Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Europe

The eternal Muslim

The bias against Muslims is growing. In Europe they are increasingly seen as interlopers, against whom people must defend themselves. This pattern is not entirely new, as Stefan Buchen reveals in his essay

"The Islam debate: where does tolerance end?", "Exclude Islam, integrate Muslims – can it work?", "Beethoven or burkas". These are three more or less creative titles under which German talk shows have recently discussed what is regarded as a hot topic.

"The power of the mosque", "Holy war in Europe" and of course: "Germany is abolishing itself" are three book titles that deal with the same theme. In total, the number of publications runs into the thousands. And naturally that makes it difficult to keep coming up with new headlines.

Considered honestly, all of these programmes, books, essays, blogs and speeches fit under a single title: "The Muslim Question". Since the start of the 21st century, the topic has become something of an obsession for Germany and the West more generally.

The basic statements of all these publications are straightforward and can be summarised very quickly: Muslim migration to Germany and Europe threatens our safety and prosperity. Muslims do not assimilate themselves into our society. They exploit our social systems. They bring with them a system of values that stands opposed to our own and they therefore create "parallel societies". They multiply quickly because the role of Muslim women is limited to childbearing. Islam is fundamentally linked to violence and has been from the beginning. "And if you take all this to its logical conclusion," then it becomes clear that the aim of this Muslim behaviour is the establishment of a "global Caliphate".

Dancing to the far-rightʹs tune

Naturally, advocates of these theories also have instructions at the ready. Their answers to the question of "what should be done?" are brief and simple: Muslim immigration to Europe and Germany must be stopped entirely. Undocumented and illegal immigrants – with the focus on the catastrophic year of 2015 – must be sent back in the greatest possible numbers. On all levels of politics, administration and justice, it must be made clear to Muslims that they are not welcome in Europe.

Thilo Sarrazin attends the launch of his book "Der neue Tugendterror" in Berlin on 24.02.2014 (photo: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa)
Jumping on the Muslim bandwagon: former Bundesbank executive and retired SPD politician Thilo Sarrazin has been the single biggest stimulator of the current German trend in nationalist Islamophobia. This summer, Sarrazin intends to push his point home with a new book: "Feindliche Uebernahme – wie der Islam den Fortschritt behindert und die Gesellschaft bedroht" (Hostile takeover – how Islam impairs progress and threatens society). Sarrazinʹs erstwhile publisher Random House has, however, refused to go ahead with the release

In the meantime, such radical views have become widespread in Germany. The "Alternative for Germany" party (AfD) and the "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West" movement (PEGIDA) are their vocal spokespeople. And they are making waves. The AfD has turned state parliaments and the Bundestag into stages for debates about the "Muslim question". The extreme nationalist party has been successful.

And above and beyond a rise in polling figures, their success can be seen in the fact that all the other parties are taking on certain of the AfDʹs views and demands: from the CSU/CDU to the FDP and SPD, all the way to the Greens and The Left. In an attempt to halt the rise of the nationalist AfD, the establishment parties are making its nationalist positions their own, in particular the ruling Union parties.

A mighty change of heart is taking place in Germany, driven by the opponents of Islam. The problematic section of immigrants is, they say, constituted by the large group of Muslims ("The offspring of Vietnamese workers from the days of East Germany arenʹt a problem,") as Thilo Sarrazin pontificates. The retired SPD politician has been the movementʹs single biggest stimulator. This summer, Sarrazin intends to push his point home with a new book: "Feindliche Uebernahme – wie der Islam den Fortschritt behindert und die Gesellschaft bedroht" (Hostile takeover – how Islam impairs progress and threatens society).

To what extent the "Muslims" who have migrated to Germany represent any kind of social collective is a question that needs to be asked. There are plenty of arguments against it. But this is not the point here. And nor is the question of what role Islam plays in the formation of potentially violent "jihadist" groups, and in their murderous activities. There are a great many (often well-researched) publications on both these questions.

"Criticism of Islam" as a cultural code

The point here is that in Germany today, "criticism of Islam" is on the brink of becoming a cultural code, on which ever-widening circles of the German upper and lower-middle classes – the famous heart of society – agree.

Those seeking to get an idea of this process should watch an appearance by Julia Klockner on a talk show addressing the "Muslim question". When the member of the CDU praesidium with the "Rachel from Friends" haircut discusses male dominance among Muslims, you get an idea of what a conformist rebellion in early-21st-century Germany century might look like.

Alternatively, you could mingle with the "property-owning" audience at a reading by Thilo Sarrazin. Or book tickets for the clumsy theatrical adaptation of the subtle French novel "Soumission" (Submission) at the Deutsche Schauspielhaus in Hamburg. The variations in taste are many and varied, but they always hit the same "nerve." And the audience is slowly but surely amassing a solid store of knowledge on criticism of Islam.

Itʹs an old German obsession. In 1879 the historian Heinrich von Treitschke rejoiced at the "deep change of heart" that was taking place in the German population. A flood of anti-Semitic texts was "pouring onto the book market," as he wrote in his famous essay entitled "Our Prospects" for the Preussische Jahrbuecher. "Anti-Semitic societies" were convening, he wrote, and "the Jewish question" was being debated "in animated public meetings". The thinker from the upper echelons of the German empire did not see "the crudeness of the mob" at work here; this was "the instinct of the masses" recognising a "serious danger" to "German life".

It was not enough that the Jews had made themselves at home in Germany. An even greater danger came from without, from "the Polish cradle" as Treitschke wrote. Otto Bockel, who shared his views, even perceived a "great Vagina Judaeorum" to the east of the German empireʹs border.

Socially acceptable anti-Semitism

And so, at the end of the 19th century, Germany was faced with the "Jewish question". Jews were threatening to undermine the country, to corrode it, suck it dry, seize control over it. For a long time, no one was permitted to say anything against it. After all, the Jews controlled the press. But the Germansʹ survival instinct had been awoken and was taking up the fight.

Anti-Semitic German caricature from 1900 (source: History text book "Zeiten und Menschen 1")
Anti-Semitism, a word with positive connotations: the German bourgeoisie accumulated a store of "anti-Semitic knowledge", as the sociologist Jan Weyand puts it. Anti-Jewish sentiment ultimately became part of the good tone of bourgeois society. Anti-Semitism became a cultural code, part of oneʹs "education". It was more closely linked to German nationalism than Islam will ever be to Germany in the wildest of multicultural dreams

"Antisemitism" and "Antagonism against Jews" were terms used positively. These views enjoyed the blessing of objectivity and academic backing. Scholars meticulously derived the figure of the "eternal Jew" from the Talmud. In the end, the Jews would exploit their legal equality, their emancipation, to enslave the Germans and try to take control of the world, so people were warned thousands of times. The "Jewish question" was fed by the Germansʹ certainty that they would one day be overpowered and thus needed to defend themselves against this.

The German bourgeoisie accumulated a store of "anti-Semitic knowledge", as the sociologist Jan Weyand puts it. Anti-Jewish sentiment ultimately became part of the good tone of bourgeois society. Anti-Semitism became a cultural code, part of oneʹs "education". It was more closely linked to German nationalism than Islam will ever be to Germany in the wildest of multicultural dreams.

Researchers like Wolfgang Benz and Micha Brumlik have already drawn parallels between the German anti-Semitism of the 19th century and German criticism of Islam in the early 21st. There are structural similarities, they say. Many Germans are once again obsessed with the idea of being overpowered.

Where does this lead? The Orientalist Paul de Lagarde, whom Thomas Mann still considered one of the greatest Germans in 1918, was talking about the Jews when he wrote in 1887 that "one does not negotiate with trichinae and bacillae; nor does one breed them; they are annihilated as quickly and thoroughly as possible."

Where will criticism of Islam lead?

It is an undisputed fact that the Holocaust would not have been possible without many years of ideological preparation. Where will criticism of Islam lead?  The Muslim question undoubtedly needs solving somehow. We know that history doesnʹt repeat itself. Particularly as history prohibits any open call for "annihilation". But we also know that where the "struggle for existence" flares up, we are not far from very factual reasons and legitimations for mass murder. According to the creed that is now being spread, social cohesion cannot cope with any further Muslim immigration.

In recent weeks, an estimated 1000 people seeking refuge have drowned in the Mediterranean. A reconnaissance plane and several boats that together could have saved these people were prevented from carrying out their mission by European border forces. There has been no question of guilt. The overwhelming majority of European citizens is convinced that this action is necessary.

Stefan Buchen

© Qantara.de 2018

The author is a television journalist for ARDʹs Panorama programme.

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