WP2 Progress

Istanbul Bilgi University's European Institute is the lead beneficiary for Work Package 2 (WP2) titled “The use of the past in political discourse and the representation of Islam in European Museums”.  UNEW, and UVA are IBU’s partners in this WP. WP2 is led by Prof. Dr. Ayhan Kaya (team leader of IBU), with Chiara De Cesari (UVA), Wayne Modest (SNMW) and Chris Whitehead (UNEW). 

WP2 investigates the use of past in political discourse and the representation of Islam in European museums investigates public/popular discourses and dominant understandings of a homogeneous ‘European heritage’ and the exclusion of groups such as minorities from a stronger inclusion into European society. It focuses on the position of ‘Others’ within or outwith European heritages and identities, attending particularly to the place and perception of Islam and to legacies of colonialism in contemporary European societies.

Aims and Objectives

WP2’s objectives are to critically review and theorise key concepts, such as ‘European heritages’, ‘European identity’ and ‘collective memory’ in relation to academic literature, museum and heritage practice, value cultures, politics and policy and EU structures and agendas. In this scope, Prof. Dr. Ayhan Kaya (IBU team leader) completed the report titled “Work Package 2: The use of past in political discourse and the representation of Islam in European Museums, The rise of populist extremism in Europe”. The report explored the relationship between the politics of fear and proliferating civilizational discourses of European heritage. The literature review focused on the cases of France’s The Front National, Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland, Greece’s LAOS, Golden Dawn and SYRIZA, Italy’s Five Star Movement, The Netherlands’ Party for Freedom, and Turkey’s Justice and Development Party. In doing so, Kaya explored the literature on the mobilisation of cultural discourses in the political use of fear. The report highlighted that populist politics deploys politics of fear by stigmatizing and securitizing migrants, deploying and perpetuating Islamophobia, and Euroscepticism, and using nativism as an exclusionary discourse rooted in the colonial past. As such, the ‘Other’ is often portrayed as a threat to the nationalist sentiments. This relates to the rise populism as a political style in Europe, which also exploits cultural heritage.

The other objective of the WP2 is to explore how and why relationships with and attitudes to the past inform identity positions, social orderings and moral values in Europe. In regard to this objective, Kaya found that populist political leaders often utilise the past, religion, culture, myths and memories in their rhetoric to attract the masses. In relation to these findings, in-depth interviews with  20 private individuals who identify with populist parties or movements, were carried out in 6 countries. The interviews explored the strategies that populist movements and political parties deploy in their communications with private citizens. The fieldwork also investigated individuals’ opinions on multiculturalism, immigration, globalisation and the European Union. The interviews were designed to not only explore the individuals’ views but also their awareness of the current conflicts and crisis the European countries are facing.

Preliminary findings

Preliminary findings indicate that social, economic and financial difficulties lead to the escalation of fear and prejudice vis-a-vis the “others” who are ethno-culturally and religiously different. While there are various approaches to understanding the rise of populist movements and parties across Europe and elsewhere, leaders often use common strategies to communicate with their supporters. These include opposing present institutional arrangements, opposing a mandated political establishment and the political elite, taking on marginal positions, as well as polarising and personalising politics. As such, populist leaders emphasise a homogeneous national identity, and nativism, thereby producing a political discourse that attempts to isolate the “others”. The fieldwork study aimed to explore the effects of such discourse on private individuals who support populist movements or parties. The data from the fieldwork sheds light on the types of communication strategies that attract these individuals, while also exploring how platforms, such as social media, are utilised in reaching out to the public. In doing so, the fieldwork goes beyond national politics and investigate private individuals’ views on the EU and European heritage. The questions for the in-depth interviews also explored how citizens see the relations between national cultural heritage, and values, and those of Europe.