Germany, We Need to Talk about Islamophobia

Germany, We need to talk about Islamophobia, Dr Luis Manuel Hernandez Aguilar

The recent federal elections and the rise of the far-right Islamophobic political party Alternative for Germany (AFD) as the third most influential political force in the parliament, not only preoccupied social commentators as it presented a tangible threat to German democracy (given that it is the first time in six decades in which a party with overtly nationalist and racist discourses has secured representation in the Bundestag), but also because the AFD’s success revealed the growing currency of Islamophobic discourses in German politic and social life. As such, the AFD’s presence in the Bundestag transformed the already well-cemented and disseminated racial discourses on Muslims and Islam into a political program which, undoubtedly, will be part of the political discussion and system of Germany in the years to come.

The CIK WS1 report on Muslim hatred in Germany revealed that Islamophobic discourses and their manifold deployments in education, media, employment, political discourses and everyday life have been a constant reality, exponentially increasing after 9/11, and more recently through the fears evoked concerning the arrival of refugees in the so-called refugee crisis. In just one year, from 2014 to 2015, attacks on refugee centers and criminal and violent acts directed against asylum seekers alarmingly increased by 418% (BMI 2015, p.6). Attacks on Mosques have also been on a steady rise with an average of 22 per year (Yegane Arani 2015, p.44; DITIB – Antirassismus- & Antidiskriminierungsstelle 2013). Islamophobic racial violence, moreover, has also targeted Muslim individuals, in particular Muslim women wearing headscarves (Soliman 2016).

As in other countries (e.g. Belgium), the relevance and spread of Islamophobia, as a form of sexualized and gendered racism, is barely recognized in public debate, and more often than not even doubted or legitimized as a “genuine” fear of the population reacting to the “problems” Muslim allegedly represent. However, during recent years, the mythos of a tolerant German society without racism has started to be challenged on many fronts, and the realities of Islamophobia have begun to surface through different platforms (e.g. social media).

Islamophobia in Germany has operated as a meta-narrative comprising a set of interlocked ideas and stereotypes problematizing the very existence of Muslims in the country, while deeming Islam as a political and anti-democratic force threatening the values and norms of German society. In Germany more than half of the population perceives Islam as a threat (Hafez & Schmidt 2015). Without a doubt, the role of the media in the spread of fears and anxieties towards Islam and Muslims has to be taken into account research (Schiffer 2005; Schiffer 2007; Schiffer 2004; Peucker & Akbarzadeh 2014; Hafez & Richter 2007).

As a political discourse of hatred sustaining, exclusionary practices and legitimization of violence against Muslims, those deemed as such, and property identified as Islamic, Islamophobia can be seen as a highly adaptable and contingent meta-narrative, that can easily align its arguments with progressive agendas such as the struggle for gender equality.

Although the emphasis of particular narratives mobilized around specific socio-historical events hints at the plasticity of this narrative of hatred, it is important to underscore certain recurrent patterns functioning as umbrella narratives. For instance, the discourse on integration, prominent since the 1980’s and deployed towards all of those deemed as non-Germans, can be seen as an embracing and ubiquitous narrative whereby all of the problems associated to Muslims are explained, thus, the alleged gender inequality reigning in Muslim communities has often been explicated as the outcome of Muslims’ lack of integration. The following list presents the most dominant narratives of Muslim hatred in Germany:

1. Non-integrated character or unwilling to integrate
2. Gender inequality in Muslim communities
3. “Islamic terrorism”
4. Distinction between German and Muslims in terms of values, norms and racial characterizations
5. Innate sense of violence
6. Muslim anti-Semitism
7. Islamic parallel societies
8. Muslim homophobia
9. The Islamization of Germany
10. Deviant or abnormal Muslim sexuality

Furthermore, The gendered dimension and effects of Islamophobia in Germany are issues that deserve serious attention. The ban on headscarf for public servants, has continued for a decade in federal states like Berlin, blocking important channels of social and economic mobility for Muslim women, and regrettably has expanded beyond the scope of public service in education and housing in particular. Ironically, the dominant Islamophobic narrative portrays Muslim women as victims of Muslim men and Islam, but it is in fact the Islamophobic attitudes and imaginaries of German society, the state and its institutions, which are primarily affecting the lives of Muslim woman and their possibilities. As such, one of the effects of Islamophobic discourses has been the deflection of societal problems crisscrossing all of the society by focalizing and circumscribing problems only on the Muslim communities.

Works cited
BMI, 2015b. PMK-Straftaten im Bereich Hasskriminalität 2014 und 2015, Berlin: BMI.
DITIB – Antirassismus- & Antidiskriminierungsstelle, 2013. Zur aktuellen Lage und statistischen Erfassung von Moscheeübergriffen in Deutschland. Available at: http://www.ditib-antidiskriminierungsstelle.de/aktuelles.php [Accessed March 18, 2017]
Hafez, K. & Schmidt, S., 2015. Die Wahrnehmung des Islams in Deutschland, Berlin: Bertelsmann Stiftung.
Peucker, M. & Akbarzadeh, S., 2014. Muslim Active Citizenship in the West., London: Routledge.
Schiffer, S., 2005. Der Islam in deutschen Medien. APuZ, (20), pp.25–30.
Schiffer, S., 2004. Die Darstellung des Islams in der Presse. Sprache, Bilder Suggestionen. Eine Auswahl von Techniken und Beispielen, Nürnberg-Erlangen: Dissertation an der FAU.
Schiffer, S., 2007. Die Verfertigung des Islambilds in den deutschen Medien. In S. Jäger & D. Halm, eds. Mediale Barrieren. Rassismus als Integrationshindernis. Münster: Edition DISS/UNRAST Verlag, pp. 167–200.
Soliman, A., 2016. Forgotten Women: The Impact of Islamophobia in Germany, Brussels: ENAR.