Hate speech "inferno" on Germany's social media
Muslim students face Islamophobia after meeting CDU deputy

German Muslim students became the target of a vicious online campaign following a digital meeting at the beginning of February with federal politician and high-ranking Christian Democrat Norbert Rottgen. By Peter Hille

Nada Knani and her fellow scholarship holders had prepared well for their February 7 digital meeting with Norbert Rottgen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU). The university students had worked on various topics in small groups: environmental policy, the CDU after the Merkel era and managing the coronavirus pandemic. They had a lot of questions ready.

But these beneficiaries of the Avicenna Studienwerk, a German scholarship organisation for Muslim students and researchers, were not at all prepared for the torrent of online hostility, hate and provocation that they would face after the discussion. Rottgen had posted a picture of the digital meeting on social media platforms, showing 25 young people, some wearing headscarves.

"Once it had started, we knew it was not going to stop," said Nada Knani, a 22-year-old organiser of the meeting. "More and more comments came, many of them full of hate," she continued. "Things like that are shared in far-right groups; they organise concerted action there. It was an inferno."

Knani and her fellow students asked Rottgen to obscure the names of the participants. He then deleted any posts that allowed the students to be identified. "It is unbelievable what hate is directed at young people because of their beliefs," he wrote. "I found our discussion very fruitful and recommend such exchanges to everyone."

But the mockery continued. It appeared that for some, a headscarf was enough to disqualify the wearer from being regarded as human. "It doesn't matter how much you invest in your education, in your career," added Knani. "You are still reduced to being a Muslim woman. You are just the woman with the headscarf."
Widespread prejudice against Muslims
Yasemin El-Menouar heads the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Religion Monitor, which examines religion and societal cohesion. "Muslims who can be recognised as such by their appearance, through wearing a headscarf, for example, are particularly liable to face such hostility," explained El-Menouar. "And that has nothing at all to do with how well they fit into the society. A lot of Muslims in Germany are confronted with this from childhood on."
El-Menouar said the Religion Monitor surveys had revealed widespread prejudice against Muslims. "Over the last 10 years, scepticism about Islam has taken root in half the population," El-Menouar said. "And that often leads to prejudices not being recognised as prejudices anymore." Islamophobic sentiments are expressed with greater openness and freedom in such a climate, El-Menouar said: "The Internet definitely plays a role here, because the common rules for social interaction are basically not in force." 
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