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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Muslim Communities in the New Europe
Edited by Gerd Nonneman, Tim Niblock & Bogdan Szajkowski

(Reading, UK Ithaca Press, 1996)
346pp. Index. ISBN 0-86372-223-7.

Amongst the number of academic volumes on Islam in Europe, this book differs from the mainstream for two clear reasons. It focuses not only on Islam settled in Western Europe, but includes a set of stimulating articles on Islam in Eastern Europe. Most of the contributors succeed in avoiding classical monographical narratives, focusing instead on transversal thematics discussed in the book's first chapter by Nonneman who refers to modes of religious belongings regarding various modernisation models. He chooses a challenging method developing comparative perspective along East-West lines. It is liberal organising principles applied to the treatment of individual and group-rights of Muslims in a global context of identity assertion that lie at the theoretical and methodological core of the editor's general analysis.

What do Western and Eastern Europe share in terms of Islam? Beyond historical separated political state-buildings, structural differences between an "indigenised" and a transplanted Islam, the status issue is intensely discussed on both sides, particularly a set of common issues among ethnic minorities such as language, education, mosque-building, cultural production and equal treatment on the labour and housing market. These apparently common features need to be finely-shaded. For instance, recognition of groups-rights is rendered problematic by the "incompatibility" with the post-communist civic society in Eastern Europe (see the case studies of Albania and Bulgaria), while Western Europe offers various conditions for coexistence depending upon institutional repertoires and incorporation patterns provided by host-countries ("circumstantial handicap", p. 280) and linked to home-countries.

Citizenship and participation in national polities are other central issues. European national scenes are distinguished, by the way that ethnic-religious conflict arises, plays a part in politics and may also be a feature of everyday life. In Eastern Europe, the focus on separate ethnic, national and religious affilations reveals the complexity framing definitions of political membership, especially in Orthodox dominant societies. In this respect, religion appears one element of an ethnic-national identification liable to assess eligibility for citizenship given that "confessional unity is much easier to manipulate than national unity." (p. 87) Islam is less a matter of overt ethnic conflict in Western Europe, even if in certain cases it may seem to be latent, but is more often linked with positions in the public sphere, the ideological multicultural framework and questions of visibility. Conflict cleavages do not have the same basis as those in Eastern Europe but retain relevance.

The result is an eclectic but quite exhaustive view on contemporary Islam in Europe. Of particular interest are chapters concerning the radical shift of attitudes vis-ŕ-vis religion in Eastern countries. But as the product of a three-year project, it is regrettable that other transversal topics such as the transformation of the relationship between individual and society in contemporary Islam, a comparison of the new modes of "believing and belonging", the transnationalisation of Islamic associative mobilisation and the pressures exerted by Muslim States on their nationals throughout Europe are not discussed.

Dr. Valérie Amiraux, European University Institute. - Florence

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