Esra Ozyurek, Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion, and Conversion in the New Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016)
Reviewed by David N. Coury, Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Since September 11 and the subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe, the West has witnessed a rise in Islamophobia as well as a debate in political and intellectual circles over the commensurability of Islam and Western liberal democracies. Federal President Christian Wullf's 2010 declaration that Islam is part of Germany prompted further debate about religious freedom and to what degree multiculturalism is part of German and European cultural identity. Given the backlash and discrimination that many Muslims have felt in the twenty-first century, it is surprising to consider that many native Germans have converted to Islam. Too often when discussions turn to Muslims and Islam, the discourse revolves almost exclusively around immigrant populations or those with a "migrant background," as opposed to considering the status of German converts to Islam and what that means for German and European identity.
Esra Ozyurek, associate professor at the European Institute of the London School of Economics, spent several months in Germany interviewing numerous native Germans, from both the West and the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), who had converted to Islam and she explores in her well-written study the tensions between Islam and the West and issues surrounding integration and assimilation of German converts. Ozyurek maintains that indigenous Germans who have embraced or converted to Islam deal with the particular tension that they are at once part of an established German and European society, yet are also excluded from that society based on their religious beliefs and practices and the discrimination toward it. In her two excellent opening chapters, Ozyurek analyzes important debates over the racialization of Islam and parses out important distinctions between Islam and "Muslimness"--the former representing for converts a purer theological pursuit, whereas the later embodies a culture and lifestyle often rooted in...