A riposte from society's middle ground: with his book "The Alarmists", Patrick Bahners wades through the murky depths of criticism of Islam in Germany and warns against a brutalisation of public life. A review by Daniel Bax
It's the same font and layout as "Deutschland schafft sich ab" (Germany Does Away With Itself), only the colours have been deliberately swapped around. Instead of the glaring alarm red with which Thilo Sarrazin's bestseller jumps out at the reader, the cover of Patrick Bahners has been immersed in a calming white, as though signalling the all-clear; only the title, "Die Panikmacher" (The Alarmists) stands out in red lettering.
The editor-in-chief of the arts and culture pages of the FAZ devotes himself to the same wave of excitement upon which Sarrazin ultimately has only been surfing. His book is much more than just response to the nation's most successful scaremonger, as the former Bundesbank director and his theses themselves only make a peripheral appearance. Instead Bahners traces back the prehistory that once paved the way for Sarrazin's 'indecent uprising'.
Contempt of tolerance
"Critics of Islam" in Germany such Necla Kelek, Henryk M. Broder and their supporters imagine themselves to be at war with Islam, which for them overrides the necessity for democratic procedures. Bahners takes great pleasure in dissecting their vocabulary, their shrill warnings against "appeasement" and "giving in", their contempt of tolerance or their insistence on a "leading culture" and "Judeo-Christian tradition".
Bahners refers to the contradictions of a double standard that allows a Bundesbank director to step out of line, but does not allow a Muslim teacher to wear a headscarf. And he shows how topoi previously derived from right-wing extremist propaganda have permeated public discourse.
For example when Ralph Giordano of all people complains about the historic "pressure of guilt" that apparently makes it impossible for Germans to face up to the "true" integration problem that is Islam. Or the idea that debate must now take place "without taboos", used by Kristina Schröder for example as a code for disseminating prejudiced views.
The logic of suspicion
Bahners makes it clear that the anti-Islamic polemics popularised by Necla Kelek, Henryk M. Broder or Ralph Giordano are actually a highly specific form of "religious criticism", which itself exhibits religious characteristics and tends toward apocalyptic thought. The opponent of Islam presents his view as the absolute truth – and therefore views all dialogue as a betrayal. On the one hand he would like to see an omnipotent state that, like a punitive god, puts all divergent behaviour – in this case Muslim behaviour – in its place.
At the same time, and this is the neo-liberal aspect, he views the welfare state as largely obsolete. Because in his view all integration policies are in any case in vain, as long as Muslims do not renounce their faith, he regards political efforts in this regard to be counterproductive.
Bahners sketches in detail the bizarre genesis of the "Muslim test" in Baden-Württemberg, as well as the row over the headscarf ban for teachers, which he regards as a grave mistake, because here the logic of suspicion won for the first time, resulting in discriminatory laws. "The headscarf debate has set in motion a brutalisation of public life, which has been further accelerated in the debates over mosques and Sarrazin's theories," he writes.
He devotes a further chapter to Necla Kelek, a revered figure among those critical of Islam in Germany. In spite of shocking argumentative contradictions and claims that have been refuted many times ("One in every two Turkish marriages is arranged!" "More and more Muslim parents are taking their daughters out of swimming and sports lessons!") she continues to be feted by media and politics because for many Germans, she embodies the ideal of a "secular Muslim" who has drawn a line under her religion.
Bahners' book is long overdue. One major criticism would be that he is unfortunately likely to scare off many readers with his headstrong, and at times unwieldy style and the unstructured and anecdotal way that he flits from quote to quote.
Of course, it must also be taken into consideration that this book is the work of a conservative. As a devotee of bourgeois virtues Bahners is pained by the brutalisation of the debate and the shabbiness of the accusations that are being aimed against Muslims. And as a Catholic, he rubs his eyes in amazement at the sudden amnesia of many regarding the history and erroneous ways of Christianity in Germany. He wonders where it is all heading, after all, the postulates of those who oppose Islam leave room for only one conclusion: "Muslims out".
An assessment of the situation in neighbouring countries would certainly have helped. In Austria, the FPÖ has long campaigned using quotes from catchphrase creators such as Alice Schwarzer or Henryk M. Broder, and in the Netherlands, rightwing populist Geert Wilders capitalises on the political legacy of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, demanding a ban on Muslim immigration and a ban on headscarves in public places. The fear of Islam that Bahners describes is not just a German phenomenon, and the key participants in the debate are to a certain degree interchangeable.
It is also a shame that Bahners only mentions the responsibility of the media in passing. A blind spot? After all, the arts and culture pages of the FAZ are among the most favoured places for Necla Kelek, Thilo Sarrazin and other opponents of Islam to emit their opinions, for the most part without commentary and unchallenged. It would have been nice to see a derisory riposte from Bahners a long time ago.
© Die tageszeitung/Daniel Bax/Qantara.de 2011
Translated from the German by Nina Coon
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de
Patrick Bahners: "Die Panikmacher. Die deutsche Angst vor dem Islam". C. H. Beck Verlag, München 2011.