Moderating Islam: Religion, security, and the Western state

Date of Completion

January 2010


Religion, General|Political Science, International Relations|Political Science, General




How, when and why do secular states intervene in religious traditions, and what happens when they do? The conflation of extremist interpretations of Islam with violent terrorism has led Western states to "securitize" Islam: that is, to enact out-of-the-ordinary measures to encourage and foster a reinterpretation or "Reformation" of Islam more amenable to Western conceptions of security. Such reinterpretations equate a moderate, liberal democratic Islam with what that religion "really is." This project examines the discourse and policies of two European states that have framed Islam as a security issue. I also discuss Muslim apprehension and resistance in the face of these policies. I argue that Western securitizations of Islam exacerbate existing tensions in Muslim communities, distract attention away from legitimate political grievances, and most importantly, threaten freedom of thought and religion. Finally, the analysis suggests a new way to approach the study of religion in international relations: instead of conceiving of religion as a free-standing phenomenon with its own distinctive qualities that influence human behavior, scholars of religion in international relations should examine the political forces that operate on our conceptions of what religion is and the consequences of those interpretations. ^