Getting Cross with “Der Spiegel”

A week after the German Federal Constitutional Court pronounced its ruling in the “headscarf debate”, Germany’s leading weekly magazine Der Spiegel devoted its feature article on Muslims in Germany. Katajun Amirpur read the Spiegel for

On 24 September the German Federal Constitutional Court pronounced its ruling in the “headscarf debate.” A week later Germany’s leading weekly magazine Der Spiegel devoted its feature article on contemporary Islam. Katajun Amirpur read the Spiegel for

Spiegel Cover on Muslims in Germany, September 03

​​Who would deny the merits of the weekly news magazine Der Spiegel? Decades of critical journalism, investigative reporting, a different view of things. But sometimes, sometimes, you cannot believe your eyes. The cheapest of sensationalism, journalistic rabble-rousing combined with platitudes, untruths, and clichés. That is roughly what the latest issue of Spiegel has to offer. For the authors of the article entitled “Das Kreuz mit dem Koran” (meaning roughly: "Getting Cross With the Koran"), no misrepresentation, no maliciousness, and no prejudice against Islam are beneath them. The tenor of the article is obvious from the photographs alone: praying Muslims juxtaposed with ritually slaughtered rams being bled.

It is virtually irresponsible the way the article equates the headscarf with fundamentalism. It gives the impression that every woman who chooses to wear one aims to undermine the German state with its the rule of law and establish a theocracy. Opinions of the self-appointed Caliph of Cologne or the Ayatollah Khomeini on human rights and democracy — “What they call human rights is nothing but a collection of corrupt rules worked out by Zionists to destroy all true religion” (Khomeini) — are automatically assumed to be expressions of Fereshta Ludin’s religious beliefs. (Fereshta Ludin is the German teacher of Afghan descent who took her case to the highest court after she was suspended from her teaching post.)

The article says she never explicitly distanced herself from such statements. Does she have to? My fellow Christian German citizens have never told me they distance themselves from the crimes committed against Bosnians. Why not? Maybe because it goes without saying for everyone that these were abhorrent crimes. When on the other hand all Muslims have to prove they have a democratic and secular consciousness, it is implied that such convictions are lacking precisely because these people are Muslim. This is not only ahistorical, as Muslims have lived under secular rule for a lot longer — and especially in total accord with themselves and their religion — than fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden would like to have us believe. But apart from that, it is also racist. As strange as it might sound, even Turks do not enjoy being tortured, Iranian women want to express their opinions, and Arabs, too, would like to select their leaders themselves. In every election in the last few years, whenever given the choice Muslims have spoken out for democracy and the rule of law.

Some of them nevertheless want to wear a headscarf. Immediately discrediting them as fundamentalists, however, robs them of any opportunity to fight for an open, pluralistic Islam and forces them into the same camp as those truly not committed to democracy. To be sure, life in Germany has not exactly gotten easier for Muslims since September 11th. Many — myself included — are not outwardly recognizable as Muslims and therefore have less problems in everyday life. But even we are feeling increasingly alienated in view of the arrogance and ignorance with which our religion is judged. Or when Oriana Fallaci’s book The Rage and the Pride, an unspeakable anti-Islamic diatribe, becomes a best-seller in this country, my country. Or when intellectuals such as Günter Kunert remain unchallenged when making a false statement on German television such as “there is no commandment against killing in Islam.” This issue of Spiegel with the sweeping title “Muslims in Germany” is yet another great contribution toward making people feel foreign in this country. Even among those who never felt that way before. And I haven’t the slightest desire to develop affinities that are actually not at all mine.

Katajun Amirpur
© 2003,

Katajun Amirpur is an Islamic Studies scholar and a journalist. She lives in Cologne, Germany

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