The Sarrazin Debate Germany Is Becoming Islamophobic
Part 2: Parallels with 19th-Century Anti-Semitism
"In no other religion is the transition to violence and terrorism so fluid," Sarrazin writes. Former FAZ correspondent and bestselling author Udo Ulfkotte, another prophet of doom, expresses similar concerns when he warns: "A tsunami of Islamization is sweeping across our continent." Dutch writer and columnist Leon de Winter, who is much celebrated in Germany and a frequent contributor to SPIEGEL, claims to have recognized "the face of the enemy" in the outlandish religion and is generally disparaging of Muslims, writing: "Since the 1960s, we have been deceiving ourselves that all cultures are equal." The journalist and writer Ralph Giordano, a moral authority in Germany, is sharply critical of new mosque construction and sweepingly characterizes Islam as a totalitarian religion.
And aren't those who tolerate totalitarianism nothing but appeasers? And haven't we seen this once before?
Potential for Violence
There is no question that there are Muslims in Germany who sympathize with Islamist ideas (which doesn't necessarily mean that they are prepared to use violence). A report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, includes 36,270 Muslims in this group, a number that has increased slightly in recent years -- by about 9 percent since 2007. It is also undeniable that suicide bombers worldwide frequently invoke Islam -- a deplorable but not an isolated phenomenon. Every monotheistic religion, through its claim to exclusivity, contains the potential for violence.
But no one condemns Christianity as a whole when Northern Irish breakaway factions commit murder in the name of God. We don't blame all Catholics when some of them kill abortion doctors while invoking their faith. And we don't take all of Judaism to task when a Jewish terrorist named Baruch Goldstein slaughters dozens of Muslims during prayers in Hebron while invoking Yahweh.
But we do condemn Islam, whose holy book contains about as many passages glorifying violence as the Old Testament (which, unlike the Koran, does mention stoning as a punishment).
Of course, the widespread mistrust of Muslims, which has only grown in recent years, has a lot to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. It is everything but a purely German phenomenon.
'Growing Hostility' in US
In the United States, traditionally a country of immigrants, where Muslims are much better integrated into society than in Germany, the planned construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque room near Ground Zero in New York has triggered a heated controversy. Comments by hate-mongers from Fox News and leading Republicans prompted Time magazine to conclude, in a cover story in its latest issue titled "Is America Islamophobic?" that there are signs of "growing hostility" toward Muslims. The new government in the Netherlands will be forced to tolerate the right-wing populist politician Geert Wilders, who has even proposed banning the Koran.
In Italy, Denmark and Austria, populist right-wing parties are scoring political points with their crude anti-Islamic slogans. In Switzerland, a country with a very small Muslim population, they even managed to win a referendum to ban minarets. And in France the banlieues, low-income areas on the outskirts of major cities, are in flames because the French government can offer no solution to the lack of prospects for most Muslim youth.
In Germany, which has had at least some success in integrating foreigners, the mood against Muslims is now just as hysterical. A man like Sarrazin is applauded for behaving like a toned-down version of Wilders. But why?
The widespread support for Sarrazin also shows that there is potential in Germany for a party to the right of the pro-business Free Democratic Party and the conservative Christian Democrats. If Sarrazin were to establish such a party after possibly leaving the SPD, he could be expected to capture at least 10 percent of the vote. Passive, unimaginative politicians, major parties with no real integration policies and, most of all, the quarreling Islamic associations, have contributed to the possibility that the seed of Islamophobia in Germany could germinate and begin to grow when fertilized by people like Sarrazin.
The concept of Muslims as the enemy is becoming more targeted, with Islam being held accountable for many social problems, like unemployment, the supposed inundation of foreigners and deficits in education. A religion has become a scapegoat -- and a focal point for intolerance and hate.
Popular Internet sites like the German blog Politically Incorrect don't even begin to take the trouble to draw the necessary distinctions. Some of the postings on the site are indicative of this tendency to paint with a very broad brush, postings like: "Islam is a voluntary mental illness," "It is pointless to grapple with this inferior culture," and "There is only one word to describe Islam: barbaric." The anonymity of the Internet enables a boundless, blind hatred to cross the last thresholds of inhibition. Worshippers of the Prophet Mohammed are variously described as "goat fuckers" or "veiled sluts." "Dirty Muslim!" and "God-damned camel driver" are among the most popular derogatory expressions among young people today.
The Prophet Mohammed has more than an image problem. According to an Emnid poll, a majority now finds him almost as distasteful as Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect who authorized Jesus's crucifixion. Some 52 percent of Germans would be opposed to one of their children marrying a Muslim or would only accept it with very strong reservations, while 46 percent would be against one of their children marrying a Buddhist and 30 percent a Jew.
Professor Wolfgang Benz, the long-standing director of the Center for Research on Anti-Semitism at the Technical University of Berlin and the co-founder of the Dachau Review with which he established research into concentration camps, now sees parallels between anti-Semitic agitators and extreme "Islam critics." "Populists in the West are responding to the image of the West as the enemy, propagated by demagogues within the Islamic world, with their own image of Islam as the enemy." They use similar tools, exploiting distorted images and hysteria. "The act of equating German citizens who are Muslims with fanatical terrorists is deliberate and is framed as an appeal to popular sentiment."
Benz sees the phobia against other cultures or minorities as a defense mechanism. An image of the enemy is constructed by means of generalization and the reduction of factual information to hearsay. A classic example is the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," an anti-Semitic pamphlet written in the late 19th century, which supposedly furnished evidence of a Jewish global conspiracy. Although every detail of the text was debunked as incorrect, Russian czars and, most of all, the Nazis used it to incite the people against Jews. The text is still available today in Islamic countries that agitate against Israel. "Anyone who is -- rightfully -- indignant over the narrow-mindedness of anti-Semites must also take a critical view of the portrayal of Islam as the enemy," Benz wrote in January.
Benz has now come under sharp attack for this reasoning. He is the target of verbal abuse and even threats. "I am confronted with an unbelievable hatred," says Benz, even though he has absolutely no intention of trivializing anti-Semitism. But in today's Germany, it appears that few people are interested in taking a differentiated view.
Never Seen Again
Germany is changing. And although it is not yet a consistently Islamophobic society, a Sarrazin republic, it is certainly on its way to becoming one.
The Pied Piper of Hamelin was never seen again after his disappearance. It would, with all due respect, be an appealing thought to not hear anything from Thilo Sarrazin for a long time. However, the Pied Piper did not return the children he had abducted. Only two escaped, one blind and the other deaf. Neither of them was able to help the other children -- and so all were lost.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: Germany Is Becoming Islamophobic
- Part 2: Parallels with 19th-Century Anti-Semitism