Islamophobia is racism, pure and simple
Islamophobia is on the rise in Germany. That is troubling enough. But what’s even more concerning is that many of those whom I would define as Islamophobic feel very good about it. They see themselves not as racist or xenophobic, but as defenders of democracy and human rights against the adherents of a religion they believe is incompatible with both.
Over the past few years the advance of Islamophobia can be easily observed. Anti-Muslim websites such as Politically Incorrect have expanded and become more aggressive, cherry-picking reports of crimes by Muslim perpetrators in order to confirm their prejudices; books with a clear anti-Muslim agenda – such as that of Thilo Sarrazin, a former Berlin finance senator – have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, including claims that Muslim immigrants are “dumbing down” Germany; parties such as Pro Köln, which hysterically warn of an “Islamic land grab”, have been founded.
It is against this backdrop that we have to look at the weekly protests in Dresden against the “Islamisation” of Germany. Few of those attending are neo-Nazis or classic rightwing radicals. Instead, the vast majority are normal citizens. Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, there are hardly any Muslims in Dresden. Islamophobia apparently has as much to do with imagination as with reality.
To be sure, Islamophobia is no German speciality. In the Netherlands, for example, similar developments started years earlier. In fact, Islamophobia is on the rise across western Europe, not least in the UK.
As a journalist with an Arabic name, I receive a fair amount of Islamophobic hate mail, as do many colleagues with a similar background. Three years ago, when we realised this was happening to all of us and had become more frequent, we started to stage public events at which we read from these letters to an audience. But we don’t just read the letters. We have created a show around it – a party, if you like – called Hate Poetry Slam, during which we compete over who has received the meanest, most racist, most hateful letter. It is a public act of catharsis. But much more importantly, when read out loud in front of hundreds of people, the full extent of idiocy, the lack of logic, the hysteria in these letters becomes palpable. And laughable.
Of course, Islamophobia can’t be laughed away and ours is just small way of dealing with it. But what’s clear is that traditional racist arguments are now more likely to come in the form of abuse on the basis of religion. The argument is often that Jews share the same values as Christians, and Vietnamese immigrants are good at integrating, but for Muslims neither is true; plus, they want to take over. Which is why their religion is in fact an ideology; which is why it is OK to be against it; which in turn makes you a freedom fighter.
What’s feeding this? Clearly 9/11 and other Jihadist terrorist attacks play a role. But that’s not all. There is fear of losing out economically, for which Muslims are scapegoated; there’s the challenge of living in a society changing rapidly in the light of globalisation; there’s anger about the increasing visibility of immigrants.
The organisers of the Dresden demonstrations claim to be responding to street fights between Salafists and Kurds that broke out in western Germany a few weeks ago. But framing this and other problems as part of a phenomenon of Islamisation is ridiculous.
And yet it is time we started to take this seriously. Those people in the streets of Dresden may be nonviolent but they have been infected with a smug contempt for a minority, and may embolden the more radical fringes of the Islamophobic spectrum.
Politicians here have sensed that something is building. But until very recently, they mostly just maintained that people’s grievances should be taken seriously, rather than criticising the racist sentiment that came with their complaints.
This needs to change – now. It needs to be made clear that Islamophobia in Germany is no legitimate expression of anger or frustration and most certainly nothing to be proud of. It’s racism, plain and simple.