in the European press they are immediately associated with or assumed to be chiefly a Muslim problem. For example, the blogger Melanie Philips commented: ‘the elephant in the room […] is that “honour killings” are largely a Muslim phenomenon’ (quoted in Fernandez, 2009, p. 278). Mirza (2013), discussing the UK context, elaborates: ‘honour crimes are often sensationalised in the press, which engages in a “pornography of violence” focusing on the individual family and their barbarity and senselessness’ (p. 101). This sensationalisation of crime, Mirza argues, leads to the negative stereotyping of certain groups, in this case Muslims. Because the term ‘honour’ is only invoked when men affiliated with religious minorities commit violence against women, it has become highly gendered and laden with implications. It is worth pointing out that both the Islamisation of so-called honour crime and the ethnicisation of this type of gendered hostility contribute to dominant assimilationist discourses and anti-Islam sentiment.


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Fernandez (2009) argued that the association of ‘honour violence’ with Islam is actively constructed by the British media and gave examples of sensationalised headlines, such as ‘Muslim Cut his Daughter’s Throat for Taking a Christian Boyfriend’, ‘Cousin Stabbed Muslim Woman in Honour Killing’, and ‘Father Gets Life for Murdering Daughter who Rejected Islam’ (p. 279). I shall expand on the specifics of the media’s role in the construction of the ‘British Muslim’ below. For now, suffice it to note that the gender roles and sexual relationships of Muslim men and women have been construed differently than those of non-Muslim men and women. In the UK, Muslim gender roles are often portrayed in terms of women being submissive and men being aggressive or even violent, which may result in the liberal subject feeling superior to the Muslim other. Indeed, contestation over religion and race in contemporary UK often involves gender equality, which implies that neither Islam nor any minority race or out-group can offer equality in the way that the secular can. The media and politics create and profess an understanding of gender equality based on so-called honour crime, which can build a sharp boundary between the in-group and the out-group. Gökçe Yurdakul and Anna C. Korteweg (2013), in their comparative analysis of debates on honour killings and forced marriages in the Netherlands, Germany, and Britain, noted that a comprehensive and cohesive policy was underway in the early 2000s under the New Labour government, although its development was interrupted by a turn towards the above-mentioned constructions. This eventually led to a shift in policy, the criminalisation of certain practices (e.g., forced marriages), and cutbacks on protection and prevention. Although the Dutch press and public debate are not unfamiliar with this type of gendered stereotyping, the political discourse is somewhat different. Gender equality issues are discussed less in the Islam debate, and policy has been more inclusive of immigrant minorities and gender-equality issues. Yurdakul and Korteweg (2013) noted that, in contrast to the UK, the Netherlands subsidised minority civil rights groups and women’s movements in order to allow them to address issues of gender-based domestic violence within their own communities. Immigrant communities and organisations placed the issues on the political and social agenda in the first place, and they simultaneously applied for funding to find pragmatic solutions. For example, on the basis of equality they argued that immigrant communities had the same civil right to protection as their non-immigrant counterparts. Much of their work went into informing communities about their right to civil services. The result of such an approach was that so-called honour-based violence was not seen as a necessary outcome of immigrant cultural practices, which may have slightly decreased the sharp ‘us versus them’ distinction in the debate on honour crime. The recent coalition government, in line with the dominant assimilation discourse and tendency to exclude Muslims from society, formulates general domestic violence in gender-neutral terms. In contrast, they primarily foreground the gender dimension when discussing violence in immigrant communities. Yurdakul and Korteweg (2018) reckon that this may be at the cost of stigmatising these communities, and an inclusion policy therefore remains tentative.

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When considering religious minorities in the UK, Mirza (2013) pointed out a problem with multicultural policy when considering gender: it never recognised gender-specific issues within a multicultural society, since it is premised on noninterference in minority lifestyles, and it insists on community consultation. Community consultations, regarding issues such as women in trouble, were often chaired by self-appointed male community leaders, and they may not have always had the women’s best interests at heart. Another issue that arose is that individuals often experience uncertainty after migrating to and settling in a foreign country: traditional structures and hierarchies are no longer in place, and patriarchal or traditional practices may therefore be amplified to provide structure. As Mirza (2013) observed: ‘[w]hen this happens, as in the context of the discourse on Islamophobia, we witness a resurgence and persistence of fixed and regressive notions of ethnicity and nationalism underpinning traditional beliefs’ (p. 104). As noted above, under the New Labour government of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown between 1997 and 2010, there was a shift from multiculturalism to civic integration. It was a swing towards the ‘inclusion’ of minorities that involved reminding them of their ‘Britishness’ whilst preserving a multicultural society. Interfaith and cultural understanding was to promote citizenship and nationhood. However, as Mirza (2013) noted, this shift to a faith-based approach had serious implications for the human rights of Muslim women. One example is the rise of unelected and unofficial Sharia law courts, which are often attached to mosques. Scholars and feminist activists Pragna Patel and Hannana Siddiqui noted: ‘These unofficial quasi legal bodies which are sanctioned within the multicultural state draw on the knowledge of unelected male elders in their conservative interpretation of Islamic law’ (quoted in Mirza, 2013, p. 107). This means that a conservative interpretation of Islamic law decides the fate of women who have been the victims of human rights violations. For example, rape victims are not protected; rather, they are punished or forced to marry their aggressors. Whilst various women’s groups campaign for minority and Muslim women’s rights – such as Pragna Patel’s Southhall Black Sisters – under new integration policies they struggle to survive, because there is no longer any government funding for specifically ethnic issues. We can therefore see a dual problematic with minority gender-specific issues in the UK: In vulnerable and racialised Muslim communities there are tensions between protecting men from the racism of state agencies and negative media representation on the one hand, and the need to raise the issue of gendered violences and protect women’s rights in the communities on the other. (Mirza, 2013, p. 110) To conclude, a comparative examination of sexual politics and gender in the Islam debates in the Netherlands and Britain reveals important differences. In the Netherlands sexual freedom and, in particular, LGBTQ+ rights have been appropriated by the political sphere to signify the progressive, free West in


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opposition to suppressive, un-free Islam. In contrast, in the UK gay rights and sexual freedom do not play a significant role in the Islam debate since homophobic sentiments are still (admittedly) common throughout society. Note that these differences are chiefly about (self-)presentation of the dominant spheres. In the Netherlands the dominant secular self-imagery, whether accurate or not, focuses on hyper-progressive LGBTQ+ inclusiveness and sexual liberty; in the UK the ‘sexular’ self is less prominent. Although the matter of Muslim women wearing the (face-)veil has been discussed throughout contemporary Europe, in the Netherlands it has been utilised to demarcate certain secular and religious spaces as well as signify Islam’s supposed irreconcilability with liberal secularism. In the UK, however, the veil primarily signifies the irreconcilability of liberalism and Islam in order to stress what is not ‘British’. In both countries gendered stereotypes of Muslim men and women have been common, especially in discussions of so-called honour crime. However, where policies dealing with such issues are concerned, the UK has occasionally implemented top-down, counter-productive measures, such as allowing for Sharia courts. Such measures have been highly contested, particularly in minority rights and feminist corners, such as CEMB and the ‘One Law for All’ organisation, which were both founded by former-Muslim Maryam Namazie. In the Netherlands, policies regarding minorities have been more bottom-up since minority groups themselves have historically taken the initiative to counter gendered violence within their communities. In Chapter 3, I elaborate further on various contestations over religious and secular practices, which often respond to particular histories of secularism and sexuality in relation to (gendered) public policies regarding religious and ethnic minorities. Furthermore, in Chapter 5, the sexual and sometimes gendered nature of what is appropriately religious (and thereby secular) also appears in my interlocutors’ contemplations regarding their very personal, embodied negotiation of knowledge, practice, and behaviour when moving out of Islam.

Media (re)presentations in the British and Dutch press A discursive factor that has received little attention thus far is the role of the media. Whilst this is not a reflection on media studies or potential social and political implications associated with the media, it is worth noting its significance in shaping and determining public debate.39 In particular, the media plays an important role in the creation of representations and, therefore, has a part in how people appropriate media images and interpret inhabitants of the real world. This section elaborates on the construction of representations and the potential conflation of Islam and Muslims in both the Dutch and British press. In his extensive review of British print media and representations of Islam and Muslims, Allen (2012) concluded that the media’s role in creating ‘Islamophobia’40 is problematic. He observed that the overwhelming majority of print media reports

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on Muslims and Islam is negative, which inscribes and underwrites the presumed otherness of Muslims and the irreconcilability of Islam with ‘Britishness’. He also noted, that: given that 64% of the British public claimed that what they know about Muslims and Islam is acquired through the media, […] it could be that such a stream of negativity goes some way to feeding, creating, and justifying a form of order about who we are, or more precisely who we are not being created in the minds of the general public. (Allen, 2012, p. 10) The aim of his review was to assess the role of the media in allowing for the stigmatisation and marginalisation of Muslims. He observed that whilst the media may not be the sole cause, it propagates the rise of Islamophobia and discriminatory and exclusionary practices: ‘In other words, it almost undeniably creates a form of order about both who we are and who we are not, and so would almost certainly feed into an ideological understanding of Islamophobia’ (p. 11). As will be shown below, a similar trend has been observed in the Dutch media over recent decades. It is worth considering the particularities of the British press in contrast with the Netherlands. First of all, in general newspapers are not mere representations of day-to-day happenings around the world. Rather, ‘they have the role of constructing ideologically motivated versions of reality, which are aimed at persuading people that certain phenomena are good or bad’ (Baker et al., 2013, p. 3). The British media, particularly newspapers, consciously attempts to influence the public socially and politically, whilst simultaneously reflecting the views of their audiences. Different newspapers publicly and openly favour certain political parties. In the Netherlands, however, whilst editors may have specific political preferences, either they only elaborate on them in a personal capacity through op-ed articles, or articles explicitly state that they reflect the opinion of the newspaper in general. In contrast, the British press does not shy away from political affiliation to the extent that ‘[n]ewspapers declare allegiance to particular political parties and urge their readers to vote accordingly’ (Baker et al., 2013, p. 8). However, this does not mean that political preferences are static, especially since newspapers may agree with leftist economic policies whilst simultaneously supporting rightist immigration proposals. However, the fact that various papers are politically vocal and attempt to convince readers of their stances is relevant in the analysis of the media’s influence on public debate. In general, it implies a different language and function of newspapers as well as media houses’ subjectivity, which is not viewed as problematic. Whilst they may contest one another, the subjective approach itself remains undisputed. In contrast to the Netherlands, newspapers in the UK are more frequently purchased on a daily basis, rather than being delivered to subscribers’ homes. This means that the newspaper system is much more vulnerable to losing customers, papers have to actively remain attractive to readers, and editors and


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publishers constantly consider their audiences. Sparks phrased it somewhat dramatically: newspapers ‘do not exist to report the news […] they exist to make money’ (quoted in Baker et al., 2013, p. 5). Baker et al. (2013) noted that various academic studies have shown that newspapers indeed have considerable influence on public opinion. Of course, newspapers present a version of reality. Representations are constructs made by, especially in Britain, politically and ideologically tainted corporations. Furthermore, papers have a certain audience that they wish to please, which implies that the readership co-authors the contents of the papers. If they fail to do so, as Gibson observed in the Guardian in 2003, profits may plummet (Baker et al., 2013). Gibson provided the example of the Daily Mirror’s anti-war stance regarding the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which may have influenced a rapid drop in sales to below 2 million: ‘[n]ewspapers thus construct society and the identities of their readers, but if they wish to be successful they must also construct themselves in relationship to their readers’ (Baker et al., 2013, p. 6). Another characteristic of British (and to a certain extent Dutch) newspapers is the distinction between tabloids and broadsheet papers. First of all, the two can be distinguished in terms of format. Tabloids have shorter news stories and more or larger imagery; they focus more on celebrities, national news stories, sports, and entertainment. Broadsheets, on the other hand, feature more text and in-depth analysis, focus on politics and international news, and use a more formal style of writing. Readerships differ as well. Whereas tabloids are traditionally read by the working classes, broadsheets are primarily read by the middle classes. Of course, these distinctions are not clear-cut, and they sometimes overlap (Baker et al., 2013, p. 7). Baker et al. (2013) note that the different modes of news reporting in the papers can be differentiated using the terms ‘popular’ (tabloid) and ‘quality’ (broadsheet), although they are also gradual rather than binary terms. ‘Popular’ refers to populist reporting, and ‘quality’ refers to a more serious approach to journalism. Whilst perhaps not as categorical as in the UK, in the Netherlands a similar distinction also exists. Some papers could be considered tabloid in style and public, and others are more likely to be qualified as broadsheets.

Muslims ‘in’ or represented by the media In 2008, the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) claimed that Muslims in the Netherlands were subjected to stigmatisation and stereotyping in media reporting, which was partially attributed the tense relationship between Muslims, policy, and non-Muslims (Shadid, 2009). Wasif Shadid (2009) noted that the media may even contribute to racism in the same sense that de Koning (2016a, 2016b) described racialisation: a group is considered inferior, not on the basis of biological race, but based on its culture or religion. Various scholars and studies have noted negative reporting on Muslims in the (Dutch) media. However, Shadid (2009) emphasised that the larger picture is ambiguous and complex: ‘All newspapers and current affairs reporting regarding Islam or Muslims is sometimes less careful and sometimes guilty of sensationalisation and stigmatisation’ (p. 174, my translation, emphasis in original).

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In his analysis of Dutch media (re)presentations of Muslims, Shadid concluded that this largely happens through four distinct negative frames.41 Firstly, the ethnocentrism frame aims to familiarise the media user with an ‘us versus them’ attitude, in which the former is valued higher than the latter. He noted that the Dutch press fails to recognise that groups are described or labelled as belonging to ‘us’, however, they continue to refer to certain MPs as ‘Turkish’. Secondly, the stigmatisation frame represents Muslims and ethnic groups as problematic. Quantitative research has shown that the majority of media articles on ethnic minorities in the EU concern insecurity, crime, or religious fundamentalism (Shadid, 2009). The aforementioned 2008 ECRI report noted that excessive generalisations in the media, such as ‘Islam is violent’ and ‘Muslims flood the Netherlands’, contribute to actual negative migration policies (Shadid, 2009). Thirdly, the ‘layman frame’ (‘lekenframe’) is characterised by the fact that Muslims and ethnic minorities are relatively silent in the debate, but if they speak out, they are often represented as laymen rather than experts. This frame also includes the fact that only a relatively low number of ethnic-minority actors appear on Dutch fictional television. Fourthly, the cultural generalisation frame represents ethnic minorities or Muslims as one homogenous group, rather than recognising individual differences. A dangerous consequence of this is that viewers and readers consider individuals representatives of an ethnic or religious minority group, which is something these individuals by definition cannot be. Shadid noted that the four frames are not the only ways Muslims or ethnic minorities are (re) presented in the media in the Netherlands; however, it is worth realising that media outlets do significantly contribute to public opinion and political debate. As mentioned above, Baker et al. (2013) studied the ‘creation of the British Muslim’ through popular imagery in newspapers between 2000 and 2009. Although it does not include any up-to-date observations from the last decade, the study’s results indicate a trend. For illustrative purposes, I will discuss the representation of Muslims in British newspapers in terms of how the veiling controversy and grooming cases were portrayed in the media. First of all, various studies show the media’s disproportionately negative reporting regarding Islam and Muslims. Analysis by Sian, Law, and Sayyid (2012) provides a good example: out of 68 articles collected over a three-month period, 70 percent were hostile, 15 percent were inclusive, and 15 percent were neutral. In the same data set, 80 percent did not contain a minority individual’s voice, 10 percent represented a ‘medium’ minority voice, 5 percent a ‘weak’ minority voice, and 5 percent a ‘strong’ minority voice: ‘These figures signal that the press coverage representing Muslims is largely hostile and that Muslim voices remain marginal’ (Sian et al., 2012, p. 234). Allen (2012) found that 91 percent of reports in newspapers presented Muslims and Islam as negative. Sian et al. (2012) further noted that although not a new phenomenon, specifically since 9/11, Muslims were constructed with an orientalist gaze, which contrasted Islam, oppression, backwardness, and violence with the enlightenment, secularism, and freedom of the West. On a national level, Baker et al. (2013) noted that, in addition to constructing the external ‘terrorist’ other and the ‘threat from within’, the


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British press also actively and explicitly constructed Muslims as not British by opposing the two terms, implying incompatibility, and printing sensational headlines, such as ‘Muslims tell British: Go to hell’ (Twomey & Dixon, 2010). Other negative generalisations were made in reporting on the so-called ‘grooming cases’ in the 2010s. The Rochdale grooming case refers to nine men from Rochdale and Oldham who were sentenced in 2012 to up to 19 years imprisonment for a variety of offences, including rape, involving seven teenage girls as young as 13 years of age.42 The fact that the offenders were of Asian descent and Muslim played a significant role in media reports on the case. As Waqas Tufail and Scott Poynting (2016) noted: ‘Indeed, media commentators suggested that ethnicity and religion were of central relevance in explaining why these crimes occurred and that the response in preventing such crimes in the future should take these factors into account’ (pp. 80–81). Certain newspapers stated that the crimes were of a specific ‘Asian’ nature: sexually aggressive Asian/Muslim (brown) men lured innocent white British girls into forced prostitution. As a headline in the Daily Mail put it: ‘Asian paedophiles who preyed on hundreds of vulnerable white girls were racially motivated as PM brands it “abuse on an industrial scale”’ (Robinson et al., 2015). During the course of the 2012 trial, various skirmishes broke out around shops affiliated with the grooming case. Around 200 youths destroyed property whilst allegedly shouting ‘EDL! EDL!’, which refers to the English Defence League, a far-right group formed in 2009. EDL claimed to be supportive of the actions of the rioters, but distanced itself from the unrest. After the trial, various hate crimes against Muslims were reported. In June 2012, for example, the self-proclaimed leader of the EDL and some of his followers gathered outside the Rochdale Town Hall, threatened to burn the Qur’an he was holding, and declared that the protest was against ‘Muslim paedophiles’ (Tufail & Poynting, 2016). Furthermore, the case received attention from other commentators, including Jack Straw, who stated that ‘there is an issue of ethnicity here which can’t be ignored’ and ‘in terms of group grooming, there is an ethnic dimension to this which is Asian men and white girls, and that has to be faced by the Asian community’ (quoted in Prince, 2012).43 In references to the Rochdale case, Asian Muslim men were portrayed as fanatical, sexually aggressive, dangerous, and unassimilated into a society that embraces gender equality. Tufail and Poynting (2016) conclude that ‘sexual exploitation and violence were racialised as characteristic of whole cultures and entire ethnic and religious populations, at the same time as the sexual exploitation and violence of the “mainstream” were rendered invisible’ (p. 90). Indeed, the Rochdale grooming case is an example of the representation of the British Muslim through gender-specific characterisations and conflations. A last example is how various newspapers reported on another key gender issue: veiling. Baker et al. (2013) found that women were generally written about as victims, whilst young Muslim men were consistently discussed as aggressors and in a context of radicalisation. Furthermore, ‘[a]pproximately 42 per cent of the time, wearing the veil was represented as either a form of

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oppression or a (fairly unreasonable) demand, as opposed to a right or a choice’ (Baker et al., 2013, p. 257). They noted that in relation to the veil, tabloid newspapers deployed a ‘horror discourse’ (describing women as zombies). In contrast, broadsheets were conflicted –simultaneously concerned with ‘women’s rights’ yet unwilling to support an explicit ban on veiling. Baker et al. (2013) analyse the veil debate as representative of the changing role of women in the late twentieth century in both Britain and Muslim societies (p. 257). Various studies have noted that the UK tabloid newspapers’ approach mimics Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ (Saeed, 2004, 2007). Baker et al. (2013) observed that references to Muslims via collective nouns, such as ‘community’ and ‘world’, implies that Islam is a monolithic concept. Furthermore, ‘the Muslim community and those who were deemed to represent this collective, Muslim leaders, were both viewed as hostile, easily angered, and undeserving of the title leader’ (Baker et al., 2013, p. 256). This tendency was most noticeable in the tabloids. Increased Islamophobia cannot solely be blamed on generalising media reports: rather the media is an institution which reflects and shapes the discourse of society and not vice versa, it certainly reinforces Islamophobic logics, but the media itself does not create it as it is interrelated with other social institutions and practices. (Sian et al., 2012, p. 235) Of course, these characterisations cannot be solely blamed on British (or any other, for that matter) media constructions. For example, in the 1990s, Muslim women and girls in the UK complained about the involvement young Muslim men in ‘discos, drink, drugs, and white women’ in contravention of cultural and religious codes and, at the same time, to male insistence that their own female relatives stay at home and behave as ‘good’ Muslim women. (Ansari, 2004, p. 22) The media is not necessarily ‘making stuff up’; lethal Islamic extremist attacks and the propaganda machines of the Islamic State, for example, also contribute to the construction of images of Muslims as aggressors and suppressors. However, overtly collectivised, negative, and stereotyped representations of Muslim men and women contribute to and are the result of assimilationist discourses. Lastly, considering the impact that (print) media has on public discourse and political debate, the opportunities that have come with the internet, which allows the public to respond to media discourses, are also relevant. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, social media has developed at an astounding rate. With our increased online presence, infinite possibilities have opened up for individuals to voice their opinions and find an audience. Blog posts, comment sections, online forums, discussion applications, Twitter,


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Facebook, Instagram, and the like, all provide platforms for the anonymous sharing of, quite literally, anything and everything. In the first decade of this century, various scholars noted that online posting and reacting differed from the way the public used to respond to socio-political debate, not only in its occurrence, but more importantly in its content. John Suler (2004) famously called it ‘the online disinhibition effect’. Dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjections, dissociative imagination, and minimisation of authority all contribute to this effect.44 Whilst these phenomena are interesting, suffice it to say that the disinhibition effect has taken root online. It represents and (at least partially) explains the hardened voices and rude, often racist views expressed by certain members of the public, which are also associated with the ‘new realism’, the postracial contemporary in politics, and the racialisation of ‘others’ in the media.45 It could be argued that the online disinhibition effect is a ‘contributing symptom’ of a polarising society. By this I mean that it is symptomatic of both the turn towards ‘new realism’ and the racialisation of Muslims, and it also contributes to their continuation and the polarisation of society. With regards to former Muslims in the media, Nadia Ezzeroili (2013) noted that she calculated there was a risk that her narrative of moving out of Islam would be appropriated, not so much by ‘polderislamisten’ (Dutch Islamists), but rather by ‘secular crusaders’. Indeed, my interlocutors had similar concerns. Various prominent ‘ex-Muslims’ presented themselves or have been presented in the media as insiders speaking out against their former religion, the secular’s contested other. I will elaborate on these matters further in the Chapters 2, 4, and 6.

Conclusion This chapter began from the assumption that the secular’s constitutive power to delineate what is appropriately religious in secular environs is an implicit formation of what the secular ought to behave and look like in shared spaces. I have demonstrated that the recent histories of the Netherlands and the UK bear both significant similarities and considerable differences when it comes to the ways issues of religion (i.e., Islam) have been contested, debated, and shaped in the public sphere. In the Netherlands since the 1980s, events such as the Salman Rushdie affair, the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, and the simultaneous rise of new realism played a crucial role in constructing the strongly polarised political and societal discourse of today. Various themes and values resurface repeatedly in the national narrative, including sexual liberties, freedom of expression, and identity politics, and meanings have changed or been appropriated differently over time. From the 1990s and with the rise of Pim Fortuyn, a dominant assimilationist discourse shaped the Dutch public sphere. In the UK, on the other hand, multiculturalists remained dominant in public debate for much longer. Whilst many arguably multiculturalist policies are still firmly in place

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today, public debates regarding what is appropriately religious (and thereby implicitly secular) have shifted in the past decade to a more prominent assimilationist discourse, as evidenced by policy shifts focussed on ‘Britishness’, especially in education programs. In order to further illustrate the constructs of secularism and demarcations of what is deemed appropriately religious in each country, the chapter investigated how constructions of gender and sexuality have informed debate and public discourses on Islam and Muslims in the Netherlands and the UK. As noted before, contestations of what is deemed appropriately religious also affirm or formulate what the secular self is or what it is (th)ought to be. Through a brief analysis of prominent politicians’ stances and integration policies in the Netherlands, it became clear that a particular form of sexual liberty is part and parcel of the ‘Dutch’ secular image, which includes presentation of a national self that is sexually progressive and embraces LGBTQ+ rights at all times: homophobia is constructed as a solely Islamic, backward problem. In the UK, on the other hand, ‘sexular’ constitutions are much more implicit. Since 2017, however, some ‘secularist ex-Muslims’ have actively aligned themselves with LGBTQ+ interests by joining the annual London PRIDE festival, although their provocative contributions are not uncontested and have been labelled ‘Islamophobic’. The difference between the two countries is clear: in the dominant discourse in the Netherlands, the equation of homophobia and Islam is almost a nationally held conviction; in the UK mere allusion is made to this already highly contested and sensitive matter. The divide between the religious and the secular in the construction of the ‘Muslim other’ was elaborated through a brief analysis of the role of the media. In both countries, the press, including newspapers and their online distribution, has contributed to a highly gendered, stereotyped, and racialised image of the other. This was evidenced by racial representations of the Rochdale grooming case in the British press as well as incessantly negative depictions and the passive role of Muslims in the Dutch press. The chapter illustrated that there are considerable overlaps in the construction of an ‘other’ in both countries. In the following chapters, my interlocutors navigate these spaces, and their experiences in each country are sometimes similar to one another. They connect dominant religious and secular frames through their awareness of Muslims’ alleged otherness in their respective secular societies. However, there are also significant differences between interlocutors in each country, which relate to the discursive production of what is deemed appropriately religious or properly secular (for example, through embodiment in Chapter 5, or public speech in Chapter 6), the creation of different spaces, or the subversion of certain dominant frames. In Chapter 3, for example, I investigate the navigation of religious and secular discourses through the narrative of Yagana, a Dutch student who has moved out of Islam. First, however, Chapter 2 interrogates the presence of so-called ‘secularist ex-Muslim voices’ in the British debate on Islam and freedom of expression, which deepens our understanding of the discourses described in the current chapter and my interlocutors’ situatedness within them.


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Notes 1 For the most part, I will not concern myself with legal preoccupations regarding the status of Islam or other religious minorities per se. However, it may prove salient to consider prominent court cases and, in particular, their discursive impact on public debate. 2 Since Northern Ireland was not included in my fieldwork, I refer to ‘Britain’ when discussing interlocutors. However, when discussing political secularism, I refer to the United Kingdom due to its history of secularity, which politically includes Northern Ireland. 3 I.e., governance and socio-cultural productions delineate religious spaces. See (Wohlrab-Sahr & Burchardt, 2012) and Chapter 3. 4 For criticism of Habermas’s theory of the public sphere, also see Rita Felski (1989) and Nancy Fraser (1990), who argued for a plurality of spheres and counter publics. 5 In Chapter 3, I take up the concept of ‘multiple secularities’ (Wohlrab-Sahr & Burchardt, 2012) in order to analytically unpack the particulars of each country. The two dominant discourses of multiculturalism and assimilation are related, but they are different analytical categories. Whilst these two discourses primarily have a descriptive function in unpacking the two nations’ recent histories and current events – which is the purpose of this chapter – the analytical tool of ‘multiple secularities’ offers an extra layer: it not only describes, it also identifies levels of contestation, i.e., so-called ‘reference problems’. The reason that I have taken up different terminology here is that I wish to sketch the dominant discourses in which my interlocutors operate, rather than include the full-fledged political policies and legal contestations that may accompany them. Whilst policy and law-making are not absent from this chapter, they are by no means systematically undertaken and will only be referenced when considered relevant to discursive productions. 6 See Rita Chin’s work on multiculturalism in Europe for a more extensive and nuanced elucidation of the plethora of meanings of ‘multicultural’, ‘multiculturalism’, and its alleged ‘crisis’ (Chin, 2017). 7 For an examination of how the ‘backlash’ against multiculturalism shapes current forms of popular racism in Europe, see Lentin and Titley (2012). 8 It should be noted that critique of multicultural policy most certainly does exist, but it operates under a different category. In the UK, for example, political anti-racist activists have been suspicious of and challenged actual top-down multiculturalist policies (Orenstein & Weismann, 2016). Also, see Chapter 3. However, the pro-assimilationist discourse referred to here does not refer to concrete policy. Rather, it castigates ‘an attitude’ and imagines policy for the purpose of rhetoric only (Uitermark et al., 2013). 9 For further reading on the end of political correctness, see Allen and Nielsen (2002) and Van Stokkom (2009). 10 This is not to say that it is exclusively present in the UK and the Netherlands. 11 Other examples from the Netherlands include the debate on ethnic profiling and the Black Pete debate (see Balkenhol et al., 2016). 12 No specific data regarding national origin is available since the CBS does not register ‘country of origin’ once people are naturalised. 13 Various commentators have blamed the Dutch government’s leftist, ‘multiculturalist’ policies of the 1970s and 1980s for the influx of immigrants. However, it is a misunderstanding that the Netherlands pursued a multiculturalist agenda. Dutch immigration and integration policy always aimed to prevent minority formation by including minority representatives and associations in governance (Uitermark et al., 2013). Furthermore, opinions regarding the causes of mass immigration in these years differ widely. Lucassen and Lucassen (2015) distinguish between those who stress the ‘unintended and built-in effects of liberal democracies and welfare states’ (p. 77), and those who believe the Left consciously opened borders by being soft on

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15 16 17


19 20

21 22



immigration under the banner of multiculturalism. They note, however, that popular assumptions about the Left throughout the 1990s do not match the facts. In response to the first oil crisis in 1973, the government immediately stopped guest workers from entering the country. At the time, political parties across the spectrum agreed that guest workers already present would have to leave in due time. However, they also believed that workers already present should be treated with as much equality as ‘native’ Dutch labourers: ‘This meant that even guest workers who had entered the labor market illegally, outside the official recruitment procedures, should be given the chance to regularise their status’ (Lucassen & Lucassen, 2015, p. 79), a process the Dutch government referred to as ‘regularization’. Some 15,000 illegals (mostly Turkish and Moroccan) regularised. They started exercising their right to bring their families. ‘The policies of the centre-left government, therefore, did indeed stimulate immigration, but in a very different way from that the integration pessimists had assumed’ (Lucassen & Lucassen, 2015, p. 79). In this context, integration pessimists often complain about the lack of language education among this group of guest workers. Contrary to popular belief, this was not because the government wanted to stimulate ‘multiculturalism’. Rather, the government did not provide any language or integration education based on the assumption that guest workers would have less reason to stay. Indeed, this policy was chiefly designed to not integrate migrants in the hope that they would leave. Vellenga’s description of the Dutch debate due to new realism as ‘open’ is somewhat troubling considering that, in fact, moderate voices may be struggling to be heard or may not speak out at all anymore. For criticisms of de Koning’s essay, see De Ruiter (2016) and Van het Reve (2016). Much has been written in the past decades on ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘racialisation’. I refer to Garner and Selod (2014) because they give a good overview of the logics of ‘religion is raced’ versus ‘religion cannot be raced’, and they connect this meaningfully to contestations over ‘Islamophobia’. Rehman (2007) notes that, in addition to social exclusion, these migrant communities faced prejudice and discrimination from certain government policies. For example, the Immigration Act of 1971, which established favourable rules for UK citizens with parentage from the British Isles, was criticised as being overtly racist and exclusionary. For an elaborate discussion of the history of Muslims in Britain, see Ansari (2004). Duyvendak and Scholten (2012) deconstructed the idea of Dutch multiculturalism and argued that it had never been a single, coherent, or consistent model. Rather, Dutch policy was characterised by ‘problem framing, frame-shifts, and frame conflicts’ (p. 266), which point to shifts in the focus of integration politics since the 1970s depending on periods of relative stability or instability. They argue that Dutch policies had not only been incoherent over time, but they were also contradictory. Also see Orenstein and Weismann (2016) on ‘British Secular Muslims’; they critique multiculturalism for creating ‘mutually hostile communities controlled by conservative religious leaders’ (p. 1). After the publication of The Satanic Verses, some British Muslims became increasingly angry about its contents. In January 1989, a group of men burned copies of the book in Bradford, UK. Pictures of the book burning gained international attention, outraged liberals, and stirred strong sentiments among Muslims. It should be noted that whilst considerable significance is given to the Rushdie affair in constructing images of ‘Muslims’ in the media and public discourse, its actual impact should not be overestimated. In my opinion, instead of being an inciting event, the affair was a symptom of tensions already in the making through larger macro structures, such as the fall of communism, the ‘East’ as a unifying enemy, and the rise of the Islamic Revival. However, images produced in the affair’s wake are noted for their symbolic power. They constituted and contributed to the stereotyped images found in media and political discourses.


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24 In The Independent journalist and broadcaster Peter Osborne (2008) noted that the narrative demonising Muslims from within was entrenched in British media and public debate following the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks. 25 For example, Max Hastings, a commentator for the Daily Mail, exemplified the trend of describing the threat from within in an opinion piece published after Lee Rigby was killed, which described the two killers as having lived ‘in the midst of our peaceful, decent society’ for years (Hastings, 2013). 26 Van Es (2018, 2019) elucidates the responsibility that the secular majority places on Muslims, who must actively renounce terrorist violence perpetrated in the name of Islam in order to be considered ‘good’ or ‘acceptable’. 27 For early commentary, see Andrews and Mycock (2008). For a recent evaluation of the construct of ‘Britishness’ as policy and exclusionary force, especially in education, see Smith (2016). 28 As noted before, motivations to make Muslim women remove the veil include reasserting ‘Britishness’, protecting what is ‘ours’, and securing ‘our values’. Shirin Amir-Moazami (2013, 2016) clarifies how the secular constitution of what is deemed appropriately religious simultaneously defines what secular spaces (and bodies) ought to look like. 29 However, Mepschen et al. (2010) note that only three years before the El-Moumni controversy public homosexuality was not at all commonly accepted by (white, male) Dutch commentators. 30 For example, 1998 columns by Sylvain Ephimenco (1998) and Gerry van der List (1998) openly opposed male homosexual love. However, a few years later both columnists also openly criticised Muslims and, in particular, El-Moumni, even though, like them, he condemned homosexuality (Ephimenco, 2001; van der List, 2003). According to Ephimenco (2001), ‘Islam is now a disease’ (Mepschen et al., 2010). These examples are an interesting illustration of Butler’s (2008) discussion of the problematic of ‘time’ when discussing sexual politics: ‘there can be no consideration of sexual politics without a critical consideration of the time of the now’ (p. 2). Butler believes that all conceptions of progressive narratives are informed by spatial and temporal presuppositions, which ‘inform various parochial, if not structurally racist, political optimisms of various kinds’ (p. 2). Indeed, the commentators make evident that circumstances inform their opinions: ‘What is happening now is bound up with a certain geo-political restriction on imagining the relevant borders of the World’ (p. 2). 31 An interesting development in this regard is CEMB’s alignment with the LGBTQ+ movement in the UK and beyond, as well as charges of ‘Islamophobia’ made against them since 2017 for their yearly appearance at London Pride. CEMB signs reading ‘Allah is Gay’ and ‘There is no God but Allah Love’, for example, were considered to exclude Muslims from the inclusive character of PRIDE London. 32 This was a question in the first version of the ‘Inburgeringsexamen’ (citizenship test) that was approved in 2007. Currently, gender equality and freedom of religion are more prominent, and the preferred answers emphasise that one actively promotes such values in conversation and social situations. For recent demonstrative examples, see the mock online citizenship test available at ortal/appmodules/examen/navigeer.ctrl. 33 Whilst Theresa May had a track record of voting against gay and equality rights, she later publicly declared a commitment to LGBTQ+ issues (Mortimer, 2017). Boris Johnson, who took over the Conservative leadership from May in July 2019, shows a similar track record. For example, whilst he supported the equal marriage act, some 20 years prior he wrote insultingly about ‘tank-topped bumboys’, and he publicly opposed and ridiculed Labour policies which sought LGBTQ+-inclusive curricula in schools (Tatchell, 2019). May’s and Johnson’s changes in opinion are similar to those of Dutch conservative columnists (Ephimenco 1998, 2001; van der List 1998, 2003).

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34 A 2012 parliamentary report found that homophobia was the primary form of racism on the football pitch (House of Commons Culture, Media, and Sport Committee, 2012). 35 An exception is former Muslim and politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who, between 2003 and 2006, vividly expressed concerns about and advocated for the ‘enlightenment’ of Muslim women in the Netherlands, including in the short film Submission. 36 The original column in the Lancashire Telegraph is no longer available on the paper’s own website; however, it was republished a day later in The Guardian and is still accessible online (Straw, 2006). 37 A recent poll indicated, however, that a majority of the British public supports a ban on the full-face veil or burqa (Stone, 2016). On the conflation of terminology for different veils (burqa, face-veil, veil, niqab), see Al-Saji (2010). 38 Again, with the exception of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who framed veiling as ‘the suppression of Muslim women’ (Chorus, 2004). 39 For an extensive overview of theories of the media’s influence on the public and vice versa, see Laughy (2007). 40 The term ‘Islamophobia’ is not uncontested. Former Muslim Rumy Hasan extensively criticised the terms’ utilisation in his book Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truths (Hasan, 2009). I explained above my stance on the term. 41 For references to literature empirically examining these frames, see Shadid (2009). 42 In April 2016, ten men connected to the Rochdale circle were sentenced to up to 25 years in prison for similar crimes (Perraudin, 2016). 43 At the same time, Muslim and Asian communities were constantly asked to distance themselves from the accused individuals. Similar expectations did not and do not exist for Christian or non-religious offenders or the religious and other communities that they were associated with. 44 See Suler (2004) for an elaborate description of these concepts. 45 Also see de Leeuw and van Wichelen (2005), who noted that new realism specifically allowed ordinary citizens to voice their discontent and express their feelings: ‘It also created a space for people to vent their fear and anxiety of the cultural “other” in a public domain that would now, not accuse them of racism or xenophobia’ (p. 334). I would argue that new realism, online spaces, and the associated disinhibition effect have greatly contributed to one another.

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Straw, J. (2006). ‘I felt uneasy talking to someone I couldn’t see’. The Guardian, 6 October. Retrieved from Suler, J. (2004). The online disinhibition effect. CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7(3), 321–326. Tatchell, P. (2019). Many LGBT+ people fear Boris Johnson as PM – here’s what he can do to change that. The Independent, 23 July. Retrieved from https://www.indep ter-tory-a9016916.html. TKSG. (2015). Memorie van Toelichting (Kamerstuk 34349-Nr.3). Retrieved from Tufail, W., & Poynting, S. (2016). Muslim and dangerous: ‘Grooming’ and the politics of racialisation. In D. Pratt & R. Woodlock (Eds.), Fear of Muslims?: International Perspectives on Islamophobia (pp. 79–92). Cham: Springer International Publishing. Twomey, J., & Dixon, C. (2010). Muslims tell British: Go to hell. Express, 4 November. Retrieved from Uberoi, V., & Modood, T. (2013). Inclusive Britishness: A multiculturalist advance. Political Studies, 61, 23–41. Uitermark, J., Mepschen, P., & Duyvendak, J. W. (2013). Populism, sexual politics, and the exclusion of Muslims in the Netherlands. In J. R. Bowen, C. Bertossi, J. W. Duyvendak, & M. L. Krook (Eds.), European States and their Muslim Citizens: The Impact of Institutions on Perceptions and Boundaries (pp. 235–255). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. van der List, G. (1998). Een Amsterdamse orgie. De Volkskrant, 14 August. Retrieved from van der List, G. (2003). De wil van Allah. Elsevier Magazine, 22 February. Retrieved from Van Es, M. (2018). Muslims denouncing violent extremism: Competing essentialisms of Islam in Dutch public debate. Journal of Muslims in Europe, 7(2), 146–166. Van Es, M. (2019). The promise of the social contract: Muslim perspectives on the culturalization of citizenship and the demand to denounce violent extremism. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 42(16), 141–158. van Gogh, T. (Director). (2004). Submission [Short film]. T. van Gogh & G. van de Westelaken (Producers), The Netherlands: VPRO. Van Herten, M., & Otten, F. (2007). Naar een nieuwe schatting van het aantal islamieten in Nederland. Bevolkingstrends 55(3), 48–53. Van het Reve, J. (2016). Islamofobie is een onzinnig begrip. de Volkskrant, 13 May. Retrieved from n-onzinnig-begrip~bd9077c6/?hash=0c28c3bcffdf9fe0795fcb703a0c3833189933ef. Van Stokkom, B. (2009). De Islam afgekraakt – het zelfreinigend vermogen van de democratie. In S. Vellenga, S. Harchaoui, H. El Madkouri, & B. Sijses (Eds.), Mist in de polder: Zit op ontwikkelingen omtrent de islam in Nederland (pp. 149–172). Amsterdam: Aksant. Vellenga, S. (2008a). The Dutch and British public debate on Islam: Responses to the killing of Theo van Gogh and the London bombings compared. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 19(4), 449–471. Vellenga, S. (2008b). ‘Huntington’ in Holland. The public debate on Muslim immigrants in the Netherlands. Nordic Journal of Religion and Society, 21(1), 21–41. Verkaaik, O., & Spronk, R. (2011). Sexular practice: Notes on an ethnography of secularism. Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, 59, 83–88.


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Von Stuckrad, K. (2013). Secular religion: A discourse-historical approach to religion in contemporary Western Europe. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 28(1), 1–14. Wiering, J. (2017). There is a sexular body: Introducing a material approach to the secular. Secularism & Nonreligion, 6(8), 1–11. Williamson, M., & Khiabany, G. (2010). UK: The veil and the politics of racism. Race & Class, 52(2), 85–96. Wohlrab-Sahr, M., & Burchardt, M. (2012). Multiple secularities: Toward a cultural sociology of secular modernities. Comparative Sociology, 11(6), 875–909. Young, I. M. (1989). Polity and group difference: A critique of the ideal of universal citizenship. Ethics, 99(2), 250–274. Yurdakul, G., & Korteweg, A. C. (2013). Gender equality and immigrant integration: Honor killing and forced marriage debates in the Netherlands, Germany, and Britain. Women’s Studies International Forum, 41, 204–214.


‘We are the tsunami that is coming’

We make no apologies. We will not live on our knees. We are the tsunami that is coming. (GoleSorkh, 2017c)1

These were the final words with which Maryam Namazie opened the International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression in London on 22 July 2017.2 Her words referred to the growing number of ex-Muslims and atheists from Muslim communities speaking out against Islam. The conference marked the tenth anniversary of the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain (CEMB) and aimed to bring together secularists and freethinkers from all over the world. At the conference, panels consisted of people such as Deeyah Khan, Islam’s Non-believers (2016) documentary film-maker; scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins; Gina Khan, spokesperson for the One Law for All campaign; Sarah Haider, co-founder of ExMuslims of North America; Jimmy Bangash, an ex-Muslim LGBTQ+ activist; author and broadcaster Kenan Malik; Gita Sahgal, director of the Centre for Secular Space, and many more. Issues discussed included Islamophobia, apostasy and blasphemy, communalism and multiculturalism, secularism, and identity politics. Although many opinions were shared, the general atmosphere and rhetoric are best described by Namazie’s opening address and overall agenda. Namazie is, among other things, the founder and chair of the CEMB. She has criticised Islam and, in particular, what she refers to as ‘Islamism’ – the political appropriation of Islam. She has frequently discussed the persecution of apostates and blasphemers in Muslim majority countries who assert their right to freedom of conscience. Consequently, she has castigated British left-wing parties and public figures for essentially siding with Islamists because they supposedly only recognise values of liberty when it concerns themselves, not when it concerns Muslims (Namazie, 2014b). According to Namazie, the so-called regressive left’s accusations of Islamophobia have de facto imposed blasphemy laws in the West when it concerns public criticism of Islamic doctrine. Such controversial opinions have led Muslims and non-Muslims alike to accuse her of racism and siding with right-wing populists, which Namazie has refuted (i.a., Namazie, 2014a). During the Conference, panellists and speakers stressed time and again the ‘incommensurable divide’ between Islam and secularism (Mahmood, 2009b). DOI: 10.4324/9781003143574-3


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They asserted their authority to do so by claiming to be ‘a voice from within’—a voice that assumes that since one has been ‘inside’ Islam has thereby the knowledge (often through victimhood) to now speak out against it (Mahmood, 2009a). I attended the 2017 Conference in the middle of my fieldwork, but at the start of my time in the UK. It was organised by the CEMB, therefore it seemed a good place to meet people, observe discussions, and start building my network. At this point, because of my many conversations with Dutch interlocutors about their experiences of moving out of Islam, I thought I had a ‘good idea’ of the issues and processes that people went through. However, one of the first things I noted was a difference in the UK atmosphere as well as the political nature of the discussions. During the Conference, I jotted down notes about various matters, such as ‘multiculturalism’, state appropriation, and the legal incorporation of religious sensibilities, which Conference participants seemed to argue against from an ‘ex-Muslim’ perspective. It was rather different from the comparatively introverted experiences I had come across in the Netherlands. Conference participants addressed political themes and issues that, at the time, were not particularly present in the Dutch debate, and ‘voices from within’ in the Netherlands would not contest. For example, when I asked Amina, a 40-something, Moroccan-Dutch woman, about activism from so-called ex-Muslims, she replied: ‘I doubt whether that would have the right effect. Because you become harder and harder, and you will not change each other’s opinion […] I disagree with extremism, also in unbelief’.3 Similarly, Khalida, who had some strong views on the role of religion, and specifically Islam, in society, reflected upon Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s politics: ‘To have your politics be solely driven by your own experiences, it can be a motivation, but it shouldn’t be your entire political agenda’.4 Indeed, many people I spoke with in the Netherlands also expressed such reservations about explicitly speaking out from a political position as a former Muslim. However, one prominent ‘voice from within’ – or what I will now refer to as a ‘secularist ex-Muslim voice’ – referenced by Amina did, at one point, surface in the Netherlands: Ayaan Hirsi Ali. As elaborated in Chapter 1, the Somaliborn woman was the first Dutch politician to confront issues of Islam in the West, and she stressed her intimate knowledge of the ‘darkness’ of her former religion. According to her, Islam threatened the ‘Enlightenment values’ of the Netherlands (Hirsi Ali, 2006). After she left the country in 2006, Dutch rightwing politics were dominated by a like-minded politician, Geert Wilders, who pursued a nationalist, anti-Islam, anti-Europe agenda (Poole, 2012). In this light, my research interlocutors from the Netherlands often thought that what Namazie calls ‘the celebration of apostasy and blasphemy’ is more harmful than helpful towards the plight of those who wish to move out of Islam (GoleSorkh, 2017c).5 Besides not necessarily feeling much resentment towards Islam or Muslims, many interlocutors in the Netherlands feared that if they were to speak out, then their narratives could be utilised by Geert Wilders or other populist politicians aiming to exclude Muslims. But this did not explain the public presence of former Muslims in Britain or the particular political

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engagement and positionality of their critiques of secular and religious authority. So, sitting at a conference table that summer, I questioned why these particular activist and political voices emerged and assembled in Britain, but not in the Netherlands? In order to answer this question and gain further insight into the particularities of moving out of Islam in each country, this chapter investigates their respective histories of secularity. This will lay bare why certain secularist ex-Muslim voices emerged in the public debate in Britain but not in the Netherlands. The way the state treats religious minorities as well as the social and cultural meanings that define and contest religious and secular spaces have raised the particular problems currently contested by secularist ex-Muslim voices in Britain. However, because of the particular developments of secularities in the Netherlands and the reference problems they produce, a similar voice has not surfaced there in recent years. Because Britain is predominantly marked by a secularity that seeks to accommodate religious diversity, secularist ex-Muslim voices criticise both policies as well as the cultural norms they produce, which allegedly accommodate Islamism. In what follows I focus on ‘the exotic and explicit’, as Lois Lee (2015) called it, in the field of non-religion and moving out of Islam. Although I recognise that the ‘unmarked flags’ of expressions of (non-)religion often exert a profound influence on people’s daily lives, I contend that these ‘unfamiliar, novel, and sometimes violent’ forms that presented as external discourses were navigated and sometimes internalised by my interlocutors, as will become clear in Chapter 6. First, this chapter elaborates upon the theoretical concept of ‘multiple secularities’ (Wohlrab-Sahr & Burchardt, 2012, 2017). Second, it analyses the particulars of dominant British secularity, its contestations on institutional levels, and the policies it has produced. Third, in order to explore the social and cultural domains of secularity in Britain, I focus on the British press and commentators’ reactions to the 2006 Danish cartoon affair and the aftermath of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks. Fourth, and finally, to unpack the concept of ‘secularist ex-Muslim discourse’ and its function in Britain, I present a case study concerning the 2017 Conference. Throughout the chapter, the Dutch situation is utilised as a contrast, which makes the British situation particularly salient.

Multiple secularities In recent decades, academic discussion of sociological processes, such as ‘modernisation’ and ‘secularisation,’ has spread worldwide. Scholars have questioned assumptions of universality as well as the natural results of a liberal market economy or social welfare. While an extensive overview of these debates is beyond the scope of this chapter, it is worth noting that a new orientation that arose out of discussions regarding the universality of modernisation theory found positive reception: the idea of ‘multiple modernities’ (Eisenstadt, 2000). Shmuel N. Eisenstadt suggested that, while the idea of a unifying concept of modernity is required and should be maintained, the diversity of ‘developmental paths’ within the concept is accepted and even assumed (Eisenstadt, 2000; Wohlrab-Sahr & Burchardt, 2012).


‘We are the tsunami that is coming’

Monika Wohlrab-Sahr and Marian Burchardt (2012) argued that a similar debate developed over the assumed universality and inevitability of ‘secularisation’. Initially, attempts were primarily made to design a general model (e.g., Martin, 1978), which suggested that there could be various paths to ‘secularisation’. However, as with modernisation theory, opponents of secularisation theory argued that it was based in Western bias, it assumed universalism, and it was perceived as an inevitable process of civilisation. Recent critiques of secularisation theory were often sympathetic towards religion as a counter to ‘secularisation theory’, at least to the extent of what Wohlrab-Sahr and Burchardt (2017) identified as a risk towards inversion. As a contribution to these debates, Wohlrab-Sahr and Burchardt (2012) introduced the concept of ‘multiple secularities’. Before expanding on this further, a word on terminology is warranted. Like Wohlrab-Sahr and Burchardt, I follow José Casanova (2009, 2011) and Talal Asad (2003) in their definitions of ‘secularism’, ‘secularity’, and ‘secularisation’. The term ‘secularisation’ refers to the ‘process of differentiation’, which includes the decline of religious belief and participation as well as the dwindling mutual influences of the social and the religious. The term ‘secularism’ refers to the ideological program that strives for complete separation of religious and secular domains as well as their co-constitution; ‘secularists’, then, are advocates of ‘secularism’. Furthermore, recent work on secularism has considered a variety of European ‘secularisms’, which depend on specific (national) historic and religious trajectories. Various scholars have compared these different types of secularism (i.a., Berg-Sørensen, 2013; Cady & Shakman-Hurd, 2010; Soper & Fetzer, 2007). Secularism, then, is a political ideology that attempts to differentiate between religious and secular spheres, which are often conflated with the social practices and institutions that abide by these ideologies. ‘Secularity’ denotes both institutional, anchored forms as well as social and cultural arrangements, such as the public debate that defines religious and secular demarcations (Burchardt & Wohlrab-Sahr, 2013; Schuh et al., 2012; Wohlrab-Sahr & Burchardt, 2012, 2017). This distinct definition of ‘secularity’ captures not only the official demarcations of religious and secular spheres (i.e., ‘secularism’), but also the specific cultural and implicit forms of ‘demarcating religion’. It goes beyond previous analyses of ‘the secular’ and ‘secularism’ as mere institutionalised relation or ideological project (Birt et al., 2011; Chapman, 2016; McLean & Peterson, 2011). This definition of ‘secularity’ thereby recognises both institutionalised forms of the distinctions between what is religious and what is deemed non-religious, as well as the guiding ideas legitimising them in society (Wohlrab-Sahr & Burchardt, 2012, pp. 886–887). Wohlrab-Sahr and Burchardt (2017) argued that secularity is considered a social construction that is the ‘outcome of contestations over the ways in which religion is culturally defined, socially and legally delimited, politically regulated, and spatially as well as temporally arranged’ (p. 6). Inspired by Eisenstadt’s (2000) ‘multiple modernities’ and this particular understanding of secularity, they coined the concept of ‘multiple secularities’ (Wohlrab-Sahr & Burchardt, 2012). The ‘multiple secularities’ approach assumes that secularity takes different shapes at different

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times in different contexts. Furthermore, these secularities may both respond and offer solutions to the range of societal problems that arise from varying times and contexts. Wohlrab-Sahr and Burchardt (2012) identified four types of such reference problems: 1 2 3 4

individual freedom versus dominant social units, such as groups or the state; religious diversity and potential or actual conflict; social or national integration and development; and independent development of institutional domains (p. 887)

When a problem arises, the process of interpreting these problems and developing potential solutions is negotiated from the perspective of a given society’s specific power relations, historical experiences, and religious and political tradition. Such problems motivate the institutionalisation of religious and non-religious demarcations. Although they can coexist and compete with one another, one may become dominant and, thereby, push other motives to the background (p. 888). As in Chapter 1, the term ‘dominant’ follows Sipco Vellenga’s (2008) definition of dominance in public debate, which is ‘when the representatives of a particular discourse are able to set the agenda of the debate, and other participants in the debate are compelled to respond to their contributions’ (p. 451). As Wohlrab-Sahr and Burchardt (2012) noted, dominance depends on specific histories of both institutionalised forms of distinction as well as social and cultural forms. The above types of reference problems motivate the ideal-types of secularity or logics from which people argue (Wohlrab-Sahr & Burchardt, 2012, 2017). Wohlrab-Sahr and Burchardt (2012) uncover four types of ‘secularity for the sake of’, each with a particular focus and definition of what the social ought to look like. Type 1 is secularity for the sake of individual liberties, and its guiding principles are freedom and individuality. Type 2 is secularity for the sake of balancing/accommodating religious or ethnic diversity; its guiding ideals are toleration, respect, and non-interference. Type 3 is secularity for the sake of social integration/national development, and its guiding ideals are progress, enlightenment, and modernity. Type 4 is secularity for the sake of the independent development of institutional domains; its guiding ideals are rationality, efficiency, and autonomy. These ideal-types serve as a ‘guide to empirical work’ for my intended analysis of secularist ex-Muslim voices and their emergence in Britain (Wohlrab-Sahr & Burchardt, 2012). Such theoretical concepts are designed to facilitate the analysis of empirical situations, as Cora Schuh, Burchardt, and Wohlrab-Sahr (2012) have done in the Netherlands.6 I provide a brief summary of their study for two reasons. First, it illustrates the concepts outlined above. Second, the particular emergence and transformation of secularities in the Netherlands may provide clues as to why


‘We are the tsunami that is coming’

secularist ex-Muslim voices are relatively absent from the Dutch public debate and why my Dutch interlocutors were hesitant to (publicly) speak out on such matters (also see Chapter 6).

Multiple secularities in the Netherlands Reference problems regarding secularity have been present in the Republic of the Netherlands since its conception in 1581. The Dutch rebellion against the Spanish Crown was largely provoked by the problems of power claims by the Spanish monarchs and the Catholic inquisition. After the rebellion, bridging confessional divides became a priority, although it was an effort complicated by new (Reformational) strands of philosophy. The management of confessional diversity was geared towards ensuring individual intellectual liberties while maintaining group order and pacifying conflict, that is, Type 2 secularity for the sake of balancing/accommodating religious or ethnic diversity. After the Second World War, the steady secularisation of the nation and liberalisation of its cultural values, such as acceptance of homosexuality, resulted in the intermittent dominance of Type 1 secularity for the sake of individual liberties. At first it was geared towards orthodox Christianity, and later it involved what was seen as an ‘outside religion’, or Islam (Schuh et al., 2012). The Netherlands was often described as a frontrunner of the ‘true multiculturalist model’, especially in the 1980s and 1990s. As mentioned in Chapter 1, the country’s presumably multiculturalist policies have been fiercely criticised on a national level in public and political debate. Jan Willem Duyvendak and Peter Scholten (2012) proposed to deconstruct the existence of such models in the Netherlands by interrogating the various frames through which they are viewed; and they showed that, in fact, since the 1970s, there was very little continuity in the development of Dutch integration policy. Both the debate and active policies centred around two concerns: the socioeconomic participation of migrants, and the social-cultural distinctiveness of such groups. In the 1980s, the official policy was to accommodate cultural diversity for the sake of social integration; during the 1990s, policies were geared towards the economic independence of individuals – participation would lead to social integration. On the local and practical levels, group-specific measures were driven by pragmatism rather than ideological concerns over multiculturalism: ‘[r]ecognizing cultural groups is often more a means for conducting effective integration policies than an attempt to institutionalize diversity’ (Duyvendak & Scholten, 2012, p. 279). Since the turn of the twentyfirst century, however, social-cultural distinctions have become increasingly contested again, especially in light of a turn towards the importance of national unity and Dutch identity, which is in line with Type 3 secularity for the sake of social integration/national development. Assimilation has become the spear point of discursive and political debate: socio-cultural distinctiveness based on ethnicity or, increasingly, religion is perceived as an obstacle to socio-economic participation.

‘We are the tsunami that is coming’


The public debate after the 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh reawakened the old themes of religious plurality and tolerance in opposition to individual liberty. According to Schuh et al. (2012), this reference problem was viewed through three different frames: the pluralist frame, the secular frame, and the secular progressivist frame. The pluralist frame, which was only supported by Christian political parties, argued for tolerance and secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity. Schuh et al. (2012) noted that there had been a considerable shift in the ‘secular progressivist’ frame’s dominance since this debate, which was most prominently represented by politician Geert Wilders. This frame is driven by dualistic concepts of Enlightenment, progress, and ‘the West versus the darkness of religion’, more specifically Islam. Currently, the aspiration of national unity is dominant in Dutch politics, lawmaking, and the public debate, which represents Type 3 secularity for the sake of social integration/national development. Of course, as Schuh et al. (2012) noted, this form of secularity remains highly contested. My Dutch interlocutors often identified the current political climate and public debate as reasons to not speak out against Islam or not testify regarding the trajectory of leaving their religion (also see Chapter 6). Many told me that they did not have negative feelings towards Islam per se. More significantly, they did not want their narratives to be utilised by ‘the likes of Geert Wilders’ or, in more theoretical terms, by secularity for the sake of social integration/national development, which often combined with motives related to secularity for the sake of individual liberties when ‘freedom of speech’ was invoked to exclude or offend Muslims. Furthermore, I will show that, due to these different histories of secularity, certain reference problems addressed by secularist ex-Muslim voices in Britain have less bearing on the Dutch situation. In what follows, I contrast the British situation with particularly Dutch contestations, which sheds light on why secularist ex-Muslim voices surfaced in Britain and what they aim to unsettle. These secularist ex-Muslim voices contest multiple motives for secularity, and they desire to challenge (and alter) the dominant status quo. Furthermore, they represent a larger international activist movement gathered under the CEMB banner. Although the same organisation organised a similar event in Amsterdam, the voices at the 2019 event were largely international, and their critiques were aimed at international issues rather than the often localised critiques of the British system heard at the 2017 International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression.7 In this context it should be noted that the activism instigated by, for example, Maryam Namazie, Maajid Nawaz, and Halima Salat was amplified in the Netherlands by the ‘VrijLinks’ platform (e.g., Hoogwout, 2020). However, as mentioned above, the emphasis was on the topic of freedom of expression and (from) religion rather than challenging the local secularity at work in the Netherlands. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that these were not Dutch secularist ex-Muslim voices, but rather an adaptation of the international scene. Therefore, contrasting the paths of secularity in each country helps uncover how public discourses are viewed and negotiated by those who move out of Islam in contemporary Europe as well as explain variations therein.


‘We are the tsunami that is coming’

British secularities: The origins of church-state relations and religious pluralism Linda Woodhead (2013) defined the current British situation as ‘neither religious nor secular’. Gladys Ganiel and Peter Jones (2012) similarly argued that, due to the intrinsic intertwinement of religion in law in Britain, ‘it is simply misleading to conceive of the UK as a straightforwardly secular state’ (p. 299). Woodhead’s analysis covered both social and ethical identification as being simultaneously religious and secular, a status that she called ‘a complex post-Christendom, partially plural situation’ (Woodhead, 2013, p. 155). While identification as Christian remains strong, beliefs and practices have declined significantly. Woodhead also addressed religion’s institutionalised forms: the state’s links with religiosity as well as the continuing importance of religion in social and political spheres. The establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII in 1534 made the state autonomous from religious institutions, but religious institutions have limited autonomy from the state, a situation the Church is rather content with (Ganiel & Jones, 2012). Woodhead observed that many formal links remain today, such as the Anglican bishops in the House of Lords and prayers in Parliament (also see Ganiel & Jones, 2012). Other intertwinements that extend into public life concern primarily education and social welfare. For example, there are thousands of statefunded faith-based schools. While the majority are Christian, there are also Jewish and Muslim faith-based schools. Furthermore, faith-based organizations hold particular sway over public funds through service provision and grant-making, which the government actively engages for service-delivery and the promotion of social cohesion (Woodhead, 2013). Woodhead (2013) noted that, as a result of the ‘neither religious nor secular’ situation, many minority religions have been able to win concessions and privileges from the state. As J. Christopher Soper and Joel S. Fetzer (2007) observed, Britain’s church-state model serves as an important institutional and ideological resource for religious minorities: ‘[f]ar from opposing state accommodation for religious groups, British Church-State policy makes significant allowances for it’ (p. 936). Initial calls for the equality of minority religions were not a binary contestation between religion and secularity, but one of pluralism and the accommodation of plural religions in public life, i.e., Type 2 secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity. Like Woodhead (2013), Paul Weller and Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor (2015) noted that this quest was not only for recognition of minority religions (and, in particular, the Muslim community and its desires), but also for equality; it was very much an active mission from below as well as a top-down implementation of policy. They further argued that, while the Muslim community had carved out a significant presence in plural, ‘multicultural’ Britain, especially from Tony Blair’s 1997 Labour government onwards, anti-Muslim sentiments, which will be outlined below, had also increased (also see Ganiel & Jones, 2012). More recent developments should be considered in light of so-called ‘multiculturalism’, its implications for religious minorities, and its contestations. Over the years multiculturalism has had many meanings in Britain. During the

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1960s and 1970s, it was largely seen as either a way to demographically describe a new migrant reality or a cultural way of living, which was considered a manifestation of post-war anti-fascism (Chin, 2017; Kundnani, 2012). Rita Chin (2017) traced the bedrock of ‘multiculturalism’ in Britain back to the 1965 Race Relations Act, which was the first of its kind in Europe and outlawed discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity. It was also the first piece of legislation to overtly accept race and ethnicity as valid categories. The Act was not recognised as ‘multiculturalism,’ but it was designed to both control immigration and combat discrimination. Critically, Chin noted, a follow-up to the Act, the Local Government Act of 1966, ‘extended the possibility of central government funds to local authorities’, which was especially aimed at local authorities dealing with substantial numbers of ‘immigrants from the Commonwealth’ (Chin, 2017; HMSO, 1966). Furthermore, large-scale urban disturbances in the 1980s prompted the government to design new policies to manage, rather than merely observe, new multi-ethnic realities. In the course of the 1980s and 1990s, the government provided considerable autonomy to and support for minority groups, passed anti-racism laws, and allowed for education programs focused on sensitivity to cultural diversity. ‘While never officially formalized by the British government, multiculturalism became, in the words of one specialist, “an unwritten constitution”’ for dealing with diversity (Orenstein & Weismann, 2016, p. 4). The Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher took a differential approach to the treatment of ethnic minorities, as they were presumed to present challenges to British society that required different governmental responses. In the 1980s, resources were specifically allocated to the poor, urban communities where most ethnic minorities resided (Chin, 2017, pp. 99–100). Funds were not distributed by the central government directly; rather, they were channelled through local, preexisting agencies, which were, in turn, administered by local and city governments. Chin noted that, even though the Tories were in power, Labour played a major role in development and urban renewal since most local offices in the poor, urban communities were held by Labour: ‘it was precisely these localized programs, especially the ones that relied on ethnic leaders to represent their communities, that would later be described as the first state-sponsored forms of “multiculturalism” in Britain’ (Chin, 2017, p. 101). This is markedly different from the Dutch situation of multiculturalism. Throughout the past four decades in the Netherlands, despite critics’ claims otherwise, policies have never specifically implemented the preferential (financial) treatment of cultural, ethnic, or religious minorities. While multiculturalism was initially conceived as a quest for racial, cultural, and ethnic equality, in contemporary British society it has been linked primarily with government policies regarding British Muslims. The Rushdie affair was central to and symbolic of this shift (Falkenhayner, 2014). Although multicultural policies had come under scrutiny before, prominent MPs and commentators did not collectively attack Muslims as a minority until after the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988, subsequent Muslim reactions in the form of worldwide protests and the 1989 Bradford book burning, and the fatwa pronounced by


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Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini. They criticised multiculturalism for allowing ‘fundamentally different anti-liberal’ people (i.e., Muslims) to live and thrive in Britain (Chin, 2017, pp. 185–187). Other events led to further scrutiny of both ‘the British Muslim’ and multiculturalism, including various terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe in the 2000s. Despite increased criticism of multiculturalism, the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which were in power from 1997 until 2010, remained convinced, as is evident in both speeches and policy, that the multiculturalist approach was the right way forward (Orenstein & Weismann, 2016; Vellenga, 2008). During this time, the strongest opposition to Blair and other pro-multiculturalists came from the far-right, nationalist British National Party (BNP), led by Nick Griffin, which had an anti-Islam focus. However, under Labour party rule, so-called political correctness was still considered a virtue in the UK ‘and kept alive by prominent figures in British society’ (Vellenga, 2008, p. 462). Although criticism of multiculturalism increased after the July 2005 London bombings, it was not acknowledged by the government until Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron won the 2010 election. He announced that ‘multiculturalism ha[d] failed’ (Kuenssberg, 2011). In order to counter segregation, highly contested new policies were implemented to supposedly promote ‘British’ values in all sectors of society, taking a national approach as opposed to the previous local one. It should be noted that although prominent ruling party members have declared that ‘multiculturalism has failed’, and the current government is certainly less preoccupied with accommodating religious plurality, institutionalised forms of Type 2 secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity are often still in effect. At the time of writing, UKIP, a nationalist political party, is the most prominent challenger of institutionalized forms of secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity. After successfully lobbying for the UK to leave the EU by means of the 2016 Brexit referendum, they found themselves without a cause. However, leading up to the 2017 elections, they actively and distinctly positioned themselves as being against multiculturalism and anti-Islam.8 They defined their agenda in terms of Type 3 secularity for the sake of social integration and national development by challenging state policies for religious accommodation (UKIP, 2017). They argued for a total ban on (Muslim) veiling, a moratorium on new Islamic-faith schools, and greater prosecution when crime involves ‘honour’ (UKIP, 2017). Currently, UKIP’s significance in British politics is debatable considering its heavy losses in May 2018 local elections in England. Nonetheless, secularist ex-Muslim voices claim to contest both what they call ‘the regressive left’ and anti-Muslim bigotry.

Contestations over religious accommodation: The Danish cartoon affair and free speech While the previous section was chiefly concerned with the institutionalised demarcations of what are deemed religious and secular spaces, the following addresses the social and cultural forms that secularity has taken in Britain by discussing public debates that erupted after the Danish and French cartoon

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affairs. I take the Danish cartoon affair to be exemplary here because it raised certain reference problems that highlighted presumed differences between Islam and the West, especially the alleged opposition of freedom of expression versus blasphemy, sometimes understood as the restriction of free speech. In Britain, the affair followed controversy surrounding late-2005 amendments to the Public Order Act on inciting religious hatred (House of Lords, 2005). The amendments were designed to provide protection for religious minorities, but they were scrutinized for having far-reaching effects on, for example, satirists and comedians. The bill, which was passed eventually as the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, 2006, stated that ‘intent’ was required (not just the possibility) in relation to ‘threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening’. The Danish cartoon affair unfolded only months after the bill passed. On 30 September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. According to the paper, it was to spark debate on Islam, freedom of expression, and (self-)censorship. Muslims worldwide protested, and some gatherings led to violence in Muslim-majority countries. News outlets around the world were faced with the dilemma of whether or not to republish the cartoons. In Britain, media coverage was concentrated around February 2006. Neither tabloids nor broadsheets published the cartoons, yet ‘noticeable cleavages […] were apparent between the centre-right Daily Telegraph, which emphasised the “unreasonable” reaction of Muslims, and liberal-left Guardian, which problematised the “provocative” nature of the Cartoons’ (Meer & Mouritsen, 2009, p. 339). By not publishing the cartoons, the press tried to strike a balance between freedom of the press and freedom of expression while considering the sensibilities of a minority group. Nasar Meer and Per Mouritsen (2009) noted that even the tabloids, such as The Sun, refrained from publishing them, which was unprecedented for newspapers that historically thrived on sensationalism (p. 342). In discussing the affair, the British press generally spoke out in solidarity with the Muslim minority, castigating the provocations of the European mainland press, which they saw as a failure of integration. In the Netherlands, the debate on freedom of expression had commenced years before the cartoon affair, and it reached new heights after Hirsi Ali and van Gogh’s 2004 film, Submission, and van Gogh’s subsequent murder by Mohammed Bouyeri. In 2004, Jozias van Aartsen, a prominent Liberal politician, stated, ‘the attack on van Gogh touches the heart of our national identity, the freedom of speech’ (quoted in Schuh et al., 2012, p. 372). Furthermore, a secularist frame championing the freedom of expression had been dominant for some time, as exemplified by the populist politics of Pim Fortuyn, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Geert Wilders. As Schuh et al. (2012) noted, previous assumptions of Type 1 secularity for the sake of individual liberties in the Netherlands were challenged by the increased visibility of Muslim immigrants and what was perceived to be religious sensibilities’ plight at the cost of individual freedom of expression. Therefore, it was almost natural for the cartoons to be published by most Dutch newspapers, since they wished to defend formerly implicit values of Dutch secularity for the sake of individual liberties (also see Dalgaard & Dalgaard, 2006).


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In contrast, Meer and Mouritsen (2009) quoted Jonathan Steele (2006), who asked in the Guardian: ‘why should a progressive paper in Britain feel “solidarity” with anti-immigrant Danish editors who made a major error of judgment rather than with British Muslims who universally deplored the cartoons?’ (p. 345). Furthermore, the British press alluded to the fact that perhaps the UK’s long history of immigration and multiculturalism meant that the British were more tolerant and accepting of minorities. Additionally, Meer and Mouritsen (2009) noted that the cartoons were seen as potentially disruptive of social cohesion between Britain and its Muslim minorities. This idea, in turn, was criticised. For example, the Daily Telegraph (2006) claimed that it was problematic if newspapers refrained from publishing certain images out fear that a small minority could become violent. Letters to newspaper editors and commenters on websites castigated papers for their restraint. Significant backlash (re)opened debates on the compatibility of Islam with British values as well as the limits of freedom of expression. Meer and Mouritsen (2009) alluded to the fact that the restraint of the media and political elite may have been merely an attempt, albeit a successful one, to put a lid on a controversy that could have provoked populist reactions across the nation. The idea certainly resonates with a British tendency to ‘not offend’, or Type 2 secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity. In the aftermath of the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, once again British newspapers did not print the cartoons that had been published by the satirical magazine. Although newspapers and other media outlets were hesitant to publish the cartoons, either out of fear of violent retaliation from the Muslim community or out of concern about the possibility of attracting populist commentary, their stance attracted public backlash. In addition, the Tory government, which was in power at the time, sent a letter to all Muslim leaders asking them to take responsibility in addressing issues of radicalisation. Since then, the public debate on free speech has turned towards whether or not extreme right-wing politicians and opinion makers can speak out publicly. This was exemplified by the controversy that arose over Geert Wilders being denied access to Britain in 2009. Should hateful speech still be allowed under the guise of free speech? Newspapers and the public alike castigated British authorities for the ban, claiming free speech should always be championed over the fear of hate (Poole, 2012). One commenter noted that the debate was a battle over the values that define the public sphere (i.e., religious and secular sensibilities), rather than over freedom of speech (O’Hagan, 2017).

The celebration of blasphemy, apostasy, and free speech As the name implies, the 2017 International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression was an international event that involved international human rights and LGBTQ+ activists, ex-Muslims, commentators, feminists, and so forth. Of the roughly 60 speakers and panellists, about half would self-identify as ‘ex-Muslim’, and about half of the ‘ex-Muslims’ were British. Therefore, it could be argued that (1) the conference was not a response to the British

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national context, per se, but a response to international human-rights issues surrounding Islam, apostasy, blasphemy, and free speech; and (2) it took place in Britain simply because of the country’s international connections and Maryam Namazie’s residency there. These issues may have broadly contributed to the contents of the conference; however, many elements of the conference were most certainly aimed at and resonated with the specifically British situation. I will focus on these elements and voices.9 Namazie, the host and organiser, opened the Conference with the following words: I think it is important for us to remind the world: rights do not only belong to the religious. The freedom of conscience includes, of course, the right to religion, but it also includes the right to reject religion. Freedom of expression is not just for believers, it includes the right to criticise religion, to make fun [of] it, and unmercifully. Expressing these beliefs is not a crime. It is a crime, though, to incite hatred against apostates and blasphemers and LGBT, as [the] East London Mosque does in this country. And it is a crime to punish people with the death penalty for leaving Islam, for criticising it. That is the crime. Not the demand to live and think and love as one chooses. And, of course, we all know it is not bigotry. ‘Islamophobia’ is a term that is being used in order to silence criticism, in order to impose de facto blasphemy laws where none exist. Thank you very much, but we don’t need a lesson in racism. We live racism every day. For those of you who say – and I’m talking to the world outside – who say our criticisms are Islamophobic and racism, you need a lesson in racism. […] This week, we want to tell the world that it is possible to fight on several fronts. We fight against racism; we fight against Muslim profiling; we can fight for the rights of refugees; we can fight for the right to leave and criticise religion, especially Islam, without fear, without threats, without intimidation. We call on the world to join us, to support us or step aside. Let us do our work. (GoleSorkh, 2017c) Namazie identified the messengers, the messages, and the intended receivers of the messages professed at the conference. First of all, ‘we’ refers to ‘apostates and blasphemers and LGBT’, those who ‘live and love’ as they choose. By stating ‘we all know’, she implied that attendees shared knowledge of the message she was about to spread to the rest of the world: to criticise Islam is not bigotry but a right, and ‘Islamophobia’ is a term which imposes ‘de facto blasphemy laws’ through accusations of racism. Furthermore, Namazie wished to ‘tell the world’, but her plight seemed more specific. The fact that ‘we’ fight for the right to leave religion implies a message and declaration of intent towards religious (i.e., Islamic) institutions, individuals, or communities. She further called on ‘the world to join us,’ which was specifically directed at those who were not part of the previous us/them message; rather, it was aimed at ‘the secular’. ‘[S]upport us or step aside’ was a


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direct critique aimed at those whom the attendees would have expected to join forces with them in the fight against inequality and for freedom of speech, that is the political ‘left’ which, in their view, had let them down. Namazie’s positioning of both her own arguments as well as those of the broader conference through the opening speech claimed a unique authority and positionality. Marc de Leeuw and Sonja van Wichelen (2005) analysed a similar positionality in Hirsi Ali’s popular rise in Dutch politics and public debate during the 2000s. They argued that through two frames of mediated selves, that is as ‘one of us’ and as ‘other’, Hirsi Ali presented a linear narrative of becoming. Through victimhood and intimate knowledge of the terrors of Islam, she had chosen to be liberated and part of the enlightened West and could thereby claim authority. Strategically she and others can use these selves to legitimate certain positions or to ward off criticism. In this respect the authoritative voice of the mediated self as ‘other’ tends to close off dialogue and turn the viewer into a passive spectator. In speaking on behalf of Muslim women through her self as ‘other’ (especially as victim ‘other’) she creates a moral closure for critical opponents. (p. 331, emphasis in original) As Namazie did explicitly in her opening speech and other speakers did implicitly throughout the panels, secularist ex-Muslim voices claim the authority to challenge secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity, which in their view have enabled or ignored, to a certain extent, their suffering at the hands of Islam, through two mechanisms: intimate knowledge of Islam as well as linear moves to the dominant ‘secular’. Conference participants also claimed a third basis for authority, namely, resistance to what they called ‘antiMuslim bigotry’. Not all of the panellists that I discuss here would identify as ‘ex-Muslim’ per se. However, their simultaneous intimate knowledge of Islam, current identification as secular, and self-distancing from anti-Muslim bigotry provides them the authoritative positionality of what I call ‘secularist exMuslim voices’. Furthermore, while it could be argued that the event was simply ‘a secular conference’, which was not focused on ‘ex-Muslims’ per se, it was framed as being ‘the largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history’ in celebration of the CEMB’s tenth anniversary (CEMB, 2017). Therefore, I will analyse two panels to illustrate two elements of secularity that were addressed at the Conference: (1) institutionalised forms; and, (2) the social and cultural meanings that are given to the demarcation of ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ spaces. The first panel, titled ‘Identity Politics, Communalism, and Multiculturalism’, primarily addressed institutionalised forms of the demarcation of religious and secular boundaries, (GoleSorkh, 2017b). Kenan Malik, a British author and broadcaster, opened the panel by discussing the history of multiculturalism and identity politics as well as his opposition to both. In his view, while identity politics started out as activism for equal rights from the

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bottom up, it morphed into top-down policies that devise unequal rights for different groups using parameters based on ethnicity, race, or religion. ‘Therefore,’ he said, ‘if we believe in universal rights, then we should take a strong opposition to identity politics’ (GoleSorkh, 2017b, emphasis in original). According to Malik, the attempt to recognise minority struggles and broader struggles for social transformation had been ignored in Britain, and certain identities had become privileged. But, it only happened among certain institutions and their gate-keepers, specifically the often loud, self-appointed fundamentalists. By denying all groups equal rights and instead providing different rights based on ethnic, religious, or racial difference, communities and individuals suffer, and social cohesion is lost. He concluded: The trouble with multiculturalism is that it puts people into boxes. You are black, Muslim, and it defines public policy according to the boxes in which you have been put [applause]. What multiculturalism has done is given institutional form to identity politics. That’s why I oppose it. I am for diversity, for immigration, but I am opposed to multiculturalism and opposed to identity politics. (GoleSorkh, 2017b, emphasis in original) The reference problem that Malik identified with the accommodation of religious diversity was the disintegration of social cohesion. By accommodating different groups according to their own desires, rather than those of the state, uniformity evaporates, and thereby citizens’ equality under the law. Furthermore, people are judged by their ethnicity, religion, or culture rather than as equal individuals, which causes ruptures and legitimises inequality. His criticism focused on Britain’s history of communitarianism (localised funds for racial and ethnic minorities) and multiculturalist policies, as described above. While Malik castigated the discriminatory, institutionalised differential treatment of ethnic and religious groups by the government, commentary in the Dutch context predominantly centred around the discontents of a ‘failed multicultural state’, ‘failed generations of immigrants’, the ‘incompatibility of Islam with the Christian religions in the Netherlands’, and the ‘political culture of allowing’ (Scheffer, 2000).10 Dutch commentary focused less on the particular public policies of multiculturalism and communitarianism, which Malik referenced, since they never took the form of preferential (monetary) treatment of religious or ethnic minorities in the Netherlands. Additionally, in recent years in the Netherlands, ‘identity politics’ has referred more to the problematising of minority groups by right-wing politicians as well as critique of these nationalist politicians and commentators addressing equality activists and anti-discriminatory groups, rather than to the systematic differential treatment of religious and ethnic minorities by (localised) government policies. In her opening thoughts, Gita Sahgal, the director of the Centre for Secular Space, criticised the British state’s involvement in promoting and protecting Islamists. She primarily saw evidence of this in Saudi Arabia’s influence in


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British mosques and schools and the government’s active support of these Islamist institutions in Britain, such as the East London Mosque run by Jamaat-e-Islami, a conservative Pakistani group, or ‘the ‘South-Asian brother organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood’ (GoleSorkh, 2017b). Her criticism of the British state and its policies did not end here. In answer to a question regarding whether the empowerment of Islamism in Britain is perhaps an issue of ‘the deep state’, she answered by elaborating upon the British state apparatus and its overt involvement in supporting religious fundamentalism. She argued: ‘Britain, in terms of its society, is one of the most irreligious societies in the world, but it is a Christian state’ (GoleSorkh, 2017b). She gave the example of the unequal treatment of groups when it comes to same-sex marriage. While same-sex marriage is allowed under state law, the Anglican Church can deny same-sex marriage under religious law. In Sahgal’s view, allowing ‘fundamentalist gate-keepers’ from certain minority communities, such as the Anglican Church or Islam, to set different rules for minorities ‘is not only abusing [those] minorities, but [the state] is actually aligning itself with the worst of the fundamentalists’ (GoleSorkh, 2017b). The reference problem that Sahgal identified – life-world-related ideas and policies of multiculturalism stem from the secularity of accommodating diversity – causes tensions within Type 4 secularity for the sake of independent development of institutional domains, with its guiding ideas of rationality, efficiency, and autonomy (Wohlrab-Sahr & Burchardt, 2012, p. 890). Sahgal exemplified these tensions by elaborating on the state’s involvement with religious institutions and its willingness to allow different legal systems for different groups. She took this one step further: allowing religious institutions to have parallel legal systems naturally attracts fundamentalists as gate-keepers of these institutions. She viewed this as a direct result of an un-secular state’s policies which support Type 2 secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity. As Wohlrab-Sahr and Burchardt (2012) noted, certain constellations may restrict the development of secularity: ‘problems in question are not “resolved” in terms of secularity but through the imposition of religious authority’ (p. 889). This process is well underway in Britain, according to Sahgal. She offered a solution based in the guiding ideas of secularity for the sake of independent development of institutional domains: complete dissolution of the state church. In comparison, the Netherlands has no state church. Although the Dutch constitution does not explicate the separation of church and state, state neutrality is derived from Articles 1 and 6 of the Basic Law, which guarantee the right to non-discrimination and the freedom of religion respectively (Schuh et al., 2012). Therefore, the particular reference problem of the state’s leniency towards religious institutions, which Sahgal traces back to the presence of a church-state in Britain, is less likely to surface in the Netherlands, where neither the church nor any other religious institutions enjoy political or legal authority.11 The second panel, ‘Blasphemy, Islamophobia, and Freedom of Expression’, was concerned with another element of secularity: the social and cultural meanings of the demarcation of religious and secular spaces (GoleSorkh,

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2017a). This panel focused primarily on freedom of expression and the ‘charge’ of Islamophobia. Richard Dawkins, one of the panellists, problematised his experience of being denied the opportunity to speak at the University of California, Berkeley, in June 2017, because some of his comments on Islam had ‘hurt and offended’ many Muslims. KPFA, the local community-supported radio station that hosted the event, claimed that while it supported free speech, it did not support hurtful speech. According to Dawkins, by commenting on Islam, and more specifically Islamism, he did not utter ‘hurtful speech’: ‘I have always been critical of Christianity, but I have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass?’ He further referenced British commentator Maajid Nawaz, who labelled this ‘the racism of lowered expectations’: liberals claim to be ‘militantly and correctly feminist, but when it comes to someone with brown skin who is misogynistic or homophobic, you give them a free pass. […] What a patronising, condescending thing to say’ (GoleSorkh, 2017a). Benjamin David, Editor-in-Chief of Conatus News, argued that accusations of Islamophobia are the greatest limiter of free speech in the modern world. He asked, ‘But what really is Islamophobia? […] I have this definition: it is a word, created by fascists and used by cowards, to manipulate morons [laughter and applause]’ (GoleSorkh, 2017a).12 Firstly, he blamed the media for perpetuating the word’s use out of ‘pure laziness’ and commercial interest. Secondly, he pointed to the effects of identity politics: ‘culture has become seen as a highly abstractive form of practices of daily life, it is merely an ascription of certain values on [a] certain group. What this means in effect: Islamophobia has become the new racism’ (GoleSorkh, 2017a). But, according to David, Islam is not a race, ethnicity, or nationality; it is a set of ideas, such as stoning adulterers, death for apostasy, ideas of paradise and martyrdom, which should never be confused, nor conflicted, with a unanimous people […] it is being used as a means of shutting down significant and important topics […] [B]ut we will not be shut down! (GoleSorkh, 2017a) Sarah Haider, founder of Ex-Muslims of North America, commented: It is extremely racist to assume that Muslims are in some way tied down to a set of beliefs. That it is inherent in them, that it is a quality that they just catch. […] And in that way, it dehumanizes them. Because it denies that they are thinking people, that they are rational people. (GoleSorkh, 2017a) The panel did not deny that racism, or ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’, is rife and should be addressed. As an appropriate response, however, Haider suggested fighting and protecting civil liberties across the board when the situation calls for it. Her final words were:


‘We are the tsunami that is coming’ Progress is not inevitable. We are not destined to a future where we will have greater liberties, or even the liberties that we have today. They require champions, who are willing to be in the trenches, are willing to fight, to make it happen. (GoleSorkh, 2017a)

The societal reference problems outlined above pertain to the domains of individual free speech (freedom) and the curbing of free speech for the sake of preventing potential conflict resulting from religious heterogeneity (WohlrabSahr & Burchardt, 2012). Dawkins perceived that ‘the liberal community’ values the avoidance of potential conflict (clashes over Islamic and secularist sensibilities) above the individual’s perceived right to speak and critique. But the liberal community takes it one step further: ‘liberal institutions’ successfully curb critique through charges of ‘Islamophobia’, a term that implies irrationality. Dawkins, however, turned the argument around by claiming that it is actually ‘racist’ and ‘condescending’ to assume that one group needs ‘special protection’ under secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity in order to avoid potential conflict. It was primarily an argument for Type 1 secularity for the sake of individual freedom, i.e., freedom of expression, which was considered more important than tolerating or respecting religious sensibilities. But Haider, in her final comments, took it even further by arguing not only that individual freedoms are curbed by concerns over religious sensibilities, but also that ‘we’ are required to fight for greater liberties. Haider not only implied a greater fight than that of the individual, but she also suggested a vision for national and international development. Her solution to the conflicts she saw arising from accommodating (religious) diversity was to push values of the Enlightenment, modernity, and progress through individual freedom of expression in order to achieve Type 3 secularity for the sake of social integration/national (and international) development. It is a goal that transcends the individual and his/her desire for freedom; individual freedom is a tool to fight for the recognition of human rights on a global scale. As outlined above, in the Netherlands secularity for the sake of individual freedom has been dominant since the rise of prominent politicians Fortuyn, Hirsi Ali, and Wilders. Therefore, the reference problem of the curbing of free speech through charges of Islamophobia has mainly been employed when dominant (right-wing) discourse is accused of hate speech or racism. In the British context, as sketched in earlier sections of this chapter, contesting secularities involve not only secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity, but also the most prominent political (UKIP) and social (racism and anti-Muslim bigotry) challengers of this secularity. In the media, secularist ex-Muslim voices have been accused of racism and aligning with these challengers, both by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Such accusations have been denied through claims of wishing to challenge both the regressive left as well as right-wing extremism. At the 2017 Conference, although right-wing extremism was mentioned as an important issue during Namazie’s opening speech, none of the panels specifically or critically addressed

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the subject (GoleSorkh, 2017c). The 2019 CEMB conference in Amsterdam, however, included a panel titled ‘Fighting the Far-Right; Celebrating Dissent’.

Secularist ex-Muslim voices in time and space This chapter was the direct product of my reflections on observations that I made during part of my fieldwork. To be frank, there were not many moments of ‘doing fieldwork’ during the course of this research. Often there simply was not an ethnographic field to study. Especially in the Netherlands, there were very few physical events or meet-ups involving those who had moved out of Islam. It was not that they did not happen at all, it was more that they were generally under the radar. Contrastively, in Britain I found this conference during which people stood up, spoke out, and, in the words of one speaker and panel, were basically: ‘Out: Loud and Proud’. My surprise led me to the question why such voices were relatively absent from the Dutch scene, and why they were so openly present in Britain. The concept of multiple secularities helps clarify how religious spheres are linked to other social, political, and cultural spheres, which is determined by situatedness in time and space. Beyond ‘secularism’, the concept recognises not only institutionalised forms of drawing boundaries between what is deemed religious and other spheres of practice, but also that the social and cultural ways in which these contestations play out are part of the formation of secularity. Within the concept of multiple secularities, although spatial and temporal situations are always divergent, these situations draw on specific ways of demarcating social spheres, which Wohlrab-Sahr and Burchardt (2012) identified in their four ideal types of secularity. In this chapter, the concept was utilised to explore the surfacing of secularist exMuslim voices in the public debate concerning religion and free speech in Britain, which was contrasted with the relative absence of such voices in the Netherlands. I tried to show that since currently the dominant secularity in the Netherlands is for the sake of social integration and national development alongside motives and arguments taken from secularity for the sake of individual liberties, particular secularist ex-Muslim voices criticising religious plurality and multiculturalist policies have been less likely to emerge in recent years. Prominent Dutch politicians, such as Wilders, who argue for less religious plurality challenge individual freedom of religion and the accommodation of diversity. My interlocutors in the Netherlands repeatedly stated that they did not necessarily wish to contribute to such narratives by openly criticising Islam, as demonstrated at the conference. Dominant Dutch secularity not only argues for less religious freedom for the sake of integration, but it also simultaneously stigmatises Muslim people in the name of ‘freedom of expression’. In Britain, by contrast, the development of church-state relations, the introduction of multiculturalist policies and identity politics, and various legal and social contestations over religious diversity and secular demarcations – as illustrated by the Danish cartoon debate – have been marked by a version of


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Type 2 secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity. I have further suggested that secularist ex-Muslim voices are articulated as a response to secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity, associated reference problems on both the institutional and social levels, as well as the ‘Islamism’ that Type 2 secularity allegedly accommodates. I have illustrated this with a case study on the international conference, during which various participants, in their discussions of various references problems, adopted motives, arguments, and solutions from the other three types of secularity. These reference problems surface differently in the Netherlands due to its different history of secularities. Panel speakers, for example, problematised British church-state relations, which allegedly allow for the inclusion of (extremist) religion in law and institutions. Furthermore, others pointed to the problems associated with accommodating diversity as policy when multiculturalism and identity politics undercut the aspired to equality. As illustrated by the effects of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, social and cultural problematics are associated with the demarcation of religious and other social spheres, and they may also problematise freedom of expression, as signified by the ‘charge of Islamophobia.’ Naturally, the arguments presented by secularist ex-Muslim voices, as described above, are contested too. My interlocutors from both Britain and the Netherlands found that the social integration of Muslims and the particulars of Islam were particularly salient issues because they had to negotiate these boundaries on both the societal and personal levels. However, during my fieldwork, I also encountered many former Muslims, in both the Netherlands and Britain, who disagreed with the arguments or rhetoric of prominent secularist ex-Muslim voices outlined here. The following three chapters divert from the contextual nature of the foregoing by focusing on the narratives of the people I spoke to about moving out of Islam. In addition to paying attention to the processes of moving out of religion, they regularly refer back to the contestations and arguments presented by secularist ex-Muslim voices as well as the discourses in which they surfaced. They illustrate individuals’ intricate negotiations of religious belonging and secular worldviews. Chapter 3, which is chiefly a methodological justification for the study as a whole, analyses one of these narratives in depth.

Notes 1 All excerpts from the 2017 International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression presented in this chapter were accessed via the ‘Nano GoleSorkh’ YouTube channel (GoleSorkh, 2017a, 2017b, 2017c). 2 An earlier version of this chapter appeared under the title ‘Challenging secularity, challenging religion: “Secularist ex-Muslim voices” in the British debate on Islam and freedom of expression’ in the Journal of Religion in Europe (Vliek, 2018). I wish to thank the journal’s publisher, editor, and anonymous reviewers for their invaluable contributions to this chapter. 3 Amina quote is from a personal interview conducted in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on 27 July 2017. 4 Khalida quote is from a personal interview conducted in Breda, the Netherlands, on 18 August 2017.

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5 On injury and blasphemy, see also Christoph Baumgartner (2013) on blasphemy as violence. 6 For other examples of the empirical application of ‘multiple secularities’, see Burchardt, Wohlrab-Sahr, and Middel (2015). 7 The Celebrating Dissent festival was held in Amsterdam between 30 August and 1 September 2019. 8 The electoral systems of each country partially made possible the relative success of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and UKIP and the BNP in Britain. The Netherlands has a history of electing coalition governments, which opens up unlimited space for new political parties. In contrast, the British electoral system is effectively bipartisan (Labour and Conservative) and ruled by majority vote, which leaves less space for the success of other political parties. 9 It should be noted that during the 2019 Amsterdam conference organised by the CEMB, emphasis was placed on international human rights, rather than the specific Dutch context. Although Dutch speakers were present, specific elements or reference problems regarding Dutch secularity were not raised. 10 As mentioned in Chapter 1, Scheffer’s essay was one of the first commentaries to explicitly address issues of immigration, Islam, and the failure of state policy. Frequently, his rhetoric has been echoed in public debate and the dominant discourse. 11 In the Netherlands, controversy arose in April 2018 in the wake of the leaking by the government of a list on the funding of Dutch mosques by alleged ‘Islamic non-free nation states’. However, this did not problematise the preferential treatment of religious institutions; rather, it criticised the intelligence services’ limited control over foreign funding for social organisations and institutions. 12 Conatus News is a popular publication platform for ‘ex-Muslims’ and secularists.

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CEMB. (2017). Largest gathering of ex-Muslims in history. Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain – CEMB. Retrieved from uslims-in-history. Chapman, M. D. (2016). Church and state in England: A fragile establishment. In L. D. Lefebure (Ed.), Religion, Authority, and the State (pp. 199–214). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Chin, R. (2017). The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe: A History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Daily Telegraph. (2006). Editorial: ‘Why We Will Defend the Right to Offend’. Daily Telegraph, 3 February, 25. Dalgaard, S., & Dalgaard, K. (2006). The right to offend. The RUSI Journal, 151(2), 28–33. doi:10.1080/03071840608523147. de Leeuw, M., & van Wichelen, S. (2005). ‘Please, go wake up!’: Submission, Hirsi Ali, and the ‘War on Terror’ in the Netherlands. Feminist Media Studies, 5(3), 325–340. doi:10.1080/14680770500271487. Duyvendak, J. W., & Scholten, P. (2012). Deconstructing the Dutch multicultural model: A frame perspective on Dutch immigrant integration policymaking. Comparative European Politics, 10(3), 266–282. doi:10.1057/cep.2012.9. Eisenstadt, S. N. (2000). Multiple Modernities. Daedalus, 129(1), 1–29. Retrieved from Falkenhayner, N. (2014). Making the British Muslim: Representations of the Rushdie Affair and Figures of the War on Terror Decade. New York: Springer. Ganiel, G., & Jones, P. (2012). Religion, politics, and law. In L. Woodhead & R. Catto (Eds.), Religion and Change in Modern Britain (pp. 299–321). Abingdon, UK: Routledge. GoleSorkh, N. (2017a). International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression: Blasphemy, Islamophobia, free expression panel. YouTube. Retrieved from GoleSorkh, N. (2017b). International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression: Identity politics, communalism, and multiculturalism panel. YouTube. Retrieved from GoleSorkh, N. (2017c). International Conference on Freedom of Conscience and Expression Opening Remarks by Maryam Namazie: Celebrating apostasy and blasphemy. YouTube. Retrieved from Hirsi Ali, A. (2006). Laat ons niet in de steek. Gun ons een Voltaire. Trouw, 20 May. Retrieved from ire~beeecf4c. HMSO. (1966). Local Government Act. Retrieved from www.legisla Hoogwout, M. (2020). Support voor Charlie Hebdo: ‘Wij zijn niet beledigd’. Retrieved from House of Lords. (2005). Lords Hansard Text for 51025–04: Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence – House of Commons: Transport, Local Government, and the Regions. UK Parliament. Retrieved from text/51025–51004.htm. Kuenssberg, L. (2011). State multiculturalism has failed, says David Cameron. BBC News, 5 February. Retrieved from Kundnani, A. (2012). Multiculturalism and its discontents: Left, right and liberal. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 15(2), 155–166. doi:10.1177/1367549411432027.

‘We are the tsunami that is coming’ 101 Lee, L. (2015). Recognizing the Non-religious: Reimagining the Secular. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mahmood, S. (2009a). Feminism, democracy and empire: Islam and the War on Terror. In H. Herzog & A. Braude (Eds.), Gendering Religion and Politics (pp. 193–215). New York: Palgrave MacMillan. Mahmood, S. (2009b). Religious reason and secular affect: An incommensurable divide? Critical Inquiry, 35(4), 836–862. doi:10.1086/599592. Martin, D. (1978). A General Theory of Secularization. New York: Harper & Row. McLean, I., & Peterson, S. M. (2011). Secularity and secularism in the United Kingdom: On the way to the First Amendment. Brigham Young University Law Review, (4), 637–656. Retrieved from Meer, N., & Mouritsen, P. (2009). Political cultures compared: The Muhammad cartoons in the Danish and British press. Ethnicities, 9(3), 334–360. Namazie, M. (2014a). One Law for All has no links with Anne Marie Waters and Sharia Watch. One Law for All. Retrieved from ters-is-leaving-post-of-spokesperson. Namazie, M. (2014b). Walking a tightrope: Between the pro-Islamist Left and the far-Right. One Law for All. Retrieved from e-between-the-pro-islamist-left-and-the-far-right. O’Hagan, E. M. (2017). The ‘Free Speech Debate’ is nothing of the sort, whatever the far right says. The Guardian, 7 May. Retrieved from entisfree/2017/feb/27/free-speech-debate-milo-yiannopoulos-alt-right-censorship. Orenstein, Z., & Weismann, I. (2016). Neither Muslim nor other: British secular Muslims. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 27(4), 1–17. doi:10.1080/09596410.2016.1148892. Poole, E. (2012). The case of Geert Wilders: Multiculturalism, Islam, and identity in the UK. Journal of Religion in Europe, 5(2), 162–191. doi:10.1163/187489212X639181. Scheffer, P. (2000). Het multiculturele drama. NRC Handelsblad, 29 January. Retrieved from Schuh, C., Burchardt, M., & Wohlrab-Sahr, M. (2012). Contested secularities: Religious minorities and secular progressivism in the Netherlands. Journal of Religion in Europe, 5(3), 349–383. Soper, C., & Fetzer, J. S. (2007). Religious institutions, church-state history, and Muslim mobilization in Britain, France, and Germany. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 33(6), 933–944. Steele, J. (2006). Europe’s cartoon battle lines are drawn in shades of grey, not black and white. The Guardian, 11 February. Retrieved from 2006/feb/11/pressandpublishing.race. UKIP. (2017). Our bold new integration agenda aims to bring communities together. UKIP. Retrieved from communities_together. Vellenga, S. (2008). The Dutch and British public debate on Islam: Responses to the killing of Theo van Gogh and the London bombings compared. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 19(4), 449–471. Vliek, M. (2018). Challenging secularities, challenging religion: ‘Secularist ex-Muslim voices’ in the British debate on Islam and freedom of expression. Journal of Religion in Europe, 11(4), 348–377. doi:10.1163/18748929-01104004. Weller, P., & Cheruvallil-Contractor, S. (2015). Muslims in the UK. In M. Burchardt & I. Michalowski (Eds.), After Integration: Islam, Conviviality, and Contentious Politics in Europe (pp. 303–325). Wiesbaden: Springer.


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Wohlrab-Sahr, M., & Burchardt, M. (2012). Multiple secularities: Toward a cultural sociology of secular modernities. Comparative Sociology, 11(6), 875–909. Wohlrab-Sahr, M., & Burchardt, M. (2017). Revisiting the Secular: Multiple Secularities and Pathways to Modernity. Leipzig: Leipzig University. Woodhead, L. (2013). Neither religious nor secular: The British situation and its implications for religion-state relations. In A. Berg-Sørensen (Ed.), Contesting Secularism: Comparative Perspectives (pp. 137–161). Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited.


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And that’s when I fell off my [faith]. […] But it took about a year before I could admit [that] to myself […] I did not dare say it to myself. Because I was afraid that I might be wrong: […] ‘Am I going in the wrong direction? Is this my voice? Or perhaps this is the devil whispering this in my ear right now’. So, you have a lot of doubts. […] You grow up with the idea that everything that is bad will eventually bring you to hell, or the devil has whispered it to you. [It] is very difficult to get rid of that idea. To think: ‘that is not hell, or the angel […] but this is just me! I am talking to myself’. That I learn to trust myself, my own voice. Not subscribing it to all sorts of other things around me. And when I finally heard my own voice, like: ‘I actually do not believe it’, that’s when I really thought: ‘No, I am no longer Muslim’. (Yagana interview, 2017)1

Meet Yagana, a 26-year-old Dutch student with Afghan roots.2 This quotation is taken from the transcript of a long conversation I had with her early 2017. In this excerpt, she identifies (and sometimes fails to identify) certain voices that illustrate her doubts before she ‘fell off’ her religion, as she called it. To understand such a trajectory of moving out of Islam, various factors should be taken into account: religion, non-religion, origin (e.g., being Dutch with Afghan roots), gender, age (e.g., going through adolescence), politics, personal networks, friends, and so forth. A variety of intersectional factors contributed to the complexity of Yagana’s experience. In this chapter I elaborate on the methodological underpinnings of this study. My analysis of complex narratives, such as Yagana’s, was greatly aided by engagement with Dialogical Self Theory, which was developed by Hubert Hermans. Not only was it adopted for the close reading of narratives, but it was also used for the dataset as a whole. Here I elaborate on the dialogical approach, and Yagana’s narrative is utilised to illustrate the benefits of Dialogical Self Theory in the analysis of trajectories of moving out of Islam in post-migration contexts. The chapter provides an in-depth study of the theory and suggests incorporation of a Foucauldian approach, wherein the self is constituted through power and history. This is specifically done in order to not lose sight of the contexts in which people move out of Islam, i.e., the discourses addressed extensively in the previous chapters. DOI: 10.4324/9781003143574-4


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Hermans developed Dialogical Self Theory in the 1990s, chiefly in response to and as a part of the debate on the constitution of the self and the construction of identity in a globalising world. He has since developed the theory mainly as an instrument within personality and clinical psychology, his field of expertise. The concept has also been taken up by sociologists, anthropologists, and the humanities in general as an analytical and theoretical tool for the discussion of the constitution of the self within an increasingly heterogeneous post-secular world. These analyses have specifically utilised Dialogical Self Theory in order to reflect on specific forms of self-making, doubt, and uncertainty regarding the positioning of intersectional identities in post-migration contexts (i.a., Aveling & Gillespie, 2008; Bhatia, 2002; Buitelaar, 2013, 2014; Buitelaar & Zock, 2013; Gregg, 2013; Pitstra, 2013; Zock, 2013). Dialogical Self Theory allows the analyst to consider (1) the actual voices present in self-narratives, (2) the complex embeddedness of these voices in discursive power structures, and (3) the self-making agentic properties of the self (Hermans, 2012). Furthermore, various anthropological studies have utilised the Foucauldian approach to view the self as constituted through power and history, whilst maintaining agency in the self-fashioning of piety: the so-called ‘piety-movement’ in the anthropology of Islam (i.a., Hafez, 2011; Hocke, 2014; Mahmood, 2005). According to this approach, power structures and discourses shape the agentic power of the subject in constituting the self. The study of so-called ‘ex-Muslims’, however, may place too much emphasis on agency in subjectivity, such as, for example, narrower rational choice accounts of agency that argue that the search for (non-)religiosity is like a marketplace in which the individual chooses the most beneficial existential belief system available (Franks, 2001; Iannaccone, 1990).3 This approach to the self as being a purely agentic subject capable of choosing without constraint ignores the situatedness of the individual within complex discourses. Therefore, this chapter proposes that within the dialogical self, existing power structures and contexts as well as the subject’s agentic capacity contribute to self-making in times of doubt and uncertainty. Dialogical Self Theory aims to give voice to the agency that acts and constitutes the self, whilst considering the individual’s situatedness in power and history.4 This book opened with the observation that trajectories of moving out of Islam vary greatly. Throughout the 44 interviews conducted over the course of this research, however, a fairly consistent body of ‘voices’ and ‘I-positions’ was found. Since Yagana self-reflexively presented a variety of these voices, her story is particularly suitable for illustrating the usefulness of Dialogical Self Theory and elaborating on the methodology of analysis. As the chapter will illustrate, there are numerous possibilities for the relative dominance of certain voices in narratives. For example, at times people were more concerned about their religious upbringing, their parental voices, or social restrictions that they had experienced. At other times they were far more engaged with their newly found identities than their old Muslim selves. Furthermore, as illustrated below, different voices take different positions over time. For example, certain concerns regarding one’s former religion may seem urgent at a particular point in time,

‘When I finally heard my own voice’ 105 and an individual might want to speak out or take a position in the wider discourse, but the urge may subside as time passes (also see Chapter 6). But I am getting ahead of myself. For now, suffice it to say that this chapter shows that considering the self as dialogically constructed within and in relation to the discourses from which it emerges provides insights into both the internal and external processes that constitute self-making in times of doubt and uncertainty. The purpose of the chapter is to outline the study’s methodological underpinnings by illustrating the dialogical analysis undergone by all of the interviews. In Chapter 4, the results of such an analysis of the dataset will be outlined. But first, in order to illustrate the power and potential of dialogical analysis, I elaborate on the main tenets of Dialogical Self Theory, power, and self-making. Various external discourses relevant to Yagana, which were elaborated in Chapters 1 and 2, will be briefly discussed. Lastly, I address issues of dialogical self-making within and in relation to these discourses by dialogically analysing Yagana’s experiences of moving out of Islam.

Dialogical Self Theory: The meaning of power and self-making The utilisation of Dialogical Self Theory for the analysis of intersectional narratives is a recent development in social sciences, and it is based on the concept of the self as a ‘society of mind’. The self is not merely alone; rather, it is populated by others in the environment. These others become apparent in a multiplicity of dynamic I-positions from which dialogue and monologue may emerge (Hermans, 2012; Hermans & Gieser, 2012; Hermans & Hermans-Konopka, 2010). For example, the choices one makes from the position of ‘I-as-a-daughter’ are heavily influenced by one’s parents, but they can be challenged by the choices one wishes to make from the position of ‘I-as-a-woman’. Other examples of I-positions include ‘I-as-professional’, ‘I-as-religious’, ‘I-as-Afghan’, and so forth. Examples of external voices could include friends, siblings, political debates, religious values, or God. These various positions and voices are both spatially and temporally organised in order to help the development of the self. The benefit of such an approach when analysing narratives in a post-migration context – and in the case of moving out of Islam – is that it allows for the recognition of various intersectional (self-)identifications as well as the particulars of complex discursive and external influences on the individual. Dialogical Self Theory was developed in response to increased globalising and localising powers and shifting identities in contemporary society, which result from, for example, migration patterns and the uncertainty they produce on the individual level. Jeffrey Arnett (2002) argued that people are challenged to adapt to the globalising effects of migration and the formation of a global society. He noted that adolescents, in particular, may have to develop a ‘bicultural identity: part of their identity is rooted in their local culture, and another part is attuned to the global situation’ (p. 777, emphasis in original). A hybrid identity may also be developed in which elements from both the local and the global are combined, which carries the risk of identity confusion. From this


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point of departure, Dialogical Self Theory was developed. This is particularly relevant for the analysis of narratives of moving out of Islam, since these individuals have to consider multiple, often shifting identities, including ‘hyphenated identity’ (e.g., Afghan-Dutch, Moroccan-Dutch), gender, religion, and the secular environment. Hubert Hermans and Agnieszka Hermans-Konopka (2010) formulated three reasons why such global and local connections require a dialogical approach: (1) there is an increasing multiplicity of self and identity in a globalising world; (2) this brings with it the need to develop a dialogical capacity; and (3) therefore, it is necessary to recognise the alterity of another person within the self, with whom dialogical contact should be made. I shall elaborate on these reasons briefly. First, Dialogical Self Theory argues that intercultural processes lead to the formation of multiple cultural positions within the self. The different identities that one has to develop are represented by different voices or positions, which are part of the heterogeneous self. As Hermans and Hermans-Konopka (2010) stated: ‘[i]n other words, the global-local nexus is not just a reality outside the individual but is rather incorporated as a constituent of a dialogical self in action’ (p. 30). The different cultural positions are then required to be in dialogue with each other for the self to be liveable and for the self to comprehend and deal with the differences, contrasts, tensions, ambiguity, and uncertainties that emerge from an increasingly heterogeneous world. For example, as a young Dutch woman with Afghan roots who no longer identified as ‘Muslim’, Yagana had to negotiate between the atheist identity she ascribed to herself and the Afghan-Muslim identity of her parents and community. She had to consider various positions within and outside herself when navigating these heterogeneous contexts. Second, therefore, Dialogical Self Theory considers the self as decentralised, multi-voiced, and dialogical. The dialogical self is described in terms of a ‘dynamic multiplicity of I-positions or voices within the landscape of the mind, intertwined as this mind is with the minds of other people’ (Hermans & Hermans-Konopka, 2010, p. 31). Positions are both internal and external. An internal position might be ‘I-as-Muslim’, whilst external positions might be ‘the Devil’ or ‘my father’. Dialogue may take place between these positions: ‘The dialogical self is not only part of the broader society but functions, moreover, itself as a ‘society of mind’ with tensions, conflicts, and contradictions as intrinsic features of a (healthy functioning) self’ (p. 32). Third, Dialogical Self Theory consequently proposes that otherness, difference, and even opposition are part of the intrapersonal realm: ‘In this way, alterity can be found and experienced not only between the self and the actual other, but also between different I-positions within the self’ (Hermans & Gieser, 2012, p. 8). External others enter into the self and are expressed by different voices of actual others, imagined others, authoritarian others, and various versions or voices of the self. Considering the constitutive power of the other in the self, questions of social dominance and difference should be addressed. Dialogical Self Theory recognises that dominance plays a role in any social situation (Hermans & Gieser,

‘When I finally heard my own voice’ 107 2012). Therefore, dialogue cannot be understood without some conceptualisation of institutional and ethnographic contexts. This obvious notion of social power in dialogue within social structures seems to be absent from many theories of the self: ‘as a consequence, they lack insight into the intense interplay between power relations in the society at large and dominance relations in the “minisociety” of the self’ (Hermans, 2012, p. 4). Hermans (2012) argued that antagonistic unities, such as male-female, black-white, and religious-secular, are social distinctions that are not only reflected in one way or the other in the hierarchical organization of the self, ‘but also answered and addressed both in external and internal dialogues’ (p. 5). In addition, Hermans noted that it is not only individual voices that are represented, but rather collective voices from groups, culture, institutions, organisations, and so forth are also present in a multi-voiced self. They may represent ideologies, languages, or social circles. The power differences that exist outside the self are similarly represented within the society of mind and may struggle and argue with each other. For example, in the quotation at the beginning of the chapter, Yagana mentioned the voice of the devil, an identification that emerged from a Muslim discourse and upbringing. Other examples she gave when narrating difficulties with her surroundings in relation to non-belief were the voices of prejudice from within the Muslim community against those who leave Islam as well as the voices of anti-Muslim sentiment that emerged from the secularist community. Indeed, whilst these voices are the subject of analysis within Dialogical Self Theory, in order to comprehend and situate them it is critical to examine and explicate the power-structures and discourses that provide a means of expression for these various external positions within the society of mind. However, not all applications of Dialogical Self Theory explicitly contextualise the voices that come to fore in the individual from such external hierarchies. Whilst power and hierarchy are recognised within the analysis of dialogues between voices, the complex discourses from which these voices actually emerge – and in which individuals function – are not always carefully scrutinised within the dialogical analysis of self-narratives. Therefore, recent studies into the piety movement in both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries have taken the Foucauldian approach to power and ethical self-formation (Hafez, 2011; Hocke, 2014; Mahmood, 2005). This considers that formation of the self can only be possible through the conditioning surroundings that are established through certain power structures. Reflexivity of the subject, according to Foucault, can only be framed within these structures. These relations of strength are always embedded in certain sociohistorical contexts. Furthermore, Foucault specified this reflexivity with the concept of ‘technologies of the self’, which he defined as the means that: permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality. (Foucault, 1988, p. 18)


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Foucault would indeed argue that the act of internal dialogue as outlined by Hermans qualifies as a ‘technology of the self’, a form of practising and developing ethics, especially in the light of religious conversion and seeking religious or non-religious ‘truth’ or wisdom. Furthermore, it should be noted that, throughout the narratives of my interlocutors, various technologies, besides a dialogical self, came to the fore. This will be exemplified with the analysis of Yagana’s narrative below. Foucault’s conceptualisation of power in relation to self-practices is relevant since it recognises that the self is constituted by both internal and external structures. In particular, Foucault addressed the relevance of elaborating on the sociohistorical formations of such structures outside the self. Dialogical Self Theory resonates with Foucauldian themes of power and ethical self-making. Indeed, Dialogical Self Theory not only recognises active and agentic self-formation and the discourses in which this may emerge, but also gives voice to the technologies of self-making Foucault described. In addition, Dialogical Self Theory provides the possibility of analysing self-formation in action; it explores (and emphasises) the ‘how’ of becoming. Considering the relevance of power as reflexivity and its relation to the forms of self-practices and ethical self-formation, as argued above, I will briefly reflect on three socio-historical constructions of external discourses which were observed as relevant for all my interlocutors and were particularly salient in Yagana’s narrative. The previous chapters have already sketched the background in which my interlocutors moved out of Islam in both the Netherlands and Britain. These discursive constructions, especially the histories of secularity, impacted the ways in which my interlocutors perceived themselves, their awareness of the political nature of moving out of Islam, and how they positioned themselves. For example, on various occasions Yagana referred to the polarisation of the Dutch public debate over the contested status of Islam and Muslims. As mentioned before, Dutch discourse was particularly marked by integrationist and assimilationist stands, such as Frits Bolkestein in the 1990s; Paul Scheffer in the early 2000s; the murders of Theo van Gogh and Pim Fortuyn; and the work and thought of other politicians and critics in contemporary politics, most notably Geert Wilders, a right-wing politician of the populist Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) (Freedom Party), and Thierry Baudet of the Forum voor Democratie (FvD) (Forum for Democracy), although Baudet was less relevant at the time of the interview (2017). Such a discursive background matters since it heavily influences the positioning of the self vis-à-vis the players in the debate. For example, if individuals feel that Muslims – and thereby their former selves as well as their families – are generally under attack by so-called ‘secular crusaders’, or if secularity opens up spaces for reference problems which are not necessarily relevant to the self, it affects the ways individuals conduct themselves. Or, if an individual feels that a particular discourse or type of secularity provides ‘Islamists’ space to manifest orthodox religion, which gravely affected the individual, it influences the individual’s potential positionality vis-à-vis the public debate and can also determine the individual’s feelings towards the community and the former religion.

‘When I finally heard my own voice’ 109 This brings me to the positioning of ‘secularist ex-Muslim voices’ within this broader discourse. Chapter 2 elaborated on their presence in the UK. In the Netherlands, such discourse originated with Hirsi Ali and modestly extended to other prominent names, such as Afshin Ellian, a legal scholar, and Ehsan Jami, founder of the short-lived Centraal Comité voor Ex-moslims (Central Committee for Ex-Muslims). As mentioned before, these voices speaking out against their former religion have been identified as ‘voices from within’ (de Leeuw & van Wichelen, 2005; Mahmood, 2009). The term implies that because ‘ex-Muslims’ were ‘in the fold’ and became part of the ‘Enlightened secular’, they have the experience and authority to criticise their former faith. This is often perceived to be in line with right-wing nationalists’ anti-Muslim sentiments. As elaborated in Chapter 2, such an accusation is often vehemently disputed by ‘secularist ex-Muslims’ themselves. This discourse is particularly relevant for those moving out of Islam because it not only constructs prejudiced images within the Muslim community of ‘apostates’, but it also calls for the consideration of the identification of those who no longer believe. A complex discourse addressed only modestly throughout this study is that of the Muslim community, both in the Netherlands and Britain as well as in global developments surrounding Islam and Islamic doctrine. The theology and morality with which individuals are raised (‘who was God’) should be considered. Matters of international Islamic extremism or violence may affect how people deal with their religious convictions, for instance, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Whilst an analysis of the Islamic world and doctrine is clearly not possible here, it is worth noting that the way individuals are raised with religion and their conception of God – as well as the extent to which they consider international developments and politics in relation to Islam and Muslims – are highly influential factors when individuals cope with doubt, uncertainty, speaking about non-belief to friends and family, and positioning themselves as non-believers in the world. In the analysis of my interlocutors’ narratives, I always considered the ways people narrated these contexts and backgrounds. However, this research is limited since there is insufficient space to extensively study Muslim discourses in each respective country or in the families of the interlocutors. All observations related to individuals’ backgrounds are based on the stories the interlocutors told. For example, the particulars of Yagana’s ‘Islamic discourse’ and Muslim community are elaborated upon in the analysis of her narrative below. Even though personal narratives may differ, analysis of the 44 interviews shows that the discursive voices of national debates, ‘ex-Muslims’, and the Islamic discourse are present throughout. Yagana’s story exemplifies how these internal and (internalised) external voices as well as various I-positions act in dialogue with one another. Rather than presenting a final analysis on what moving out of religion entails, this chapter aims to illustrate how Dialogical Self Theory is a useful tool for close reading and analysing complex narratives of moving out of Islam in a post-migration context.


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Yagana’s story: Through increased religiosity to moving out Yagana came to the Netherlands in 1998 at the age of seven. When I spoke with her, she was 26 years old, attended university, and lived with her fiancé. Her narrative was, like that of many former Muslims, complex. Coming to terms with the fact that she was ‘no longer a Muslim’ was difficult. In 2012, she first ‘came out of the closet’5 to one of her siblings, who was not as supportive as she had hoped. Yagana’s Muslim friends, on the other hand, were supportive. She did not tell her parents about her non-belief by choice; someone else had told them. They were angry and disappointed at first, but later accepted her newly found convictions. The stories Yagana told me were full of self-reflective ponderings, which showed an awareness of not only her own agency and selfmaking, but also the various power-structures and discourses that surrounded her in the past and present. Through extensive internal dialogues and monologues, which she presented from different positions in time and space, she constructed her narrative dialogically and reflexively. Yagana told me that, before ‘losing her religion’, she first became ‘a lot more religious, I even started praying on my own accord’. She gave two reasons. First, the public debate surrounding Islam in the Netherlands had become more pronounced, and from the mid-2000s onwards people, such as Fortuyn, Hirsi Ali, and later Wilders, took prominent stances against the Islamisation of the country. She explained: And yes, you show it more then, instead of keeping it to yourself. All of a sudden it becomes a public debate, of which you are a part as well, and then you want to show it. Whilst previously it was something private. For my parents as well […] I wanted to show it, I wanted to show others like: ‘Hey, I am OK, and I also believe.’ I was also open to engage in the discussion. (Yagana interview, 2017) Yagana felt personally attacked when the public debate centred around Muslims and their religion, illustrating the public debate’s external influence on her as an individual. She felt compelled to enter into discussions. An awareness of being an acting and responding subject within complex discourses coloured Yagana’s narrative. Above, she narrated the internal dialogue as being between the external voice of ‘the public debate’ and an I-position of I-as-Muslim. She felt that simultaneously being ‘Muslim’ and ‘OK’ was perceived as contradictory by the secularist discourse, and therefore she was challenging the stereotype presented by the dominant discourse. Consider the following excerpt, which further illustrates the intrinsic consequences of an initially increased interest in Islam for her ethical self-making: I wanted to bring more discipline to my life. By practising more, […] by following certain rules I thought, well, the structure, and that makes me

‘When I finally heard my own voice’ 111 stronger as a person. […] It felt like it was a mess in my life. And I really wanted to bring more structure. (Yagana interview, 2017) Yagana summarised how her initial move to religiosity was partly motivated by public debate and her desire to be able to say ‘I am OK as a Muslim’ and meaningfully partake in the debate. However, she also realised that religion could be a tool to give more structure and discipline to her life, and this was her second reason for becoming more religious. It is worth noting that, during this period of her life, Yagana felt that practicing religion made her stronger as a person, which Foucault would consider a ‘technology of the self’ (Foucault, 1988). The discursive power of the stigmatisation of Muslims and Islam in wider society woke Yagana’s desire to become more religious and her internal dialogue. By becoming more religious, she also became eager to attend mosque, which is unusual for women in her Afghan community. In search of answers, her I-aswoman discussed with her parents and family that, according to her, this inequality does not make sense: I didn’t go to the mosque; it’s not common for Afghan women to do so. I wanted to, because it was also a sort of change in me: ‘women should be going to the mosque!’ I suggested this at home: ‘Hey, this is inequality! Women should be going to the mosque, why don’t we do that?’ Like I said, in the Afghan community, culture is much more important than religion, and I used Islam to argue against inequalities. (Yagana interview, 2017) As she mentioned, culture is considered more important than religion within her community, and deviation from the cultural norm is frowned upon. Yagana indicated that she utilised Islam as well as her increased religiosity to address feminism and inequality, matters not generally discussed because ‘it is culture’. One of the technologies of self-making that Yagana practised was that of questioning both religious and cultural doctrine. In her understanding, questioning and investigating religion and God’s work were part of practising piety and giving attention to his creations. From her I-position as a critical Muslim thinker, asking such critical questions ‘showed how strong my connection was with God’. But she continued: So I didn’t take everything at face value, but because everything became stronger by asking those critical questions […] I found it pleasant to ask those questions. Until at some point it became a little problematic [laughs]. But in the beginning, I considered myself a critical thinker. (Yagana interview, 2017) She considered herself a critical thinker, an identity and dominant I-position she had been comfortable with her whole life. Asking questions – entering into a


‘When I finally heard my own voice’

dialogue with herself and God – was a part of showing her devotion and love for God’s work. However, she found it increasingly difficult to find satisfying answers to her questions. Confusion emerged from identifying the internal voices that inhabited her society of mind. What she thought was the I-as-critical-thinker voice was complicated by the notion of an external voice of the devil, whispering to her in terms of doubt, uncertainty, and questioning her faith altogether. Her I-as-critical-thinker developed but found it ultimately unsatisfying to ‘take everything with a pinch of salt’: At a certain moment, I had questions. I tried to make things alright: ‘I don’t believe in that, I’ll take that with a pinch of salt.’ I took everything with a pinch of salt. And at a certain moment I thought: ‘I’m taking everything with a pinch of salt, but are you then still a Muslim? And I don’t practise either? Are you then still [a Muslim]?’ (Yagana interview, 2017) The quotation at the beginning of the chapter pinpointed the moment of ‘falling’, as Yagana described it. Even though she knew that she no longer actually believed the texts were sacred or believed in the existence of Allah, she was yet to admit it to herself. To describe this process, Yagana identified the various voices that constituted her doubt. The questions and voices were confusing. Where did they come from? What did they say? Who was talking? Were they internal or external? She not only assigned her own doubt to her religious beliefs, but she also questioned her own agentic validity: Is this voice my own, or is it the voice of the devil? She described the process of moving from doubt to certainty as one that required her to learn to trust herself: [It] is very difficult to get rid of that idea. To think: ‘that is not hell, or the angel […] but this is just me! I am talking to myself’. That I learn to trust myself, my own voice. Not subscribing it to all sorts of other things around me. (Yagana interview, 2017) When she still believed, she already considered herself to be a critical thinker. At the time it was a quality in herself that she ascribed to her devotion to God. Questioning and discussing one’s beliefs, she felt, showed how strong one’s connection was with God, at least ‘until it became problematic’. Moreover, she had always trusted her questioning as being her own dominant voice until her doubts became so strong that she could no longer in good conscience self-identify as Muslim. Indeed, eventually she could not reconcile or answer her questions by ‘taking things with a pinch of salt’ and not practising anymore: ‘are you then still [a Muslim]?’. And when I finally heard my own voice, like: ‘I actually do not believe it’, that’s when I really thought: ‘No, I am no longer Muslim’. I dared to admit it to myself: ‘I am no longer Muslim’. (Yagana interview, 2017)

‘When I finally heard my own voice’ 113 She described this as ‘hearing her own voice’. Her questioning internal voice, the I-as-critical-thinker, which for a while she feared was the voice of the devil, was eventually overshadowed – or its dominance was taken over – by what she recognised to be her own voice: ‘You know what, I actually don’t believe it’. She characterised this as a moment of clarity, which was still questioned for some time: What makes you a Muslim? This. What does not make you a Muslim? This. I do not believe in the God that Islam prescribes. Or any other religion. I do not believe that. So those are the main preconditions crossed off. And when I admitted that to myself, here I am. That’s when I realised I still had to live with it. How are you going […] to pray? I prayed five times a day. How are you going to pretend? […] That was the hard bit. I struggled with that for a long time – perhaps I could just stay? (Yagana interview, 2017) However, from that moment on, she answered questions from a newly dominant non-believing I-position, rather than from the previously dominant I-asMuslim position. She described her journey out of faith as learning to trust and listen to ‘who she really is’. Yagana constructed her story as a journey of discovery of her self. She did so through a question-and-answer dialogue, interchangeably informed by external and internal voices as well as various I-positions. Through the interworking of dialogue, dominant and submissive voices changed hierarchy; they silenced one another at times. She gave the floor to the voice that she wanted to trust, and by giving one voice more space, dominance and hierarchy shifted. It was an active journey of believing in being able to look further, daring to be something else, searching for wisdom, and listening to difference and alternatives in order to find one’s truth. In Foucauldian terms, this active dialogical search for wisdom and ethics is a complex self-examination or ‘scrutiny of conscience’ that serves as a technology of the self (Foucault, 1988, pp. 37–38; Mahmood, 2005).

Problematics of being: ‘Coming out’? In order to illustrate the extensive influence of external discourses of history, society, and politics on the individual and the dialogical self, this section elaborates on the ‘problematics of being’ as well as the various voices and I-positions that informed Yagana’s considerations when contemplating ‘coming out’.6 As elaborated above, the process centred around various external voices that emerged from discourses, such as public debates surrounding Muslims in the Netherlands, ‘ex-Muslim’ narratives, and the Muslim community. Yagana constructed dialogues between these discursive structures and her own various I-positions: They think that I think I am different, I am no longer ‘the Muslim’. That people would treat me better or something; that I felt much better if I


‘When I finally heard my own voice’ would say I did not belong to them. To the Muslims. Because, very often, that can be traced back to figures like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and stuff. They make a break and consider themselves to be better than [Muslims]. That’s how they see it: ‘I am better Enlightened, it is a very backward people, those who still believe that’. So that’s the idea [Yagana’s sister] had with that. That I was very selfish and irresponsible towards others if I would come out of the closet. […] Because I also do notice that if you are a Muslim yourself, […] Muslims amongst themselves can honestly express their critique and doubts, but not towards someone who is in another group or is an atheist. […] And I get it, that’s why for me it was hard to acknowledge that I was an atheist too. (Yagana interview, 2017)

In the above excerpt, it is evident that pre-existing discourses in the political realm and public debate had an impact on internal dialogue and self-making years after the actual events.7 Not only did they influence the opinions and stigmatised views that some Muslims had regarding those leaving Islam, but also the images that inhabited Yagana’s subjectivity. Furthermore, she made a distinction between those who ‘break’ with Islam and those, including herself, who merely stop believing. Those breaking with Islam tended to turn against their former religion; traumas may have given individuals reasons to advocate for freedom of religion, or rather freedom from religion. She considered herself to be different: the external and collective voices of her community told her ‘that I am selfish’, ‘that I am enlightened’. Such voices were informed by antiIslam narratives, for example, Hirsi Ali’s, that Yagana strongly disagreed with, and she desired to convince others of the invalidity of these voices when they were ascribed to her. The theme of ‘being different’, apparent in the words ‘I am different, I am no longer the Muslim’, coloured much of Yagana’s narrative. Her constant struggle between being a self-identified atheist and simultaneously wanting to belong to her community, both ethnic and religious, was driven by the external (internalised) voices of her family, community, and, in particular, her sister. When Yagana told her sister, who was the first person to know that she no longer believed, Yagana did not receive the support that she desired. On the contrary: her sister told her to be quiet and not harm the family. Her sister believed that Yagana would do so since her ‘coming out’ as an atheist equated to openly saying she was an outsider, she was better than her parents and siblings, and she was ‘enlightened’ – the presumed characteristics of a Muslim-become-atheist. Therefore, for a long time, Yagana actively attempted to resist this ascribed identity as an atheist. It was an imagined I-position that she thought she would to adopt eventually, but because of external voices, both real and imagined, it took effort to acknowledge that the label indeed represented her beliefs. However, she (self-)dialogically attempted to contest this identity: ‘And my father thinks: “She now thinks that religion is inferior”. But I say: “No! Not at all!” But you do not have that discussion with your father’. Although she did

‘When I finally heard my own voice’ 115 not actually discuss the matter with her father extensively, his voice impersonated the collective voice of the Muslim community, which informed her conflicted feelings about moving out of Islam and becoming an atheist. This collective voice – her father and the wider Muslim community in the Netherlands, which according to Yagana, said that those who leave Islam are ‘vindictive, violent, and out to hurt the faith and Muslims in general’ – continued to inform her political and personal stance on the position of former Muslims and Islam. In her opinion, this imagined other, i.e., the image of the Islam-bashing ex-Muslim, continued to shape the convictions of parts of the Muslim community. In terms of Hermans (2012), this brief anecdote regarding the dialogue within Yagana’s society of mind reveals how she hierarchically answered to power structures outside the self. She recognised the hierarchical difference between herself and the collective voice of the Muslim community, as represented by her father. Because of this hierarchy, both patriarchal and societal, she ‘wouldn’t go into discussion’: it remained an internal dialogue within her society of mind. It was characteristic of Yagana’s narrative that she continued to show great respect for familial and communal values, as exemplified by the internal dialogues above. Not only was this clear in her current existential beliefs (‘I kept the good stuff’; also see Chapter 5 on various negotiations over religious and secular embodied practices and knowledges), but she also respected the external voices that her parents had to deal with. Her parents accepted her ‘apostasy’, but they continued to urge her to keep it to herself. They enjoyed a respectable position within their community, and Yagana did not want to jeopardise it. In order to come to terms with her parents’ wishes, she voiced the internal dialogue that her parents may have experienced: But I say: ‘Mom, what you are actually saying is that I cannot stand on my own two feet, that I can’t this and that’, [we have had] whole discussions. And then she agreed with me. But the community […] doesn’t like it. And that has always been the bottom-line of every discussion about that: ‘But the community, they won’t appreciate it’. So yeah, it is not really their opinion, it is mainly the community, […] ties are after all strong. (Yagana interview, 2017) Yagana described a conversation she had with her mother about leaving the house and living alone as an unmarried woman. Whilst her mother eventually came to terms with her daughter’s independence, according to her mother, the community would not. Her parents kept asking themselves, ‘What would they say?’ It was a question that external voices answered in terms of ‘being the black sheep’, ‘being looked at differently’, and ‘losing respect’. Out of love for her family, Yagana therefore complied with their desire to keep both her existential beliefs and her Dutch fiancé hidden from the community. At the time of the interview, Yagana was contemplating a move to break with the community (by marrying her fiancé) while keeping ties with her own family strong. The negotiations within herself became evident in dialogical


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form. They revealed an indecisiveness about which I-position to grant the stage (I-as-loving-daughter versus I-as-fighting-for-freedom). In her mind, there were two options: either wait for her parents to approve of her fiancé, which could take time, or simply move forward (i.e., get married) without their consent, thereby hurting her parents. However, based on her previous experiences with speaking about her atheism and moving out of the house, she knew that ‘nothing happened until I took matters into my own hands’ (i.e., letting the I-as-fighting-for-freedom take the stage), although her actions hurt her parents: So now I am contemplating this, should I make this decision myself and wait for them to follow, or do I wait and keep talking and keep talking until I can convince them of it? So the first option is more painful. Yes, much more painful, because you also have to […] make people sad. And you also lose a part of [their] trust every time you do something like that. (Yagana interview, 2017) At the time of the interview, she found her situation highly troublesome, and it hurt her not to be able to be open and honest with her parents about her fiancé. She found that the aforementioned gender inequality was holding her back unfairly. She chiefly blamed her community’s culture for the phenomenon, but she also saw the position of women within Islam as ‘bagger’ (‘quite shit’). At times Yagana noted that she considered herself a free-thinker breaking taboos for the benefit of girls of her generation in her community. For example, she told me that when her younger sister also moved out of the parental home, she did not experience any pushback from the family or community, even though she was ‘an unmarried woman alone’. Yagana reckoned: ‘The fact that it is no longer a big deal, that is a relief’. However, when I asked if there was anything she would want to change in the future, she answered: That there is more openness. That is the most important. Not only [within] religion, but that people can just be and do what they want. Yes, that’s the only thing. That’s being done now for boys, [for them] it is allowed. For women, it is still an issue […] People really have to work at that. (Yagana interview, 2017) Such contemplation on her own different (I-)positions, as woman and as freethinker, exemplified the complexity of self-making situated in various discourses and power-structures. Moving out of Islam has been only one part of her journey in life so far, and it was embedded in a larger narrative related to desires of becoming. By dialogically engaging with doubts and uncertainty, as well as with external and internal voices, Yagana made sense of the multilayered facets of her life, which eventually provided some level of structure for her self. It should be noted, of course, that these processes of self-making are a life-long practice, and Yagana’s narrative will change over time. New reflections and dialogues will change her perception of who she was and is.

‘When I finally heard my own voice’ 117

A methodology for analysing ‘moving out’ Yagana’s story is, of course, but one example of someone moving out of Islam in a post-migration context. This chapter illustrated the specific benefits of adopting Dialogical Self Theory to analyse such trajectories. In her narrative, Yagana presented a multiplicity of voices. The question arose as to how the various voices and external discourses inform agentic self-making and the search for ‘truth’ and wisdom. When analysing interviews with people who have moved out of Islam, Dialogical Self Theory is particularly well-suited to and aids not only close reading but also the larger analysis of data because it was developed as a bridging theory between the self and its surroundings, yet it maintains the agentic capacity of self-making. It is precisely this interaction that this book has aimed to investigate: how does the individual cope not only with matters of doubt and uncertainty, but also with the contextual discourses in which he or she lives? The benefits of this approach for analysis of the larger data set will become evident in subsequent chapters. I not only analyse entire narratives (Chapter 4), but I also focus on specific elements of embodiment and speaking out. In these final chapters, dialogical analysis addresses observations that many of my interlocutors experienced a particular in-betweenness (between familial belonging and secular convictions). As this chapter has shown, the following considerations and steps open up new spaces for the comprehension of trajectories out of Islam: (1) actual voices and their interaction in a self-narrative; (2) the complex embeddedness of voices in discursive power-structures; and (3) the self-making agentic properties of a dialogical self. The chapter first outlined the main tenets of Dialogical Self Theory, which recognises that the self is not alone; rather, it is populated by actual and imagined others as well as complex discourses, such as religion, culture, social groups, and the political realm. In which what Hermans calls ‘the society of mind’, dialogue takes place between different external others as well as various I-positions. Second, the chapter considered the importance of various hierarchical external voices in self-narratives and elaborated upon pertinent discourses. It provided a framework in which to situate certain (internal) dialogues as well as to understand the emergence of external voices and imagined I-positions. To understand a dialogical self living, acting, and making in the world, these discourses are highly relevant. This elaboration opened up space to situate and analyse Yagana’s story and dialogical self. Through a careful – though not exhaustive – examination, it became clear that she used complex internal dialogues and monologues for ethical self-making and in the search for wisdom and ‘truth’. Changes in the hierarchical positioning of different voices as well as shifts in different I-positions, which were informed by the power-structures of political debate, personal Islam, community, family, and the ‘ex-Muslim’ discourse, co-constructed Yagana’s journey to recognise and trust ‘her own voice’. For Yagana, the dialogical process of moving out of Islam was marked by the confusion of identifying various voices and I-positions as well as the struggle to


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assign dominance within the multiplicity of voices in her society of mind. Furthermore, Yagana’s careful self-reflexivity and consideration of her surroundings show that she acted dialogically in the world. According to her internal dialogue, she doubted, hesitated, considered, and ‘became’ in an increasingly polarised and secularist country. Having crossed lines of faith and unbelief, she found herself in the uncommon position of simultaneously wanting to fight for young Muslims’ rights and freedoms beyond their faith and community whilst also wanting to defend Muslims from the dominant assimilationist discourse, which aspires to minimise the presence of (Muslim) religion in the public sphere in the Netherlands It should be noted that the prominence of (non-)religion in Yagana’s life at the time of writing should not be overestimated. It must be considered in the wider context of time and space that characterises the human experience. As outlined above, Yagana indeed moved out of Islam. She struggled with doubts and uncertainties. She was forced to speak about it with her family, while maintaining silence in the community. However, apart from now identifying as a free-thinker and atheist, it was clear that at the time of the interview her struggles were predominantly informed by her fiancé, her relationship with her parents, and the desire to break free from a tight-knit community. For Yagana, losing her religion was part of a life-long journey of self-making, which will always be perceived in the context of specific social and historical environments. The above analysis illustrated the usefulness of a dialogical understanding of the self. Indeed, Dialogical Self Theory recognises and utilises the potential of self-reflection by giving voice to the various ‘others’ that co-construct people’s narratives and, therefore, their sense of self and identity as well as the different roles they take on when dealing with changing surroundings. Importantly, Dialogical Self Theory allows that there is not only one nominal identity, such as ‘deconvert’, ‘ex-Muslim’, ‘professional’ or ‘activist’. Rather, these personas or I-positions exist alongside one another and negotiate the realities and discourses around the self. One does not have to always be something primarily in relation to religion (Lee, 2012). By approaching the analysis of the data dialogically, I gained various insights that are not merely focused on religion, being Muslim, non-religion, or not being Muslim. The analysis laid bare shifts in self-understandings in relation to the outside world and inner belief, as well as their interaction. This approach, then, allows for recognition of the relative weight of religion in narratives, rather than presupposing the centrality of religion in one’s identity or trajectory. What makes Dialogical Self Theory unique as an analytical tool for life-narratives is that it recognises the organisation of different voices within self-narratives. It provides tools to analyse ‘how individuals speak from different I-positions within the self, switching between various collective voices and sometimes mixing them as they take different positions’ (Buitelaar, 2006, p. 262). Furthermore, it makes it possible to explore how memories, personal emotions, cultural or religious schemata, and the basic narrative themes of agency and communion are organized. Analysing this from various I-positions provides a way of dissecting the different ways people arrange the world around them to make sense of their selves.

‘When I finally heard my own voice’ 119 The concept of the dialogical self was not involved in the design of the semistructured interviews or the participant observations that were conducted. Rather, for the research I collected the life-stories of adults who had moved out of Islam in either the Netherlands or Britain. Naturally, interviews did not occur in a vacuum; rather, they were ‘in dialogue’ themselves. Whilst various interview techniques were employed to ‘give back’ control to my interlocutors (e.g., ‘could you tell me the story of […]’), narratives were inherently shaped by the audience(s) each particular interlocutor had in mind. To start, my own positionality as a white, non-Muslim, female, Dutch researcher undoubtedly triggered, either tacitly or explicitly, a desire to subvert certain dominant discourses that potential readers of my research would have in mind. The dialogical self allows for the recognition of various I-positions in relation to the audience(s) addressed, although these positions were considered in the analysis rather than in the design. After data collection, I utilised the concept of dialogical self for both close reading narratives, as with Yagana’s story, and coding the entire dataset. First, I identified the various internal and external voices of individuals, groups, and discourses, as well as the multiple identities and roles people assumed in different settings, in order to code the types of dialogue they constituted. Thereby, I identified stages in people’s experiences of transition and four common themes. This analysis and thematic typology, which will be outlined in Chapter 4, are not meant to be final or exclusive; they constitute a descriptive approach to data with specific parameters, which revealed the relative rather than absolute weight of the religious voice among those moving out of Islam. In Chapter 4, this dialogical analysis of all the interviews is presented. Rather than providing a close reading, as this chapter has done, the ‘overall’ analysis greatly benefited from a dialogical understanding that considers the self as situated not only in religious spheres, but also in the wider contexts in which people live: the numerous voices that can be heard. I will present four trajectories which surfaced as themes that were relevant to my interlocutors when they moved out of Islam. The next chapter moves away from the focus on ‘negative religion’, and it recognises the plethora of voices present in self-narratives of moving out of Islam in contemporary Europe.

Notes 1 This excerpt will be referred to throughout Chapter 3. It describes a pivotal moment for Yagana and her process of moving out of Islam. The interview was conducted in Dutch in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on 24 April 2017. All excerpts in this chapter are derived from this interview and have been translated by the author. 2 An earlier version of this chapter appeared under the title ‘“When I finally heard my own voice”: Dialogical articulations of self-making when moving out of Islam in the Netherlands’, in the Journal of Muslims in Europe (Vliek, 2019). I wish to thank the journal’s publisher, editor, and anonymous reviewers for their invaluable contributions to this chapter. 3 For further elaboration on psychologically framed tensions, see Adam (2009).


‘When I finally heard my own voice’

4 This chapter focusses on the usefulness of Dialogical Self Theory in the analysis of these specific trajectories. It does not primarily aim to discuss the extensive and impressive body of literature that is relevant for deconversion processes and religious disaffiliation per se. In Chapter 4, however, I elaborate extensively on the processes and terminology of deconversion and disaffiliation. Also see, i.a., Streib et al. (2009) and Gooren (2010). 5 This term is not unconditionally adopted by all former Muslims (also see Chapter 6). However, for an elucidation on such terminology, see Cottee (2018). 6 For language use and an elaboration on the appropriation of LGBTQ+ terminology among ‘ex-Muslims’, see Cottee (2018) and Sidło (2016), who adopted such terminology in their analyses of people moving out of Islam. However, it should be noted that, in this current study, some people (quite literally) referred to their openness about non-belief as ‘not like coming out’ (see Chapter 4). The adoption of such terminology is, therefore, personal rather than general. 7 Hirsi Ali, for example, was prominent in the public debate between 2003 and 2006.

Bibliography Adam, R. J. (2009). ‘Leaving the fold’: Apostasy from fundamentalism and the direction of religious development. Australian Religious Studies Review, 22(1), 42–63. doi:10.1558/ arsr.v22i1.42. Arnett, J. J. (2002). The psychology of globalization. American Psychologist, 57(10), 774–783. Aveling, E., & Gillespie, A. (2008). Negotiating multiplicity: Adaptive asymmetries within second-generation Turks’ ‘Society of Mind’. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 21(3), 200–222. doi:10.1080/10720530802070635. Bhatia, S. (2002). Acculturation, dialogical voices, and the construction of the diasporic self. Theory & Psychology, 12(1), 55–77. doi:10.1177/0959354302121004. Buitelaar, M. (2006). ‘I am the ultimate challenge’: Accounts of intersectionality in the life-story of a well-known daughter of Moroccan migrant workers in the Netherlands. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 13(3), 259–276. Buitelaar, M. (2013). Constructing a Muslim self in a post-migration context: Continuity and discontinuity with parental voices. In M. Buitelaar & H. Zock (Eds.), Religious Voices in Self-Narratives: Making Sense of Life in Times of Transition (pp. 241–274). Berlin: De Gruyter. Buitelaar, M. (2014). Dialogical constructions of a Muslim self through life story telling. In R. R. Ganzevoort, M. de Haardt, & M. Scherer-Rath (Eds.), Religious Stories We Live By: Narrative Approaches in Theology and Religious Studies (pp. 143–155). Leiden: Brill. Buitelaar, M., & Zock, H. (2013). Religious voices in self-narratives: Making sense of life in times of transition. In M. Buitelaar & H. Zock (Eds.), Religious Voices in Self-Narratives: Making Sense of Life in Times of Transition (pp. 1–8). Berlin: De Gruyter. Cottee, S. (2018). In the closet: Concealment of apostasy among ex-Muslims in Britain and Canada. In K. VanNieuwkerk (Ed.), Moving In and Out of Islam (pp. 281–305). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. de Leeuw, M., & van Wichelen, S. (2005). ‘Please, go wake up!’: Submission, Hirsi Ali, and the ‘War on Terror’ in the Netherlands. Feminist Media Studies, 5(3), 325–340. doi:10.1080/14680770500271487. Foucault, M. (1988). Technologies of the Self. In L. H. Martin, H. Gutman, & P. H. Hutton (Eds.), Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault (pp. 16–49). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.

‘When I finally heard my own voice’ 121 Franks, M. (2001). Women and Revivalism in the West: Choosing ‘Fundamentalism’ in a Liberal Democracy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Gooren, H. (2010). Religious Conversion and Disaffiliation: Tracing Patterns of Change in Faith Practices. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Gregg, G. S. (2013). Religious voices and identity in the life-narratives of young adult Moroccans. In M. Buitelaar & H. Zock (Eds.), Religious Voices in Self-narratives: Making Sense of Life in Transition (pp. 83–102). Berlin: De Gruyter. Hafez, S. (2011). An Islam of Her Own: Reconsidering Religion and Secularism in Women’s Islamic Movements. New York: New York University Press. Hermans, H. J. M. (2012). Dialogical Self Theory and the increasing multiplicity of I-positions in a globalizing society: An introduction. In H. J. M. Hermans (Ed.), Applications of Dialogical Self Theory: New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development (pp. 1–22). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Online Library. Hermans, H. J. M., & Gieser, T. (2012). Handbook of Dialogical Self Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hermans, H. J. M., & Hermans-Konopka, A. (2010). Dialogical Self Theory: Positioning and Counter Positioning in a Globalizing Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hocke, M. (2014). Narratives of Piety: An Analysis of the Formation of Moral Selves Among Young Muslim Women in Denmark. PhD dissertation, Roskilde University. Iannaccone, L. R. (1990). Religious practice: A human capital approach. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 29(3), 297–314. doi:10.2307/1386460. Lee, L. (2012). Research note: Talking about a revolution: Terminology for the new field of non-religion studies. Journal of Contemporary Religion, 27(1), 129–139. doi:10.1080/ 13537903.2012.642742. Mahmood, S. (2005). Politics of Piety. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Mahmood, S. (2009). Feminism, democracy, and empire: Islam and the War on Terror. In H. Herzog & A. Braude (Eds.), Gendering Religion and Politics (pp. 193–215). New York: Palgrave MacMillan. Pitstra, F. (2013). Religious voices in autobiography and biography: Analyzing life stories using elements of the theories of McAdams and Hermans. In M. Buitelaar & H. Zock (Eds.), Religious Voices in Self Narratives: Making Sense of Life in Transition (pp. 37–52). Berlin: De Gruyter. Sidło, K. (2016). ‘Coming out’ or ‘staying in the closet’: Deconversion narratives of Muslim apostates in Jordan. Marburg Journal of Religion, 18(1), 1–35. Streib, H., Hood, R. W., Keller, B., Csoff, R. M., & Silver, C. (2009). Deconversion: Qualitative and Quantitative Results from Cross-cultural Research in Germany and the United States of America (Vol. 5). Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Vliek, M. (2019). ‘When I finally heard my own voice’: Dialogical articulations of self-making when moving out of Islam in the Netherlands. Journal of Muslims in Europe, 8(1), 85–107. doi:10.1163/22117954-12341383. Zock, H. (2013). Religious voices in the Dialogical Self: Towards a conceptual-analytical framework on the basis of Hubert Hermans’s Dialogical Self Theory. In M. Buitelaar & H. Zock (Eds.), Religious Voices in Self-narratives: Making Sense of Life in Transition (pp. 11–36). Berlin: De Gruyter.


‘It’s not just about faith’

It pains me to write that Aarini, whose story is presented in this chapter, took her own life in the winter of 2020. I interviewed her in November 2017. We had met through a mutual friend, who reckoned that Aarini would be an interesting candidate for my research. We sat down in a small bar in Bow in London. She came across as a lively and creative spirit. She was forward about religion, cultural matters, and her struggles with her parents during her teenage years, which culminated in her first suicide attempt when she was 17. She foregrounded the social restrictions placed upon her by the Bangladeshi and Islamic traditions handed down by her parents. During the process of breaking away, she reckoned ‘Islam did not have so much to do with God, as it did with the social rules that governed my life’. I do not presume to know or interpret what drove her to such desperation in the end. Our conversation was but one encounter. But I do wish to dedicate this chapter to her memory and hope she would have appreciated my interpretation of our evening in the pub.

Hiranur was not the first of my interlocutors to elaborate on matters other than religion when talking about moving out of Islam; however, she was the first to explicitly articulate the sentiment that ‘it’s not just about faith’.1 She told me about her extended family, wanting to belong to them, but struggling to do so without inner belief or the capacity to perform all of the rituals properly. She also spoke of the political environment in Turkey, her parents’ country of origin. Her parents, her siblings, and Hiranur were the only ones in the extended family who were not supportive of President Erdoğan. She told me about the problems she experienced when she left the parental home as a single woman to go to university, her love of psychology, and her current research job. When I asked about her doubts about the existence of Allah or leaving Islam behind, she responded: ‘You know, I find it hard to talk about religion, because it is not just about faith’.2 Throughout history the role that religion plays in people’s lives has attracted keen interest among sociologists and anthropologists alike. In recent decades, with regard to Islam, the works of Talal Asad (1986, 1993), Saba Mahmood (2005), and Charles Hirschkind (2006) have inspired other scholars to investigate ‘Islam as a discursive tradition’ and how it informs the construction of religious piety through embodied practices. In response to this growing body of DOI: 10.4324/9781003143574-5

‘It’s not just about faith’ 123 literature, Samuli Schielke (2010) wondered whether the importance of ‘Islam’ and ‘religiosity’ had been overemphasised in the study of the anthropology of Islam, and whether questions of ambivalence had been neglected. He proposed adopting a broader focus on people’s lives and ‘the everyday’: in daily life, people negotiate a plethora of possibilities, not merely religious ones, when making decisions about being in the world.3 This chapter focusses on the narratives and life-stories that were collected over the course of my research. In much recent scholarship that interrogates ‘the secular’, emphasis is placed on the absence of religion in post-secular societies, i.e., both that which emerges when religious diversity increases and the ideology of ‘secularism’ as a neutral method of governance to aspire to. Similarly, the study of what constitutes ‘being secular’ on the individual level primarily focuses on what one is in relation to religion (atheist, non-religious, and so forth). This line of inquiry departs from the logical view that the secular and the religious are mutually constitutive and therefore must always be considered in relation to one another. However, this assumption has led to an implicit bias in religious studies towards the absence of religion in secular lives, rather than the thorough investigation of what such lives in fact entail besides how the individual relates to religion. Although there have been admirable attempts to investigate the ‘substantial secular’ in the critical study of ‘non-religion’ (Cotter, 2020; Lee, 2015), these have departed from understanding non-religious people primarily in relation to religion (Lee, 2015). As this chapter will show, for many of my interlocutors, although not all, this may not always have been the case, and a conceptually different approach is warranted. Similarly, studies into ‘losing religion’ have focused on what is left behind and how people narrate their trajectories ‘out of faith’ (Bromley, 1998; Bromley & Shupe, 1986; Cottee, 2015; Fenelon & Danielsen, 2016; Gooren, 2010; Sevinç et al. 2018; Streib et al., 2009). Rather than concentrating primarily on a predominantly negative and religiously centred focus, this chapter presents four thematic trajectories that consider the broader life-worlds and experiences of my interlocutors. By doing so, I aim to go beyond traditional dichotomies: religious versus secular, Muslim versus non-Muslim, or religious versus atheist. Dialogical analysis of the interviews revealed that a plethora of matters were relevant when my interlocutors described lives affected by religious change – matters to which scant attention has been given in descriptive narrative approaches to ‘deconversion’, ‘apostasy’, or ‘religious disaffiliation’. This chapter provides insights regarding interlocutors’ post-migration contexts, contemporary life-worlds, and how they informed individuals’ lives, which were affected by religious transformation. The four thematic trajectories display a broader understanding of experiences beyond religion alone; religious, political, social, ethnic, and gender boundaries overlapped considerably and provided the contexts in which interlocutors moved out of Islam. First, I further outline the contemporary emphasis on (the absence of) religion in the study of ‘deconversion’ by discussing three aspects of the current interdisciplinary literature: terminology, exit-trajectories, and narrative typology. Second, based on the dialogical analysis described in Chapter 3, I present four


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thematic trajectories, each exemplified by a case study, to show that the study of ‘moving out of religion’ is about more than religion or exiting alone. A fifth case study demonstrates what happens when these themes intertwine. Third, and finally, I interrogate differences in the prevalence of certain trajectories in Britain and the Netherlands, which are explained through the relative centrality of religion to individual identity, discursive differences surrounding ‘ex-Muslim’ voices, and the relative presence or absence of support groups.

The absence of religion? Charles Taylor (2007) critiqued what he called the ‘subtraction theory of secularisation’: the secular was supposedly what was left when religion was taken away. It was presumed to be a neutral ground from which religion could be governed or studied. Instead, Taylor suggested that the secular is ‘something’ worthy of our attention (see also Calhoun et al., 2011). Rather than following ‘insubstantial’ accounts of secularity, there has been wide acceptance of the ‘substantial secular’ – it has its own ontology, and therefore it can and should be studied as such (Lee, 2015). Lois Lee takes up part of this task in her ethnography of non-religious people in the UK. In light of discussions regarding what it is we actually study, she defines non-religion as ‘anything which is primarily defined by a relationship of difference to religion’ (Lee, 2012, p. 131). This definition is useful since it sets apart people, things, or phenomena which can be excluded from the study of non-religion. Instead of including ‘anything’ that is not religious, the definition demarcates a boundary from which the social scientist can observe and analyse. However, in what is to follow, my interlocutors question the meaning of ‘primarily defined by a relationship of difference’; yet when asked, they self-identified as falling under the purview of this research and in relation to religion. This chapter shows that it is a relative position that people may take in different situations. There is a relative weight to the religious voice, rather than it having permanent primacy in relationship to religion and the definition of selfhood. Furthermore, historically conversion has been a popular topic in the study of religion. In recent years, there has been a particular interest in conversion to Islam in Western contexts (Casey, 2019; Chen & Doraiajoo, 2020; Galonnier & de los Rios, 2016; King, 2017; Köse, 1994; McGinty, 2006; Özyürek, 2015; Roald, 2012; Snook et al., 2019; Spoliar & van den Brandt, 2020; van Nieuwkerk, 2006, 2008; Wohlrab-Sahr, 2006). It has been argued, in turn, that the concept of ‘deconversion’ (see, i.a., Barbour, 1994; Streib et al., 2009) should be utilised when people move out of religion, which Barbour (1994) defined as simply ‘a loss of faith’ (p. 2). Streib et al. (2009) utilised the term in their extensive and insightful psychological study into ‘deconversion’ in order to avoid religiously connoted terminology, such as ‘apostasy’ (also see Streib, 2020). The negative prefix was seen as beneficial since it showed a potential relation to conversion studies. The term ‘deconversion’ has been taken up, in turn, by numerous other scholars (see, i.a., Fazzino, 2014; Pauha & Aghaee, 2018; Perez & Vallières, 2019;

‘It’s not just about faith’ 125 Račius, 2018; Sidło, 2016). However, whilst I agree that ‘deconversion’ denotes an undoing of conviction, in my understanding it also implies an undoing of ‘conversion’ in the first place. This is problematic for the study at hand. My interlocutors – and probably most Muslims – would claim that one is born Muslim rather than converted to the religion during one’s upbringing. Furthermore, ‘deconversion’ defines the transition from one state of belief to another as an inherently negative shift in relation to religion, which does not necessarily represent how my interlocutors narrated their lives.4 The problems with using this terminology to describe my interlocutors’ experiences are threefold: (1) the term refers to one side of a coin (deconversion), and my interlocutors never experienced its other side (conversion); (2) it is a negative description of transition; and (3) it chiefly centres around one’s former religion, rather than including the complex life-worlds people inhabit.5 Other studies on the subject of ‘moving out of Islam’ or non-belief in Muslim communities have more religiously inspired terminology, such as ‘apostasy’ (see, i. a., Andre & Esposito, 2016; Bromley, 1998; Cottee, 2015; Johnson, 2019; Larsson, 2018; Samuri & Quraishi, 2014; Sidło, 2016). The use of this term indicates a religion-centred approach, and therefore it is not suitable as an analytical description here. Furthermore, ‘apostay’ (‘afvalligheid’) and ‘apostates’ (‘afvallige’) are theological terms for so-called ‘defectors from the faith’; they carry a religious judgement that was not applicable to my interlocutors’ (self-)identifications. If the term were to be interpreted in relation to my interlocutors, ‘apostasy’ denoted either the affront of speaking out against one’s former religion, rather than no longer adhering to it, or the religious judgement they sometimes received. Similarly, the term ‘ex-Muslim’ (‘ex-moslim’) is used widely in both academic literature and the media. However, it is also problematic for addressing the study group since only some of the interlocutors self-identified as such. Some considered it a highly politicised term, whilst others simply did not want to ‘self-define as a negative’. Moreover, the term is indicative of both the negative and religion-centred ways in which ‘leaving Islam’ or ‘becoming a non-believer’ is approached. The term assumes a mere binary potentiality of identity: one once identified as Muslim, but now one does not. It also assumes the centrality of one’s former religious identity in relation to who one now ‘is’. The above is a short summary of issues encountered in the complexity of terminology in the study of religious transformation in the fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology. I do not aim to settle this dispute. As outlined in the introduction to this book, for the purposes of this study I follow Karin van Nieuwkerk (2018), who suggested using ‘moving in and moving out’ to denote ‘the ongoing nature of the religious transformation processes’ (p. 2). In my view, ‘moving’ as an analytical term encompasses the experiences of moving in and out of both community and religion as well as the ongoing process of development. Furthermore, the concept of ‘moving’ is able to encompass both individual agency and positionality within larger discourses without necessarily assuming the centrality of religiosity. In what follows, I set out thematic descriptions of my interlocutors’ transforming lives when moving out of Islam


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in contemporary Europe, in which there is space for all of the (self-)identifications I encountered. When ‘faith’ is mentioned, it refers to empirical descriptions of a potential part of the process of ‘moving out of Islam’ rather than an analytical category per se. The process of ‘exiting’, as implied by the term ‘ex-Muslim’, was explored by Helen Rose Fuchs Ebaugh (1988) in Becoming an Ex, which was inspired by her experiences as a former nun. In the book she described the process of ‘role exit’, which may be about religion as well as gender transition, retirement, divorce, the death of a spouse, or recovery from addiction. She distinguished four stages of role exit: ‘Doubts’, ‘Seeking Alternatives’, ‘The Turning Point’, and ‘Creating an Ex-Role’. Central to Ebaugh’s model is that becoming an ‘ex’ entails disengaging from a role central to one’s idea of self-identity, and people take on a new role that includes their old identity as, for example, ‘ex-Muslim’. In line with this analysis of ‘exiting’, Streib et al. (2009), in their extensive psychological, mixed-method study of ‘deconversion’ in Germany and the United States of America, discerned six possible so-called ‘deconversion trajectories’: 1 2 3 4 5 6

secularising exits: complete disaffiliation from organised religion; oppositional exits: adopting a completely new set of beliefs, switching to a higher tension religious group; religious switching: switching to a different religious group with only marginal differences; integrating exits: adopting a new set of beliefs, affiliating with a more ‘accommodated religious organisation’; privatising exits: disaffiliation from religious institutions but continuation of private praxis and ritual; and heretical exits: also disaffiliation from previous religious organisation, but with an unaffiliated appropriation of a new belief system.

In this typology, the prominence of ‘exiting’ stands out. As with the terminology discussed above, the emphasis is again on a relatively negative shift. Notwithstanding the focus on ‘exiting’, according to Streib et al. (2009) people have different ways of narrating these exits and individual experiences. The first way that they distinguish through narrative analysis is ‘pursuit of autonomy’, which is characterised by a long process of leaving behind the faith one was born or brought up in. It is a search for individuality and often occurs during adolescence or early adulthood. The second type of deconversion narrative that Streib et al. (2009) refer to is ‘debarred from paradise’. These people are often mid-life converts, and this type of narrative is marked by the experience of disappointment with religion and the abandonment of earlier hopes. One may move to secularity or private practice, but there is no reaffiliation with organised religion. The third type of deconversion is ‘finding a new frame of reference’, which is marked by deconverts searching for and finding a higher level of intensity of religious experience, making this a type of reconversion. The last type is ‘life-long quests-late revisions’, which are often life-long searches for inner peace, a spiritual environment, or coming to terms with trauma.

‘It’s not just about faith’ 127 The approaches of Ebaugh (1988) and Streib et al. (2009) to both exit-trajectories and exit-narratives provide valuable insights into the experiences of people who move out of religion. However, what limits their usefulness for my case is that they pay little attention to matters outside of the individual’s former religion or identity, and they ignore the relative weight given to religion in individuals’ narratives. Both approaches emphasise the negative shift of exiting or leaving something, which necessarily defines the individual in relation to his or her former faith. Whilst Streib et al. (2009) do refer to, for example, ‘finding a new frame of reference’, which implies a move toward something rather than an exit, and they pay attention to ‘gains and losses’, the assumed relative centrality of religion in narratives of religious transformation is scarcely overcome (p. 323). Both approaches assume a binary potentiality of identity that evolves around religion: i.e., Muslim versus ex-Muslim, or religious versus non-religious. For my interlocutors, the experience of moving out of Islam did not necessarily resonate with these identifications or classifications alone. The search for identity and conviction was rarely merely a religious one. During the course of this research, other relevant factors surfaced in interlocutors’ stories, and these are included in the thematic typology that I propose. In conclusion, current terminology, descriptions of exit-trajectories, and narrative approaches all display – perhaps naturally so – the centrality of ‘negative religion’. They always consider individuals in relation to a former religion or a new one. In the thematic typology that I propose, religion is not absent – far from it. My interlocutors had in common the fact that they moved out of Islam, which is addressed in all of the narratives. However, I aim to explore the relative weight of religion, rather than presuming its primacy, in the complex life-worlds – the religious, social, political, ethnic, and gendered discourses – negotiated by my interlocutors in their searches for self and identity.

Thematic analysis Various non-chronological stages were laid bare through the dialogical analysis described in Chapter 3, which involved the critical examination of the plethora of internal and external voices and I-positions represented in what my interlocutors said, their interaction, and their hierarchical organisation. The stages were inspired by Ebaugh’s (1988) model of ‘role-exit’ as well as extensive analysis of the voices and positions people described: ‘doubt’, ‘seeking alternatives’, ‘move to “the other side”’, ‘defining the new me’, and ‘negotiating difference’. The stages were formulated not only to include ‘exit roles’, but also to describe phases of ‘self in transition’ that engage with discourses other than the religious alone. For example, the stage of ‘doubt’ may be about the existence of God or matters of identity. What does it mean to be a Muslim, a daughter, or a humanist? Who am I in relation to others? How do I negotiate conflicting discourses from these different positions? Dialogically, this was expressed, for example, in self-dialogue between the I-position of I-as-Muslim and the internalised external voice of Allah, or perhaps between other (imagined) I-positions, such as I-as-atheist and


‘It’s not just about faith’

external parental voices (‘How would my father respond if I were to say I am an atheist?’). Similarly, ‘seeking alternatives’ may be about existential belief or about other parts of one’s identity, such as being a woman, an activist, or a professional. Seeking alternatives may happen even before one has doubts. Conscious or entirely sub-conscious processes may only become evident upon reflection. It may happen simultaneously with doubt and new self-definitions. The ‘moving out of Islam’ question is marked by the stage ‘move to “the other side”’, denoting the transformation of belief and non-belief, but also, after having identified as Muslim, being or becoming something else. This ‘move’ may take place at one moment in time, or it may be a more continuous struggle between rational knowledge and emotional attachment. Closely related is the stage of ‘defining a new me’, which refers to comparing the alternatives one finds with who one considered oneself to be: it is a positive process of (re-) identification that often follows the search for alternatives. This may happen before the realisation that one does not believe in God. Does one construct an ex-role, an atheist worldview, a political identity, or all of these at once? Which identities are finite or singular, and which are continuous? Lastly, ‘negotiating difference’ relates to how one copes with one’s surroundings. Relevant factors may include differences with religious friends and family, the potential withdrawal from community, or negotiating the secular environment and its prejudices, when, for example, ‘being brown’ supposedly equates to ‘being Muslim’. This stage may be experienced from a very young age (‘I always felt different’), or the individual may have happily conformed for many years before having to renegotiate roles in relation to family and former in-group members. All of these various stages were often expressed dialogically. Of course, these non-chronological stages manifested differently in my interlocutors’ narratives. Through examination of the various manifestations as well as the relative weight of discursive and personal (internalised) voices and identities, four themes surfaced: ‘religious break’, ‘social break-away’, ‘entrance’, and ‘unconscious secularisation’. I will present four case studies to illustrate the four themes and how the various non-chronological stages surfaced in my interlocutors’ narratives. In order to illustrate both the relative weight of the religious voice and the plurality of narrative themes, I also present a fifth case study in which all four themes surfaced. It is important to emphasise that my analysis was based on the entire body of interviews, not merely on a close reading of narratives. As such, the case studies represent themes that were found to greater or lesser extent in each of the life-stories. The fifth case study is an example of how the four themes may come together in narratives of moving out of Islam.

Case study 1: The religious break It is like switching between extremes every day: ‘I don’t think it’s true, but what if it is? Am I going to hell?’ So it was really tough to be able to say: ‘I’m not a Muslim anymore, I’m an atheist.’ (Amin interview, 2018)6

‘It’s not just about faith’ 129 Amin lived in Manchester, where he was attending university. He was born in a tight-knit Muslim community: ‘in a really small town, with at least eight mosques […] and my high school was, I’d say, 90 percent Asian Muslim’. His father was ‘like real, proper religious […] prays five times a day, reads the Qur’an every night before he goes to bed. Been on pilgrimage a few times’. His mother suffered from ‘really bad depression and OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] and things like that’. From the age of five until he was 14, Amin was sent to madrasa every day after school: I hated it. Absolutely hated it. […] I just found it boring as fuck. […] And I don’t really agree with a lot of the things that were told. Like, we were told some pretty messed up stuff. When I look back it was like: ‘Woah. You shouldn’t have been telling that to kids’. […] I think the reason Islam is such a powerful religion, it’s because they sort of knock it into you, the fear of God, and the fear of hell. It gets quite descriptive and explicit, when they talk about the punishments of hell. […] It’s metal shoes that get heated up so much, when you step into them, your head explodes. […] Being told that at such a susceptible age, it really knocks it into you. You do get scared. (Amin interview, 2018) The fear of hell and God was passed on to Amin from a young age at the madrasa, and at home strict religious adherence was observed. His father worked as a manual labourer, and his mother was at home because of her mental illness. As a child, he felt his little brother received most of the attention, whilst he was ‘a really hyper, happy dumb kid […] getting the beatings and shoutings’. He reckoned that his hyperactivity frustrated his mother. About his childhood he concluded: ‘[I’ve] never really been comfortable or happy in that house’. From a young age, Amin had questions about religion, but no answers were provided. He was told that questions or doubts were the devil whispering in your ear: ‘And one thing I was taught in mosque, was: “Don’t question Islam. […] If you’re having these doubts, that’s not critical thinking, that’s not human analysis, that’s the literal devil whispering in your ear”’. But his home life was breaking him up, and he was also very aware of the world news: ‘lots of fucked up shit happening’. He therefore started doubting the omnibenevolence of God. Overcoming the idea of the devil was not easy: ‘Giving into the thought […] switching between the extremes every day. Like, right OK. This is for sure, not true. And then: WOAH! I was thinking like that! I probably committed a sin by doing that!’ However, eventually, he was able to say to himself: ‘Right, this is obviously bullshit’, and then the dominos started to fall: If God is this omnibenevolent, all-loving being, then there doesn’t have to be any of this violence, any wrongdoings […] One thing we’re told is that life is a test for the hereafter. But if God is really all-knowing, he’d know what’s going to happen before he even made this planet. […] So that made


‘It’s not just about faith’ me think that: ‘Right, that means that free will doesn’t exist. Because, if free will does exist, that means God doesn’t know everything’. So I just started spotting these contradictions everywhere. (Amin interview, 2018)

He continued to seek alternatives, read about philosophy, ‘and the bigger picture just opened up for me’. The more he read, the more he ‘sort of fell off’. During this period, he had a best friend who lived around the corner with whom he could talk to about these matters. We just used to meet up every day and smoke weed, and we used to talk a lot about these sorts of things. And he started to agree with me a bit, and […] we both came to the conclusion, I just said to him: […] ‘You know, I’ve decided I’m not a Muslim anymore’, and he was like: ‘Really?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Same to be fair.’ And that was it. It just felt really liberating. (Amin interview, 2018) Reflecting on these considerations of actually ‘not being a Muslim anymore’ – his ‘move to “the other side”’ after he had ‘fallen off’ – and the potential consequences of openly admitting to that fact he no longer believed, Amin pondered: Considering it was like the equivalent of […] murder or something […] such a massive deal. The option is there, but it’s like, ‘Do I go for it? Is it worth the risk?’ And after months on months of thinking and deciding, of putting pieces together, it was like: ‘I might as well take the risk, might as well see what happens, because I don’t want to live this life anymore’. (Amin interview, 2018) But the sacrifice he had to make was considerable. His father would have preferred him to leave the house, and his extended family only saw the shame he brought on the family. He was blamed for his mother’s illnesses, and he experienced general isolation, which, among other things, had an impact on his mental health. The theme of ‘losing one’s religion’ was dominant in Amin’s story, which is an example of a religious break. Typical is the sense that ‘being Muslim’ used to be central to the individual’s identity, sense of self, and surroundings. Often, religious doubt is prompted by an emotional event or trauma. For Amin, it was the ‘shitness of life’; his life at home was harsh, and he was generally unhappy. He was physically abused at a young age, felt ignored by his parents, and had a keen interest in the world, where he saw a lot of misery. Others who present a dominant theme of religious break may never stop doubting, or it may continue for a long time. Amin deliberately defined a ‘new me’: he went to his friend and told him, ‘I’ve decided I’m not a Muslim anymore’. It is common in this type of narrative, at least initially, that one’s new self is defined in relation to one’s former religion (e.g., atheist, ex-Muslim, agnostic). After having moved to the

‘It’s not just about faith’ 131 other side, the next stage that religious breakers find themselves in is to renegotiate their new-found beliefs, identity, and context or surroundings. This may be an arduous process of self-definition, denial, or concealment. Characteristically, they often feel a need to share with others their new-found identities in relation to their former religion.

Case study 2: The social break-away It was almost like you were Muslim by default. Like you are born Muslim. […] [But] I don’t think I ever said it in terms of: ‘I am not a Muslim anymore’. It was more like how Islam featured in my life in terms of it being the habits and rules that governed my life. (Aarini interview, 2017)7

The daughter of two doctors, Aarini grew up in Birmingham in a middle-class neighbourhood. She described her father as quite liberal and her mother as more observant of religious and cultural customs. However, religion in and of itself did not play a major role when she was growing up. She did not attend a madrasa, nor was she taught how to pray or recite the Qur’an. Elaborating on what sort of role religion had in her life as a child, she said: Very much a back seat. […] my parents [both] do things religious in their conception. […] Blessing you and saying ‘Bismillah’ before you eat and stuff. […] But I never considered them religious. I always considered them like ‘this is just what parents do’. (Aarini interview, 2017) Problems started for Aarini when she turned ‘12 or 13’. She looked at her friends, who mostly had liberal, Western lifestyles. Her parents, however, ‘governed’ her life, and she therefore ‘conflated Islam with cultural rules, which are bound in relation to Islam’. These rules included her parents’ focus on dress, leaving the house, drinking, smoking, and a particular emphasis on ‘different rules for men and women’. Her ‘rebellion’, as she called it, lasted throughout her teenage years. There were always compromises to be fought over, or rather, differences to be negotiated. Whether it was about leaving the house or the clothes she was wearing, everything turned into a fight. She described the period as one that often resulted in situations spiralling out of control. If her parents forbade her to go to town, she would respond by going out drinking. It was a lot to do [with] the assumption: ‘You are a girl. Girls don’t do this’. Men have more freedom than women do, and, yeah, it was like: ‘You are behaving outside what girls ought to do’, and that’s associated with Islam as well. (Aarini interview, 2017)


‘It’s not just about faith’

Negotiations and struggles over the drawing of boundaries ceased after her teenage years, more specifically after she attempted suicide: ‘It was like: “everyone should just calm down”’. From then on, her parents were less engaged in Aarini’s whereabouts, and she did not engage with them over activities outside of the house and school. When she was a teenager, she lied about the gender or names of friends in order to hide the fact that she had male friends. These tensions gradually resolved after her suicide attempt. At the time of the interview, she was still concealing the fact she had a boyfriend: Even though now my parents could not do anything about me living with someone, I am still so indoctrinated to – I am so into the habit of it being easy to lie and that it is easier to withhold information. I just do that because I have been doing it forever. My parents […] if they thought about it, if they were really honest, they know that I do [have a boyfriend] […] They probably know I do a lot of things. We don’t talk about it. (Aarini interview, 2017) When turning to the topic of faith and her current existential beliefs, she was less clear on ‘what happened’. Aarini dissociated religion and God: I don’t know how much I thought about God having anything to do with religion. Religion was all of these things that you did in your life. Whereas God was like an idea. So they were separate, always. […] God was like someone who was looking out for me. (Aarini interview, 2017) The relationship she had with God as a child, but also as a teenager, was a personal one. The religious rules came, not come from Him, but from her parents’ religion and culture: ‘God and Islam were divorced. Logically speaking, they couldn’t be married’ because God was supposed to be the ‘good guy’. Her doubts about her personal God, although not very clearly remembered, were initiated by her struggles in life: Did you ever consciously doubt the existence of God? I think probably when I was a teenager. I must have at some point […] thought like: ‘If God exists, then how can I be living this life?’ I think it was a mix of like: ‘God cannot be looking out for me, [so] there cannot be a God.’(Aarini interview, 2017)



These thoughts derived from her assumption that God was a personal God who was supposed to look out for her, but instead she felt abandoned. ‘Being Muslim’ for Aarini was never about belief in God per se; it was about religion and specifically the restrictive, gendered rules that were imposed upon her. For a social break-away like Aarini, the main issues experienced throughout life are the socio-religious impositions and limitations that are enforced.

‘It’s not just about faith’ 133 Difference from one’s environment is often negotiated from a young age and may remain a constant factor throughout life. This difference is predominantly a social one, which in turn may prompt doubt about the existence of God. As in Aarini’s case, there is a search for alternatives, which is marked by a search for the freedom that one lacks in one’s own environment. What is particular about this group is that leaving the parental home creates distance and can be a determining factor in the development of self and identity in relation to religion, culture, and gender norms: the individual has the physical space to define a ‘new me’ away from social, cultural, and religious impositions.

Case study 3: The entrance More and more I came to the conclusion that I shouldn’t be bothering myself with what I am not, because that has its limits. I wanted to see what I am. (Yedder interview, 2017)8

Born in Morocco, Yedder moved with his parents to the Netherlands at the age of 11. As a ‘new’ immigrant, he initially struggled with the neighbourhood kids, who called him an ‘illegal’ or ‘“illi”, someone without paperwork, even though I had permanent status’.9 Finding friends and his place at school took some time, since he was ‘the new guy’. He felt like the outsider, especially among the Moroccan children in his school: Not that I wasn’t religious or anything, but I think it was just because I had experienced migration, that must have played a role. I was very aware that with regard to Morocco, I knew so much more than they [did] […] So to be accepted by that group or not, was not my priority. I don’t think I was that aware at the time, but it makes you stronger. (Yedder interview, 2017) Religion had played a central role when he was growing up in Morocco but, according to Yedder, less so in the Netherlands because of the religious and secular surroundings. While his parents raised him relatively religiously according to Moroccan customs, in the Netherlands religion was not necessarily central to his upbringing or sense of self. Feeling different on the basis of his migration status was more prominent. In 2004, when Yedder was about 17, an earthquake hit the region around his home city of Al Hoceima. Over 500 people died and many more were internally displaced: ‘And a year later there were still no proper supplies or services, even though much aid went into the area’. There were protests in Morocco, which were forcefully dispersed. A protest was organised in The Hague: And I went to that. And that made me even more aware of the marginalisation of the area. That’s how the ball started rolling. You attend more activities, debates, and you shape yourself more and more. And it


‘It’s not just about faith’ became part of my identity. But you quickly notice […] that religion has always been sort of a liability. (Yedder interview, 2017)

By going to activities, Yedder explored the world of Moroccan activism and Amazigh cultural pride, unconsciously ‘seeking alternatives’.10 He found information about certain periods of Amazigh history online, and he also came across discussion threads under these pages: ‘[Religion] would go against certain cultural customs, against certain norms and unwritten rules in the Amazigh culture. That was around when I was 19 […] It woke me up as it were’. Yedder explained that the activist world gave him ample space and support to explore his thoughts and doubts about the compatibility of religion and ethnic culture. At this point he mostly spent time with Amazigh activists, some of whom were religious, while others were not. They talked about anything, ‘also about religion if we had to, but not all the time, so it wasn’t forced […] So that support, that security to discuss religion – to think about it differently – was there’. Finding this new space forced him to think about the place of religion in his life and his convictions. He gave an example of how his cultural heritage and identity clashed with the religious values he was raised with: Look at the woman, for example. She has a rather important position within our culture […] the woman is always the person who would transfer culture. Whether it was language or rituals. And then automatically you search for the position of women within religion, and you notice that it has been a rather subservient position. Sometimes when you read between the lines, and sometimes very obviously. […] And it makes you think. (Yedder interview, 2017) He eventually came to the conclusion: ‘I do not believe in a God’. But to Yedder, this was unsatisfying because he saw the limits of negative definitions of identity. He elaborated: I do not believe in a God, so how does doing the right thing come about? I believe that it is about taking responsibility. And I came to that conclusion before I even knew about humanism. So you start searching […] and you realize that many human rights activists are humanists, and things start to fall into place, you know, that your point of departure is people’s responsibility. […] It is about creating your own vision. It was not like: ‘I am not religious; I have to figure out what I am’ so that I thought: ‘humanism can fill that gap’. No. It was much more a process of gradually – how do I feel about these things? (Yedder interview, 2017) His narrative of identity development and self-reflection was centred around positive thought processes.

‘It’s not just about faith’ 135 His aversion to negative identity became clear when he considered the media and so-called atheist Muslims: ‘Perhaps there should be a programme that focused on what we are rather than what we are not’. Later in our conversation, he reiterated the downside of negative identities when debating with Muslims about religion: I notice in discussions, in conversations that when you start with what you are […] I don’t say that I am not Muslim, I say: ‘I’m a humanist’. […] Instead of saying why you are not a Muslim, or why you are not religious, you only have to explain what you are, and that is much easier, a much stronger position as well. Because when you explain why you are not something, you are on the defensive. (Yedder interview, 2017) With regard to his family, at the time of the interview he fasted during Ramadan when he was at home, although he was pretty sure his parents knew about his unbelief, ‘after ten years they know how I work’. His mother sometimes still urged him to pray, fast and observe Islam, but there was no compulsion or any particular need to discuss the matter. For ‘the entrance’, entering one or multiple new identities is dominant. Exit from the Muslim identity and loss of faith does occur, but only after one has familiarised oneself with a different identity, as Yedder did with his Amazigh heritage, activism and humanism. Negotiating difference with the new and old in-groups is often a constant factor throughout this process, but it is often considered to aid one’s development of self and identity, rather than hampering it. For Yedder, his new group of friends were different from him; they had different views, but through active discussion and negotiations he was given the space to develop his own ideas and worldview. What is characteristic of ‘the entrance’ is that the new-found identity makes one doubt the Muslim identity and God: are these compatible? Of course, these processes may go hand in hand. Although new identities may be in relation to religion, they are often about matters outside of religion, such as ethnicity, politics or work.

Case study 4: Unconscious secularisation It’s just a way of life. It’s not like: ‘Look at me! I am this or that. I did it!’ No. (Amina interview, 2017)11

Amina was also born in Morocco, where she spent the first half of her childhood. In Morocco, she received an Islamic education since it was part of the curriculum. However, according to her: ‘I wasn’t raised very heavily religiously […] It was cultural religion’. She came to the Netherlands at the age of 13 with her parents, four brothers, and oldest sister. Upon arrival, her religious devotion increased: ‘I was 13, and it was a new environment. I had no friends. I didn’t speak the language. So, I struggled. So, for the first two years or so, I started praying, you


‘It’s not just about faith’

know’. She explained that her increased religiosity was due to feeling lonely and out of place. Although her brothers were around, she was the only daughter in the house since her oldest sister had already married: ‘Because of that loneliness, you return to faith a bit, I guess’. Friends she made at school were multicultural but mostly Dutch. Like Yedder, she noticed differences between Moroccans who had grown up in Morocco and Moroccans who were born in the Netherlands. She thought the latter were ignorant of the privileged position they enjoyed growing up in the Netherlands, whilst the former had experienced struggles in Morocco. She also noticed that Dutch-Moroccans were more traditional in their experience and expression of religion than she and her family were. Amina had Dutch-Moroccan and Dutch friends, although she had less contact with the Dutch-Moroccan group. As she learned the language and entered puberty, her life ‘naturally’ developed: I think at some point you start doing your daily things […] which is why I simply wasn’t preoccupied with religion anymore, and the distance grew. Faith is also about practical things, your fasting, your praying. Yes, I actually started to roll, which is why the life that I chose became further removed from faith, from Islam. […] Actually, it just made sense that it grew this way. It’s not like I was thinking: ‘I don’t want to have anything to do with Islam, I’m taking some distance’. No. It’s like when you are young, you don’t like smoked salmon. And at some point, you develop, [and] you will eat certain things. Yeah. It just happened. (Amina interview, 2017) She never delved into theology, nor did she ever have to convince herself that something did not actually exist. There was no struggle with God or with the voice of the Devil or with her family. Despite having not defined herself as religiously devout since puberty, she continued to participate in fasting during Ramadan until she was about 28 or 29, when the days of fasting started to become quite long, ‘which was kind of the trigger to start thinking about it’: [Fasting] was just out of habit […] At a certain point I started thinking: ‘Who are you doing this for? Is this a part of who I am? Do I want this? How do I think about this?’ […] And then, yes, of course I knew it, but: ‘I do these things because you should, and it is sociable, you feed the poor’. But I didn’t really feel any of these things. And when I decided not to participate in Ramadan, that was a sort of breaking point, that other people know this. (Amina interview, 2017) For Amina, it was a big deal to not participate during Ramadan (i.e., ceasing certain ritual practices) and to have friends, family, and colleagues witness her embodied move to ‘the other side’. The responses she received varied. Her father had already passed away, but her mother’s reaction surprised her:

‘It’s not just about faith’ 137 So my mother[’s reaction] was very striking. At the beginning of the Ramadan, the first one I didn’t participate […] I was home in the evening […] So I said to my mother: ‘I have decided, I won’t fast’. Then she said: ‘Yeah, it’s your life, I completely understand’. The next day she was in the kitchen, and she was making breakfast for me! [laughs] […] It was so sweet. If you see her, you’re like, ‘That’s a traditional little lady’, but she is very open-minded. (Amina interview, 2017) Other physical aspects of her upbringing were hard to renegotiate, such as sex before marriage. She tried to stay a virgin, but realised: ‘That’s not going to happen’ [laughs]. But, for a long time I struggled with someone sitting on my shoulder, who says: ‘What are you doing?!’ […] because it’s what they teach you from a very young age, and then that is gone, and then you have to decide for yourself. (Amina interview, 2017) She explained that the sexual morality she was raised with was no longer applicable, but it was not easily overcome. She had to argue internally (and dialogically) with the external voices of her upbringing. At the time of the interview, her identifications were not in relation to religion: ‘I don’t look at people’s religion as something that matters […] I have become a citizen of the world instead of a church-goer12 […] mosque-goer?’ She related why her life turned out the way it did back to her friends, family, and, most of all, her older brothers. [Brothers] have everything to say about the baby sister, raise her protectively, and I had nothing of the sort. The first time I went out was with my brothers. And they kind of showed me the other side. […] So I wasn’t raised protected, which is why I had to go out, discover things, get to know people, and not get stuck in one group. […] I have friends from every walk of life. Young, old, any religion, non-religious, which is why I think I had to develop this way, because otherwise you can’t deal with different people. (Amina interview, 2017) She described the process as quite passive. The phrase ‘I think I had to develop this way’ showed her relative lack of awareness at the time; her surroundings allowed and almost forced her to develop into the ‘world citizen’ she is today. As the term implies, ‘unconscious secularisation’ is marked by a lack of conscious doubt in the existence of God or (de-)identification as Muslim. Although religion plays a role in one’s life, it is not central to one’s sense of identity. For Amina, being Moroccan, especially in relation to second-generation migrants, took precedence. Though she considered herself to be Muslim for a long time, her faith declined; or, rather, it stopped playing a role in her life. Since one is often unaware,


‘It’s not just about faith’

the move to ‘the other side’ is a gradual process that has few religious connotations for one’s self-understanding. It is mostly an adolescent move, and worldview shaping of is not primarily related to the individual’s parents’ religion. As Amina explained, religion simply stopped playing a role at some point; she had other things on her mind, such as learning the language, making friends, and going out with her brothers. It should be noted that the ‘unconscious secularisation’ theme is common among those raised in relatively secular environments, as well as those who migrated just before puberty (roughly between the ages 7 and 14). For them, religion is often something cultural from ‘home’, rather than something that needs to be cultivated in the new environment. Although matters of believing are overcome without any significant inner struggles, as in the other trajectories, certain (religious) values may require (re)negotiation over time; often, these are values that are embodied, such as sexual morality or eating certain foods (Vliek, 2021; Chapter 5).

Case study 5: Combination of themes The themes discussed above do not solely rest on chronological stages. Rather, they describe how the themes of ‘religious breaking’, ‘social breaking’, ‘entering’ or ‘unconscious secularisation’ may be dominant in a narrative of moving out of Islam. The following case study illustrates how these themes are related and may overlap in narratives, although one theme is generally dominant. Eléa’s narrative follows the pattern of a religious break infused with themes of experiencing social pressure, entering a new identity at university, and losing religion more gradually and unconsciously. Eléa was raised in a town in the east of the Netherlands where she had a ‘very Islamic upbringing’. Of Turkish descent, her parents wanted her to attend mosque every week and take Qur’an lessons: After school, I had to go to [the Qur’an teacher] to attend classes [on] how you pray, all the ins and outs of religion. The five pillars. And the Qur’an – learn it by heart. I did it for a long time. I went alone. […] But Saturday and Sunday, we all had to go to mosque. (Eléa interview, 2017)13 She explained how she ‘really believed it, I really prayed […] five times a day. I was very pious for a child’. Her image of God was a split one: I had a positive image of God. I kind of assumed that God had to be nice and friendly. But in the mosque and my surroundings, God was a punishing entity, and God obviously saw everything, but always in a negative way. (Eléa interview, 2017)

‘It’s not just about faith’ 139 These images of a punishing God, as well as the vivid descriptions of hell she heard, stuck with her and made her scared of the afterlife: I thought everything was terrifying. Yes, not only God. Everything was scary. They told us in detail what would happen if you would go to heaven, but more importantly, if you would go to hell. Hell was really a topic. That you had to walk across a wire, and snakes that slithered under it. A lot of stories like that. (Eléa interview, 2017) Furthermore, from a young age she struggled with moral dilemmas that religion posed to her: ‘If you go to heaven because you lived well, you can take two people. “But who should I bring? My father and mother; but, what about my little sister?”’ Retrospectively, she was unsure of how scared of hell she was in day-to-day life; rather, it was something that was mentioned all the time, ‘so that there is an authority outside my parents’. However, the religious rules that were imposed regarding her dress and behaviour did impact her: ‘My mother did not allow me to wear trousers […] and no short skirts, [only] really long ones’. As pious and well-behaved as she was as a child: The older I got, the more I fought against it. Because I rebelled more. Because I really felt like an idiot at school. And at some point, I started to buy baggy trousers. Not tight jeans or anything, that would be the worst I could wear. […] every step was a small victory. […] and at some point you think: ‘I’m stronger than you, you can’t do anything to me but scream and shout, it doesn’t hurt me anymore’. […] So at some point, no more scarf and no more skirts. (Eléa interview, 2017) This part of Eléa’s story resonated strongly with social break-away themes, which eventually culminated in her wanting to go to university. Her negotiations over where to attend were fierce. If her parents were to let her go, they wished her to move to a certain town where they knew the community so they could keep an indirect eye on her, which Eléa protested against loudly. She picked a university in a city where her parents did not know anyone. She could remain ‘undercover’ for quite some time and avoid the Turkish community, because she feared they might know her family and report back about her behaviour. However, at the time: ‘I was still really religious. I remember having discussions with [a friend], conversations, and […] I really believed in God and in Islam. I had stopped praying, I was not wearing the scarf, but I still believed’. At university she met new people with whom she discussed religion – people who were ‘anti-religious’ as well as a Protestant Christian friend. These conversations made her doubt the role of religion and God in her own life. She conducted ‘thought experiments’, as she called them, concerning what religion meant to her and what difference it would make if she did not believe anymore.


‘It’s not just about faith’ At some point I thought: ‘You know, God […] plays less and less a role in my life […] if I say now that God doesn’t exist, I won’t get struck by lightning […] The world won’t stop moving. I won’t change. My life won’t change. The world won’t change’. […] I could not find the value of believing in God. And I had discussions with my anti-theist friend. And at a certain point I thought it was such bullshit [laughs]. What idiot still believes in God?! (Eléa interview, 2017)

This thought experiment made her rethink the point of believing. She elaborated on feelings of betrayal that also contributed to her loss of faith: [If I didn’t believe,] I would go to hell. According to Islam. According to believers. According to my own family. I would burn in hell. I thought: ‘You can’t wish that upon your own child, can you? Just because I don’t believe in your God I have to burn in hell?’ […] Put mildly, that’s not very nice! And I thought: ‘Why? I didn’t kill anyone. I didn’t rape anyone’. […] That they wish you the worst possible, just because you stopped believing in their God. And I think because I was very religious, you respond very emotionally to break away from it. So I needed the fierceness to shed my faith. (Eléa interview, 2017) This ‘fierceness’ expressed itself in tense discussions with her religious relatives, especially her sisters: ‘I wanted them to explain […] I constantly felt I had to explain myself, and perhaps I thought “Why do I have to explain myself? Why don’t you explain yourself?!”’ After having ‘socially broken away’ from her family and community by dressing the way she wanted and moving out of her parental home to a city without social control, Eléa entered a new life with new people around her. However, she did not clearly describe this as a new identity (yet). New insights made her doubt her already fading faith. This is where her religious break went hand in hand with unconscious secularisation (‘It played less and less [of] a role in my life’). After moving away from a religious environment, other things – university and her new friends – became more important, and religion faded. However, at this point in her narrative, she had not yet come to terms with her unbelief and, more specifically, her ‘new me’ in relation to her family.

Discussion: A comparative analysis The ‘religious break’ and ‘social break-away’ themes were more dominant in Britain, whilst ‘the entrance’ and ‘unconscious secularisation’ were more dominant in the Netherlands. Circumstantial differences between the respective countries may help explain this. First, in Britain there are various organizations for those moving out of Islam, such as the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain [CEMB]; Faith to Faithless, a London-based social group; various Facebook

‘It’s not just about faith’ 141 pages; and so on. Events are regularly organised. In contrast, at the time of writing such groups and activities are relatively absent in the Netherlands. Although the Humanistisch Verbond (Humanist Society) initiated a meet-up group for ‘new freethinkers’, interest was limited and meetings have been suspended for the time being. Private initiatives to meet other former Muslims are sometimes undertaken using social media, but no organization is currently doing this. I suggest that the dominance of the social break-away and religious break in Britain, on the one hand, and the dominance of unconscious secularisation and the entrance in the Netherlands, on the other, has to do with the relative centrality of religion to one’s (former) identity combined with the presence of, need for, or lack of support groups. The existence of groups directly affected how the majority of interlocutors were found for this research. First, people are less likely to search for support if they have few or no issues with the loss of religion or if religion was not central to their identities (as was often found in unconscious secularisation or entrance narratives). In the Netherlands, whilst some needed support in the past, most concluded that other ‘freethinking’ groups sufficed, and self-identification in relation to religion or Islam was not necessarily considered beneficial for personal development. Furthermore, they argued that they did not want to identify as ‘ex-Muslim’ because of its political connotations with the secularist right, as outlined in Chapter 2. In addition, since groups were not widely available, affiliation was less of ‘a thing to do’. In Britain, on the other hand, there were more support groups. A search for (temporary) support could lead to specific ‘apostasy’ groups, such as CEMB or Faith to Faithless. Furthermore, those experiencing psychologically taxing religious breaks or social break-aways were more likely to search for support. These national differences in affiliation to support networks lead to a second reason for differences in the dominance of themes. Among affiliates of such groups, narrative standardisation may occur. In meet-ups I attended, this became evident in the way people discussed matters of moving out of Islam. For example, ‘How long have you been an ex-Muslim?’ and ‘Are you out?’ were common questions individuals asked one another. Some of the organisationally affiliated people that I interviewed were so at one with a standardised ‘ex-Muslim’ identity that they no longer said ‘I’; rather, they spoke in terms of ‘we’ when telling ‘the ex-Muslim story’. Of course, religious breaks and social break-away themes were also present in the Netherlands; unconscious secularisation and entrance themes were not absent from the British stories either. However, these particular phenomena regarding an emerging group narrative in which religion took centre stage were exclusive to Britain. A final methodological observation emphasises these differences. Simon Cottee (2015) found his interlocutors exclusively through the online CEMB forum. There are two reasons why most of the narratives in his thoughtful study resemble the social break-away and religious break themes described here. First, those who experience religious breaks or social break-away themes are more likely to search for support. Second, narrative standardisation may subsequently occur. In a similar fashion, the majority of my group of interlocutors in the Netherlands


‘It’s not just about faith’

were found through snowballing, while a minority were found through Facebook groups and the Humanist Society. In Britain, on the other hand, about half were found through organisations and online forums, and the other half were found through snowballing. This, along with the above discussion, may explain differences between dominant themes in the countries represented in this particular dataset.14

When it is not just about faith Understandably, studies of ‘losing faith’ have primarily focused on the negative (losing) and religious (faith) sides of changes in existential beliefs. Since my interlocutors’ narratives were ‘not just about faith’, I adopted a broader consideration of what constitutes self-making in times of religious change. I questioned approaches to the subject on three levels. First, previous academic terminology did not necessarily resonate with the narratives I encountered in terms of either semantics or self-definitions. Second, the available descriptions of so-called exit-trajectories pay little attention to the life-worlds of people outside of religion: the focus has chiefly been negative (exit) and religiously centred. Third, for similar reasons the available narrative descriptions did not apply to my interlocutors’ experiences: the focus was on a negative approach to religion when it concerned moving out of religion. In contrast, besides religion, the narratives I encountered included a plethora of social, political, ethnic, and gendered discourses. In this chapter I suggest the need to approach the changing self not only primarily in relation to religion, but rather as a ‘society of mind’. Dialogical Self Theory assumes the self is inhabited by external voices and different roles or identities that one assumes in different situations (I-positions), between which dialogue occurs in the negotiation of a changing life-world, especially upon self-reflection. This approach allows for the recognition of a self in transition in an ever-changing world. It responds to the multiplicity of discourses and roles negotiated by individuals, and it moves beyond religious versus secular, belief versus non-belief, Muslim versus non-Muslim dichotomies. It recognises the relative weight of the religious voice in narratives, rather than presuming the centrality or primacy of religion , as is often the case in the study of substantial ‘non-religion’. This dialogical approach uncovered four themes that emerged from the analysis of the interviews that were conducted. First, in the ‘religious break’ theme, ‘being Muslim’ and religion were at one time central to the individual’s identity. Religious doubt was often prompted by an emotional event or trauma. It is common in this type of narrative for the individual to define a new self in relation to a former religion. Second, in the ‘social break-away’ theme, the main issues were socio-religious impositions and the enforcement of limitations. Individuals often negotiate difference from the environment from a young age, which in turn may prompt doubts about the existence of God. Third, in the ‘entrance’ theme, exit from the Muslim identity occurs, but only after the individual has become familiar with a different identity. Negotiating difference often aids the development of self and identity,

‘It’s not just about faith’ 143 rather than hampering it. Characteristically, in the entrance theme the newfound identity makes the individual doubt the Muslim identity and faith in God. Fourth, the ‘unconscious secularisation’ theme is marked by a lack of conscious doubt about the existence of God or (de-)identification as Muslim. Although religion does play a role, it is not central to the individual’s sense of identity, and therefore it is not key in self-development. Finally, I presented a fifth narrative to illustrate what happens when the four themes intertwine. In describing these themes, I have not necessarily aimed to direct the focus away from religion altogether when studying ‘losing faith’ or non-religion. Rather, the narratives outlined above show that we should consider things besides ‘the negative’ and ‘what is missing’. We must move beyond the assumption that people exist or are to be described merely and primarily in relation to religion. Perhaps we may give a little more attention to the realities and discourses besides religion that people find themselves in, as well as to the ways people respond to them and reshape their senses of self. In Yedder’s words: ‘Perhaps there should be [a focus] on what we are rather than what we are not’. The field of moving out of religion, especially in a post-migration context, is still relatively unexplored, and the approach I propose opens up questions beyond what is left behind. In Chapter 5, I zoom in on the particularities of the process of moving out. Specifically, I focus on how it plays out on the body. In the thematic approach outlined above, issues of belonging were already addressed, especially when discussing social break-away themes. The following chapter elaborates on how my interlocutors negotiated various expectations regarding what it means to belong to religious or secular environs, as expressed through bodily dispositions, knowledges, and practices.

Notes 1 An earlier version of this chapter appeared under the title ‘“It’s not just about faith”: Narratives of transformation when moving out of Islam in the Netherlands and Britain’ in Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations (Vliek, 2019). I wish to thank the journal’s publisher, editor, and anonymous reviewers for their invaluable contributions to this chapter. 2 Hiranur quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Groningen, the Netherlands, on 5 April 2017. 3 In response, Fadil and Fernando (2015) warn against the exclusion of piety altogether from the anthropology of Islam when redirecting the focus to the ‘every day’. An extensive overview of these debates is beyond the scope of this chapter; however, their importance is noted. 4 It should be noted that Streib et al. (2009) do extensively discuss biographical and developmental perspectives of ‘deconversion’, and they shed light on complexities that may also include ‘finding a new frame of reference’. I shall discuss this below. 5 It is for similar reasons that the term ‘religious disaffiliation’ (see, e.g., Bromley & Shupe, 1986; Fekrat, 2020; Gooren, 2010) is inappropriate since: (1) within Islam, official affiliation is neither possible nor required; (2) it is a negative description of transition presented as a counterpart to conversion; and (3) the terminology is predominantly related to ‘religion’. For an extended overview of pro-religious hegemony in terminology in the sociology of religion, see Cragun and Hammer (2011).


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6 All quotes in the ‘religious break’ section are from a personal interview with Amin conducted in Manchester, UK, on 2 February 2018. 7 All quotes in the ‘social break-away’ section are from a personal interview with Aarini conducted in London, UK, on 14 November 2017. 8 All quotes in the ‘entrance’ section are from a personal interview with Yedder conducted in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on 18 July 2017. 9 In Dutch ‘statushouder’, or someone with ‘permanent status’, refers to immigrants who hold a permit that allows them to work or go to school. 10 Historically, the Berber (Tamazight)-speaking areas of Morocco have been culturally neglected by the state, where nationalist discourse emphasises links to ‘high culture’ Arab-Islamic civilization. Thus, the cultural heritage of the Amazigh is seen as a threat to Moroccan national unity (Silverstein & Crawford, 2004). In recent years there have been significant reforms. In 2004, for example, the teaching of Tamazight to students was allowed in the Berber regions, and in 2011 the language was given the status of a coofficial language (Silverstein, 2011). However, structural neglect and social injustices have not been overcome. In this discourse, Amazigh cultural pride and activism are associated with anti-Arabization and anti-Islam discourses since, so the reasoning goes, the Amazigh culture predated the introduction of Arab religion. Whilst some activists pursue an inclusive agenda and state that ‘personal religion is not an issue’ when fighting for social justice, in other milieus the separation between Muslims and non-believing activists is heavily debated (Ben-Layashi, 2007). 11 All quotes in the ‘unconscious secularisation’ section are from a personal interview with Amina conducted in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on 27 July 2017. 12 The literal English translation of the Dutch ‘kerkganger’ is ‘church-goer’, which is more commonly translated as worshipper. For Amina, it was a slip of the tongue, though, since it is a Christian expression. She corrected herself by inventing the word ‘moskeeganger’ – ‘mosque goer’. 13 All quotes in the ‘combination of themes’ section are from a personal interview with Eléa conducted in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on 22 September 2017. 14 Since this is not a study of Muslim communities in either country, I hesitate to speculate on the centrality of religion to identity being causally related to the composition of communities (e.g., ethnic, orthodox, secular, Shia, Sunni, socio-economic status, etc.). Further study is needed for conclusions to be drawn regarding these matters.

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Lee, L. (2015). Recognizing the Non-religious: Reimagining the Secular. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mahmood, S. (2005). Politics of Piety. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. McGinty, A. M. (2006). Becoming Muslim: Western Women’s Conversions to Islam. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Özyürek, E. (2015). Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion in the New Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Pauha, T., & Aghaee, A. (2018). ‘God Never existed, and I was looking for him like crazy!’ Muslim stories of deconversion. In K. van Nieuwkerk (Ed.), Moving In and Out of Islam. (pp. 333–361). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Perez, S., & Vallières, F. (2019). How do religious people become atheists?: Applying a grounded theory approach to propose a model of deconversion. Secularism & Nonreligion, 8, 1–14. doi:10.5334/snr.108. Račius, E. (2018). Faith no more: The views of Lithuanian converts to Islam on deconversion. In K. van Nieuwkerk (Ed.), Moving In and Out of Islam (pp. 363–384). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Roald, A. S. (2012). The conversion process in stages: New Muslims in the twenty-first century. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 23(3), 347–362. Samuri, M. A., & Quraishi, M. (2014). Negotiating apostasy: Applying to ‘leave Islam’ in Malaysia. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 25(4), 507–523. Schielke, S. (2010). Second thoughts about the anthropology of Islam, or how to make sense of grand schemes in everyday life. ZMO Working Papers, 2. Sevinç, K., ColemanIII, T. J., & HoodJr., R. W. (2018). Non-belief: An Islamic perspective. Secularism & Nonreligion, 7(1), 1–12. Sidło, K. (2016). ‘Coming out’ or ‘staying in the closet’: Deconversion narratives of Muslim apostates in Jordan. Marburg Journal of Religion, 18(1), 1–35. Silverstein, P. (2011). Weighing Morocco’s new constitution. Middle East Research Project, 5. Retrieved from Silverstein, P., & Crawford, D. (2004). Amazigh activism and the Moroccan state. Middle East Report, 233, 44–48. Snook, D. W., Kleinmann, S. M., White, G., & Horgan, J. G. (2019). Conversion motifs among Muslim converts in the United States. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. doi:10.1037/rel0000276. Spoliar, L., & van den Brandt, N. (2020). Documenting conversion: Framings of female converts to Islam in British and Swiss documentaries. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 1–15. doi:10.1177/1350506820920912. Streib, H. (2020). Leaving religion: Deconversion. Current Opinion in Psychology, 40, 139–144. doi:10.1016/j.copsyc.2020.09.007. Streib, H., Hood, R. W., Keller, B., Csoff, R. M., & Silver, C. (2009). Deconversion: Qualitative and Quantitative Results from Cross-cultural Research in Germany and the United States of America (Vol. 5). Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Taylor, C. (2007). A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. van Nieuwkerk, K. (2006). Gender, conversion, and Islam: A comparison of online and offline conversion narratives. In K. van Nieuwkerk (Ed.), Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West (pp. 95–119). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. van Nieuwkerk, K. (2008). Biography and choice: Female converts to Islam in the Netherlands. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 19(4), 431–447. van Nieuwkerk, K. (2018). Moving In and Out of Islam. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

‘It’s not just about faith’ 147 Vliek, M. (2019). ‘It’s not just about faith’: Narratives of transformation when moving out of Islam in the Netherlands and Britain. Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, 30(3), 323–344. doi:10.1080/09596410.2019.1628459. Vliek, M. (2021). (Re)Negotiating embodiment when moving out of Islam: An empirical enquiry into ‘A Secular Body’. In M. van den Berg, L. L. Schrijvers, J. O. Wiering, & A.-M. Korte (Eds.), Transforming Bodies and Religions: Powers and Agencies in Europe (pp. 159–177). Abingdon: Routledge. Wohlrab-Sahr, M. (2006). Symbolizing distance: Conversion to Islam in Germany and the United States. In K. van Nieuwkerk (Ed.), Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West (pp. 71–94). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.


‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’

Our bodies have the ability to communicate to the outside world what we stand for, believe in, or conform to. In singular form, they are our personal canvases. Viewed in plurality, they tell us not only about a group, community, or society at large, but also the power they exert over us. We have expectations regarding what the bodies of others ought to look like, and we inscribe meaning to the exteriors of those we see around us. These expectations are strongly intertwined with whom we consider to be part of our in-group, or whom we view as part of the out-group, differentiations that have become particularly salient in the presence of Islam in contemporary Europe. In recent decades, debates regarding the boundaries of the secular or, more specifically, what is deemed appropriately religious in a secular environment have primarily focused on the presence of the ‘Muslim other’, as extensively outlined in Chapters 1 and 2. These discussions in the public sphere often emphasise the visible: the bodies present in our midst, the presumed ideologies or values they stand for, and their alleged (in)compatibility with secular systems or values. When religious and secular boundaries are discussed (i.e., from both secular as well as religious perspectives), often bodily praxis and behaviours are referred to as being incompatible or at least fundamentally different: headscarves or face veils, alcohol or pork prohibition or consumption, modest dress versus miniskirts, differences in sexual mores, circumcision debates, or hygienic customs.1 Indeed, ‘being Muslim’ and its bodily performance are highly contested in European spheres. Both religious and secular discourses ascribe certain features to what it means to be Muslim. Religious voices do so to demarcate the contested ‘own’ and secure a sense of belonging, whilst the secular voices do so to demarcate what is ‘other’ (and, by implication, the self, see Amir-Moazami, 2013, 2016). As shown in Chapter 4, during my fieldwork it became quite clear that ‘moving out of Islam’ entails more than ‘faith’ alone. In addition, matters of social, political, ethnic, and gender intersections play a role in narratives of lives transformed by a loss of faith. In light of these intersections, by considering how my interlocutors renegotiated bodily praxis and behaviours, this chapter explores what happens when the alleged boundaries and demarcations between the religious and the secular become blurred. DOI: 10.4324/9781003143574-6

‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ 149 The many conversations I had made it apparent that questions of believing and belonging become particularly salient in light of bodily behaviours, which the self and others perceive as either ascertaining or terminating membership of the religious or secular spheres. Whilst (internalised) discourses may have expectations regarding how certain bodies should look or behave, this chapter illustrates that my interlocutors (re)negotiated these expectations in very individualised ways in order to form their own sets of bodily behaviours. In this chapter I wish to highlight the embodied aspects of moving out of Islam. Presupposed characteristics of both religious and secular bodies inform spiritual transformations. Firstly, I outline the ‘secular body’ debate (i.a., Hirschkind, 2011). Secondly, I provide empirical insight into how interlocutors negotiated religious upbringing and its perceived dispositions. Breaking the rules, i.e., performing transgressive behaviour, was often an intrinsic part of moving out of Islam and demarcating a new non-believing self and the religious other. Third, I elaborate on what my interlocutors considered religious or non-religious practices, knowledges, and behaviours, as well as their contemplations regarding whether to adopt or not adopt such dispositions. The empirical sections show two key things: (1) often belonging to family was dictated primarily by visible bodily knowledges, practices, and behaviours related to what a (religious) body ought to be, which illustrates the relevance of embodiment when moving out of Islam; and (2) secular and religious bodies inform self-making in times of religious transformation.

Moving out of Islam and the search for a secular body Drawing on Erving Goffman, who proposed the idea of the frontstage and backstage performance of self, Bryan S. Turner (1984) argued that we use our bodies to perform various roles or identities in different settings of life. He assumed that appearing ‘normal’ creates fundamental feelings of security and belonging. As Lynn Davidman (2015) noted in her study of former Hasidic Jews, ‘In every cultural context, the prevailing values, norms, and rules become internalized as habitual, embodied practices. The performance of these daily physical practices creates boundaries between members and nonmembers of a particular group’ (p. 203). Davidman further argued that this secure identity – being part of a group – can fall apart when an individual begins to feel ‘a significant distance between bodily routine and self-identity’, such as when faith is lost and daily practices are no longer meaningful (p. 17). Davidman convincingly showed the importance of embodiment in losing faith, especially among orthodox communities.2 Recent scholarship on the secular goes beyond the traditional idea of ‘the secular’ as the institutionalised power of the modern nation-state and its relation to religion. Talal Asad (2003), in his seminal Formations of the Secular, showed how secularism as an ideology relates to the secular as ontology and epistemology. In his understanding, secularism is how religion is governed by a certain understanding of what it means to be ‘truly’ human. The secular is no longer viewed either in opposition to religion or as what is


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left behind when religion is no longer present. Rather, it as a set of institutions, ideas, and affective orientations, which are understood to be part of a truly modern constitution through which religion is regulated. These regulations contain specific ideas about life, death, and the body. Public spaces are ‘secular’ spaces. Indeed, Asad’s work inspired scholars to take up the task of investigating the secular and its entanglement with affect, emotion, and embodiment, especially in relation to Islam (i.a., Amir-Moazami, 2013, 2016; Asad, 2011; Fadil, 2009; Hirschkind, 2011; Mahmood, 2013; Scheer et al., 2019). Charles Hirschkind (2011) confronted the question of ‘a secular body’ head on by asking whether it exists: ‘Is there a particular configuration of the human sensorium […] specific to secular subjects, and thus constitutive of what we call “secular society?”’ (p. 633). Armed with Asad’s understanding of the secular as a constellation of ‘institutions, ideas, and affective orientations’ which organise both religious and nonreligious forms of knowledge and practices, he argued for tracing the secular through religion’s shadows. He meant that because ‘the secular’ is ‘the water we swim in’, it may be easier to trace its particular constellations through the visible, namely religion. He reckoned that the works proposed on the religiously pious sensorium – notably Talal Asad’s (2011), Saba Mahmood’s (2013), and his own – provide a useful model for thinking about ‘the interrelation of knowledge, practice, and embodiment within a tradition’ (Hirschkind 2011, p. 635). By reading of the works of Asad (2003; 2011) and William Connelly (1999), Hirschkind attempted to draw closer to the idea of a secular body. He viewed the secular in relation to religion as a distinct mode of power, ‘one that mobilizes the productive tension between religious and secular to generate new practices through a process of internal self-differentiation’ (Hirschkind, 2011, p. 643). This fruitful line of inquiry has not remained uncontested. Schirin AmirMoazami (2013) proposed to include the analysis of ‘religiously connoted transgressions’ in secular societies, which may reveal some ideas of the constitution of a secular body. Whilst taking up Hirschkind’s question of ‘a secular body’, she also complicated it by suggesting that it may be misleading to view the body as ontologically constituted, because she views this as intrinsically problematic. If we assume that ‘the secular’ is not an easily denotable stage, it becomes problematic to assume there is such a thing as ‘a secular body’. Also, the conceptualisation of the secular as ‘the water we swim in’ ‘obliquely repeats some of its intrinsic powers, namely, it contributes to the process of unmarking its operations’ (Amir-Moazami, 2013, p. 148). Rather, Amir-Moazami (2016) took ‘the secular’ to mean two things: first, the regulative state practices; and second, ‘a more tacit and often unmarked set of secular affects prevalent in the social practices of secular societies on various levels’ (p. 84), which she calls ‘secular embodiments’.3 The secular then operates as a ‘body politic’ and ‘the embodiment of secular conventions’ (Amir-Moazami, 2013, p. 149). Amir-Moazami showed how public controversies, such as the face-veil (2013) or male-circumcision (2016), bring these two dimensions together. By analysing what the critiques within such controversies reveal about those who contest

‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ 151 public expressions of religion, she was able to discern that the secular body concerns shared conventions of ‘gender mixing, exposing parts of the body […] while hiding others, notions of gender and sexual freedom, gendered conventions of visibility, and, more generally, habitualized forms of communication in public’ (Amir-Moazami, 2013, p. 93). Amir-Moazami argued that these particular forms of embodiment are not established in isolation; rather, they are anchored in modes of power and ‘depend on their constant iterations’. Secular embodiment, according to Amir-Moazami (2013), can in fact materialise, stabilise, and become visible, but ‘only through such religiously connoted transgressions’ (p. 94). In other words, how secular power debates and demarcates the religious from the secular reiterates and reveals what secular embodiment is. Such public controversies can be a ‘reiteration of secular conventions and embodiments’ (p. 94). I agree with Amir-Moazami’s analysis and laude her attempt to materialise theory through empirical enquiry. However, I wish flesh out further what she calls the ‘effective stabilization of embodiment’ (p. 164). How do people moving out of Islam in Europe (re)negotiate these stabilisations and expectations of what a secular body ought to be, particularly in light of previously acquired embodied sets of religious dispositions? Nadia Fadil (2009) addressed the consequences of stabilisations of embodiment by examining the ways in which religious and secular affects become a source of concern for practicing and non-practicing Muslim women in Belgium. Rather than simply positing that ‘a liberal and secular context authorises all kinds of moral offences’, in order to draw closer to an understanding of what the secular may constitute, she argued for the examination of the ‘kind of moral offences that are deemed problematic and the kinds of offences which are normalised’ (Fadil, 2009, p. 442). She suggested examining not only ‘the offended’, but also the ‘offenders’, such as Muslim women who do not shake hands (offenders of secular sensibilities), and those who do not fast (offenders of religious sensibilities). In line with these discussions, I take a secular body to be a set of presupposed characteristics which are ascribed to a body that follows secularism as ideology. As such, the set of characteristics is not necessarily an empirical reality applicable to anyone who is non-religious; rather, it is produced by a discursive mode of power, which defines a proper set of behaviours, knowledges, and dispositions (Hirschkind, 2011) that a secular individual must ascribe to in order to be considered ‘one of us’, as opposed to the religious ‘one of them’ (i.e., Muslim).4 As my interlocutors show, in contemporary Europe this concept and its construction are intertwined with methods of embodied ‘othering’ as well as the relationships between sexuality, race, and religion (Balkenhol et al., 2016; Garner & Selod, 2014; van den Brandt, 2018). ‘A secular body’ is a conceptual term I employ to refer to these constructions rather than a lived reality. The lived realities of embodiment encompass behaviours, lifestyles, emotions, and, more generally, what the body does. Indeed, in what follows it becomes clear that the particulars of the conceptual ‘secular body’ revealed when individuals transform and move out of Islam are a set of characteristics that different actors ascribe to what they ‘ought to be’. This ‘secular body’ influences the various


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strategies people employ to (re)train the body in a non-Muslim framework. Empirically, ‘a secular body’ became traceable in my interlocutors’ descriptions of the behaviours, knowledges, and dispositions of ‘ex-Muslims’, atheists, Western people, whiteness, or non-Muslims, both from individuals’ own perspective as well as from the perspective of Muslim communities. In turn, these descriptions were produced by that distinct mode of power: the dominant ‘secular’ discourse. In my view, secular and religious bodies represent two sides, which demarcate what is considered ‘the incommensurable divide’ (Mahmood, 2013).

Religious upbringing, performing (non-)religion, and questions of belonging Much has been written about religious morality, particularly on Muslims who wish to be pious, obedient, and moral subjects (i.a., Hocke, 2014; Mahmood, 2005). However, Samuli Schielke (2010) argued that many Muslims, like most of humankind, are not always pious, moral, or disciplined. In response, Nadia Fadil and Mayanthi Fernando (2015) were concerned that piety would be completely excluded from the anthropology of Islam by redirecting our attention to the ‘everyday’, as Schielke suggested. How morality was expressed through the ambiguities of embodied religious discipline was relevant for my interlocutors. They often presented their upbringing and experiences with religious prescriptions as ideals of the performance of religious practice. Two motivations for adherence can be discerned from their contemplations regarding religious obligations. First, a pious obligation to Allah to perform ritual and other embodied praxis; and second, a desire to conform to one’s community through embodiment. Intertwined with these concerns were images and ideas about non-believers perpetuated in religious surroundings. I will discuss these matters by exploring some of my interlocutors’ ponderings to show that questions of belonging became relevant through the performance or transgression of certain religious embodiments and practices that were considered non-negotiable. Maya, a young woman I met in central London for a cup of coffee, had a difficult time letting go of the fear of Allah and hell when moving out of Islam. She particularly emphasised modesty and described her discomfort with both social belonging as well as the guilt and fear she felt towards Allah. She felt her transgressive actions could have potentially disastrous consequences for her soul: So for example, having sex is a massive thing for a woman to do, and I did that as a Muslim woman […] sex before marriage is haram. […] It’s your mother and your grandmother that tell you: ‘Don’t have sex. No one’s going to marry you. You’re dirty. It’s not what Muslims do’. (Maya interview, 2018)5 She told me what happened when she did break taboos: ‘These things came back to haunt me as a university student, during my first sexual experiences, and it was like I’d do it, and I’d feel bad about it. I think: “Oh my God, I’m

‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ 153 going to hell”’. For Maya moving out of Islam had much to do with body politics, particularly the judgment she experienced from other Muslims, which led to her final de-identification as Muslim: ‘If people would think that I’m not Muslim enough, then fine, I wouldn’t be a Muslim. And I guess in a way it was sort of pragmatism got the better of that guilt and conflict’. Furthermore, for some donning a head scarf was a very visible, non-negotiable performance of belonging. According to their Muslim community, ‘unveiling’ was sometimes considered a performance of waning faith. For example, Sara told me that she still donned the scarf when visiting her family and lied to her mother about living with her boyfriend. Sara was quite traumatised by what she perceived to be religious rules imposed on her: ‘I remember how I changed from before to after hijab, […] once I wore it, I literally retreated into myself, because everybody treated me differently’.6 To stress the importance of the visibility of personal religiousness in the scarf, she continued: ‘taking it off is worse than never wearing it at all, because it’s more insulting to the religion [like] that: “Look, you were religious, and now you [are] overtly non-religious”. It is almost like a public rejection’. When Sara was about twelve years old, she told her mother she wanted to stop praying. Her mother’s response was that she was ashamed of her daughter, who was raised a particular way. Sara felt guilty, so she became ‘very strict’ in the performance of prayer, fasting, wearing the hijab, and not talking to boys. This mostly embodied praxis eventually got the better of her, especially after she discovered that her prayers over the course of five years did not count because she had washed her hands in the wrong order: I was crying my eyes out thinking ‘God has not collected any of my prayers?’ […] So I had a huge board with a mark every time I ticked off an extra prayer that I had done. […] And I just remember I reached a certain point, like, half the board was covered, and then I was like, I stopped doing them. […] On the outside I was still the person, the perfect Muslim girl, but on the inside I just stopped caring in a way. (Sara interview, 2017) Sara’s story illustrates the impact that embodied religious practice can have on the individual. Depending on the negotiability of these sets of practices, the visibility of embodiments can cause friction within environs when they are seized or questioned. Since Sara did not want to damage her relationship with her mother and sister, she concealed her unbelief from them. In order to belong, she continuously performed what was considered a proper religious body. The ultimate ‘sin’ or transgression of religious behaviour, according to many, is becoming a non-believer, or ‘apostasy’. Fahad, a Dutch banker from the West of the Netherlands explained: In my experience the image exists that ‘he is no longer a Muslim, so he is totally out of control.7 He will do anything that is forbidden now; he has completely gone off the rails’, you know? There is a huge variety in moral


‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ interpretations, fine. But one who openly apostatises? He has completely lost his mind, done something very wrong. (Fahad interview, 2017)8

Among many of the Muslims that Fahad knew, various forms of non-religious behaviour were accepted to some degree; ambiguity and transgression of the religious norm were considered part of life. Leaving one’s religion, however, was seen as being without any morality. Similarly, Tariq elaborated: ‘Because you’re a teenager you’re doing dumb stuff, like a lot of people are – sneaking in alcohol or smoking or whatever. But, there’s also this like, “Oh, but we all believe in God”’.9 When he first openly talked about his non-belief, he thought his internal convictions about the existence of God would not be an issue because of the way that his friends practiced – ‘more of a trying to be good, but you can enjoy yourself and think, I’ll be religious later on’. However: It’d be boys in school, who’d be sleeping with girls, drinking on the weekends, and things like that saying to me: ‘You’re a bad Muslim. You’re not a Muslim. You’re going to go to hell.’ Shit like [that], and this was at a point where I didn’t drink. ‘Technically, I’m a better Muslim than you guys’. (Tariq interview, 2018) When people openly discussed their non-belief in their surroundings, a common response was that the straying was temporary. Eymen, a young Dutch student, elaborated: Some found it ok, others found it unacceptable. They said: ‘I can deal with it, but let’s not talk about it. Just act normal’. Normal? What is that? Because in the end, these are guys that visit prostitutes every weekend. Yeah, what do you mean ‘act normal’? (Eymen interview, 2018)10 Notably, Eymen’s friends used terminology that indicates performativity – the embodiment of belonging: ‘doe normaal’ (‘act normal’). Tariq’s and Eymen’s examples are particularly interesting. In their friend groups, various parts of religious morality and idealised behaviour were available for negotiation and transgression. However, openly discussing non-belief was a non-negotiable act. According to the friends, doing so placed individuals outside of what peers considered ‘acceptable’ or ‘Muslim’. This distinction reflects rationalisations and negotiations over behaviour and the convictions required for social belonging. The above examples illustrate how my interlocutors’ trajectories out of Islam were coloured by the negotiation of norms regarding what is deemed proper or transgressive bodily behaviour, which differed in each situation. Moving out – and what that entails – became particularly visible when the individual or

‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ 155 others considered something non-negotiable or when religious behaviours, knowledges, and practices were transgressed. Visibility and its triggers, however, took various forms. Tariq and Eymen said out loud to their friends that they no longer believed. Maya no longer wanted to comply with rules of modesty. Sara continued certain practices in front of her family. Performative acts and refusals to perform acts are statements to the self as much as they are statements to others about moving out of Islam. Religious and non-religious embodiment raised questions about and triggered negotiations of belonging. In these cases, body politics were particularly problematic when changes in embodied behaviours were more visible to religious surroundings or when deviation from norms signalled waning faith. Men and women experienced visibility differently. For Tariq and Eymen, for example, the non-negotiable was concentrated in the act of ‘apostasy’, which was only perceived when they actually said they no longer believed. For Maya, however, ‘modesty’ – her womanhood and female embodiment (and their control) – was central to her belonging to a Muslim community. For some of the men, social (un)belonging was signalled through the alignment of saying one is no longer Muslim, which entailed the construct of the ‘no longer Muslim, nonbeliever’, who is considered to be without morality. This does not mean that men did not face issues when visible knowledges, practices, and embodiments changed. Similarly, not all women struggled equally with such issues. Rather, it shows that expectations regarding how a body ‘ought’ to look or how it ‘ought’ to behave, whether religious and secular, have a gendered nature. Specific attention should be paid, however, to the (un)donning of the veil because of its contested status within both religious and secular environs. Secular debates in Europe often focus on the subject, as outlined in Chapter 1, whilst my interlocutors frequently discussed religious veiling expectations and standards. Although few of my interlocutors had ever worn a headscarf, most noted its significance. Maya told me of her experience: I came downstairs wearing the hijab, and my mum saw me. My dad was at home, but my dad didn’t see me. My mum saw me, and she very quickly told me to take it off. And I didn’t really understand, but I did it. And then later I understood, because if I had come down, and my dad had seen me wearing the hijab, I would not have been able to take it off. And I am very glad my mum did that for me. (Maya interview, 2018) Indeed, it was common for people to refer to this particular issue. Wearing the hijab can be a choice for girls, but taking the scarf off is much less accepted. According to Sara: I’ve seen people take the hijab off, even though you put it on by choice, but when you take it off […] there is a lot of scrutiny. It’s very sort of misogynistic. Women should be able to wear whatever they want. (Sara interview, 2017)


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Pnina Werbner (2007) observed that, on the one hand, discourses on the religious view of veiling position it as an external symbol of female modesty or familial honour, and, on the other, such practices have become ‘symbolically loaded with new connotations and […] stand diacritically for wider religious and national symbols within the context of migration and industrialization’ (p. 162). As elaborated on in Chapter 1, such views have become hopelessly entangled. Werbner argued that, in fact, the meaning of veiling has become so loaded that these discourses both endow and deny agency to Muslim women. She observed that women’s bodies and dress have become ‘symbolically laden vehicle[s] which may stand alternatively for modesty, a defiant, oppositional “Islam”, or a rejection of “tradition”’ (Werbner, 2007, p. 163). Such processes of higher-order symbolization involve scriptural authority, fundamentalists’ control over women’s bodies, and the construction of women’s modesty as a nationalistic symbol pitted against Western secularizing and ‘liberating’ powers. According to some of my interlocutors, unveiling is symbolic of much more than the seizing of modesty or religiosity. Rather, it can be interpreted as open and, more importantly, visible defiance of ordained orders regarding women’s dress stemming from religious as well as secular discourses. Such an act is significant in light of the ‘hopeless entanglement’ of symbolisation placed on the headscarf in the European context.

The blurry lines of moving out: ‘Do I have to become completely Western now?’ In this section, I elaborate on the thoughts shared by some of my interlocutors when discussing religious dispositions or practices, particularly how they subconsciously lingered for some, or how others consciously retained them in the process of self-making. Whilst the previous section outlined the conscious, transgressive performance of embodied acts in order to make a statement to both self and others regarding changes in conviction and belonging, this section focuses on the (im)possibilities and desires that colour such contemplations. It illustrates how the self experiences some of the embodied dispositions that one was raised with as non-negotiable. It also shows that the performance of change is neither always desired nor possible, both with regards to processes of differentiation and contemplations regarding belonging, as described above, as well as the inability to unlearn long-standing behaviours. Some of my interlocutors wished to continue performing religious identity even though they no longer believed. Others were unable to stop certain behaviours and embodiments previously tied to religious convictions. I also share their negotiations of what they considered to be non-religious behaviours. These following two sections are presented as two sides of the same coin, and they are highly intertwined.

‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ 157 What about those religious dispositions? Born in a large town in the north of the UK, Haroon grew up in a community that was predominantly Muslim. He was raised in a Muslim household. Although during his childhood he did not really consciously think about religion, he prayed his namaz (five daily prayers) from a young age. During secondary school he become increasingly religious. He started to include the nafl salat (an optional morning prayer) in his daily routine. After school, he went to madrassa like most of his classmates. He explained: At that young age, you just do how you are brought up […] In my community, being a Muslim is not an issue, because it’s usually when it is in contrast to another population that it is very different […] You don’t think about it much. (Haroon interview, 2018)11 Moving out of Islam was an intellectual process partially made possible by physically moving away from the community to go to university: ‘Identity, that question comes when you’re not around people like you […] a lot of my personality was shaped after I went to university’. Haroon lost his faith over the course of several years, which spanned from when he was still living at home to some years after he went to university. For him, religion was very much integrated into the way of life in the Muslim community where he grew up. When I spoke with him, Haroon described himself as an atheist. However, he explained, even when he reckoned he no longer believed, he continued some of his prayers while at university: When I started, I was still doing juma [Friday prayers]. That was a habit of mine that was in my culture, right? So, even if you don’t pray, all the boys go to Friday prayers. I mean, you sit after, you talk about whatever is going on in your life. I’d still go, but obviously, I didn’t mean [it]. (Haroon interview, 2018) He continued partly out of habit and partly due to social pressure: I didn’t have to, it was […] something I was used to […] when I used to come home for the holidays, […] they might turn a blind eye if I wasn’t praying the other prayers, but Friday afternoon you have to. I’d have to go. (Haroon interview, 2018) It is interesting to note how Haroon presents his negotiation of beliefs that he practiced ritually and habitually as well as his rationalisation of his religious dispositions. He reflects the process of negotiation in terms of self-understanding: ‘I’d still go, but I didn’t mean it’. Instead of performing non-belief by not praying, he engaged in what he described as insincere performance. In his view, insincere


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performative acts did not count as performance of conviction, therefore they were not problematic. Tariq provided other examples of the negotiation of religious embodiments. When he realised he no longer believed, he felt: It’s like the Matrix film, where he wakes up […] All the morals, all the rules I had been taught, ‘oh, they are not real anymore’. […] Even when I was comfortable as an atheist, there’d be things that I would find myself doing. ‘Oh, wait a minute, I’m only doing this because it’s an Islamic rule, I don’t have to do it’. (Tariq interview, 2018) He gave examples, such as modesty (‘virginity is this pure thing’), alcohol (‘when I drink I still feel really bad’), and halal food (‘I wouldn’t eat non-halal, even though I was no longer Muslim’). They illustrate the relative availability of negotiable behaviours and embodied practices. Although they may only become available later in life, some of the dispositions an individual is raised with are non-negotiable. I met Naveed in Camden, London, for a couple of beers in the pub. A young, well-travelled researcher, he actually re-appropriated certain religious knowledges, practices, and embodiments in order to ‘make sense’ of a non-religious lifestyle. For example, he saw the benefit of prayer, although he called the practice ‘meditation’. He espoused a healthy lifestyle, which included avoiding pork. He continued to perform the bodily hygiene that he originally learned in connection with the religious rituals that he was raised with. Other interlocutors mentioned the value of Eid celebrations as a time for family; they still attended and practiced where required in order to belong. Some were at ease with the idea of not believing, yet celebrating a religious holiday with family. Others felt like they were cheating a bit. Hiranur explained: ‘I didn’t fast, so I didn’t try my best. […] I haven’t actually deserved it!’.12 When I asked Haroon about values in his community, he gave me an example of their internalisation and his ongoing battle to adopt so-called ‘liberal values’: So to give you an example, a girl wants to go out with some guy and have sex with him. On a principle level, go for it. But [based on] the culture level in my upbringing, I’m very, to put it lightly, disinclined towards that. [If] my young sister would wear a really short skirt or something, I’ll have severe reservations about that. And I can see that that’s not right of me. (Haroon interview, 2018) At one point during our conversation, Haroon sighed: I still am a part of it, I’d be lying if I said I don’t care. It’s part of me. […] I mean, a lot of my culture is still remarkably quite Muslim […] You go to shisha places, we’d talk. You never drink. (Haroon interview, 2018)

‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ 159 It is important to note that, for Haroon, the internalisation of certain religious ethics and the desire to adopt a different set of liberal or non-religious practices went hand in hand. No clear-cut line existed between ‘letting go of what’s religious’ and ‘adopting what’s secular’. Rather, he presented the process as being two sides of the same coin. His distinction between ‘on a principle level’ and ‘on a cultural level’ reflects what he deems should be his present convictions, i.e. girls and boys wanting to have pre-marital sex or his sister wearing a ‘really short skirt’ are dispositions and behaviours ascribed to non-religious or secular embodiment. His ‘severe reservations’ reflect an incapacity to adhere to what he deems non-religious embodiments. These characteristics provide clues to what ‘a secular body’ is. In the above examples, elements of knowledges, behaviours, and practices of Islam were retained, either consciously and willingly, or out of an incapacity to (currently) overcome them. There are two phenomena at work. First, we can see how interlocutors actively (re)negotiated knowledges, behaviours, and embodiments in processes of self-making. Second, their ponderings were about certain expectations regarding behavioural transformations in light of changing existential convictions. My interlocutors expected themselves to change in one way or another – to stop performing what were deemed religious embodiments – in order to become non-religious. The extent to which this was desirable or even possible differed for each interlocutor. However, when these particular expectations, discomforts, and negotiations became evident, it provided a clue to the meaning of a secular body: it was emphatically seen as the absence of religious praxis and behaviour. As the following section shows, that absence also implies a presence of something else. And what about ‘a secular body’? As shown above, my interlocutors (re)negotiated particular religious knowledges, behaviours, and practices. Some transgressed or conformed to religious expectations of embodiment. Others identified the absence of religious praxis and behaviour as an important part of a non-religious constitution. In this section, I elaborate on attempts to adopt what was seen as the other side of the coin – a particularly ‘secular lifestyle’, which my interlocutors referred to as ‘Western’, ‘real Dutch’, or ‘white’. As Haroon’s contemplations above show, these negotiations are highly intertwined. Nonetheless, as this section highlights, whilst a particular (conceptual) ‘secular body’ may have been acknowledged, my interlocutors did not necessarily find it either possible or desirable to embody it. Interlocutors told me about how they view the ‘Western lifestyle’. Generally, they had concerns about adopting it, either partially or fully: first, external frames viewed ‘ex-Muslims’ negatively for supposedly crossing enemy lines, which could also create animosity with family; and second, they disagreed or were uncomfortable with what they viewed as non-Islamic practices. These examples give clues to the knowledges, practices, and embodiments of ‘the other side’ as well as what a secular body ought to be.


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As Tariq explained above, he found it hard to behave according to his new worldview. He had grown up in an environment that was natural to him. Practices were performed almost unnoticed. He only gradually re-evaluated both parts of his ‘worldview’ and the accompanying behaviours. Part of this was not just letting go or holding on to certain Islamic practices, as described above. Losing faith also forced him to evaluate the things that he wanted to believe in or stand for instead. When asked about gender relations, Tariq responded: A lot of people in my dad’s family […] say they are all for gender equality, but […] in the Qur’anic sense, which is like gender equality from 1,400 years ago, […] I always felt men should do the same as women. (Tariq interview, 2018) He reckoned that outside of Islam, gender equality would be more ‘natural’. However, ‘I realised, Islam is sexist, and I don’t want to be sexist. And then I realised: “oh, Western sexism is just [the same], it’s still there”’. To explain his disillusionment, he gave another example related to growing up in a Muslim community: ‘I always wanted to be Western […] at the centre I wanted to be a white person. I thought that would be good’. When he went to college, he was surrounded by ‘Western, white people’: ‘There was a guy, and he called me a fucking Paki. And then I realised, it was the sort of thing that you missed’. It is important to note Tariq’s construction of ‘whiteness’. For Tariq, whiteness and being Western were positioned in opposition to the Muslim community in which he grew up. In European discourse, religion (specifically Islam) and modernity have been constructed as antagonists. Furthermore, in Britain these discourses have also been coloured. Whiteness and ‘being Western’ are located in the non-religious modern, whilst ‘being brown’ or ‘Paki’ are associated with the Islamic realm.13 For Tariq, who grew up and lived in a Muslim pocket within the dominant secular society, being part of the dominant ‘white modern’ was something to aspire to. After he realised that ‘whiteness’ also included sexism and racism,14 characteristics he associated with the Islamic realm, Tariq started to explore his ethnic background (i.e., non-religious): ‘reclaiming identity that I have been trying to run away from for so long’. The above observations warrant some untangling of race, religion, and secularity. How has whiteness been constructed in the UK? How does it function within dominant frames of religious otherness? In short, what is its relation to secular embodiment? When it is argued that ‘Islam’ has become racialised, has ‘the secular’ become racialised too? According to Holly Randell-Moon (2007), who examined the attachment of secularism and gender equality to ‘Australianness’ in various government speeches, the secular has been racialised: if Islam has become racialised, and when ‘racial difference is attributed to non-white political subjects’, the ‘subject-position of whiteness’ is left unmarked and reproduced as ‘normal’ (p. 18). She quotes Pugliese when she states that the framing of Islam as religiously different to mainstream culture is ‘underpinned by a racialisation of Islam in opposition to “the normative white corpus of the […] nation”’ (Randell-Moon, 2007, p. 18).

‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ 161 Although her arguments are convincing, it does not bring us much further than observing a categorical overlap between the secular and whiteness. Both can be observed as being left implicit in Islam’s shadow, so to speak, within Western societies, but they have very different genealogies. Even whiteness itself is not a monolith. As Steve Garner (2007) argued, there are plural trajectories of whiteness, which intersect with different hierarchies of class and ethnicity, having differential access to economic and cultural capital. However, in Race and Secularism in America, Jonathon S. Kahn and Vincent W. Lloyd (2016) hypothesised that in the United States ‘whiteness is secular, and the secular is white’ (p. 5). They opined that it is not possible to talk about secularism without talking about whiteness, and they were critical of recent scholarship on secularism which eerily excluded the subject. According to Kahn and Lloyd (2016), the management of minorities, whether religious or racial, is intrinsically part of secular governance. Governments do not only manage religious minorities, but they also manage racial ones from a secular perspective. Therefore, they should be considered in tandem. To their credit, Kahn and Lloyd take into consideration not only the management of ‘religion’ and ‘race’ as minority groups; they also acknowledge the importance of practice and embodiment: the forces of secularism manage these lived experiences. The numerous contributions to the volume test the waters and complicate notions regarding the entanglement of race and secularism in the US. They argue that ‘the unmarked racial category and the unmarked religious category jointly mark their others’, because for both there is a desire to stand outside race and religion: ‘they are complimentary delusions, for the seemingly outside is in fact the hegemonic’ (Kahn & Lloyd, 2016, p. 5). Although I find the case for the United States convincing, the extent to which racial connotations constitute secular embodiment as well as contexts in which they do so remain to be investigated. These entanglements in the UK and the Netherlands deserve more attention than I can give them here. Helpfully, Rahil Roodsaz (2021) investigated practices of non-religiosity among her Iranian-Dutch interlocutors. She showed that through various behaviours, such as resisting Arab influences on Farsi, hair-bleaching, or feeling amusement when recognised as native Dutch, her interlocutors ‘vacillated in and out of whiteness’ (Roodsaz, 2021, p. 195). Rather than considering such matters self-evident issues of race, Roodsaz analysed practices as strategies of inclusion and exclusion – belonging and difference. Tariq had a certain notion of what it meant to be white and nonMuslim. He idealised certain practices and knowledges associated with what it means to be white. He had access to white identity once he moved out of Islam, but he was disappointed with the ‘outside world’ that he had long tried to be a part of. His rejection of this whiteness, and his embrace of de-religionised racial identity speak to the entanglements that Kahn and Lloyd investigated. More importantly, they shows how racial identifications function in mechanisms of belonging and difference. Haroon experienced similar struggles, although he described them slightly differently. They showed another side of the relationship between race and


‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’

secularism. He elaborated on issues of (gender) equality. Between his parents, he saw how his mother had to cook every day, which he found quite normal. So I’d be lying if I suddenly thought in terms of: ‘this shouldn’t happen’ […] Later on I thought that this is actually really wrong […] part of that is also because I went to university and had a lot of [exposure] to non-Muslim people. MARIA: Exposed to other ideas in that sense? HAROON: Yeah, but there is an element of danger. You don’t want to suck up too much to another culture. […] You should look at each [issue] piecemeal: how people treat women, or how to treat your family. […] The danger is that you suddenly end up in the other camp. You know, that camp might be someone like Christopher Hitchens […] but also people like Ayaan Hirsi [Ali] and Maajid Nawaz.15 […] I guess with people like me, we haven’t really come out16 per se, and because people like them have accepted completely the values of the West, we dislike that a bit. […] Because if very dislikeable people […] speak out to a certain degree and completely adopt a modernist set of values, […] to me it seems like someone who’s a communist suddenly becomes hard-right fascist. (Haroon interview, 2018) HAROON:

Haroon alluded to the discussion on ‘apostasisers’; there were particular ideas within the Muslim community about so-called ‘ex-Muslims’. According to Haroon, these ideas were based on prominent people within the public debate on Islam in Western society, and he described them as ‘the other camp’ from Muslims. For Haroon, however, there were two reasons to be cautious about being identified as such: first, he did not want to be in ‘that camp’ since he still had a Muslim family and did not want to exclude future Muslim friends; and second, his opinions often differed from prominent narratives, as also outlined in Chapter 2. Unlike Tariq, Haroon identified with a secularist category which is precisely not white, but it is perhaps even more threatening to his Muslim family and friends: those who moved out of Islam and spoke out against their former religion. This is where the lines of race, secularism, and religion become hopelessly entangled, because the ‘secularist ex-Muslim voices’ that Haroon refers to are not white and not Muslim. It is unclear what constitutes the perceived threat. Perhaps it is the fact that a former Muslim, who still looks like one, has turned his or her back. Would the anticipated response be similar if a white convert left Islam and started to speak out? Ezra Özyürek (2015) showed how white, German converts became problematic for the hegemonic understanding of a racialised Islam; the same may hold true for a racialised understanding of the secular. For now, I note that much scholarly work remains to be done on the relationship between race, religion, whiteness, and the secular.17 Both Tariq and Haroon found blurriness in certain expectations regarding what it means to be secular, especially when it comes to speaking out. They

‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ 163 negotiated piecemeal certain behaviours that supposedly accompanied their convictions. However, the performance of convictions is neither always possible nor desired, particularly in light of personal histories and learned dispositions. Similarly, Eymen expressed discomfort with people from Muslim backgrounds who appear to go ‘over the top in being white’ or ‘Dutch’: You have Muslims that try to behave real Dutch, right? Like, ‘We don’t belong to you [Muslims].’ So sleazy! ‘We are so modern, picture with a glass of wine, I am so cool!’ You see it a lot with the social media heroes. (Eymen interview, 2018) Eymen also had concerns about sexual liberties. He explained that he was part of a polyamorous group of friends, which intrigued him, but he still struggled to ‘embrace’ it: ‘I’m part of an anarchist group for whom polyamory is totally normal. I really like the idea as well! […] But I noticed that I simply can’t do it. I support it, but I can’t do it!’. This particular example shows two things. First, it highlights the struggle of ‘performing conviction’. The embodied moral convictions that one was raised with are not easily overcome – and they may never be. Indeed, many of my interlocutors experienced an ‘in between’ position. While they wanted or expected to be able to behave in a certain way, they felt that ‘something’ was holding them back. Second, Eymen’s comments were made in the context of a particular Dutch construction of the embodiment of what is considered ‘the other’ to Muslims. Let me elaborate. Balkenhol et al. (2016) argued that Dutch nativist discourse is best understood through three concepts: sexuality, race, and religion. Through analysis of sexualised and racist discourses surrounding the figure of ‘Black Pete’,18 as well as the construction of a dichotomy between Islam and homosexuality, Balkenhol et al. (2016) argued that both black racism and Islamophobia are bound by issues of sexuality: Dutch people of African descent are seen as hypersexual; and Dutch Muslims are deemed not sexual enough for the ‘Dutch culture of sexularism’ (p. 109).19 Both forms are employed to define nativist discourse and demarcate boundaries between the self and others. In light of Balkenhol et al. (2016), Eymen’s comments refer to these particularly Dutch frames of othering and nativist discourse. Eymen viewed ‘social media heroes’ who wanted to perform the so-called ‘modern’ as intentionally opposed to Muslims. Since he was no longer religious, he further reckoned that he ought to be able to embrace sexual liberties. As Balkenhol et al. (2016) found, Dutch frames are constructed on modernity and non-religiosity with certain sexual freedoms, whilst religion (i.e., Islam) is associated with sexual suppression.20 Others expressed issues with sexual liberties, especially concerning premarital sex. Often, it took time before that step could be taken. Amina, for example, struggled with the idea of not having premarital sex: That’s not going to happen [laughs]. But for a long time, I struggled with someone sitting on my shoulder, who says ‘What are you doing?!’ […]


‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ Because it’s what they teach you from a very young age, and then that is gone, and then you have to decide for yourself. (Amina interview, 2017)21

Amina explained that she could not fully commit to having sex because ‘someone’ was holding her back and asking her what she was doing, even when she was doing it. She also made a distinction between ‘what they teach you from a very young age’ and what she wanted to decide for herself since the authority was no longer there. Other problems related to ‘performance of conviction’ were mentioned in both the Netherlands and Britain. One example was ‘making fun of religion’. Many interlocutors referred to ‘famous ex-Muslims’, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who had shaped a certain viewpoint within Muslim circles in relation to people who moved out of Islam and publicly criticised their former religion or community. As Haroon noted, few wanted to conform to this frame. ‘Alcohol culture’ and its expectations presented another hurdle for those who were no longer religious. London-based Karim elaborated: ‘Instinctively, I won’t go to the bar and order a drink. Not because I think it’s wrong now, but because […] I haven’t ever done that growing up’.22 Similarly, Karim also pointed to the question of eating pork: ‘The internal reflex is “Oh no, I can’t eat that!”, and then [I] try and sort of argue with myself, like: “No! Why can’t you? I couldn’t eat that because I believed. I don’t believe that anymore”’. The above examples illustrate three things. First, according to my interlocutors, a secular body involves being convinced of Western liberty and Islamic suppression, being sexually active, speaking openly about Islam and nonbelief, and performing being secular through actions, such as joining pub culture or being a social media hero who speaks out against Islam. Second, interlocutors often experienced problems when they attempted to adopt a non-religious lifestyle, which required the ‘reprogramming’ of old beliefs and embodied dispositions. Renegotiations were not always possible when practices were experienced as more permanent dispositions. Third, stabilised, distinct modes of power impact attempts to negotiate ‘a secular body’ and the formation of self-making. Processes of (re)negotiation commence when convictions change and individuals are confronted with religious and secular dispositions and expectations (of the self and others) regarding performance. As shown above, (re)negotiation, as evidenced by the distinct modes of power governing our lives, may not always be successful or even desirable.

The in-between spaces of moving out I opened this chapter by reflecting on bodily performativity as a singular and plural marker of belonging – who does or does not belong to social groups or even society. These demarcations have become particularly salient in contemporary Europe in relation to what Amir-Moazami (2013) calls ‘religiously connoted transgressions’ as well as public debates regarding what is deemed

‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ 165 appropriately religious (i.e., Islamic) in secular societies (p. 94). I have explored what happens to bodies when individuals experience a loss of faith, as well as how individuals’ self-formation is influenced by the ‘distinct modes of power’ that produce religious and secular bodies. First, I tried to show how interlocutors’ trajectories out of Islam were coloured by their negotiation of what was deemed religious or transgressive behaviour, norms that differed in each situation. ‘Leaving’ and what it entailed became particularly visible in light of things that the individuals or others considered non-negotiable. The negotiation of performative acts or the refusal to perform such acts makes statements to the self as much as to others. Acts illuminate how behaviour is renegotiated in light of new convictions. Second, I described certain embodiments that are retained when moving out of Islam, either consciously or out of an incapacity to change learned religious dispositions. Particular expectations where discomfort and negotiation became evident gave the first clue to a secular body, which was emphatically seen as the absence of religious knowledges, practices, and behaviours. Furthermore, according to my interlocutors, a non-religious body entails being convinced of Western liberty versus Islamic suppression, being sexually active, speaking openly about Islam and non-belief, and performing secularity, such as embracing pub-culture or speaking out against Islam as a ‘social media hero’. My interlocutors’ stories revealed the impact that the stabilisation of distinct modes of power has on ‘a secular body’ and the formation of self-making. Processes of (re)negotiating dispositions commenced when individuals were confronted with both religious and secular embodiments as well as when convictions changed along with the expected performance of both the self and others. In its conception a secular body – or a religious one – is not an empirical reality; rather, it is ‘a distinct mode of power’ capable of shaping self-formation. In this sense, I do not contest previous ‘a secular body’ scholarship. In my understanding, all agree that the secular shapes, either through institutionalised forms of demarcation or societal practices, a so-called secular body. However, by fleshing out the contemplations of those who moved from religious to secular realms of knowledge, practices, and embodiment, the effects of such modes of power can become visible, both from the religious as well as the secular perspective. In writing the conclusion to this chapter, I hesitate to draw comparisons between the Netherlands and Britain. As mentioned above, there was insufficient space to extensively investigate either the entanglements of race, secularism, sexuality, gender, and religion in each country or the impact they have on the constitution of ‘secular bodies’. I believe an edited volume would be required to do justice to the subject’s complexities. However, I do wish to make a few remarks. First, in the Netherlands, in particular, references were made to what has been called a ‘sexular’ body: if you are no longer Muslim, sexual liberation is expected. While the scope of my research was limited, I did observe that such expectations were less prominent in Britain. I believe the difference relates to


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the Dutch positioning of sexuality and sexual liberation as pillars of modernity constructed in opposition to Islam. I do not believe that similar constructions are absent in Britain or that my British interlocutors did not have to negotiate sexual embodiments; however, they were less explicitly pronounced. Second, in both countries, references were made – both by interlocutors and their families – to being ‘white’ and anticipation regarding that category once individuals moved out of Islam. Particular questions were raised about the relationship between race and the secular, or more specifically secular embodiment. Is the secular necessarily white? Are the secular and whiteness ‘complimentary delusions’ because of their desire to stand outside of religion and race? My interlocutors have shown that there are particular embodiments that terminate or ascertain membership in either the religious or secular environs. The racialisation of Muslims in Europe (see Chapter 1) means that the embodiment of Islam has colour. Sometimes assumptions were still made about my interlocutors’ religiousness: they look Muslim, so they are Muslim. When negotiating the categories of ‘whiteness’ and ‘Muslim’, my interlocutors often found themselves ‘in between’. They did not fit either because of the way they looked. I believe this is strongly related to secular embodiment and its consequences for the constitution of self-hood. Illustratively, at one point Maya said to me: ‘There is this binary view of “you’re in or you’re out”, and that needs to change’. As the above has shown, movements away from religion cannot be conceptualised in binary terms, which play out particularly on the body and behaviours. Dispositions may become available for (re)negotiation, but not in terms of making choices between one or another. When moving out of Islam, individuals are influenced by what their bodies have learned, and they have to renegotiate religious and secular bodies. This chapter outlined some particular dynamics of belonging, and how they played out in terms of the visibility of behaviours, practices, and knowledges. Chapter 6 also investigates the negotiation of behaviour, but a very specific one: speech. How does the act of speaking – testifying about one’s newly found convictions – change or leave unaltered the processes of inclusion and exclusion?

Notes 1 For a critical analysis of the role of pork in ‘reclaiming Dutch territory’ ‘lost to Islamization’, see Van Es (2020). 2 Also see E. Marshall Brooks’s (2018) thoughtful and compelling Disenchanted Lives: Apostasy and Ex-Mormonism Among the Latter-day Saints. 3 Similar to Amir-Moazami’s approach, which includes social manifestations of institutionalised secularity in the investigation of ‘the secular’, the idea of multiple secularities also incorporates both state ideology and forms of differentiation between what is deemed religious and secular, as well as the cultural forms and meanings that underlie such an understanding. 4 I have phrased it this way because my interlocutors were all born and/or raised in either the Netherlands or Britain, both secular countries (i.e., secularism is the dominant ideology for state apparatuses and dominant public discourses).

‘Oh no! I can’t eat that!’ 167 5 Maya quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London, UK, on 24 January 2018. 6 Sara quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London, UK, on 21 November 2017. 7 Significantly, this is translated from the Dutch expression ‘van God los’, which is usually translated in English as ‘out of control’. The literal translation would be ‘Godless’ or ‘out of God’s control’. 8 Fahad quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on 15 August 2017. 9 Tariq quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Manchester, UK, on 31 January 2018. 10 Eymen quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, on 20 February 2018. 11 Haroon quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Leeds, UK, on 1 February 2018. 12 Hiranur quote from a personal interview conducted in Groningen, the Netherlands, on 5 April 2017. 13 I am aware of current academic and popular discussions on ‘Islamophobia’, ‘racism’, and ‘racialisation’. For my purposes here, I draw on the distinctions Steve Garner and Saher Selod (2014) made in their introduction to the special issue Islamophobia and the Racialization of Muslims, which noted that ‘religion can be raced’. They argued that bodies are the ultimate site of racism. Through various case studies presented in the special issue, they illuminated ‘how people read Muslim-ness onto individuals by using a combination of ideas about culture and appearance’ (Garner & Selod, 2014, p. 12). Thereby, they laid bare the complex relationships between race and religion. 14 Also see Rhodes (2013) on the construction of whiteness in the ‘postracial’ UK. 15 Maajid Nawaz was a member of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which he renounced in 2007. Now he actively calls for ‘secular Islam’. He is one of the harshest critics of Islamism in the UK today. Hirsi Ali and Nawaz are referenced by Haroon as typical ‘loud’ former Muslims who speak out against their former religion. Also see Chapter 2. 16 Again, I note that the vocabulary of ‘coming out’ is frequently used by people moving out of Islam when they discuss the disclosure of non-belief to friends or family. For an elaboration on this phenomenon, see Cottee (2018). 17 Matthea Westerduin’s forthcoming doctoral dissertation is keenly anticipated. 18 ‘Black Pete’ or ‘zwarte Piet’, a blackface character from the annual Dutch ‘Sinterklaas’ festival, has come under increasing (international) scrutiny and debate. The Dutch nativist discourse argues that the character is ‘not racist’, and it is part of ‘Dutch culture’. Anti-racist discourse argues for Blake Pete’s abolition. 19 Also see Wiering (2017) on a ‘sexular body’ and Chapter 1. 20 As mentioned above, it is beyond the scope of this chapter to extensively compare the construction of ‘whiteness’, race, religion, and sexuality in the Netherlands and Britain; it is also not possible to consider the varying nuances and influences they bring to ‘a secular body’ and the formation of selfhood in times of religious transformation. Here, suffice it to note that the two contexts have different histories of secularity, they construct ‘otherness’ differently, and there are also overarching European or Western discourses at play, which present secularism as generally incompatible with Islam. It is also from this dominant ‘distinct mode of power’ that secular and religious bodies take shape and are governed, which is also relevant. 21 Amina quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on 27 July 2017. 22 Karim quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London, UK, on 21 November 2017.


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‘Speaking out would be a step beyond just not believing’

At the start of my fieldwork in the winter of 2017, I met with one of my friends in Groningen, my former university town.1 Sipping coffee, we discussed how I could find interlocutors for my study. She gave me one or two names, but we concluded that it was not going to be as easy as I had initially thought. Perhaps I could place an ad somewhere? To dampen my optimism further, one of our former colleagues walked in. He was from Iraq and was raised in a Muslim family. Discussing my difficulties, he said: Maria, you are not going to find people easily, because your idea of the importance of ‘belief’ does not apply here. I can behave in any way I want: eat pork, drink alcohol, don’t pray, which factually means I don’t qualify as a Muslim. For the community, however, I have just strayed. But it is no way near as bad as saying ‘I don’t believe!’. And let’s be honest, it actually really doesn’t matter what my inner belief is, let alone [if I] speak my mind on such matters. (Field notes, 8 February 2017) What he meant to say was that even though there were many ‘unbelieving Muslims’, he reckoned I would struggle to find anyone because no one would speak about it. Over the course of my fieldwork, I eventually managed to find over 50 people who were willing to talk to me extensively about their experiences, and I met many more during formal and informal meetings. However, one way or the other, my former colleague’s words were applicable to all of my interlocutors. Apostasy – a religious term for leaving one’s faith – is a contested topic within religious traditions. Islam is no exception. Moreover, especially in Europe, the debate on freedom of (or from) religion and Islam has become intertwined with often reductionist discussions regarding Islam’s compatibility with democratic values. One side of the debate argues that Islam is a religion of peace that endorses modern concepts of ‘freedom of religion’ and ‘freedom of speech’. This position is often taken by self-proclaimed ‘moderate Muslims’ and Left-wing political parties. On the other side of the debate are secularist politicians, such as Geert Wilders (and more recently Thierry Baudet) in the DOI: 10.4324/9781003143574-7

‘Beyond just not believing’ 171 Netherlands or UKIP in Britain, who claim that Islam is intolerant and, therefore, it is incompatible with freedom, either of consciousness or of speech.2 Those wishing to leave or speak out against Islam are considered victims of its oppressive authority. Whist both stances find evidence in Islamic texts (the Qur’an and Hadith), neither comes close to lived realities (Larsson, 2018). In the study of (de)conversion experiences, testimony and autobiographical narratives have fascinated scholars for centuries (Hindmarsh, 2014; Hodder, 2017; Oliver, 2014). Narratives about the transformations that people undergo when they find new existential convictions, be it in belief or unbelief, capture something that we can relate to, admire, or abhor. These narratives can provide insight into the unknown and the known, and they often describe a journey from bad to good or from darkness to light (Hodder, 2017). As discussed in previous chapters, Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s (2006) deconversion narrative particularly captured the attention of European politicians and the public. In her autobiography and public performances, she routinely testified about suffering at the hands of Islam in order to emphasise the ‘backward’ religion’s incompatibility with the freedoms of the West. Speech and performance are key here. In both (de)conversion literature as well as in religious and secular visions of the freedom of speech, especially when opposed with religious (i.e., Islamic) sensibilities, some who moved out of religion narrated their journeys and thereby performed non-religious secular identities. These voices often criticised religion and hailed presumed liberal values. In response, this chapter presents my interlocutors experiences in order to explore the meaning ascribed to testimony and speaking out about non-belief. Whilst some spoke out publicly about their convictions, the majority did not, thereby subverting certain expectations and discourses of moving out of Islam in contemporary Europe. In what follows, I explore individuals’ considerations regarding speaking out. As noted by Ilyas, a 20-something philosophy graduate from London, speaking out can be ‘a step beyond not just believing’.3 This chapter illustrates that moving out of Islam does not necessarily elicit the performance of testimony. As opposed to certain conversion narratives, for example, the religious transformation was not always experienced as a rupture – a before and after. My interlocutors’ decisions about ‘speaking out’ or ‘coming out’4 often involved intricate negotiations over belonging and belief as well as the performance of self. They considered their options for disclosure in immediate surroundings or in public in the context of behaviours, knowledges, and questions of belonging. In addition, many weighed the intrinsic need to narrate their non-religious identities against the effects that doing so could elicit from both religious and secular others. Rather than experiencing a linear move from religion to the secular, my interlocutors’ stories show that they often continuously negotiated both sides of the presumed religious-secular divide. Firstly, I explore testimony in relation to conversion, religious transformation, and secular expectations regarding modern subjectivity, especially with regards to freedom of speech. Secondly, I outline some of my interlocutors’


‘Beyond just not believing’

reflections on publicly and privately ‘coming out’ or ‘speaking out’ and their experiences of the potential performance of non-belief in the form of speech. I do so in order to explore the role of speech as a performative act for drawing boundaries between the self and others when moving out of religion. Finally, I reflect on my interlocutors’ experiences and the performativity of speech in order to relate them to secular expectations regarding what it means to be a modern subject.

Testimony and (de)conversion Testimony and religious transformation, especially the prototypical form of conversion, have long been studied in tandem. Since Augustine’s Confessions, the speech act of testifying to one’s religious change, especially in confessional religions, such as Christianity (e.g., Hodder, 2017) but also Islam, and the simultaneous reconstruction of the self-narrative in light of newly found convictions have captured academic and popular attention (Hindmarsh, 2014).5 With regards to the performance of speech in order to achieve religious change, Susan F. Harding (1987) examined the ‘rhetoric of conversion’ in fundamentalist Baptist conversion strategies. She showed the far-reaching effects speech can have in religious conversion by focusing on witnessing as a performance towards the prospective convert that is both an argument for self-transformation as well as a method for actually bringing about change in the individual. Furthermore, Lewis R. Rambo (1993), in his influential work on religious conversion, considered testimony to have a dual character involving both language transformation and biographical reconstruction. According to Rambo, testimony can also be central in displaying commitment to a new group. In similar vein, Peter G. Stromberg (1993) studied the specific link between language and self-transformation in Christian conversion narratives: it is ‘through the use of language in the conversion narrative that the processes of increased commitment and self-transformation take place’ (p. 188). According to Stromberg, in self-transformation testimony functions as a performative act to cultivate one’s faith. As such, a conversion narrative is not only a simple recollection of events passed, but ‘it is a creation of a particular situation in the moment of its telling’ (p. 3). In his intriguing book, Stromberg analysed the dual processes of faith strengthening and life transformation that take place when a conversion testimony is uttered. In his study of recovering drug addicts’ conversion testimonies, Srdjan Sremac (2013) reckoned that testimony ‘can be understood as the discursive practice of self-performance in which converts give evidence of their spiritual transformation through public confessions (testimony) of their past life and their present situation’ (p. 77). Furthermore, Sremac noted that testimony may ‘help individuals construe a new religious identity that enables them to cope with the past as something that can be both overcome and redeemed’ (p. 77). What these studies have in common is an emphasis on the presence of testimony and speech in the context of religious conversion. Testimony, then, has

‘Beyond just not believing’ 173 the power to change an individual’s convictions, reaffirm an individual’s faith, and provide tools for coping with or retelling the story of an individual’s past in light of new convictions. It may function ‘to make sense’ of the transformation of the self (also see Bourque, 2006). With regards to deconversion, Rosemary Avance (2013), in her study of Mormon online conversion and deconversion narratives, considers such testimonies parallels of each other: in both cases they are rituals of sharing in a binding spiritual community, whether presently or formerly religious. Indeed, in certain protestant Christian faiths where testimony is central to confessed beliefs and the performance of piety, testimony is also seen as an inherent part of the deconversion narrative. In these studies, the testimonial is often considered a sneak peek into psychological identity formation (Avance, 2013; Payne, 2013). Eric Chalfant (2011), for example, analysed online deconversion narratives of Christians in the United States. He understood testimonies as Foucauldian ‘technologies of the self’: produced by and in certain discourses, they represent and aid a form of moral self-fashioning in times of transition. In his study of Mormon ‘apostates’, E. Marshall Brooks (2018) argued that deconversion testimony also functions as an element in ongoing politics of identity making specifically in response to Mormon discourses about so-called apostates. In all these studies of (de)conversion and the operation of testimony therein, a pivotal linguistic performance of a first-hand experience functions to make sense of a past life and reaffirm individual faith or lack thereof to both the self and others. With regards to deconversion from Islam, because of the relative inaccessibility of interlocutors, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, various recent studies have opted to consider the online presence of ‘apostates’. Katarzyna Sidło (2016) recruited Jordanian respondents through Facebook by posting surveys and open ended questionnaires as well as ensuring participants’ anonymity. Teemu Pauha and Atefeh Aghaee (2018) collected and analysed the content of online narratives from Iranian atheists. Whilst these are valuable contributions to our understanding of unbelief in contested regions, generally they are uncritical of the specific genre of data. Illustratively, barely half of my interlocutors belonged to any form of an online group, and only three had actually produced an online testimonial in the past. It should also be noted that if a testimony was expressed, such a spoken or written statement of non-belief did not carry the same symbolic meaning of identity formation as testimony from a ‘confessional’ religion, such as the Mormon faith. However, the performative act of testimony in the form of speaking about non-belief to others was an ever-present option that had to be considered. Nonetheless, contemplations were always contextual. In the Netherlands, for example, one deconversion narrative had a particular societal impact and was often referenced by my interlocutors. Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2006) utilised her ‘deconversion narrative’ for political and activist ends. In her autobiography, she posited the ‘darkness’ of Somalia and Islam against the enlightened West. Her motivation to publish the book was to create, in her own words, ‘a subjective record of my own personal memories, as close to accurate


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as I can make them […] It is the story of what I have experienced, what I’ve seen, and why I think the way I do’ (Hirsi Ali, 2006, p. xii). Hirsi Ali asserted her narrative’s trustworthiness by claiming authority through inside knowledge and victimhood, which emphasised the veracity suggested by the autobiographical novel genre. In her analysis of the book, Mineke Bosch (2008) noted that the emphasis on truth telling, veracity, and recording reality from Hirsi Ali’s perspective gained another dimension in light of the ‘enlightened person’ that Hirsi Ali had come to be. Her enlightened ‘commitment to freedom’ was repeatedly affirmed through the rejection of faith and religion, the turn and dedication to facts and reason, and her mission to break taboos and increase the public’s awareness of the ‘terrors’ of Islam and its threat to Dutch society (Hirsi Ali, 2006, p. 240). As Bosch further noted, the autobiographical genre’s promise of ‘telling the truth’ is what makes it so popular: ‘it gives readers the illusion that they are looking over someone else’s shoulders and vicariously undergoing the narrator’s experience’ (Bosch, 2008, p. 141). Relatedly, Saba Mahmood (2009) focused on the ‘feminist native testimonial’ genre, which represents Muslim women’s personal suffering at the hands of Islam. According to Mahmood, the genre played a pivotal role in disseminating perceptions of Islam in the West, such as the idea that Islam systematically mistreats women, or after 9/11 the idea that Islam is a source of evil haunting the West. ‘Calls for the reformation of Islam, now issued from progressive, liberal, and conservative podiums alike, are ineluctably tied to [Islam’s] oppression of women’ (p. 194). Mahmood noted that the narratives’ power lies specifically in the Muslim women authors’ ability to simultaneously embody the roles of both ‘insider’ and ‘victim’ whilst claiming high levels of veracity. Marc de Leeuw and Sonja van Wichelen (2005) argued that the particular power of Hirsi Ali’s testimonial came from the authority she claimed through victimhood and her simultaneous positioning as ‘one of us’. As will become clear, when my interlocutors considered speaking out about their non-belief, they often (implicitly) referred to this genre of native testimonial and its potential to secure Western opinions regarding Islam. Similarly, Simon Cottee (2015) described the ‘apostate narrative’ as an ‘atrocity narrative’, which is socially constructed in terms of the former in-group, often in close collaboration with the rival out-group. Cottee quoted Anson Shupe, who stated: ‘Their testimony is that of the insider and as such provides an apparently irrefutable confirmation for the propaganda of a group’s opponents’ (p. 214). Indeed, in the case of Muslims leaving Islam in Europe, these social workings are particularly relevant in the construction of a dichotomy where the Islamic religious are in opposition to the enlightened, modern West. Cottee (2018) later complained that the sociology of religion was ill-equipped to theoretically approach those moving out of religion. He reckoned that existing literature primarily emphasised ‘career leavers’ or ‘native informants’, who used their special ‘formerly religious’ status to castigate their former religion. He noted that, in contrast, most of his informants were ‘in their own terminology, “in the closet”, and had not disclosed their apostasy’ (p. 282). In

‘Beyond just not believing’ 175 addition, he investigated the concealment of ‘apostasy’ among people leaving Islam in Britain and Canada. During my own fieldwork in Britain and the Netherlands, I also encountered a plethora of considerations, contemplations, and negotiations when individuals came to express inner belief or lack thereof to the outside world. Some hid their convictions entirely. As discussed in Chapter 5, some performed a fully embodied Muslim identity. Still others publicly performed ‘ex-Muslim’ identities (Chapter 2). Regardless, all of my interlocutors considered the power of speaking out about moving out of Islam and the far-stretching effects it may or may not have. Whilst Cottee explored stigma in relation to the loss of faith and community, I will consider the relative importance of testifying and its potency to demarcate categorical divides on the basis of religious conviction. When analysing speaking out about religious transformation in contemporary Europe, the concepts of ‘freedom of speech’ or ‘freedom of expression’ must be briefly considered. The two terms point to the same contemporary, Western political right (Snel, 2013). They include not only the right to communicate freely, but also the right to search for information and ideas as well as to disseminate and receive ideas. It is considered one of the main ‘canonical rights’, a central issue in current European public debates, and an important influence on international human rights laws (Snel, 2013, p. 125). However, it has come to stand for something more in the Netherlands specifically, but also in broader Europe, including the UK: the right is identified with a specific, secular set of Western values, as opposed to religious ones. Johan Snel (2013) analysed the cultural turn from ‘freedom of expression’ as a legal matter to it coming to represent ‘the core of liberal democracy, modern values, even Western civilization at large’ (p. 131). After 9/11 and other worldwide Islam-related violent attacks, such as the Danish cartoon affair and Charlie Hebdo killings, the public role of religion (specifically Islam) became diametrically opposed to this alleged freedom. Quoting cultural anthropologist Oskar Verkaaik, Snel (2013) noted: ‘More than a mere symbol, the freedom of expression had come to be identified with this recent liberation of the individual from the bonds of religion’ (p. 132). Rather than providing an extensive analysis of how such a dichotomy came to be, it is relevant to note that freedom from religion and freedom of expression are emphatically secular Western expectations of liberation from religion and the assumed core value of freedom of expression; a core right that in the past was also exercised by individuals who left religion behind.6 This has created a particular discourse for both religious as well as secular expectations that those who leave Islam also automatically (publicly) critique their former religion. To underscore the relevance of these observations, I refer to Webb Keane (2007), who, in his influential work Christian Moderns, opened a chapter by stating: The purposeful effort to become ‘modern’ as a moral project, can resemble that of religious conversion in certain respects. Both projects often propose


‘Beyond just not believing’ to transform people by disabusing them of earlier errors and abstracting them from the constraints of former social entanglements. (p. 197)

In my understanding, Keane was pointing at specific norms and values that accompany modernity and, indeed, the secular: freedom from shackles that may threaten individual autonomy is part of the conversion or modernity project. Whilst in the colonial period this centred partly around religious conversion to Christianity in one form or another, in contemporary Europe to become modern is to become secular. Secular expectations regarding what it means to be modern (i.e., the right to express oneself freely and unlimitedly) did not go unnoticed by my interlocutors, and these influences and their consequences are addressed below. In what follows, I draw out some of my interlocutors’ contemplations about disclosing non-belief to friends and family as well as their considerations regarding speaking out publicly on such matters. I make an analytical distinction between public and private since the performance of speech is thought to have different effects in each sphere. Whilst public discourses on leaving Islam and speaking freely were always weighed, in private they were related to familial bonds, love, and belonging. Considerations regarding speaking out in public were contextualised in light of potential secularist appropriation of individuals stories as ‘native testimonials’. As such, my interlocutors show that testifying about one’s religious transformation was neither central nor conditional in the case of moving out of Islam. For the most part, speech was considered a ‘step beyond’ not believing.

Concealment of convictions and speech as performance When my interlocutors experienced changes in conviction and associated changes in lifestyle, sometimes certain differences had to be negotiated with friends, family, and the direct surroundings. Individuals’ experiences differed greatly. Sometimes changes were concealed entirely: the individual would not speak about it, and changes in lifestyle would not be openly lived. Karim, a young Londoner, reckoned it could bring unwanted attention: ‘people phoning me up, knocking on my door, […] saying I should go and speak to this scholar, that scholar’ at best, and threats from ‘crazy people out there’ at worst.7 In the winter of 2018, I met Laila for a cup of coffee in Paddington, London; she ‘could not imagine’ what would happen if other people were to find out.8 For her, the concealment of her entire lifestyle ruined relationships, even though she did not show anything to her relatives.9 Concealment of desired lifestyles and inner convictions can become intensely mentally taxing (May, 2017). Others explained that concealment of convictions or behaviours was not necessarily problematic. As my Iraqi friend suggested to me in Groningen, in situations where interlocutors could behave and live as they pleased, inner conviction was considered less relevant. For example, friends and family also

‘Beyond just not believing’ 177 ‘broke religious rules’, or they did not live perfectly pious lives. Zehra, a DutchTurkish woman I spoke with on a warm day in August, explained that in her community and family conforming to a certain Muslim or ethnic identity was all that really mattered. When growing up, everybody around her was Muslim, and her family conformed to the religious practices and holidays. However, many also drank alcohol and did not regularly pray, yet they called themselves Muslim: ‘sometimes I think, that is the only difference, you say you are [Muslim], and I say that I’m not’.10 Therefore, Zehra never really discussed these issues with her family; rather, her struggles involved leaving her parental home and pursuing a different lifestyle. When I asked her about telling her family about her non-belief, she replied: ‘The way that you ask me now, “Did you tell?” It’s not like coming out of the closet. No. You don’t necessarily feel different because of it’. Later she concluded: ‘I think the form was very important. You can drink and do everything as long as you say you are Muslim; I think that is what is in the Turkish community’. Despite knowing that her family might treat her differently if she were to speak out about non-belief, Zehra did not ‘feel different’ herself. There was no need to speak; and if she had, it might have provoked unwanted and unnecessary animosity between her and her family. For Eléa, also from a Turkish family in the Netherlands, breaking certain social stigmas was bigger issue than religion or faith. She explained that everything revolved around ‘liveability’: the battles she needed to fight in order to live the life that she desired. One significant issue was the fact that she had a ‘Dutch’ partner: At a certain point, it became clear to my family I had a Dutch partner, which gave me a certain freedom. I didn’t have to explain myself constantly […] And if you have [a Dutch partner], the rest of it doesn’t matter. For the community, it is the worst thing you can do. I’m not going to announce: ‘I’m an unbeliever! I’m an unbeliever!’ Because that is not visible. But that Dutch partner is visible. That means you don’t choose for them. (Eléa interview, 2017)11 She elaborated on other visible matters, such as the hijab and fasting, which are only problematic when others contest your behaviour. What is on the inside therefore ‘doesn’t matter’, it does not need to be spoken of, and it does not have to be visible unless it is actually testified about. It should be stressed, however, that when visible matters are key to belonging to family and community, concealment of changes in knowledges, practices, or behaviours can become highly problematic. Severe issues of identity and even depression may result from concealment (Cottee, 2015, 2018). Similarly, Khalida, a seemingly confident and sharp-witted woman from the south of the Netherlands, explained to me:


‘Beyond just not believing’ I never said ‘I’m not a Muslim’ to people that would judge that. Because it doesn’t feel necessary to do that. As long as I can live my life the way I want to and stand for what I believe in, then that’s it. (Khalida interview, 2017)12

She further concluded on behaviour and non-belief: ‘People know I don’t practice, but they also have deep respect and admiration for me because they know I am a good person’. Rabia, a young teacher, also emphasised family relations and values over the importance of talking about non-belief: I think we share those common values we were raised with. How you treat people. How you treat the world. And when it comes down to it, it doesn’t really matter what you believe or don’t believe, even though someone might say it [does]. When it comes down to it, we are family. (Rabia interview, 2017)13 Like Zehra and Eléa, Rabia never spoke to her family explicitly about inner convictions, but she also had not found it necessary to do so. The above examples show that differences in the perception or concealment of changes in conviction and lifestyle hinge on the relative performance of religion and the value that is attached to performing conviction. For some, such as Laila, differences were perceived, but individuals felt they could not be performed. Others were able to perform their new convictions and lifestyle without explication in terms of belief in God or ‘being Muslim’. Therefore, the lines between self and others were not really noticed or experienced, and therefore it was less relevant to discuss matters in one’s surroundings. However, those who perceived differences between the self and religious others explained that they did not testify to their non-belief to others, particularly family, precisely because they did not want to emphasise or materialise this divide. I met Naveed in Camden in London for a drink. He explained the difficulties he experienced with non-belief and moving out of Islam: ‘It is hard, because to renounce Islam also means to renounce your culture and your family […] You know your whole family is a Muslim, and to deny that would be to deny them’.14 Even though he was ‘quite confident’ that his sister was in the same place as he was with regards to religion, he reckoned: ‘I’d be cautious about outright saying “I don’t believe in God”. […] It’s like admitting. You cross like a barrier, in terms of family’. Therefore, Naveed had never spoken openly about his atheism with his family or community. Aarini explained this as the intertwinement of religion and cultural norms. When I asked if she talked to her parents about her non-belief, she replied: I would never say to my mother ‘I’m an atheist’. […] It feels almost offensive. It is more like an affront than a stigma […] It would feel like saying to a group of people like, ‘I’m out! I don’t want what you have’. (Aarini interview, 2017)15

‘Beyond just not believing’ 179 She stressed that it was not so much about her family rejecting her if announced her lack of belief; rather, she worried that her family would think she did not want to be a part of them: ‘It would be like I’m saying “No” to my roots’. It is noteworthy that throughout her teenage years, Aarini attempted to subvert socio-religiously imposed rules, and she tried to perform a non-Islamic lifestyle (also see Chapter 4); however, as Ilyas’s quote in the chapter’s title highlights, saying out loud that one does not believe is a step beyond that. Indeed, Ilyas also considered his parents’ feelings and the possibility that they would perceive a categorical divide if he told them. He had seen his parents’ disappointment when he returned home drunk or smoked weed. He explained: I think over the years, it’s not about that I don’t believe in God, but it [non-belief] just kept that distance. And that kind of works for both of us. That’s that. I don’t really feel the need to tell them that. I don’t feel like it’s kind of hiding something from them. Because I feel like […] they know it on some level, but they’re not ready to really engage with that. They are not ready to engage with me. So why would I tell them? (Ilyas interview, 2017)16 Testimony in conversion literature has primarily been analysed as a means for the (de)converted individual to perform and confirm a new self in front of both self and others. However, in the case of Ilyas and others I spoke to, the perception and power were reversed. Speech or testifying to unbelief would not be a confirmation of difference and identity for the individual; actually, the ‘other’ would assign and label difference on the basis of the individual’s explicit spoken testimony of non-belief . In the private sphere, various factors were at stake when my interlocutors considered whether to speak or not speak with others about non-belief. Those who actively hid their non-belief, both behaviours and speech, considered whether testifying to religious change could ruin relationships or trigger threats. Others reckoned that the topic could remain untouched if they did not experience any differences between them and their loved ones. There was no need to testify to non-belief or change one’s lifestyle if it would only provoke unnecessary animosity. Even though some individuals desired to testify to their changed convictions, they were concerned that doing so would cause affront if perceived as an open rejection of not only religion, but also family and the values the individual was raised with. Primarily, interlocutors chose to conceal religious transformations after considering how testimony would be perceived and the impact testimony might have on relationships, rather than focusing on what it would mean in terms of personal development.

Private disclosure: Speech as demarcation Those who explicitly informed loved ones about desires for a different lifestyle or new existential convictions received vastly different responses. Some


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intentionally told their families or friends by making a statement or starting the conversation. Others ‘were found out’. They had to cope with unintended circumstances and consequences. For some it was problematic; others (gradually) received support from their religious surroundings. For the most part, however, the experience was one of constant negotiation and flux, rather than a fixed reality. Haroon grew up in a Muslim-majority community in the north of Britain: Eventually, I called my best friend and told her I’m not really a Muslim, […] but it wasn’t that big of an issue, because I didn’t really need to tell anyone. As a male person, what I wear and stuff is going to be the same [as] before I become an apostate. (Haroon interview, 2018)17 Note that Haroon gendered his experience: for boys nothing much changes on the outside, so what is believed does not make much of a difference. Those who responded thought he ‘was going through a phase’, and therefore ‘they were not so outraged’, which resonates with the story of my Iraqi friend who described a similar discourse of ‘straying’. During his teens and the first years after he became an ‘apostate’, Haroon did not feel a need to tell anyone about his unbelief. As he grew older, went to university, and spent more time searching online, he realised that it ‘made me more comfortable in thinking that I’m not the only one, and there’s people who’ve gone through much more hardship than me’. After he told a few people and became more active online, his family eventually found out that ‘he was no longer Muslim’. He recalled: At the time, I’ll be quite honest, I didn’t mind that much. [My dad] pried, but I just, I never spoke to him at university. It was difficult for me [to tell him], but in hindsight [it was] not the best thing. And then my mum found out. That was harder. […] I wish I hadn’t told them. They were very upset. (Haroon interview, 2018) While he was at university and just after he told his family about his non-belief, Haroon’s mother was diagnosed with cancer: ‘So a lot of people in my community said that [her illness] was a consequence of me turning ex-Muslim’. Upon reflection, Haroon decided that explicating his non-belief to his family was something he would not do again. I decided not to talk about my religious stuff after that […] Since my mum, I’ve made an effort not to talk about it, and no one asks me about it. But I think it is one of those things that people kind of know. They don’t want to know the truth, I suppose, and I don’t want to have that question aimed at me. So that’s how it is at the moment. (Haroon interview, 2018)

‘Beyond just not believing’ 181 Others had similar experiences: friends responded that they were just ‘going through a phase’, they were blamed for family misfortunes, and their non-conformism became the elephant in the room. Mahira did not know that she ‘was’ something until she came to Britain for her studies. From a Pakistani family, she always felt different from her family, but she was unable to perform or even identify that difference: I have been living in a closet. I was practicing. I used to get away with it when nobody is watching me. […] I just knew: because I opened my eyes in a Muslim family, this is what I have to do for the rest of my life […] I didn’t refuse them. Initially, I was afraid of losing them as well, because I knew my parents would not accept me the way I am. (Mahira interview, 2018)18 She connects the continued performance of a Muslim identity with ‘not refusing them’. In fact, Mahira’s open performance of a non-believing self entailed being refused: It actually happened that they didn’t [accept me]. When they found out that I have lost my faith in God, […] they broke all ties with me. They don’t really talk to me. They don’t want to see my face. (Mahira interview, 2018) It was not until she went to university and learned about the ‘ex-Muslim’ term and identity that she was able to perform her inner convictions. However, to her great sadness, it was also the reason why she could not move back to her family: I know for a fact my parents love me. […] But when they think about my lifestyle, or when they think about the transformation in my personality, that makes them hate me. […] Everything has changed. Just because my ideology changed, their love for me has changed. (Mahira interview, 2018) Of course, there were differences when individuals considered speaking. Some explained to me that family may have been quite shocked to start, but from the moment of disclosure it became a shared journey to develop, build, and create new spaces of belonging without believing and spaces for parents to let go. I met Maya in a quiet coffee house in central London. We sat downstairs in some comfortable armchairs, and her stories came out quickly and fluently, but always reflexively: When I’ve been saying ‘I’m an ex-Muslim’, [they think] that I’ve been siding with the Westerners and with the enemy. […] I understand that there are very real grievances there. People in the UK, especially Muslims, […] can feel like they are under attack from the West in a lot of ways. And


‘Beyond just not believing’ for you to be seen as to be kind of rejecting that identity, that is already stigmatized […] [you are] a traitor to your identity. (Maya interview, 2018)19

However, for Maya herself, it was not that clear cut: I am an ex-Muslim, I was a Muslim for 18 years of my life […] It’s there, and it’s part of me, and just because I don’t believe in the religion, I can’t really pretend that it hasn’t influenced me. (Maya interview, 2018) She contemplated matters of performing a non-believing identity, such as ‘ex-Muslim’: No one will say ‘This is Maya, she is an ex-Muslim’. […] No. Nobody talks about her. […] It’s those people, we [Muslims] just pretend they never existed. […] Although my family know I’m an ex-Muslim, is that what it’s going to be like? Am I just going to disappear from the narrative? (Maya interview, 2018) In Maya’s experience, because people who pronounce their unbelief are perceived as radically different and as having crossed enemy lines, ties can be unilaterally cut or narratives can be entirely ignored. Having explained this discourse of potential rejection of those who are ‘exMuslim’, Maya said that despite these worries, she told her mother that she no longer believed. It was a very emotional conversation that her mother tried to ‘sweep under the rug’: there was a lot of crying involved, a lot of being seen as a traitor […] But difficult as it would be, there is always that level of acceptance between me and my family, my immediate family, which is my mom and my brother. So I feel safe at home, to speak out against things. (Maya interview, 2018) For Maya and her family, it was possible and important to talk about thorny issues, especially when it concerned religion, women’s rights, or gender equality: It is important for me to push back […] If I don’t, then who will? I do challenge things all the time, […] and I’ll get a backlash. But luckily, it’s becoming like, ‘Oh, Maya has her opinions, we don’t agree with them, but we’re going to let her have them’. That’s one aspect of it, and that’s fantastic, that I can have that discussion and speak my mind. I have the freedom of thought and expression in my house. (Maya interview, 2018)

‘Beyond just not believing’ 183 But the freedom ended at the front door: ‘I can talk about not believing in God inside my home, but I cannot leave my house in a pair of shorts’. Maya experienced a gradual change in loved ones’ attitudes concerning the explication of religious differences between the self and others. She was not the only one. For some, there was constant struggle to reconcile the need to belong to family with the desire to talk about previously taboo issues – unbelief, leaving the parental home, relationships, or lifestyle. Zehra, for example, found it difficult to tell her parents that she had a Dutch boyfriend, but telling them made ‘the other stuff’ easier: They responded relatively calm[ly]. That’s because they transformed along with me –slowly. […] I stopped believing, or that I drank alcohol, they gradually got accustomed to that, so it was not such a big deal. So, I think it is very important that you share this stuff. (Zehra interview, 2017)20 Throughout our conversation, Zehra emphasised the need to personally strive to break taboos within the family. Intertwined with the experience of development over time within individuals’ surroundings in connection with newly found convictions and/or lifestyles, as time went on my interlocutors also changed their personal attitudes towards religion and Islam. In the early days it was quite common for people to develop strong anti-religious sentiments, which would soften later in life. Often these considerations were strongly entangled with the desire to testify to newly found convictions and perceived differences with others. Haroon, for example, initially experienced shock after he lost his faith: Initially I didn’t have the motivation to get up. You feel like you’ve been lied to. […] What people are preaching […] hypocrisy becomes much more obvious. You just start to see flaws. And although they’re human, you see them as religious faults. (Haroon interview, 2017)21 Haroon discussed with his friend the faults that he saw in the initial couple of years: that’s all we talked about: ‘Oh, the community is a mess. Look what they do! Look how they treat this girl!’ That kind of talk. Ideally, you don’t want to be like that. Obviously, that needs to happen because of that big step you’ve taken. But now […] I don’t really talk about it much. I mean, sure we make jokes, and I might make a subtle statement here or there, but I think I’m in a more healthy state. (Haroon interview, 2017) When contemplating speaking out for change in the community, he responded:


‘Beyond just not believing’ Some of the things are screwed up, but my voice is unfortunately not going to make much of an impact. I’m selfish in the sense that if I want to move out, live my life, and hopefully bring my kids up, I can do that in a good way. (Haroon interview, 2017)

Haroon’s initial experience of having strong opinions about religion, Islam, and community resonated with many of my interlocutors. For example, Miray tried throughout much of her adult life to convince her mother of the fallacies of religion. She recalled their final conversation on the matter: Always we fought, and always she left. Until at some point I just said to her: ‘Mum I just don’t believe anymore’. And then she said to me: ‘that is your business […] I just don’t want to talk about this with you anymore. Don’t believe, I don’t care. But just leave me be. I’m an old woman, I don’t know any better. Leave me be.’ And I tried so hard to make my mother think the same way as me. So stupid in hindsight! I regret it so much, just leave her be! So much stress, so many fights, not worth it. (Miray interview, 2018)22 I met Kadin in his flat in Amsterdam-West in the summer of 2017. A 45-year-old teacher, he reflected on his relatively recent journey out of faith. After explaining his long intellectual struggle, he concluded: ‘I lost my basis really, and that is how God died in my head […] Emptiness had come where God used to be’.23 For quite some time he continued to practice and pretended to be religious and to believe, but slowly he let go of the performances: ‘First I was very critical talking to people about faith. I could be very harsh, very critical, very dismissive’. These reactions came to the fore especially when he was confronted with his non-conformism: When my sister would be ‘Why are you not praying?’ or someone sends me a message with prayers and stuff […] Before I could get really annoyed, but now, I see it as a token that [someone] thinks of me, I guess. But initially, you are not neutral towards that. You want to get rid of it, but it keeps coming back to you. (Kadin interview, 2017) Kadin complained that Muslims used to assume he was not well informed about Islam, which made him even angrier at the time. However, now: I understand that people need that […] I am much less dismissive, if people want to tell me why they believe in God? Fine. I’m not going to tell them otherwise. […] I only debate them when they try to convince me. (Kadin interview, 2017)

‘Beyond just not believing’ 185 Despite claiming that he was currently more relaxed towards religion, during the interview Kadin continued to lengthily outline his arguments which prove Islam false. Indeed, the most common form of speaking out about religion and testifying to unbelief was geared towards the individual’s immediate surroundings, which were often initially considered more important compared to later in life. When newly found convictions were perceived to create difference between the individual and loved ones, it became pertinent to discuss matters in order to overcome feelings of being ‘on the outside’ or to perform one’s true non-believing identity to those who knew them best. Often speaking out was paired with a desire to speak about issues the individual had with religion or socio-religious rules. Like Kadin, some mentioned that they argued with people in their surroundings if or when it became relevant. Eléa, for example, reached this point when her parents or siblings suggested Islamic rituals or practices, such as circumcision or attending madrassa, for her children. Otherwise, she and her family no longer discussed matters of faith. Similarly, Khalida elaborated that whilst generally she and her family no longer debated religion, at a party, my uncles hid my shoes that I had left in the hall. [They did that] because they were heels, and heels are supposedly sensual and sexual. I was pissed off! I said to them: ‘You know what? This is your sick mind! These are shoes, and you are perverts!’ They won’t debate me, because they know I’m right. […] Man, I can’t stand the hypocrisy! (Khalida interview, 2017)

New identities? Claiming space through public performance Whilst the previous sections elaborated on speaking about non-belief or nonconformism in one’s immediate surroundings, this section explores the realm of publicly speaking out. First, I introduce Hassan [real name], who has actively discussed matters of faith, religion, and doubt with Muslims and non-Muslims on social media. Second, I briefly touch upon online testimonials as an aspect of the performance of new identities. Third, I share some of the individuals’ contemplations regarding not speaking out. The vast majority of my interlocutors did not aspire to any form of public presence either for private reasons or due to considerations about dominant public discourses. Lastly, I briefly explore what happened when identities were formed specifically not in relation to religion. In British online circles of ‘ex-Muslims’, Hassan Radwan is quite well known. Although he co-founded the CEMB’s online forum, he subsequently took some distance from the organisation. Hassan was particularly active on Facebook, posting his doubts and questions about religion and, in particular, Islam. Because he was a scholar of Islam and fluent in Arabic, his (sceptical) followers considered Hassan’s YouTube videos a legitimate authority explaining or analysing Qur’anic scripture and Hadith. After coming out in private to some ‘quite religious’ friends and family, he realised:


‘Beyond just not believing’ Actually, nobody is going to kill me, so I’m going to be upfront about it. And, you know, soon after that I decided. Because people were asking me on the forum about it. So, I changed my name to Hassan Radwan, I put my picture as my icon, and I said ‘Look, I’m me. This is who I am’. And I actually wrote my story on the forum. And I decided, I said: ‘I’m making a conscious effort now. […] I want to be open, I don’t want to hide anymore’. (Hassan interview, 2017)24

Rather than critiquing Islam or religion, Hassan strived to open up discussions on sensitive matters between Muslims and non-believers: ‘If you look at my videos, I never attack Muslims, I never am nasty. And even when I’m criticising, I always try to make it really balanced and fair. And I always leave people to think for themselves’. For a time, he actively made videos: and then I got tired, because it kind of, it’s like I was flogging a dead horse. Same old questions kept coming up again and again. And I said: ‘I don’t really want to be part of the Council [CEMB] anymore, I don’t like the label. It was a useful label […] but I don’t want to be known as ex-Muslim anymore’. (Hassan interview, 2017) Reflecting on his motivations for speaking out about religion and Islam in the way that he had done, Hassan shared some of his emotions: I wanted to have a say in maybe trying to influence the reform of Islam. […] And I felt maybe, because I know the majority of Muslims are good, decent people, they are my family, they are my friends, and I don’t want to leave them in the hands of the extremists. I want them to be able to use their humanity and pick and choose as they feel without feeling they have to do ‘all or nothing’. (Hassan interview, 2017) He continued: ‘In the long run, we would be better off without religion. […] Now I’m tired. I don’t care anymore. I’m done with trying to be a hero. I’m done with trying to solve the world’s problems. I’m done’. At the time of my conversation with Hassan, he had recently experienced a period of convinced non-belief, and he was quite dejected by it all. Hassan’s speaking out, his initiation of the dialogue, was founded in a desire to perform a ‘real’ self as well as a desire to reform Islam and bring about change for those who move out of Islam. Often the means involved attempting to subvert certain Muslim discourses about ‘ex-Muslims’ by stressing the humanity and plight of those who moved away from religion. Tariq had similar motivations for having an online presence and speaking out about Islam and religion. When he first realised that he no longer believed at the age of 16, he uploaded an online testimonial to the CEMB forum. His story,

‘Beyond just not believing’ 187 told from his 16-year-old perspective, addressed what it was like to ‘lose his faith’ and ‘come out’ to his high school. In the testimonial he also sought advice because he had not yet told his parents. Upon reflection as to why he wrote it, Tariq said: ‘I thought the world needed to read, and other people on the forum would write things’, emphasising the urge to perform his identity and pointing to the creation of a narrative genre (also see van Nieuwkerk, 2006).25 During that time, he also posted controversial material on Facebook: It was kind of one of those things where I wasn’t really mature to sort of let people be. I wanted to express myself. I wanted to be […] I have always been making jokes, and it is not going to stop me. I’m not going to hide my identity. (Tariq interview, 2018) Furthermore, he wanted to claim a space, thereby defending his beliefs and identity: I was kind of like ‘If you are going to talk amongst yourselves how I’m going to hell, then I’m going to poke through your religion’. I also, I wanted people to know. I don’t want to hide. This is what I am. … I needed to be vocal about it, because you kind of need to form your own place, your own identity. (Tariq interview, 2018) After he ‘came out’ to his peers, his speaking out shifted towards the defence of his own space. Instead of peers taking over or reclaiming Tariq and his convictions, Tariq defended his own identity by engaging in the debate, often online. His standpoint is simultaneously the performance and defence of his identity as ‘ex-Muslim’. In line with other interlocutors whose perceptions and performances changed over time, at the time of our conversation Tariq was much less preoccupied with these matters and, instead, focused more on his university degree and music. In his study of ex-Mormons in the United States, Brooks (2018) described how exit stories and testimonials can be ‘a constitutive element of an ongoing politics of identity making for those transitioning into the social category of nonbeliever’ (p. 189). He analysed stories not only as constitutive of identity formation in relation to formerly religious selves, but also as a ‘strategic counter-hegemonic discourse’ by which ex-Mormons tried to ‘strategically inhabit their new social positions’ (p. 189) on the margins of their former in-group. Individuals not only attempt to build a space for themselves, but moreover, they wish to strategically challenge stereotypes. In the above examples, similar strategies come to the fore. On the one hand, in private debates people attempted to claim a space whilst intellectually challenging convictions and stereotyped judgements. On the other hand, through public testimonies and online debates people tried to perform a new self – testifying ‘here I am’ – whilst aiming for some sort of reform or greater acceptance of non-belief.


‘Beyond just not believing’

There is a nuanced difference between public performances and private debates as forms of speaking out. Changing or reforming people’s attitudes was generally the goal, and expressions of identity were in one way or another about the individual claiming a space outside of religion. However, the intended audience is the difference between Hassan and Tariq’s stories versus private challenges. Hassan and Tariq had a public audience in mind, rather than their private surroundings. Hassan, at some point, wanted to ‘change the world’, whilst Tariq felt that his story should be out there for people to read: ‘some people even cried’. Furthermore, Tariq never told his parents explicitly about his non-belief. ‘Coming out’ to his parents was a private matter, whilst speaking out to his peers was a public performance. Both Tariq and Hassan wished to subvert certain discourses about ‘ex-Muslims’ – stereotypes that paint those who leave Islam as ‘Islam bashing’, angry, sexually promiscuous, drinking, and taking drugs. Rather, by engaging in conversation, telling their stories, or critically engaging with Islamic dogmas, they wished to establish change and encourage Muslims to be more accepting of those leaving Islam behind. Although Tariq initially found it desirable to express his non-belief to the outside world – at first anonymously via testimonial and later openly to peers by expressing his opinions on religion and Islam – others felt less inclined to do so. Reasons for this were both private and public concerns. When I asked Naveed about speaking publicly about his non-belief, he replied: The question is, Why would you say it out loud? Why does it have to be such an extroverted thing? So I guess for some people it is. They need to … Kind of like me buying pork, that was an internal thing, a statement. Some people do need to make that statement publicly […] But in that case they would come up against a lot of backlash from family and friends. And it would, things would just become more and more difficult. So like first of all, why would you do that? Say you do that, then it is difficult, definitely. I can imagine it being difficult for me […] from a very liberal Muslim family, so I can really imagine that it can be bad. (Naveed interview, 2018)26 As Naveed explained earlier, in many ways Islam was still part of his life. Speaking out against it was like crossing another barrier, which could not be undone. As with his decision to conceal things from his family, he reckoned there was also little need to express things publicly. In his view, it would become particularly difficult to move out of Islam if one said it out loud in public, but chiefly for private concerns and reasons. The performance of nonbelief to others in the form of public speech was perceived as a particular affront that was best avoided. There were also people who were concerned with politics when they considered speaking out. They did not want to ‘feed into a narrative of Islamophobia’ or conform to certain expectations regarding speaking out against a former religion. This can be considered the other side of the coin of speaking out for the freedom of

‘Beyond just not believing’ 189 religion or critiquing Islam or Muslims; that is, the freedom to leave religion. The main concern was that narratives or testimonies of leaving Islam would be seen as ‘native testimonials’ that could be hijacked by ‘secular crusaders’. Eymen explained his concerns about the ‘social-right’ (i.e., Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom) interfering with or using a message to focus on the plight of ex-Muslims. ‘They can present themselves as the good guys, “We can support those poor people [ex-Muslims]. See, we have no issue with foreigners, it is Islam which is the problem!”’.27 When I asked Yedder, a public figure for Amazigh activism, about speaking publicly about his non-belief, he replied: ‘The media wants the odd one. They have no stake in you saying that it is a growing phenomenon, or you saying: “Look, there is also a lot of acceptance for people who are not religious”’.28 He added: ‘Currently the climate around the debate on religion and politics, it is mostly Islam-bashing, and I don’t feel like that. I don’t want to be used as gunpowder for that’. Sara, a British student who spent some of her childhood in the UAE, explained trying to balance critique of Islam with being accused of Islamophobia: I try my best as possible to try and separate those [critique Islam versus critiquing Muslims]. Because people might misconstrue it, think I’m being negative towards Muslims and that someone might use it. Whereas I did not want that. I want people to stand up and question ideas. (Sara interview, 2018)29 Maya resonated with this but also emphasised the need to reform communities, not just dogma. She was particularly critical of people’s claims that Islam is peaceful and accepting: If you are such a peaceful and feminist religion, why am I as an ex-Muslim woman […] silenced for speaking out about things? […] But it’s tough, because I feel like Islam is under attack. We see that all the time […] But women, we stay quiet, because it would feel like it is how we protect our religion. But I don’t feel there is enough room for criticism of Islam. […] So when you start to criticise or challenge or question, you’re immediately just thrown out of the group. (Maya interview, 2018)30 Zehra summarised her position on speaking out and critiquing Islam: I used to want to kick against it all. But now I notice my attitude has changed […] Because it has an adverse effect. Before, it was personal […] I had to free myself from the community. But now, the danger is coming from the right-wing extremist politics more than from Muslim fundamentalism. I find that scarier. (Zehra interview, 2017)


‘Beyond just not believing’

In line with others, she reckoned that, due to the risk of narratives being appropriated, the current political climate in the Netherlands did not allow for either prominent critique of Muslims and Islam or public testimony about journeys out of religion. Later, she elaborated: ‘That dude, Ehsan Jami, I mean I really thought it is also some common sense here, ok?’.31 It is important to note a couple of things in the above examples. First, speaking out against Islam was sometimes perceived as being related to the stigmatisation of Muslims in Europe. This was considered something not only to be avoided, but also not intended. Some of my interlocutors made a clear distinction between wanting reform and questioning ideas as opposed to being intolerant towards Muslims. Their positions were often construed in opposition to ‘the social right’ or other anti-Muslim voices. Second, some people differentiated between wanting to carve out a space for themselves in relation to their former religion, on the one hand, and unreflectively critiquing Islam in light of their religious transformation, on the other. The latter was perceived as conforming to secular expectations. Speaking freely against Islam after religion was lost was seen to aid anti-Muslim sentiments and secularist politics, for example, as mirrored by interlocutors’ references to Jami or Ali. Lastly, for some it was (no longer) relevant to speak about religion or non-belief: there was no barrier to be crossed or non-religious identity to be performed. This was particularly relevant for individuals who emphatically did not develop identities in relation to religion, as elaborated in Chapter 4. They also referred to the desire to speak out about other issues and perform other identities, both publicly and privately. Eymen, for example, joined the Dutch Antifa movement and spoke out against inequality and injustice across cultural and religious boundaries: ‘[Leaving religion] is not relevant for my activism. […] I would, however, like to speak about leaving [Turkish] nationalism. But being Muslim? No.’32 Eléa thought that if she were to speak out about anything, it would not be about religion per se, rather: I don’t want to jump on the barricades. If I do feel an urge, it would be about women’s rights, not because I want to push against religion, but because I feel that women and children need protection. But that would be somewhere else than the Netherlands. (Eléa interview, 2017) Others said that they embraced their ethnic identity or felt that religion was simply not important anymore. As Amina explained: ‘I never talk about it. It’s like eating bread every day. It is just a way of life’.33

Speech as performance and demarcation of otherness In previous studies of conversion, testimony was analysed as both a way to cultivate and reaffirm one’s piety as well as a tool or technique for making sense of old and new selves in light of newly found convictions. Often the act of

‘Beyond just not believing’ 191 speaking, especially in front of others as performance, has taken a central role in the study of religious transition. In the case of deconversion, testimonials have also been analysed as such. My interlocutors, however, showed that testifying to unbelief does not necessarily aid in the formation of selfhood, nor was it required to reaffirm non-belief. This does not mean that they did not have to make sense of and negotiate past selves and new convictions, behaviours, and knowledges; rather, the process was often private.34 This chapter has illustrated that testimony as performative speech (i.e., speaking out loud about religious change) has the potential to trigger experiences of categorical division in the other: you no longer belong to us by saying it out loud. As such, it was common for individuals to conceal changes in knowledges, practices, and/or behaviours from people their surroundings, which was sometimes hard or problematic. Others had no direct motivation to address the matter, either because of expectations in their families and immediate surroundings or the fact that interlocutors did not ‘feel different’. People often avoided provoking unwanted animosity in loved ones. Furthermore, different nuances were involved when individuals considered whether to privately or publicly ‘speak out’ or testify to religious transformation. Privately, they were concerned that loved ones would perceive of them negatively or accuse them of crossing enemy lines. Those who disclosed changes in knowledges, behaviours, or practices in their private surroundings often thought it was more important ‘in the beginning’ compared to later in life. In practice, individuals experienced shifts in considerations and perceptions over time, which meant that more found it necessary to speak about issues of religion early on in their transformation.35 Whilst considerations regarding speaking out publicly related to the desire to avoid drawing lines between the self and loved ones, other issues were at stake as well. First, in the context of dominant secularist discourses in modern day Europe regarding the contested status of Islam in the public sphere, people often did not want to pledge allegiance to the other side of the ‘incommensurable divide’. In fact, most of my interlocutors found themselves straddling both sides. In addition, they feared that their narratives would be appropriated by ‘the social right’ or ‘secularist crusaders’, as my interlocutors called them. According to my interlocutors, expectations regarding speaking out as a part of the secular modern constitution became particularly evident in the popular reception of so-called native testimonials, the media’s embrace of ‘ex-Muslim’ narratives, and the media discourses that interlocutors regularly referred to. Such native testimonials are highly scripted. They often present Islam as oppressive, backward, and pre-modern, whilst newly found convictions of nonreligion are presented as enlightened, free, and modern. However, as shown above, few desired to present such a narrative. For many, lived realities did not reflect the native testimonial genre, which dictates a linear journey from Islamic darkness to secular modernity. Rather, my interlocutors experienced religious transformations that were coloured by ambiguity, in-betweenness, and blurred lines between what was considered religious or secular.


‘Beyond just not believing’

Thus, my interlocutors showed that, when individuals moved out of Islam, testifying to changes in convictions was considered almost an expression of conversion to secularism. To be clear, these are expectations that my interlocutors ascribed to their own families and communities. Contrastively, as the above attempted to outline, differences between the self and religious other were rarely perceived as ‘conversion to secularity’. When individuals considered speaking out about changes in knowledges, practices, and behaviours, they primarily contemplated the boundaries that would be crossed, the alienation that would be risked, and the potential perception of shifts in allegiance in light of religiouspolitical discourses. More significantly, individuals carefully weighed the presumptions that accompany ‘freedom of speech’, which is viewed as a flagship of the secular modern. Therefore, the former Muslim was expected to possess certain traits. Contemplations were made in light of the desire for familial belonging as well as questions about whether there was an actual need to perform in ways that could potentially be perceived as differences between the self and others. Additionally, when speaking out was considered ‘a step beyond not believing’, which could cause affront, or when a general change of allegiance was not always desired, freedom of speech was no longer a secular modern value to aspire to; rather, speech was a (violent) performative act that alienated the self from others. Lastly, when people spoke out or testified to friends, family, or the general public, many aspired to change (or emancipate themselves from) familial practices or religious dogma. The genre of speaking out as activism – as differentiated from the native testimonial – warrants further elaboration; however, those who actively engaged in conversations about non-belief or breaking socio-religious rules, either in public or in private, mostly did so after careful consideration of the risk of the narrative’s discursive appropriation as well as the risk to familial relationships. As in Chapter 5, since experiences of testifying or speaking out about the move out of Islam are often so personal, I hesitate to draw definite comparisons between the UK and the Netherlands. However, I do wish to make some general observations. Firstly, it is important to note that for all interlocutors, regardless of national context, these issues mattered. Whether to speak out or not mattered. Especially in private spheres, individuals’ considerations were very similar, and speaking out was generally considered a ‘step beyond just not believing’. Secondly, however, since the public spheres and political climates of the two countries are considerably different, as extensively discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, I believe considerations regarding publicly speaking out were naturally and understandably varied. The absence or presence of ‘secularist ex-Muslim voices’ as well as the dominant type of secularity elicited different considerations and responses from individuals. Very broadly speaking, the urge to defend Muslims against so-called ‘secular crusaders’ or avoid adding fuel to the flames by speaking out about moving out of Islam was stronger among my Dutch interlocutors than it was among the Brits. These observations do not imply that individuals do not talk publicly about moving out of Islam in the Netherlands. However, I did observe a general difference in individuals’ considerations when speaking out, a point I shall return to and discuss in greater detail in the Conclusion.

‘Beyond just not believing’ 193

Notes 1 An earlier version of this chapter appeared under the title ‘“Speaking out would be a step beyond just not believing”: On the performativity of testimony when moving out of Islam’ in Religions (Vliek, 2019). I wish to thank the editor of the special issue, Peter Nissen, as well as the journal’s publisher, editor, and anonymous reviewers for their invaluable contributions to this chapter. 2 Also see Ismail and Mat (2016) for an examination of scholars’ different interpretations of the issue of freedom of religion according to the scriptures. 3 Ilyas quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London on 8 November 2017. 4 See Cottee (2018) for an elaboration on language of ‘coming out’ or ‘staying in the closet’. 5 In Islam, pronouncing the shahada is considered one’s testimony upon entering the Ummah, and it is the first step to becoming Muslim. I elaborate on testimony in Christian traditions below. 6 See Chapter 2 for a comparison of ‘freedom of speech’ and Islam in the Netherlands and Britain. 7 Karim quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London on 21 November 2017. 8 Laila quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London on 24 January 2018. 9 Also see Chapter 5 on contestations over what is considered (non-)negotiable behaviour in light of religious transformation. 10 Zehra quotes from a personal interview conducted in Leiden, the Netherlands, on 7 August 2017. 11 Eléa quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on 22 September 2017. 12 Khalida quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Breda, the Netherlands, on 18 August 2017. 13 Rabia quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on 13 July 2017. 14 Naveed quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London on 16 November 2017. 15 Aarini quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London on 14 November 2017. 16 Ilyas quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London on 8 November 2017. 17 Haroon quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Leeds, UK, on 1 February 2018. 18 Mahira quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London, UK, on 5 February 2018. 19 Maya quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London, UK, on 23 January 2018. 20 Zehra quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Leiden, the Netherlands, on 7 August 2017. 21 Haroon quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Leeds, UK, on 1 February 2018. 22 Miray quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, on 27 February 2018. 23 Kadin quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, on 23 June 2017. 24 Hassan quotes are from personal interview conducted in London, UK, on 4 November 2017. 25 Tariq quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Manchester, UK, on 31 January 2018.


‘Beyond just not believing’

26 Naveed quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Manchester, UK, on 31 January 2018. 27 Eymen quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, on 20 February 2018. 28 Yedder was actively involved in the Dutch Amazigh activist movement at the time of our conversation. Also see Chapter 4 for more of Yedder’s story and Amazigh activism. 29 Sara quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London, UK, on 21 November 2017. 30 Maya quotes are from a personal interview conducted in London, UK, on 23 January 2018. 31 Ehsan Jami founded the short-lived Dutch Committee for Ex-Muslims in 2007. At the time, he advocated for the recognition of supposedly suppressed ‘ex-Muslims’ in the Netherlands by the Muslim community. He also called for others to join him and stand up to claim a space and voice. The Committee, however, was dissolved the following year due to a lack of interest. According to Jami, it was considered too dangerous for ‘ex-Muslims’ to speak out. According to other Dutch former Muslims, however, the organisation failed because there was not much of an issue in the Netherlands, and Jami’s approach was considered counterproductive (e.g., Jafari & Taebi, 2009). 32 Eymen quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, on 20 February 2018. 33 Amina quotes are from a personal interview conducted in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on 27 July 2017. 34 I do not contest that narrative formation can aid the creation and maintenance of identity and self. For example, my interlocutors sometimes perceived the interview experience as a technique for ‘making sense’, particularly if they had not previously spoken about matters openly, or it was the first time they were asked to reflect on their experiences. 35 Shifts in opinions and actions over time also relate to growing up, coming of age, and being able to carve out a (non-religious) space and life for oneself so that differences with surroundings become less of a daily issue. Also see Chapter 5.

Bibliography Avance, R. (2013). Seeing the light: Mormon conversion and deconversion narratives in off- and online worlds. Journal of Media and Religion, 12(1), 16–24. doi:10.1080/ 15348423.2013.760386. Bosch, M. (2008). Telling stories, creating (and saving) her life: An analysis of the autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Women’s Studies International Forum, 31(2), 138–147. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2008.03.006. Bourque, N. (2006). How Deborah became Aisha: The conversion process and the creation of female Muslim identity. In K. van Nieuwkerk (Ed.), Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West (pp. 233–249). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Brooks, E. M. (2018). Disenchanted Lives: Apostasy and Ex-Mormonism Among the Latter-day Saints. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Chalfant, E. (2011). Thank God I’m an Atheist: Deconversion Narratives on the Internet. Unpublished MA thesis. Wake Forest University. Cottee, S. (2015). The Apostates. When Muslims Leave Islam. London: C. Hurst & Company. Cottee, S. (2018). In the closet: Concealment of apostasy among ex-Muslims in Britain and Canada. In K. van Nieuwkerk (Ed.), Moving In and Out of Islam (pp. 281–305). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

‘Beyond just not believing’ 195 de Leeuw, M., & van Wichelen, S. (2005). ‘Please, go wake up!’: Submission, Hirsi Ali, and the ‘War on Terror’ in the Netherlands. Feminist Media Studies, 5(3), 325–340. doi:10.1080/14680770500271487. Harding, S. F. (1987). Convicted by the Holy Spirit: The rhetoric of fundamental Baptist conversion. American Ethnologist, 14(1), 167–181. Hindmarsh, B. (2014). Religious conversion as narrative and autobiography. In L. R. Rambo & C. E. Farhadian (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook on Religious Conversion (pp. 343–368). New York: Oxford University Press. Hirsi Ali, A. H. (2006). Infidel. New York: Free Press. Hodder, A. (2017). Christian conversion, the double consciousness, and transcendentalist religious rhetoric. Religions, 8(9). doi:10.3390/rel8090163. Ismail, S. Z., & Mat, M. Z. A. (2016). Faith and freedom: The Qur’anic notion of freedom of religion vs. the act of changing religion and thoughts on the implications for Malaysia. Religions, 7(7). doi:10.3390/rel7070088. Jafari, P., & Taebi, B. (2009). Progressieve ex-moslim wijst comite af. De methode van Ehsan Jami is kortzichtig en werkt contraproductief. NRC Handelsblad, 5 September. Keane, W. (2007). Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Larsson, G. (2018). Disputed, sensitive, and indispensable topics: The study of Islam and apostasy. Method and Theory in the Study of Religion, 30(3), 1–26. doi:10.1163/ 15700682-12341435. Mahmood, S. (2009). Feminism, democracy, and empire: Islam and the War on Terror. In H. Herzog & A. Braude (Eds.), Gendering Religion and Politics (pp. 193–215). New York: Palgrave MacMillan. May, M. (2017). Should I stay or should I go?: Religious (dis)affiliation and depressive symptomatology. Society and Mental Health, 8(3), 1–17. doi:10.1177/2156869317748713. Oliver, K. (2014). How to be (the author of) Born Again: Charles Colson and the writing of conversion in the age of Evangelicalism. Religions, 5(3). doi:10.3390/rel5030886. Pauha, T., & Aghaee, A. (2018). ‘God Never existed, and I was looking for him like crazy!’: Muslim stories of deconversion. In K. van Nieuwkerk (Ed.), Moving In and Out of Islam. (pp. 333–361). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Payne, S. (2013). Ex-Mormon narratives and pastoral apologetics. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 46(4), 85–121. Retrieved from 5406/dialjmormthou.46.4.0085. Rambo, L. R. (1993). Understanding Religious Conversion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Sidło, K. (2016). ‘Coming out’ or ‘staying in the closet’: Deconversion narratives of Muslim apostates in Jordan. Marburg Journal of Religion, 18(1), 1–35. Snel, J. (2013). Freedom of expression and the media: A case-study from the Netherlands. Journalism Research Science Journal (Communication and Information), 6, 121–140. Sremac, S. (2013). Addiction and Spiritual Transformation. Münster: LIT-Verlag. Stromberg, P. G. (1993). Language and Self-transformation: A Study of the Christian Conversion Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. van Nieuwkerk, K. (2006). Gender, conversion, and Islam: A comparison of online and offline conversion narratives. In K. van Nieuwkerk (Ed.), Women Embracing Islam: Gender and Conversion in the West (pp. 95–119). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Vliek, M. (2019). ‘Speaking out would be a step beyond just not believing’: On the performativity of testimony when moving out of Islam. Religions, 10(10), 563–583. doi:10.3390/rel10100563.


The research in this volume took place between 2016 and 2019. Relevant events, debates, and legislation, which cannot be reported or included here, will continue to shape the field in the future. In trying to answer the question of how people experience moving out of Islam in Britain and the Netherlands, as well as how they negotiate the religious and secular contexts in which they live, I have analysed and described a particular period – a moment in time and place. In both countries political and societal turmoil continues to form and stir in new political currents, such as Brexit negotiations, social movements, and the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, more transnational events regarding former Muslims are being organised. For example, the August 2019 ‘Celebrating Dissent Festival’ in Amsterdam, which was hosted by CEMB, focused not only on those who had left Islam, but also on the new atheist movement and alignment with LGBTQ+ interests. This book took as its starting point the personal experiences of people moving out of Islam in two national contexts and their negotiations of religious and secular discourses. One central tenet was its comparative perspective, which examined similarities and differences between the Netherlands and Britain on both the discursive and personal levels, their interplay, and how people moving out of Islam negotiated each country’s religious and secular spheres. In the opening chapters, I sketched the discursive layout of religious minorities with a chief focus on public debates and societal discourses regarding Islam in both countries. To further investigate the research questions in detail, I then approached moving out of Islam from a variety of perspectives, including ‘multiple secularities’, Dialogical Self Theory, narrative analysis, secular embodiment, and (de)conversion testimony. The resulting six chapters contribute to our understanding of moving out of Islam in the Netherlands and Britain by considering both the religious and secular spheres of my interlocutors were situated in as well as how they were negotiated. In order to uncover the underlying reasons for the presence of what I have called ‘secularist ex-Muslim voices’ in Britain and their relative absence in the Netherlands, I utilised the interpretive device of ‘multiple secularities’. Multiple secularities assumes that the religious spheres are linked to other social, political, and cultural spheres, which are determined by situatedness in time and DOI: 10.4324/9781003143574-8



space. By analysing both the institutionalised forms and social and cultural ways in which boundaries are drawn to demarcate what is deemed appropriately religious as well as the ways in which these contestations play out, we can trace particular formations of secularity, their related reference problems, and the consequential spaces they may open up for critique. There are major differences in formations of secularity between the Netherlands and Britain. In the Netherlands, dominant secularity is for the sake of social integration and national development, whilst motives and arguments are also taken from secularity for the sake of individual liberties. Britain has been predominantly marked by secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity. ‘Secularist ex-Muslim voices’ in Britain, as articulated at a conference organised by the CEMB, respond to this particular secularity by critiquing its specific reference problems on both the institutional and social levels, such as State-church relations, multiculturalism, and communitarianism, as well as the Islamism it allegedly accommodates. Since different reference problems surfaced in the Netherlands, such voices have been relatively absent in the recent past. Chapter 2 answered questions related to discursive differences and how larger structures of secularity can sometimes determine the relative need for and desire to speak out publicly to challenge dominant discourses and perhaps identify oneself as ‘ex-Muslim’. It further laid bare considerable differences between each country, both with regards to histories of secularity as well as the way certain voices respond to the various reference problems that may surface. These differences also came to the fore when my interlocutors discussed ‘speaking out’ in such discourses. It was generally less desirable to do so in the Netherlands than in Britain. Indeed, it is important to highlight the respective countries’ histories of secularity and the constitution of (religious) minorities when considering interlocutors’ personal narratives as well as when analysing public voices,. Some of my interlocutors reasoned that, in analytical terms, secularity for the sake of social/national integration had become dominant in the Netherlands in recent decades. Therefore, reference problems surfaced mainly in relation to the continuous and systematic stigmatisation of Muslims. In response, my interlocutors did not desire to speak out against their former religion. They calculated that their narratives could be appropriated by so-called ‘secular crusaders’. In Britain, on the other hand, secularity for the sake of accommodating diversity was dominant, and interlocutors sometimes wished to respond to reference problems. Besides helping to explain the rise of certain voices in the public debate, ‘multiple secularities’ also explains the presence of certain social groups, such as the Council of Ex-Muslims in Britain. I utilised Hubert Hermans’s Dialogical Self Theory as an analytical tool for investigating moving out of Islam narratives in a post-migration context. Consideration of the actual voices in self-narratives, the voices’ embeddedness in discursive structures, and the self-making properties of the dialogical self opened up new spaces for understanding individuals’ trajectories out of Islam. The self, in its own society of mind, is surrounded by not only personal external voices, such as family and friends, but also larger discourses, such as



the ‘public debate’, ‘secularist ex-Muslims voices’, ‘Islamic discourses’, and so forth. In the close examination of one such narrative, complex internal dialogues and monologues were utilised for ethical self-making and in the search for wisdom and ‘truth’. When moving out of Islam, the hierarchical positioning of different voices and shifting identifications of different I-positions are informed by larger external (internalised) discourses, and thereby co-constructed agentic self-making. The dialogical approach was not only useful for close reading my interlocutors’ narratives. By recognising the multiplicity of I-positions and voices that inhabit the self in the larger analysis of the data, it turned out that the religious voice had a relative weight and was not necessarily always central to individuals’ experiences. Whilst religion was present in all my interlocutors’ narratives, sometimes it did not take centre stage in their lives, either in the past or in the present. These conclusions complicate the common notion in the critical study of ‘non-religion’ that a relationship with religion should be primary. I argue throughout the book and specifically in Chapter 4 that ‘non-religion’ is rather contextual, and the relative weight of the religious voice illustrates this. Whereas some of my interlocutors primarily considered their selfhood in relation to religion, for many this was only the case when they were confronted with questions about their move out of Islam, or when they were asked to participate in this project. These observations (through dialogical analysis) point to one of the book’s most significant conclusions: my interlocutors experienced moving out of Islam as being about more than religion or faith alone. In order to unpack the interlocutors’ experiences of moving out of Islam, I offered a narrative analysis of all of the interviews that were conducted. The themes that surfaced in that analysis consisted of various non-chronological stages, which were ordered differently in individuals’ stories. Themes of ‘religious break’, ‘social break-away’, ‘entrance’, and ‘unconscious secularisation’ overlapped within single narratives, showing fluid rather than fixed categories. A dialogical approach to the stories, instead of assuming the centrality of negative religion when moving out of Islam, looked beyond what is left behind and paid more attention to the realties and discourses that people found themselves in, such as familial relations, political discourses, ethnic identities, and professional careers, as well as the ways people responded to them, and how they reshaped the sense of self. If people are viewed in relation to religion alone, a narrow understanding of human experience may result, which is often not in line with how people consider themselves. Indeed, as one of my interlocutors stated: ‘Perhaps there should be [a focus] on what we are rather than what we are not’.1 With regards to narrative structures in both countries, I suggested that differences between the Netherlands and Britain – i.e., the greater prominence of certain themes in each country – were mainly due to religion’s relative centrality to individual identity and the related presence of and need for support groups. In Britain ‘religious break’ and ‘social break-away’ themes were more prevalent than in the Netherlands, where ‘the entrance’ and ‘unconscious secularisation’ were more common. I suggested that these differences were related to the relative presence or absence of support groups, as well as the method by which I found my



interlocutors and whether or not group narratives were then formed. Furthermore, in all of the conversations I had with people, the question of the role religion played when growing up consistently arose. I believe that the question of religion’s role during growing up causally relates to how individuals experience moving out of Islam and their relative need for support, a point to which I will return below. In order to examine the interplay between discursive structures and my interlocutors’ experiences, in Chapter 5 I analysed how people negotiated religious and secular embodiment in light of religious change. I concluded that moving out of Islam becomes particularly visible and contested in what is considered non-negotiable by self and others. Behaviours were sometimes negotiated by individuals hiding their move out of Islam entirely, often a psychologically draining experience, or by selectively mobilising behaviours, knowledges, and practices. While at times this was not at all problematic, at other times individuals navigated a careful balance between what was considered acceptable behaviour from both the religious and secular perspectives. My interlocutors further negotiated ideas about what a non-religious body ought to be. This conceptual ‘secular body’ was not always desired or even possible to perform. Taking the body as a starting point, rather than ‘belief’ or religious dogma in isolation, showed two things. First, by looking at embodied practices, how they may change over time, and how they demarcate belonging, it became clear that movements away from religion cannot be conceptualised as ‘you are in or you are out’. Instead, certain bodily practices and behaviours become available for negotiation, rather than being a choice between one or the other. Second, interconnections between discursive productions of what it means to be either religious or secular as well as how this works on a very personal level became visible. In all the conversations I had with people, the question of ‘speaking out’, either privately or publicly, came up. Indeed, I talked to various people who publicly spoke out about their religious transformation as well as expressed critical remarks about their former religion, Islam, or social inequalities in religious communities. The act of speaking, especially in its testimonial form, has often taken a central role in the study of (de)conversion. It has been considered a tool or technique for making sense of an old and new self in light of religious transformation. Chapter 6 aimed to answer questions of both what moving out may mean and, more specifically, how certain expectations were negotiated from both religious and secular perspectives. Many interlocutors considered speech or even a written statement a ‘step beyond not believing’; the negotiation of past selves and new convictions, behaviours, and knowledges was often done privately. Speech was considered a sign of crossing the divide or enemy lines, yet some felt that social injustice needed to be addressed. The majority of people doing so were found in Britain. Of course, this is not to say that these voices were completely absent from the Dutch public sphere. Some members of the Dutch Humanist Society, for example, have been attempting to create spaces for those who have left Islam. Others with Muslim backgrounds have challenged and participated in the



public debate surrounding certain religious dogmas and social problems within Muslim communities, but non-religion is not necessarily their ‘selling point’ (e.g., Fidan Ekiz, Asis Aynan, Tofik Dibi, and Said El Haji). Whether or not they are religious was often left unmentioned. In Britain, on the other hand, it was more common for people who had moved out of Islam to speak out openly. I believe that there are two underlying reasons for the national differences in the presence of public voices of those who have left Islam as well as organisations set up for those moving out: the respective histories of secularity in the two countries, and the relative dominance of certain narrative themes in each country related to the need for and presence of support groups. In the preceding six chapters, I aimed to be as conclusive and encompassing as possible whilst maintaining the integrity of the study’s boundaries. However, of course, there are some topics, general comparisons, and details that were not extensively touched upon, some of which I wish to point to here. First, considering the discursive productions of secular embodiment, the descriptive empirical perspective that I adopted perhaps did not leave enough space for a more theoretical analysis of what a ‘secular body’ is in each country. If we follow the line of thought that the Netherlands and Britain operate under different histories of secularity, then surely the discursive production of a ‘secular body’ differs too. This in turn implies that there could be considerable differences in how my interlocutors negotiated these conceptions. I briefly touched on these matters when I discussed an interlocutor not wanting to be a social media hero or (not) embrace sexual liberties in response to a particular Dutch set of dispositions. Similarly, British interlocutors’ pondering about not wanting to be completely ‘Western’ or ‘white’ could be considered in light of particular conceptions of whiteness and racial constructions in Britain, which may have unfolded differently in the Netherlands. Of course, there were also similarities. Someone in Britain referred to ‘not wanting to suck up to another culture’,2 which is similar to responses in the Netherlands regarding so-called ‘social media heroes’, who allegedly do exactly that. I did not have the space to trace in detail particular histories of what it means to be ‘white’, ‘Dutch’, ‘British’, or indeed, ‘a secular body’ in each country; therefore, I was unable to systematically compare the two in relation to my interlocutors’ experiences. However, I noted vast overlaps. They have the potential to further our understanding of the ‘secular body’, what it may represent, and my interlocutors’ bodily experiences when moving out. As such, I encourage further research into secular bodies within countries as well as their cross-comparison in light of formations of secularity. Another point of note that I wish to make is that the study of ‘the secular’ should include the experiences of the formerly religious. As I have tried to show, particular formations of knowledges, practices, and behaviours regarding what it means to be secular become highly visible in its religious shadow. Those who have moved out of religion are ideally suited to point to such particularities. This study was not able to explore a significant field: the interrelation of the specific role of religion when growing up, how one experienced moving out of



Islam, and their causal relation to needing support. What does one’s so-called community look like? How are religion and social behaviour valued and imbued? By whom? How does this relate to individual and collective experiences of moving out? This project included individuals from throughout each country. One cluster of three people knew each other from secondary school in Britain and witnessed each other’s moves out of Islam. The other 41 interviewees (participant observations not included) were strangers to one another, or they perhaps knew each other from linking up through (online) communities of ‘former Muslims’ after moving out of their communities or Islam. Therefore, further research into geographic religious and ethnic communities is warranted to assess commonalities and differences with regards to moving out, which would answer questions that this project only hinted to. For example, belonging in Turkish communities in the Netherlands seemed to centre at least as much around support for President Erdoğan as it did around religious affiliation. In Iranian communities in the Netherlands, believing or adhering to Islam was actually treated with suspicion. In Britain, the lack of social welfare and increased ethnic segregation, for example in Blackburn or the London East-End, was considered highly problematic and contributed to increased religious conservatism, made it impossible to physically moving away, and complicated moving out of Islam. In addition, a body of data was collected for this project, but it has not been analysed extensively in this book. For example, in 2018, two different collections of testimonials of people who had left Islam were published in each country. The British book, Leaving Faith Behind, edited by Fiyaz Mughal and Aliyah Saleem, collected and edited six narratives written down by ‘apostates’ themselves (Mughal & Saleem, 2018). In the Dutch book, Nieuwe Vrijdenkers (New Freethinkers), Rachid Benhammou interviewed and wrote down the stories of 12 people who had moved out of Islam (van der Ham & Benhammou, 2018). Both books are sources of narratives as well as interesting parallels that touch on phenomena I have not been able to include here. When delving into the concept of (de)conversion testimony, my interlocutors’ contemplations had to be considered before taking into account other publically available genres or works. Rather than assuming the importance of testimony as a technique of self-making or performing newly found convictions and taking testimonies as a starting point, I uncovered there were vast ambiguities surrounding the act of ‘speaking out’. It was considered a step beyond not believing and, therefore, rarely performed. Other collected and as-of-yet unanalysed data and phenomena from each country also represent rich potential sources of information, such as online testimonials, prominent or well-known former Muslims, media coverage, (non) fiction literature, popular culture, theatre, and film, and so forth (see, for example, van den Brandt, 2019a, 2019b). Almost none of my interlocutors had produced spoken or written testimonies, even though the genre obviously exists. I believe this points to a gap between public knowledges and private experiences, which this study aimed to address. Finally, although I did not have space to include the larger topic of Islamic ‘religiousness’ in Europe, which has reportedly experienced an increase in



practices and adherence in recent decades, especially among younger generations, it is worth noting its significance here. Whilst those moving out of Islam could be considered a ‘counter movement’, it should also be noted that, despite a European ‘Islamic increase’, both the Netherlands and Britain have consistently reported declines in religious adherence and identification. Based on this qualitative inquiry and a persistent lack of quantitative data on those moving out of Islam, it is impossible to draw larger conclusions on ‘moving out’ as a social phenomenon, either as a counter movement to increased Muslim religiousness or as a general trend toward increased non-religion in both the Netherlands and Britain. In conclusion, these interdisciplinary chapters aimed to provide a new and unique understanding of moving out of Islam in the Netherlands and Britain. They responded to contemporary outlooks on ‘apostasy’ from Islam as well as various societal, political, and theological perspectives. In doing so, I have complicated notions of what ‘moving out’ means as well as its consequences. There are two critical aspects to this. First, when studying religious change, we must take into account the deeply personal processes of religious transformation that people undergo. As we have seen, these range from traumatising struggles to relatively unnoticed secularisations. I opened this book with two anecdotes. The first outlined the need among some interlocutors to make a stand and be officially recognised as a non-believer. The second described interlocutors’ lack of awareness of being non-religious in the first place. In order to understand religious decline, I believe all such experiences should be taken into account. In public debates, particularly those concerning Islam, religion is generally assumed to be the sum of a problematised and securitised identity in Europe. Whilst not denying the importance of religion in people’s lives, as well as its importance for many of those who move out of Islam, I have complicated the dominant narratives’ overly simplified notions, from both secular as well as religious perspectives. It is also important to point to the reported ‘inbetweenness’ of those who have moved out of Islam in post-secular societies. My interlocutors negotiated both sides of the religious-secular divide, and they often demonstrated a thoroughly personalised renegotiation of embodiment and morality to constitute selfhood without religion while simultaneously balancing a desire to retain community. Although this balancing act was a common denominator amongst interlocutors, the outcomes of these negotiations and considerations varied greatly. These experiences further complicate overly simplified notions of ‘being in or out’. Whilst external religious and secular discourses assert a desire for people to be either ‘one or the other’, my interlocutors often resisted such expectations through the individualised ways they constituted selfhood. I hope that the narratives, descriptions, and analyses presented in this book provide a considered outlook on what it means to move out of Islam in the Netherlands and Britain. Its comparative element aimed to present both experiences of moving out of religion as well as the situated particulars of specific national discourses. Approaching the topic and my interlocutors’



experiences from an interdisciplinary perspective allowed me to uncover some of the complex ambiguities that colour human experience. I hope this book opens up additional pathways for questioning the antagonistic nature of the debate between the religious and the secular by moving beyond oversimplified ideas of who is in and who is out and, instead, recognising the inbetweenness that most of us live in.

Notes 1 Yedder quote is from a personal interview conducted in Utrecht, the Netherlands, on 18 July 2017. 2 Haroon quote from personal interview conducted in Leeds, UK, on 1 February 2018.

Bibliography Mughal, F., & Saleem, A. (2018). Leaving Faith Behind: The Journeys and Perspectives of People Who have Chosen to Leave Islam. London: Darton, Longman, & Todd, Ltd. van den Brandt, N. (2019a). Gender, seksualiteit en religieuze orthodoxie: Disobedience door schrijfster Naomi Alderman en regisseur Sebastián Lelio. Streven: Cultureel Maatschappelijk Tijdschrift (March–April), 130–142. van den Brandt, N. (2019b). Religion, gender, race, and conversion: Soumission by Michel Houellebecq and Onderworpen by Johan Simons and Chokri Ben Chikha. Tijdschrift voor Genderstudies, 22(2), 191–207. van der Ham, B., & Benhammou, R. (2018). Nieuwe vrijdenkers: 12 voormalige moslims vertellen hun verhaal. Amsterdam: Prometheus.


a secular body 149–52, 159, 164–65, 167n20, 200 Abu-Lughod, Lila 49, 54 agency; 13, 48, 104, 110, 118, 125, 156: agentic 20, 104, 108, 112, 117, 198 agnostic 130; agnosticism 14 alcohol 148, 154, 158, 164, 170, 177, 183 Allah (see ‘God’) Amir-Moazami, Schirin 13, 30, 70n28, 148, 150, 151, 164, 166n3 apostasy 1–6, 8–10, 22n2, 23n11, 79, 80, 90–91, 95, 115, 123–25, 141, 153, 155, 170, 174, 175, 202; apostate(s) 3–6, 8, 79, 91, 109, 125, 173–174, 180, 201 Asad, Talal 13, 29, 82, 122, 149, 150 assimilation 31, 32, 46, 54, 57, 58, 68n5, 84; assimilationist(s) 32, 35, 39, 48, 51, 52, 57, 65–67, 68n8, 108, 118 atheism 8, 14, 116, 178; atheist 6, 10, 22n4, 79, 106, 114, 115, 118, 123, 127, 128, 130, 135, 157–58, 178, 196 autobiography 12, 22n4, 37, 38, 171, 173; autobiographical 171, 174 belonging 5, 8–9, 13, 16, 19–21, 31, 63, 98, 117, 143, 148–49, 152–156, 161, 164, 166, 171, 176–77, 181, 192, 199, 201 blasphemy 4, 5, 44, 79, 80, 89–91, 94, 99n5; blasphemers 79, 91 Bolkestein, Frits 35, 36, 39, 108 Bosch, Mineke 38, 174 Bradford bookburning 43, 44, 69n22, 87 breaking rules 3, 149, 192 Britishness 33, 44, 46, 47, 54, 55, 57, 59, 61, 67, 70n27, 70n28 Buitelaar, Marjo 12, 23n9, 104, 118 Burchardt, Marian 68n3, 68n5, 81–83, 94, 96–97, 99n6 Butler, Judith 50, 52, 53, 70n30

Cameron, David 47, 53, 88 Casanova, José 29, 82 Charlie Hebdo 16, 81, 90, 175 Christianity 17, 54, 84, 95, 172, 176; Christendom 86; Christian 16, 17, 53, 54, 58, 71n43, 85, 86, 93, 94, 139, 144n12, 172, 173, 193n5 citizenship 31, 32, 38, 42–44, 52, 53, 55, 59, 70n32 coming out 1, 2, 113–14, 120n6, 167n16, 171–72, 177, 185, 188, 193n4 communitarianism 19, 93, 197 concealment 131, 175–78 conversion 8, 16, 21, 108, 124–25, 143n5, 171–73, 175–76, 179, 190, 192, 196, 199, 201; convert(s) 1, 5, 7, 8, 38, 45, 126, 162, 172 Cottee, Simon 8, 10, 50, 120n5, 120n6, 123, 125, 141, 167n16, 174, 175, 177, 193n4 COVID-19 56, 196 Danish cartoon affair 16, 81, 88–90, 97, 175 Davidman, Lynn 149 Dawkins, Richard 79, 95, 96 De Koning, Martijn 32, 35, 36, 39, 40, 62 deconversion 8, 10, 16, 21, 120n4, 123, 124, 125, 126, 143n4, 171, 173, 191; deconvert(s) 118, 126 defining the new me 127, 128 devil 3, 103, 106, 107, 112, 113, 129, 136 Dialogical Self Theory 11, 12, 20, 21, 103–9, 117, 118, 120n4, 142, 196, 197 disclosure 167n16, 171, 179, 181 doubt(s) 18, 20, 22, 80, 103–5, 109, 112, 114, 116–18, 122, 126–30, 132, 133–35, 137, 139, 140, 142, 143, 185

Index Ebaugh, Helen Rose Fuchs 126–27 embodiment(s) 12, 13, 20, 21, 22n6, 31, 67, 117, 149–56, 158–61, 163, 165, 166, 196, 199, 200, 202; embodied 6, 12, 13, 60, 115, 122, 136, 138, 149, 151–53, 155, 156, 158, 163, 164, 175, 199 Enlightenment 37, 38, 63, 71n35, 80, 83, 85, 96; Enlightened 22n4, 37, 92, 109, 114, 173, 174, 191 entrance 20, 128, 133, 135, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144n8, 198, ethnicity 9, 12, 42, 43, 44, 59, 64, 84, 87, 93, 95, 135, 161; ethnic 7, 20, 35, 42, 43, 47, 59, 60, 63, 64, 68n11, 83, 84, 87, 93, 114, 123, 127, 134, 142, 144n14, 148, 160, 177, 190, 198, 201 exit(trajectories) 123, 127, 135, 142, 187; exit role 126, 127 Fadil, Nadia 13, 143n3, 150–52 Faith to Faithless 10, 11, 140, 141 Fortuyn, Pim 34–37, 39, 40, 51, 52, 54, 56, 66, 89, 96, 108, 110 Foucault, Michel 107, 108, 111, 113 Foucauldian 103, 104, 107, 108, 113, 173 freedom of conscience 7, 19, 79, 85, 90, 91, 98n1 freedom of expression 7, 19, 30, 35, 37, 38, 66, 67, 85, 89, 90, 91, 94–98, 98n2, 175 freedom of religion 3, 4, 6, 9, 41, 56, 70n32, 94, 97, 114, 170, 193n2 freedom of speech 9, 16, 22n4, 34, 44, 85, 89, 90, 92, 170, 171, 175, 192, 193n6 freethinker(s) 10, 11, 79, 116, 141, 201 Garner, Steve 39, 40, 69n17, 151, 161, 167n13 gender, gendered 7, 9, 17, 20, 22n6, 30, 31, 33, 36, 41, 47, 48, 49, 50–54, 57–60, 64, 67, 70n32, 103, 106, 116, 123, 126, 127, 132, 133, 142, 148, 151, 155, 160, 162, 165, 180, 182 gender equality 36, 53, 58, 64, 70n32, 160, 162, 182 Goldberg, David Theo 32, 33, 34 Hadith 4, 22n3, 171, 185 headscarf 56, 155, 156; hijab; 49, 152, 153, 155, 177 hell 64, 103, 112, 128, 129, 139, 140, 152, 153, 154, 187 Hermans, Hubert 11, 103–108, 115, 117 hijab (see ‘headscarf’) Hirschkind, Charles 13, 21, 122, 149–51


Hirsi Ali, Ayaan 5, 10, 22n4, 37–39, 52, 56, 71n35, 71n38, 80, 89, 92, 96, 109, 110, 114, 120n7, 162, 164, 167n15, 171, 173, 174 homophobia 41, 51–54, 67, 71n34; homophobic 34, 48, 52, 53, 60, 95 homosexual(ity) 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 70n29, 70n30, 84, 163 humanism / humanist 14–15, 127, 134–35, 141–42 Humanist Society / Humanistisch Verbond 10, 22n7, 199 hypocrisy 183, 185 I-positions 12, 15, 20, 104–106, 109–111, 113, 114, 116–119, 127, 142, 198 identity politics 35, 49, 50, 66, 79, 92, 93, 95, 97, 98 inbetweenness 202, 203 integration 19, 35–37, 44, 47, 59, 67, 68n13, 69n13, 69n14, 69n20, 83–85, 89, 93, 96–98, 108, 197 intersectionality 9, 20, 103–5 Islamism 46, 79, 81, 94, 95, 98, 167n15, 197; Islamists 23n11, 32, 37, 47, 66, 79, 93, 94, 108, 167n15 Islamophobia 19, 34, 39, 40, 48, 49, 52, 59, 60, 61, 65, 67, 69n17, 70n31, 71n40, 79, 91, 94, 95, 96, 98, 163, 167n13, 188, 189 Jami, Ehsan 109, 190, 194n31 Keane, Webb 175–76 Kundnani, Arun 42, 43, 47, 87 Larsson, Göran 4, 6, 125, 171 Lee, Lois 14, 15, 81, 118, 123, 124 LGBTQ+ 53, 59, 60, 67, 70n31, 70n33, 79, 90, 120n6, 196 London bombings 7/7 47, 88 Mahmood, Saba 13, 29, 30, 38, 79, 80, 104, 107, 109, 113, 122, 150, 152, 174 Malik, Kenan 79, 92, 93 Mirza, Heidi Safia 49, 54, 55, 57, 59 modernisation 28, 81, 82; modernity(ies) 28, 49, 51, 52, 53, 81–83, 96, 160, 163, 166, 176, 191 modesty 152, 155–56, 158 morality 109, 137, 138, 152, 154, 155, 202; moral(s) 6, 29, 50, 92, 139, 151–53, 158, 163, 173, 175 move to ‘the other side’ 127, 128, 130, 136, 138



multiculturalism/multiculturalist/multicultural 19, 30–32, 35–37, 39, 42–44, 46–49, 52, 54–57, 59, 66, 68n5, 68n6, 68n7, 68n8, 68n13, 69n14, 69n19, 69n21, 71n40, 79, 80, 84, 86–88, 90, 92–94, 97, 98, 136, 197 multiple secularities 19, 21, 30, 68n5, 81, 82, 84, 97, 99n6, 166n3, 196, 197 Namazie, Maryam 60, 79, 80, 85, 91, 92, 96 native testimonial 21, 38, 174, 176, 189, 191, 192 Nawaz, Maajid 85, 95, 162, 167n15 negotiating difference 127, 128, 135, 142 New Labour 46, 47, 58, 59, 88 new realism 31–35, 39, 40, 47, 50, 52, 66, 69n15, 71n45 Niqab 47, 55, 56, 71n37 non-belief 164, 188; non-believer; 155, 187 non-religion 14–16, 23n10, 81, 103, 118, 123, 124, 142, 143, 191, 198, 200, 202; non-religious 6, 14, 15, 18, 22, 71n43, 82, 83, 92, 108, 123, 124, 127, 137, 149, 150, 151, 153–156, 158–160, 164, 165, 171, 190, 194n35, 199, 202 Özyürek, Esra 5, 8, 124, 162 performance 13, 16, 20, 21, 148, 149, 152–53, 156–58, 163–65, 171–173, 176, 178, 181, 184, 185, 187, 188, 190, 191; performative/ity 154, 155, 158, 164, 165, 172, 173, 191, 192, 193n1 Performance of Speech; 21, 172, 176 populism/populist 36, 37, 50, 52, 62, 79, 80, 89, 90, 108 pork 148, 158, 164, 166n1, 170, 188 post-secular 11, 104, 123, 202 postracial contemporary 31, 33, 34, 41, 48, 66, 167n14 prayer(s) 18, 86, 153, 157, 158, 184 Qur’an/Quranic 3, 4, 37, 64, 129, 131, 138, 160, 171, 185 race 5, 39, 40, 44, 48, 58, 62, 87, 93, 95, 151, 160–63, 165, 166, 167n13, 167n20; racialised; 8, 40, 48, 59, 64, 67, 160, 162; racism 33, 34, 39–43, 59, 62, 68n7, 71n34, 71n45, 79, 87, 91, 95, 96, 160, 163, 167n13 racialisation 34, 39, 40, 41, 48, 62, 66, 69n17, 160, 166, 167n13 radicalisation 64, 90

Ramadan 135, 136, 137 reference problems 68n5, 81, 83–85, 89, 96, 98, 99n9, 108, 197 regressive left 41, 79, 88, 96 religious break 20, 128, 130, 138, 140–42, 144n6, 198 religious disaffiliation 8, 120n4, 123, 143n4 religious freedom 50, 53, 56, 57, 97 ritual 12, 13, 18, 122, 126, 134, 136, 152, 157, 158, 173, 185 Rushdie, Salman (Rushdie affair) 5, 16, 22n4, 30, 35, 43, 44, 46, 66, 69n23, 87 Scheffer, Paul 36, 93, 99n10, 108 Schielke, Samuli 123, 152 secular crusaders 16, 23n11, 66, 108, 189, 192, 197 secularisation 28, 29, 41, 50, 81, 82, 84, 124 secularisation theory 28, 82 secularist ‘ex-Muslim’ voices 19, 21, 30, 67, 80, 81, 83–85, 88, 92, 96, 97, 98, 98n2, 109, 162, 192, 196–198 secularity 14, 19, 29–31, 68n2, 81–86, 88–90, 92, 94, 96–98, 98n2, 99n9, 108, 124, 126, 160, 165, 166n3, 167n20, 192, 197, 200 seeking alternatives 126, 127, 128, 134 separation of church and state 36, 94 sex 137, 152, 158, 159, 163, 164; sexuality 6, 31, 49, 50, 51, 54, 60, 67, 151, 163, 165, 166, 167n20; sexism 160; sexual freedom 49, 50, 51, 53, 54, 59, 60, 151, 163; sexual politics 29, 47, 48, 50, 52, 53, 54, 59, 70n30 Snel, Johan 36–38, 175 social break-away 20, 128, 131, 132, 138–143, 144n7, 198 social media 65, 141, 163–165, 185, 200 society of mind 12, 20, 105–7, 112, 115, 117–118, 142, 197 speaking out 2, 5, 16, 21, 66, 79, 80, 109, 117, 125, 162, 165, 170–72, 174–76, 183, 185–92, 193n1, 197, 199, 201 Spivak, Gavatri Chakravort 49 stigma 175, 177, 178, 182; stigmatisation 8, 10, 19, 58, 61, 62, 63, 97, 111, 114, 190, 197, Streib, Heinz 8, 120n4, 123, 124, 126, 127, 143n4 Submission (film) 37, 71n35, 89 suicide 122, 132 Taylor, Charles 124 technology of the self 107, 108, 111, 113, 174



terrorism / terrorist 40, 45, 46, 48, 63, 70n26, 88 testimony / testimonial 10, 16, 21, 38, 171–174, 176, 179, 185–192, 193n1, 193n5, 196, 199, 201 the entrance 133, 135, 140, 141, 143, 198

Van Nieuwkerk, Karin 6, 8, 124, 125, 187 (face)veil(s) / (un)veiling 12, 30, 47, 48, 49, 54–57, 60, 63, 64, 65, 70n28, 71n37–38, 88, 148, 150, 153, 155, 156 VrijLinks 41, 85

unbeliever(s) / unbelief / unbelieving 1, 80, 118, 135, 140, 153, 170, 171, 173, 177, 179, 180, 182, 183, 185, 191 unconscious secularisation 20, 128, 135–138, 140, 141, 143, 144n11, 198

whiteness / white 17, 31, 34, 35, 40, 42, 49, 64, 65, 70n29, 107, 119, 152, 159–63, 166, 167n14, 167n20, 200 Werbner, Pnina 156 Wilders, Geert 39, 52, 56, 80, 85, 89, 90, 96, 97, 99n8, 108, 110, 170, 189 Wohlrab-Sahr, Monika 68n3, 68n5, 81–83, 94, 96, 97, 99n6, 124

Van Gogh, Theo 35, 37, 39, 41, 66, 85, 89, 108