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On the Muslim Question: ? ! ? !

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By  Joseph Richard Preville

In her book, Anne Norton challenges the irrational fear of Muslims, especially in Europe and America. But ultimately, she writes, Islamophobia will be defeated by the communal way we live together

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How did Muslims become objects of fear and dread? And, how are we all harmed by it? Anne Norton considers these issues in her excellent new book, On the Muslim Question (Princeton University Press, The Public Square Book Series, 2013).

Anne Norton is a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania. She was educated at the University of Chicago, where she earned her doctorate in political science. She is the author of Republic of Signs: Liberal Theory and American Popular Culture (1993); Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire (2004), and 95 Theses on Politics, Culture, and Method (2004). 

In On the Muslim Question , Norton challenges the irrational fear of Muslims in all its ugly forms, especially in Europe and America. But, ultimately Islamophobia will be defeated by the communal way we live together.  "The Muslim question', she writes, "spans continents. It unites politicians, philosophers, the press, pundits, and talk-radio ranters in a common anxiety over the clash of civilisations. Yet there is, in these democracies, a popular response that speaks against this. On the streets of the West, ordinary people -- Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, and the rest -- are crafting a common life together'.

Anne Norton discusses her new book in this exclusive interview:

What was the inspiration for your new book?

Why do you see "the Muslim question as the Jewish question of our time'?

In the simplest [and most important] sense, Jews once marked the line where the West's

commitment to "liberty, equality and fraternity' was tested and failed. Now that line is marked by Muslims.

The debate over Jewish emancipation in 19th century Europe involved more than the status of the Jews. It involved fundamental questions about the place of religion in politics, and the relation of economic to political equality. When Westerners talk about Muslims and freedom of speech or Muslims and discrimination against women, I find that they are often talking about the problems, anxieties and injustices of our own Western societies.

Why are Western societies so wary of Muslims?

They aren't. Western politicians, philosophers, politicians and journalists are often wary of Muslims and critical of Islam. Yet when you look out of the window -- in big city or a small town -- you don't see the "clash of civilisations' you see people making their lives together.

I see women in the hijab everyday -- in my classes, writing parking tickets, working in the grocery, or pushing strollers on the street. There is a mosque a few blocks away from my university. Many of the lunch trucks sell halal food. My father's doctor is Muslim. We take this for granted: It is the normal fabric of our lives.

Does the "Clash of Civilisations' theory carry any weight today?

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Joseph Richard Preville is Assistant Professor of English at University of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia

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