Muslims as a Mirror Germany's Unhealthy Obsession with Islam
Muslims in Germany have been accused of many things, from threatening the feminist cause to trying to destroy German society through "demographic jihad." It isn't the Muslims that are the problem, however, but rather our obsession with Islam.
German Islamophobes hold that their more liberal opponents are do-gooder Islamophiles and cultural relativists. German critics of Islamophobia claim their more conservative opponents are scare-mongers and slanderers. What both groups have in common is an obsession with Islam that doesn't do Muslims, Christians or secularists any good.
The way the politically motivated murders of 77 Norwegian children, adolescents and adults by a right-wing extremist were interpreted by the media as an attack on Islam was downright eerie. There were hardly any Muslims among the victims, nor was a mosque in Oslo blown up. It was not the beginning of a crusade against Islam. The victims were overwhelmingly young social democrats, who, if they could be assigned to a religious category at all, were mainly members of the Lutheran state church.
The killer, Anders Breivik, believes that the "Islamization" of Europe is a threat. But what he finds even more threatening is the "cultural Marxism" practiced by his fellow Norwegians. For him, their liberalism is a sign of cowardice and weakness. The term "cultural Marxism" is a reference to "cultural Bolshevism," a concept from the 1920s, when lamentations about a general cultural decline were part of the standard repertoire of conservative political parties. Members of Germany's so-called Conservative Revolution (ed's note: mainly active in the period between World War I and World War II) saw the reasons for that decline in capitalism and consumerism, Westernization and individualization. In this sense, it is entirely correct to identify this mental climate as Breivik's inspiration, as the historian Volker Weiss did in a recent opinion piece for SPIEGEL ONLINE.
But what does one gain from calling the killer a "right-wing brother of the jihadists," as Weiss does, and characterizing the events in Norway as "the Talibanization of the Christian right"? This reinforces the old prejudice of the European left, namely, that religion in itself is always and exclusively dangerous. Yet this overlooks the fact that it was political, non-religious worldviews that inflicted endless suffering on humanity in the 20th century. It also suggests that there is a worldwide ecumenical movement of religions that are prepared to use violence and that have become a threat to the non-religious. In Weiss's mind, the events in Norway represent a "fatal embrace" between "crusaders and jihadists."
But if one is to establish a commonality between right-wing extremists like Breivik and jihadists, it lies not in a violent ecumenical movement, but in the shared psychosocial circumstances of the perpetrators. Terrorism is a problem among culturally uprooted, politically radical angry young men who are often educated but unsuccessful. They are men who rebel against a world in which they no longer feel at home. They have higher expectations of the world than it could ever fulfill.
In his influential book "Männerphantasien" ("Male Fantasies"), the German sociologist Klaus Theweleit offers a plausible explanation for the relationship between fascism and delusions of masculinity. If we consider the narcissistic outpourings of the mass murderer behind the Oslo and Utøya attacks, it is not difficult to recognize that he too dreamed the dream of the masculine knight -- depicted as courageous, tough, white, potentially brutal but ultimately irresistible -- who acts as the savior of a society portrayed as corruptible, soft, permissive, comfortable, feminine and in urgent need of purification. For Breivik, the sympathy that society expresses for the victims is presumably additional proof of its decadence. His goal was not to combat the Muslims, but to rescue his own society from disintegration.
A Sign of What Is Lacking
What, then, is the source of this obsession with Islam? Fifteen years ago, there were about 2 million Turkish immigrants in Germany. Today, Germany's immigrants from Turkey are often lumped into a single category of "Muslims." Their critics say that it is not Turkish parents' own lack of education that prevents their children from doing well in school, but their religious affiliation. Muslim "headscarf girls" (ed's note: a phrase coined by the controversial German author Thilo Sarrazin) are characterized as both a threat to feminism and dangerous baby-making machines obsessed with "demographic jihad." Some cite the supposed threat of Muslim parallel societies, apparently ignoring the fact that for centuries Germans have lived in parallel societies consisting of Catholics and Protestants.
"Islam" has become a social phantasm. According to the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, the term "phantasm" refers to a negated and repressed lack. As well as individual phantasms, which point to a repressed deficiency and to unattainable objects of desire, there are also societal obsessions, which relate to socially repressed deficiencies and unattained desires. The phantasm does not describe a real object. Instead, it indicates what is lacking.
What are these deficiencies? What is lacking? It isn't the same for everyone. Thilo Sarrazin decries what he sees as a lack of German children. The German politician Klaus von Dohnanyi believes immigrants are more devout than Germans. Others admire their family values. Turks who celebrate loudly and raucously after their team has won a football match are praised for their national pride. We even grudgingly acknowledge the willingness of suicide bombers to sacrifice their lives. Our own population seems lazy, indecisive, fearful, spoiled and endlessly demanding in comparison.
The only possible conclusion seems to be that -- to quote the title of Sarrazin's best-selling book -- Germany is doing itself in. But despite the commercial success of Sarrazin's apocalyptic tome, it did not trigger any tangible change within German society. Thus, the faction of Islam's critics continues to suffer in the midst of a population that supposedly lacks the collective will to defend itself.
- Part 1: Germany's Unhealthy Obsession with Islam
- Part 2: We Are Actually Discussing Ourselves