In this essay, Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, warns against the trivialisation of anti-Islamic tendencies and right-wing extremist violence, both of which are increasingly posing a threat to social peace in Germany
In the wake of 9/11, a new brand of home-grown right-wing terrorism was able to emerge in Germany. Even specially drafted anti-terror laws didn't help because right-wing radicalism had been underestimated and sometimes even structurally repressed for too long.
After the brutal right-wing extremist terrorist attacks in Norway, it became clear in Germany too that right-wing terrorists were capable of carrying out the worst attacks the country had seen since the Second World War. This led Germany's attorney general to say that the terrorist acts perpetrated by the National Socialist Underground (NSU) were "Germany's 9/11".
There had certainly been enough early-warning signs pointing to this dangerous development. The problem was that they were not correctly interpreted and were sometimes even ignored.
It is only now that we are slowly beginning to understand that because of indifference and political inconsistency after the events of Rostock and Hoyerswerda, Solingen and Mölln, after the arson attack in Ludwigshafen, the terrorist attack on Keupstrasse in Cologne and a large number of racist murders (such as that of Marwa El-Sherbini) and attacks on foreigners and Muslim facilities, this development facilitated and strengthened the NSU's terrorism.
At least 148 people have been killed in racist and right-wing extremist violence in Germany over the past few years. This is why the time has come for politics and society to at last admit that they have thus far underestimated and trivialised the phenomenon of right-wing extremist violence and to begin fighting it in a sustainable manner.
The beneficiaries of Islamophobia
In recent years, neo-Nazis in Europe have increasingly benefited from the underlying Islamophobic atmosphere in society. Evidence of this atmosphere includes Geert Wilders' populist right-wing Party for Freedom in the Netherlands as well as the NPD, the NSU and the extreme right-wing PI website in Germany, to name but a few. The fear of Islam and the spectre of the Islamicization of Europe are doing the rounds and are being used as a starting point for the recruitment of supporters and to whip up negative feeling towards Jews, Muslims and dissidents.
Just like the murderer of the Egyptian woman Marwa El-Sherbini, the condemned Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik largely allowed himself to be led astray by anti-Islamic material and propaganda on the Internet, including known radical right-wing websites and pamphlets run and published by known Islam-haters from Germany.
So far, however, these findings have only been registered very vaguely by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
As much as we support a ban on the right-wing political party NPD, we feel that it must not be allowed to open up an "exoneration debate". The idea that once the NPD is banned, racism will have been eliminated is a dangerous trivialisation that only leads us to close our eyes to the everyday and structural racism at the heart of our society.
This is why we need an annual anti-racism report that would outline – in the same way as Germany's human rights commissioner does – not only for the German parliament but also for the German public both the progress made and the threats that exist so that socio-political conclusions can be drawn.
Islamophobia as an element of racist crime
Above all, however, it is vital that we at last find the political courage to grasp the problems of Islamophobia and Islamophobic racism by the roots and officially declare them to be elements of racist crime. We owe it not least to the victims. After all, criminal offences and acts of violence against Muslims and mosques have increased drastically in Germany in recent years. Nevertheless, the Federal Government and the security forces still refuse to register such criminal offences separately.
In doing so, they are obscuring the scale of Islamophobia. Exactly a year ago, during a meeting about fighting right-wing extremism attended by leading German associations and representatives of the Federal Ministries of the Interior and the Family, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) called for Islamophobia to be registered as an element of crime in its own right instead of just being subsumed into the category of xenophobia.
This demand must at last be heard, especially as such a move would be advantageous not only in that it would make it easier to combat such criminal offences, but also that it would trigger an urgently needed process leading to a change in awareness of the issue in society.
Cracks appearing in society
If we do not recognise the threat posed by right-wing extremism and Islamophobia in our society and take action against it in the near future, we will find ourselves in exactly the situation Angela Merkel warned against just under a year ago at the memorial service for the victims of right-wing extremist violence: "We are repressing the things that are happening right in our midst (...) indifference has a stealthy, yet devastating impact. It creates cracks in the middle of society," said the chancellor on that occasion.
But because the first signs of these cracks can no longer be ignored, we, not least as German Muslims, are worried about our country. After all, this indifference results in more than just nameless and faceless victims.
Almost as serious as the victims is the indifference that smothers the voices of those who constitute the majority; the majority of decent people in our country, in civil society, politics, media, and authorities. So let us give these people back their voices and hope that 2013 will be the year that sees society growing together and the cracks being mended.
© Qantara.de 2013
Aiman Mazyek has been chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) since 2010. In 2003, he and Rupert Neudeck founded the aid organisation Grünhelme e.V. ("green berets"), which implements environmental, social and religious projects in former war zones and crisis regions.
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de