Supposedly, the media is to blame for the one-sided debate. Critics of Islam accuse the media of allegedly displaying a "false tolerance" of Islam, while Islam researchers fault the media for relying too often on stereotypical representations of Islam.

And yet there are plenty of attempts in journalism to report in a more differentiated and objective way, while, conversely, only a handful of academics are go on the record publicly. For their voices to be heard they would need to improve their media literacy and use social media, for example. But the ZMO, for all its public visibility with its projects, exhibitions and concerts, cannot be found on Twitter.

Current issues are certainly discussed at the ZMO, such as the recent local elections in Turkey or the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Tunisia, for example.

But in the political and media arena, academics are rarely present. The journalist Charlotte Wiedemann remarked on this during the panel discussion: "I wish the academic world would speak up more often," she said. There are many topics that completely slip through the cracks in the public debate, with all the talk about the war in Syria and the fight against the so-called Islamic State. The political situation in Mali is just one example.

Although a German armed forces mission is on the ground in Mali, there is no significant public discussion in Germany as to how this military deployment is affecting peopleʹs lives and political affairs in the country.

Why canʹt researchers working on West Africa fill this gap? And Mali is only one example among many. Directly faced with this question, most scholars downplay their responsibility. They say they donʹt have the time, that publishing and career pressure in the highly competitive academic system is too extreme, and that there is a lack of experience with and expertise in the necessary media simplifications.

The fact is, however, that in todayʹs fast-paced media environment, journalists have the same difficulties reporting on nuanced, complex subject matter as academics who want to bring their research to bear on the public debate.

The panel discussion in Berlin revealed not only how enlightening and nuanced academic research can be, but also that there is a huge pent-up demand for scholarsʹ work to extend beyond the ivory tower.

Academic researchers too often remain isolated, trying to find their own way in the fog of distinctions, while "outside" populists claim most of the discourse. Itʹs high time the scholars took the floor!

Rene Wildangel

© 2019

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

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