The perceived crisis triggered by the current refugee influx highlights the contradiction at the heart of human rights discourse. Modern humanity has been constructed as both European and as universal; the racialized “Other” against whom the “modern human” disturbs this construction by laying claim to human rights from the very heart of Europe. The sexualized violence reported in Cologne on New Year’s Eve fed into racialized fears of refugees and immigrants promoted by groups on the radical right, even as racialized fears returned to mainstream discourses. Critical responses to the racism of the radical right unfortunately also participate in racialized discourses by resorting to “Europe” or “European values.” This analysis suggests the need to consider Europe as a field of power, one in which the contestation over what Europe is or should be results in concrete, racialized disparities in access to social mobility, education, or public agency. A project for racial, gender and economic justice requires the thinking of Europe as an ongoing project of world-making. The call to revisit or reclaim “European” values cannot succeed here. Nor can a response to the new right (or the newly normalized racism of the center) allow the new right to determine the parameters of debates about possibilities for the future.
As the current debates about the headscarf in Germany and France
demonstrate, “Islamic” veils and headscarves garner attention for
minority women in Europe to an unparalleled degree.2 For centuries,
Islamic veils and headscarves have served as powerful symbols in
Orientalist discourse, functioning as markers of the Oriental woman’s
supposed eroticism as well as convenient tropes for philosophers.3
Recent kidnappers’ demands in Iraq that France lift its headscarf ban
demonstrate the complex appropriations of Muslim women for fundamentalist
discourses as well.