Memory, community, and opposition to mosques: The case of Badalona

Astor, A.

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Astor, A. (2012). Memory, community, and opposition to mosques: The case of Badalona. Theory and Society, 41(4), 325–349.

immigration , Islam , memory , mosque , space , Spain , symbolic boundaries

A number of recent studies have examined the sources of conflict surrounding the presence of Muslim minorities in Western contexts. This article builds upon, and challenges, some of the principal findings of this literature through analyzing popular opposition to mosques in Badalona, a historically industrial city in Catalonia where several of the most vigorous anti-mosque campaigns in Spain have occurred. Drawing upon 46 semi-structured interviews and ethnographic observation conducted over a two-year period, I argue that opposition to mosques in Badalona is not reducible to anti-Muslim prejudice or fears of Islamic extremism. Rather, it is rooted in powerful associations drawn between Islam, immigration, and a series of social problems affecting the character of communal life and the quality of cherished public spaces in the city. These associations are expressed through local narratives that emphasize a sharp rupture between a glorified ethnically homogeneous past of community and solidarity, and a troublesome multicultural present fraught with social insecurity and disintegration. I show how the construction of these "rupture narratives" has entailed active memory work that minimizes the significance of prior social cleavages and conflicts, and selectively focuses on disjuncture over continuity with the past. I also highlight how these narratives have been reinforced by strong socio-spatial divisions, which have intensified contestations over public space and led to the integration of mosque disputes into broader struggles over social justice and public recognition.

Main finding
In the southern part of Badalona, mosques are a focal point of contestation around immigration and neighborhood change. The opposition stems significantly from the contestation over public space, an important cultural element in Spanish culture, but also for Moroccan and Pakistani immigrants. Because mosques serve as symbols of an increasing immigrant presence in public space, they are a rallying point for territorial claims over space. Ironically, the lack of worship space that has resulted from public opposition to mosques contributed to the need for immigrants to use existing public space. Those opposed tend to narrate the neighborhood changes as both negative and drastically different from the way things used to be, even to the extent of idealizing the past and minimizing pre-existing issues, such as social cleavages between people who identify as Catalan or Spanish, and those of Roma descent.

Description of method used in the article
The author used purposive and snowball sampling to conduct 46 semi-structured interviews, along with ethnographic observations in public and private space, including plazas, mosques, celebrations, and community forums.

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Organising categories

Interviews Participant Observation
Physical types
Geographic locations