Germany post-Christchurch

Showing a stunning lack of solidarity

German politicians and media have been surprisingly quiet in the wake of the attack on two mosques in New Zealand. Donʹt we care about the victims, asks Jaafar Abdul Karim

On Sunday evening I stood in front of the New Zealand embassy in Berlin. I was one of just three. To be honest, I was scared and have been reflecting on the situation ever since. Something inside me is looking for answers to the following questions: why is there so little sympathy among people in Germany for the victims of Christchurch? Where are the mass expressions of solidarity? Perhaps Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was right when he said that Islam does not belong to Germany. So far I cannot explain it any other way.

Muslims across the Arab world and in Germany are asking themselves: had the victims been non-Muslim and the alleged perpetrator a Muslim, would the media have discussed it differently? Why do some avoid calling the alleged assassin a terrorist? It almost seems as if terrorists always have to be a certain religion. Yet this terrorist attack was different. Muslims were themselves the victims and not the alleged perpetrators.

Why haven't international politicians gathered on the streets to protest against this crime, as they did after the Paris attacks? A look in my in-box while preparing for an episode of Shababtalk on the attack, revealed that such questions were also uppermost in the minds of Muslim viewers and users. And I asked myself: are we in Germany falling into the same patterns of behaviour as people in the Arab world? If the victims are not Muslim, then the outcry is not great and the solidarity is not visible.

Had the terrorist been a Muslim, the entire Islamic world would once again be the focus of attention. This time the terrorist was a white man; as a result no population group is being blamed for it. The attacker is simply regarded as an individual perpetrator. When does a single act count as representative of an entire group and when is it irrelevant? In the case of Christchurch, no one is asking a particular population group to distance itself from the act. And white men need not fear closer scrutiny at airports.

German Muslims are afraid

A study in the USA has shown the following: although right-wing extremists in the United States commit significantly more attacks, the American media report much more frequently if the perpetrator is a Muslim. Assassins who are considered Muslim are reported 449 percent more frequently than non-Muslim assassins. Whether this is the case in Germany or not has yet to be established.

Participants in the March for Love, held in memory of the Christchurch victims (photo: Reuters)
In solidarity with Muslims around the world: life stood still from 1.32 pm to 1.34 pm last Friday in large parts of New Zealand. In Christchurch, thousands gathered for a ceremony near the Al Nour Mosque. There alone 42 people had been killed. Many New Zealanders wore a headscarf as a sign of solidarity with the Muslim communities. In city centres, people remained silent for a few minutes. Of the almost five million inhabitants of the Pacific state, about 50,000 are Muslims

Just two days after the attack, some German media had stopped reporting headlines on the subject. At the bottom of the page, after scrolling down a lot, you might find some information. And how were the attacks handled in the talk shows?

About five million Muslims live in Germany. Last Friday I visited a mosque to ask Muslims about the terrorist attack in New Zealand. People there told me that they were afraid. They feel insecure. The police register hundreds of Islamophobic acts every year. In Dresden there was even a bomb attack on a mosque. According to preliminary findings, 578 Islamophobic crimes were counted in the first nine months of 2018. The perpetrators were almost always right-wing extremists.

Terror knows no religion

A woman with a headscarf told me: "I'm afraid that something like this will happen in Germany!" Today she is no longer alone with her opinion. We must not forget what happened in a Dresden courtroom in 2009 when the Egyptian Muslim Marwa Sherbini was stabbed and killed by a right-wing extremist.

Shababtalk TV show (source: DW)
Jaafar Abdul Karim, 37, is editor-in-chief and presenter of the Deutsche Welle's Arabic-language youth programme "ShababTalk". With its socially critical themes, the format reaches an audience of millions in North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf region. Jaafar Abdul Karim was born in Liberia, his parents come from Lebanon. He grew up there and in Switzerland and studied in Dresden, Lyons, London and Berlin, where he now lives

The mosque I visited is being watched by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. And this is where the vicious circle closes. I hear again and again: Muslims are to blame themselves. Their religion stands for danger and oppression and is not compatible with democracy. I am the first to say that Islam should be criticised, but these Muslim victims also deserve our empathy. It must be possible to differentiate.

The people of Christchurch were murdered while praying. They were innocent. Freedom of religion and the practice of religion is a human right that must be respected and protected. It is enshrined in every Western constitution. A distinction must be made between Islam criticism and Islamophobia. Because these Muslims do not represent the radical extremist Islam - just like the Europeans do not represent the right-wing extremist ideas of the alleged perpetrator.

I am still looking for explanations: could it also be that New Zealand is too far away and we therefore do not identify with the victims? Would it be different if it had happened in Germany or Europe, because we define ourselves more as Germans and Europeans? But people everywhere are people - regardless of religion, skin colour or ethnicity!

Yes, it is to be feared that one day even extremist Muslims will commit another terrorist attack. Here, too, we want and must show solidarity. Terror knows no religion.

Jaafar Abdul Karim

© Deutsche Welle 2019

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