From The Financial Times
By Simon Kuper
You’d almost think Muslims really do control the world. Certainly the American and French elections seem to be mostly about them. AfterMohammed Merah killed seven people in Toulouse in the name of Islam, Nicolas Sarkozy has tried to turn the election into a referendum on who can best protect the French from Muslims. In a curious echo of medieval controversies in Europe, he also wants to protect the French from halal meat, which they have belatedly discovered they’re all eating. In that other Enlightenment nation, Newt Gingrich is warning of sharia law being imposed on the US through “stealth jihad”. That won’t surprise the many Americans who already believe they are ruled by a Muslim. I had got the impression in recent years that the US and France had other problems, but clearly I was wrong.
The words “Islam” and “Muslim” are overused and have lost almost all meaning in western discussion. They have become catch-all terms to explain everything. I’m not calling for a moratorium on the use of “Islam” in public debate, but nearly. Once the word is used as sparingly as, say, “Shinto”, the volume of daily nonsense talked will plummet.
“Muslims” were discovered in the west only on September 11 2001. Riem Spielhaus, an expert on Islam (not a self-appointed one) at Copenhagen University, says that in the 1990s “Muslims” usually appeared in European surveys under rubrics like “Turks” or “former guest workers”. Only after 9/11, and subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe, did researchers start calling them “Muslims”. Instead of national origins, or social class, suddenly only religion mattered. This was true even if the “Muslims” didn’t have any religion. Only a small minority of France’s five million nominal Muslims attend mosque each Friday. This begs the question of what makes the others “Muslims”, but no matter. Since 9/11, “Islam” explains everything from the French riots to Saddam Hussein.