Turning Point in German National Self-Image
We all know the ritual only too well, one that at regular intervals further aggravates what are already difficult relations between the "West" and the "Islamic world": a horrific deed is followed by its programmatic misuse for propaganda purposes, frequently in order to reach specific political ends, accompanied by plenty of polemics and unwarranted generalisations.
And thus it's no wonder that none other than the controversial Iranian President Ahmadinejad, already ostracised due to his notorious denial of the Holocaust, should seize on the opportunity provided by the brutal murder of Marwa al-Sherbini to demand that the United Nations undertake sanctions against Germany.
Although polemic attacks on the West are part of the standard repertoire of the ultraconservative and regime-loyal media in the Islamic republic, Ahmadinejad's statements this time are not only disgraceful in view of his less-than-laudable regime's miserable human rights record – they are also easy to see through as an obvious attempt to distract attention from the violent suppression of the peaceful protests following his questionable re-election. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his cohorts are literally living in a glasshouse.
Lack of empathy and critical self-reflection
Of course it's true that many were irritated by the relative disinterest displayed by Germany's media, which first relegated the beastly murder to the "In Other News" section, fatally failing to adequately acknowledge the incident's Islamophobic dimension, as well as by the "inexplicably sparse reactions" (Stephan J. Kramer) of Germany's leading politicians – all of which had the effect of amplifying what was at first the genuine indignation felt by most ordinary Muslims at the slaying.
But it didn't stop at that: these failings prepared the ground for demagogues and agitators in Tehran and Cairo to capitalise on the tragedy of Marwa al-Sherbini for their own ends.
Marwa was hence soon styled the "headscarf martyr of Europe". Some of the Arabic mass media deliberately fanned the flame of prejudice against Germany, painting a distorted picture of the situation that made it look as though a climate of fear and persecution prevailed here, a kind of pogrom atmosphere against Muslims.
They even claimed that the unemployed Alex W., a German of Russian descent who has spent most of his life in Perm in the Ural region, where anti-foreigner and anti-Islamic attacks are a daily event, had acted on behalf of the German Federal Government!
In the meantime, the government has expressed in no uncertain terms its horror at this atrocious crime and has made it clear that there is no room in Germany for xenophobia. In the reputable German media a controversy is flaring on the phenomenon of hostility to Islam.
Does this mean everything is okay again? Unfortunately not, because irrational images of the enemy and the quest for martyrs are not conducive to fine differentiations.
The murder of Marwa al-Sherbini must without doubt be seen as an anti-Islamic act – as clearly expressed in the statements of the perpetrator. But it is and remains an isolated case.
The fact must not be overlooked that the media discourse lamentably took off in the wrong direction. High-profile "critics of Islam" tend to make "Islam" responsible for all the misery in this world and as a rule are generally suspicious of all Muslims, often without distinguishing between Islam and Islamism, nor between a justified, well-grounded critique of grievances in the Islamic context and mere agitation.
Nonetheless, neither a lack of empathy combined with indifferent reporting in the media nor the delay with which politicians took a stance on the crime can be seized upon as justification for excessive censure, unwarranted generalisations and accusations regarding Muslim life in Germany, such as those lodged a week ago by Gamal al-Ghitani, a well-known Egyptian man of letters and publisher of the weekly culture newspaper "Akhbar al-adab".
In an article published in his own paper, Al-Ghitani did not hesitate to voice the defamatory, populist assertion that Germany now harbours "a new Nazism whose victims are the Muslims". He also made use of the incident in passing to insufferably lambaste the editor-in-chief of the acclaimed cultural policy magazine "Fikrun wa Fann", which has for over forty years dedicated itself to the cultural dialogue between Europe and the Islamic world.
Whether al-Ghitani's motives come from feeling personally insulted or merely represent a calculated provocation is immaterial; his comments are in any case absurd and utterly unfounded.
Positive turnaround in attitudes toward Islam
A further tragic aspect of the debate is that both the exploitation of the Muslim world's indignation and the discussion that has broken out on the alleged anti-Islamic mood in Germany have threatened to obscure the fact that relations between the German state and the Muslims living here have taken a turn for the better.
Thanks to the Islamic Conference initiated by the Minister of the Interior, a framework has been created for the first time for an institutionalised dialogue between the German state and the Islamic community. This process of open dialogue between the state and its Muslims has already laid the foundation for mutual recognition and cooperation.
For the first time in post-war history, a German Interior Minister has avowed Islam as part of Germany. True, the prerequisites are still lacking for the formal recognition of the Muslim community as statutory body, but the perceived public acceptance of Muslims has increased tangibly, as expressed not least by the reactions to the "Kermani affair".
Now it's up to the German Muslims themselves to unite under a broad consensus and agree on a representative body in order to achieve their aim of making Islam a true national institution – instead of focusing on spurious debates such as swimming lessons for schoolgirls. There's no longer any need for German Muslims to look to their ancestors' homeland for reassurance, because their homeland is now Germany.
© Qantara.de 2009