After the attacks in New Zealand, a debate on Muslim hostility should also take place in Germany, demands the historian Yasemin Shooman.
The attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killed 50 Muslims on prayer last week and injured at least 20 others. The main suspect is a far-right Australian.
The historian Yasemin Shooman, 38, directs the Academy programs of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, where she is responsible for the topics of migration and diversity as well as the Jewish-Islamic Forum.
SZ: Ms. Shooman, you refer to Islamophobia as "a phenomenon of the middle of society". Already before Pegida and the arrival of many refugees you have obtained a doctorate on the topic. How do you observe the discourse today, after the attack on Muslims in New Zealand?
Yasemin Shooman: A serious debate on anti-Muslim racism took place in Germany at that time and does not take place today. After the so-called refugee crisis, the images of the demographic threat to Europe by Muslims were reinforced, even the author Thilo Sarrazin has fueled this fear, we would be overrun and "our culture" is threatened. And now we're talking to Christchurch about a far-right terrorist attack. That's right, but you can not just reduce it to right-wing extremism.
This act has turned against a specific group. We have to talk about the hatred of Muslims, about Muslim hostility, which was the driving force behind this act. And that can be uncomfortable. For right-wing extremism likes to push the past or the margins to the extreme, but anti-Muslim racism has arrived in the middle of society. This is proven by all the studies of recent years.
Now many will say New Zealand is far away. Why should just this terrorist attack be used as an opportunity to talk about Muslim hostility in Germany?
Because in this country there is also a social breeding ground for the ideology of the perpetrator. German right-wing populists are describing an impending population exchange and collaborative elites promoting "Islamization." These are images that are used in attenuated form in a broad political discourse. It is not just the opinion of individual radicals in the net. Moreover, in Germany we have enough examples of attacks on mosques and anti-Muslim violence – and a lack of debate about it.
Do you have specific examples?
Last Tuesday, a man in Berlin beat a pregnant woman wearing a headscarf in the stomach and fled. The Berlin police reported: "disputes escalated". The man had insulted the woman because of her headscarf before the fist blow. This type of representation always follows the same pattern. Back then, I was investigating the reactions when a racist stabbed Muslim Marwa El-Sherbini in a courtroom in Dresden in 2009. She had reported him because he had insulted her in a playground as an "Islamist". After her murder, this was dismissed as a dispute over a swing. The Chancellor condoled the Egyptian Prime Minister instead of expressing her solidarity with local Muslims. There was no question what an Islamophobic act like this means for the everyday life of Muslims. Especially for headscarf wearers who are abused and spit on. It happens all the time, but it's not talked about.
What do you mean, why that is?
The limit of what can be said about Muslims has been continually extended. The presence of Muslims is constantly problematized, prominent politicians such as Federal Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich (2011 -2013) or Horst Seehofer question the affiliation of Islam to Germany. In the meantime, resentments are openly expressed in the public, for example after the publication of Sarrazin's book. All of this has led to a normalization of anti-Muslim racism and empathy for Muslims as victims of discrimination or terror. Take a look at the comments on the fact in the social networks and commentary forums of established newspapers, which leads to hatred.
However, after the attack in Christchurch, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern fairly quickly announced that it was a terrorist attack on Muslims.
That's right, but that's an exception. White terrorists are usually portrayed as individual offenders and not as carriers of a more widespread ideology.
This was observed by the Norwegian law terrorist Anders Breivik. After Islamist attacks, however, a whole group is spoken.
So it makes a difference in perception, whether the perpetrator was Muslim or not?
Yes, these are sociopsychological processes: While an in-group delinquent is regarded as a deviation from the norm, he is quickly considered a typical representative in a group that is constructed as a foreigner. Negative behavior in the "outgroup" is more likely to be attributed to their collective character, while within the in-group it is rather the individual who is responsible.
Harvested on Twitter the Berlin tabloid B.Z, much criticism after Christchurch. She had titled: "He killed innocents in revenge for the terror at Breitscheidplatz". How do you rate this line?
Such headlines convey an implicit justification. Although it is emphasized that it has hit the wrong people, but apparently it is not possible to call Muslims as victims, without immediately addressing them as perpetrators. And be it by linking them to an Islamist terrorist attack that occurred nearly 20,000 kilometers away. The anti-Muslim racist motive and its social dimension are relativized with such argumentation patterns.
In English-language media, the perpetrator is called "white supremacist". Behind it lies the racist ideology of white superiority. Do you see any parallels with Germany?
Yes, but only right-wing extremists in Germany so openly speak of an alleged superiority of whites. German right-wing populists are more likely to put it this way in order to remain compatible in the middle class. This is called "Western Leitkultur" and "our way of life", which is allegedly incompatible with "other cultures" that are considered inferior. Antimuslim discourses serve both to construct a national community and a transnational "occidental" identity. In this perception Christianity is staged as the religion of the whites, and Islam as the religion of the non-whites.
To what extent does racism have anything to do with Muslim hostility?
Racism research broadly agrees that with the increasing taboo of the term "race" as a result of National Socialist crimes, its social effectiveness has not diminished. We are now increasingly dealing with culturally based racism. Here, "culture" is used as deterministically as formerly genetics and biologic attributions. Muslims are therefore addressed not only as a religious community but also as a community of descent. In the debates, being German and being Muslim is therefore thought of as a pair of opposites.
When does your legitimate critique of religion stop?
Generalizing attributions and double standards are always an indication that this is not serious criticism. And of course, the question often arises, which intention the criticism pursues. Is it about creating improvement or legitimizing the marginalization of Muslims? We can observe that women's rights or the rights of homosexuals are only positioned by certain actors when it comes to Muslims and then polemicize the same people against gender mainstreaming elsewhere. This shows that human rights are exploited to legitimize resentment.
What questions would you like to discuss about Christchurch?
What does it matter if someone suggests that there are too many Muslims in a society? Implicitly this contains the message: how could it become less again? As if one could put the presence of Muslims to the vote. This cemented the idea of a society that is divided into hosts and guests. And that is not a description of Germany in the 21st century. Muslims must be regarded as a natural part of the German population.
When Muslims publicly speak about exclusion and discrimination, they are often accused of playing a victim role. How do you rate that?
This is a manslaughter argument. If you hold that against a group that is affected by racism, then you do not take your experience of discrimination seriously. It's like when I want to discuss sexism as a woman and they accuse me of posing as a victim. Then you can not have a serious conversation.
What do you expect from politics?
I wish that politics clearly identify the phenomenon of hostility to Muslims. Since last year there is an anti-Semitism officer. I think we also need an Islamophobia officer. And we should coordinate the different racisms – also against Sinti and Roma or black people – at federal and state level. Because the racist breeding ground is dangerous for all minorities. A resentment seldom comes alone.