, Volume 41, Issue 4, pp 325-349
Date: 16 May 2012

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

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Abstract

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.