Islam in Germany
Countering the Islamisation hysteria

Cliches, prejudices and half-truths shape the public image of Islam today. Published in German, "Islam. Friend or foe? 38 theses against hysteria" penned by religious scholars Monika and Udo Tworuschka counters the increasingly hysterical debate with sound argument. Interview by Lucy James

You explicitly describe your book as not being "a book that is critical of Islam" but instead as a "critical book on Islam". Stressing this difference seems to be very important to you. Why?

Monika Tworuschka: The term "criticism of Islam" has already been appropriated by groups who are more concerned with polemics than with critical debate. These "Islam critics", who share an aversion and hostility towards everything Islamic, operate – not always in a reputable manner – as scaremongers who try to sway the public mood. Rather than dealing critically with Islam, they are essentially out to prove that Islam hinders progress and threatens society.

We consider it legitimate to criticise religion, because we regard the secularism of our community as a major advantage. Ever since the rise of humanism and the Enlightenment, critical thinking has been an indispensable faculty of the autonomous individual. For Immanuel Kant, who described his epoch as "the age of criticism," it was, however, beyond question that the critical use of reason can only grow out of a disciplining, cultivating, civilising and moralising educational process.

Udo Tworuschka: The "Islam critics", by contrast, have above all one thing in common: the rejection of Islam and a reckoning with everything Islamic. The reasoning of some of the authors reveals that they have long ago turned away from their religion, at least inwardly. As apostates, they "look back in anger" at their religious community and make ominous noises about "reckoning", "downfall" and "departure".

Admittedly these "Islam critics" may see some things more clearly than those who live in harmony with their community of faith. But they only undermine their own arguments because they grossly exaggerate things and ignore or distort facts. The "Islam critics" are partly responsible for the fact that in some circles in this country, a basic mood has spread that causes any even halfway positive statement about Islam to be regarded as a "capitulation".

Monika Tworuschka: We deliberately set out to write a "critical book on Islam". It takes the different positions held among Muslims seriously. We respect and appreciate Muslims who want to live by the ethical commandments of their religion. At the same time, we take an unambiguous stance against all forms of Islamism involving violence and against hostility to democracy and the oppression of women.

Inside the Ditib Merkez Mosque, Duisburg (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
"We deliberately did not write a 'book that is critical of Islam' but a 'critical book on Islam'. It takes the different positions held among Muslims seriously. We respect and appreciate Muslims who want to live by the ethical commandments of their religion. At the same time, we take an unambiguous stance against all forms of Islamism involving violence and against hostility to democracy and the oppression of women," says Monika Tworuschka

A critical and constructive engagement with common cliches, prejudices and half-truths about the Muslim faith is the main theme of your book. Why did you decide to address this subject in the form of theses? And who is actually the target audience for your book?

Udo Tworuschka: We decided to use theses so that we could summarise the content that is important to us in a few words. We hoped that this would enable us to address readers more directly.

The book is not only intended for our contemporaries who think similarly to us, but also for the large number of poorly informed people, among whom we also count leading politicians. We want them to better understand the Muslims living in our country. Islam has enriched Europe culturally and represents an important part of European and German history. That is what we want to convey.

Monika Tworuschka: We hope our book will enable all those who are lacking the relevant information to revise their misjudgements and preconceptions. Above all, we want to lay the groundwork for the insight that most of the principles of Islamic ethics are in fact compatible with German culture and its values. We would like in this way to rid people who are afraid of their diffuse fear of Islam and to convince them that Islam is a world religion on an equal footing with Christianity – not a menacing ideology.

Let's talk about the first central thesis in your book. You criticise the "Islamisation hysteria" in this country and the way it has devolved into a kind of "conspiracy theory". How was this myth ever able to gain ground in Germany, a functioning state based on the rule of law? After all, the claim that the "Muslims are taking over" is so easy to refute empirically.

Monika Tworuschka: This myth, which has long since made inroads at the centre of society, has many facets: for example, almost half of all Germans believe that politicians are puppets of clandestine powers. Just as many believe that "the Jews" sit at the centres of power or that the media and politics work hand in hand. Every second person trusts his feelings more than the experts.

Behind such myths is a widespread mistrust of the state and what is perceived as its malevolent bureaucracy. Facts can scarcely make any headway against the growing loss of confidence in reputable media and the diffuse fear of globalisation.

Udo Tworuschka: In an increasingly impenetrable and highly complex world, many people feel overwhelmed and anxious and are only too glad to latch onto simple explanations.

Popular in particular with extremists of all kinds are formulaic "grand narratives of extremes" that condense the diversity of political and religious world views into a single sweeping but oversimplified story. In accounts such as these, Islam is portrayed as a powerful "man-eating machine" and the Muslims as remote-controlled, mechanical "Islamic perpetrators" who do nothing but obey programmed commands.

This "Islam machine" is a static and monolithic block that has little or nothing in common with other cultures. In this image of the world, Islam is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive, sexist and homophobic. The "Islam machine" is aggressive and intolerant. It supports terrorism and promotes the "clash of civilisations". Muslims are regarded in this context as culturally and materially backward, tradition-entrenched rejecters of modernity.

AfD poster in Germany (photo: Getty Images/S. Gallup)
According to Udo Tworuschka, "grand narratives of extremes" are very popular with extremists of all hues. Such narratives, he says, "condense the diversity of political and religious world views into a single sweeping but oversimplified story. […] In this image of the world, Islam is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive, sexist and homophobic." Pictured here is a poster by the German political party AfD with the slogan "So that Europe does not become 'Eurabia'"

You claim that the negative public image of Islam is no longer a marginal phenomenon, but has long since become "socially acceptable". In your book, you lament how "a basic mood has taken hold in our country that causes any even halfway positive statement about Islam to be regarded as a 'concession' or even as 'capitulation'". Where do you see this happening, and what do you think gave rise to it?

Monika Tworuschka: Islamophobia, racism and a right-wing mentality have long since become mainstream phenomena. The media are not conducting a debate about Islam but one about our image of Islam. In this image of Islam all nuances are glossed over. It is full of prejudices, is inaccurate in many ways and often one-sided. This image of Islam blocks our way toward an objective engagement with one of the world's biggest and most fascinating religions.

We see frightening parallels here with the anti-Semitism propagated by the Nazis. The accusations, defamations and racist prejudices against the Muslims expressed in some circles are a fatal reminder of an era when everything "Jewish" came under general suspicion.

Udo Tworuschka: The Islamophobia that focuses on groups and takes the form of neo-racism views all people from certain countries as a fictitious uniform entity. People of different geographical origin, with different religious or non-religious beliefs, political convictions, education and socialisation, are all labelled Islam/Muslim.

The fact is, of course, that every individual, including people of the Islamic faith, is made up of many different and changeable identities, of which religion is only one – and one that is likewise not static. It is an irresponsible blanket assumption to lay the main blame for all problems related to migration, integration, violence, lack of democracy, human rights violations and discrimination against women on the religion of Islam alone.

The distinguished Islamic scholar Thomas Bauer has noted an erosion of tolerance for ambiguity in many Islamic countries. What was once a relatively high degree of tolerance towards phenomena of ambiguity and plurality has devolved in some cases into extreme intolerance. You write: "The black-and-white thinking that characterises much of the Islam debate can also be interpreted as an extreme expression of a lack of tolerance for ambiguity". Can these two phenomena actually be equated?

Monika Tworuschka: In the Islamic world, the decline of tolerance for ambiguity and the increased incidence of intolerance towards ambiguity and plurality are closely linked to the engagement with the subjects of Europe, colonialism and the current power politics of the West. The less respected representatives of the Islamic world feel by the West, the more they reject tolerance and ambiguity.

Monika and Udo Tworuschka (photo: private)
Monika and Udo Tworuschka, authors of the book "Der Islam. Feind oder Freund? 38 Thesen gegen eine Hysterie" (Islam: Enemy or Friend? 38 Theses Against Hysteria), which is only available in German

The prevailing black-and-white thinking about Islam in the West is also based on subliminal fears. Ever since its inception, Islam has been seen as a threat in Europe, even though there have been phases of tolerant coexistence.

Udo Tworuschka: In recent times, this sense of menace has been expressed in a seemingly irrational fear of the Muslims, who are allegedly trying to Islamise Germany through an unchecked "birth jihad" and who are calling into question our constitutional state with its democratic basic order. This fear of Islam as a whole leads to sweeping generalisations and to the condemnation of an entire world religion.

The two phenomena can be compared insofar as insecurity, fear and a lack of recognition by the other lead to dwindling tolerance for ambiguity. The more Muslims feel recognised and respected by us, the more willing they will be to tolerate ambiguities and agree to compromises.

You would like to put the "Islam debate" on a more factual footing and to contribute to understanding and dialogue. To this end, you propose a "hermeneutics of trust". What do you mean by that?

Monika Tworuschka: We advocate a "hermeneutics of trust" and oppose an understanding of Islam that is guided by mistrust. This is because we want to promote understanding, harmonious coexistence and dialogue with Muslims. Without concealing problematic aspects, we highlight the strong sides of Islam. All the while, we guard against credulity with a "hermeneutics of suspicion": a form of ideological criticism that enables us to confront preachers of hatred and to dismiss the oppression of women and the persecution of those of other faiths and apostates as what they are: inhuman and asocial.

Udo Tworuschka: On the other hand, we fundamentally reject the "hermeneutics of denunciation" that is so popular these days among "Islam critics" and others, because we consider it dangerous and socially harmful. It places whole groups of people – the Jews, the Muslims, the Roma, the foreigners – under general suspicion.

Conversations and encounters, openness to critical questions, joint projects, good neighbourliness, and cooperation in communities, kindergartens, schools and social institutions, by contrast, contribute to better mutual understanding and help us reach out to others. There are plenty of examples of how this functions in our daily lives!

Interview conducted by Lucy James

© 2019

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor


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Comments for this article: Countering the Islamisation hysteria

Dear Qantara
Your interview with religious scholars Monika and Udo Tworuschka about their book; "Islam. Friend or foe? 38 theses against hysteria" is one of the best argued article on the subject of Islam in the west and the generalisation, Muslims in the Islamic world and those who are living in the west are so worried and even angry about.

I agree with the authors of the book that the decline of tolerance towards plurality in the Islamic countries, is closely linked to the subjects of European colonialism and the current power politics – read interventions - of the West in the Muslim countries. I would however add to this analysis, the negative role of the media and politicians that has played a very disturbing part in perpetuating the image of Islam and Muslims as intolerant and anti- west across the globe.

I work with the issue of Islamophobia in the west and have also travelled extensively in the Muslim majority countries. They always point out that many western journalists and experts misuse the notion of freedom of expression to intentionally malign what is so dear to all Muslims, namely the Prophet and Quran. Not only that but the perception in the west that values such as – pluralism, human rights, democracy and rule of law is invented in the west and Muslims detest such universal values, is very irritable to most Muslims. Western culture is presented as an absolute truth and anything that Muslims do not agree to is quickly termed as; Islamism or political Islam.
Nothing can be more distance to the reality.

Muslims in the west and in the Islamic countries are not a homogeneous group or constitute an ethnicity, practice one culture or live in one nation. They are as different as any other follower of a religion. Some are religious, while most are non-practising Muslims. I am afraid that if this diversity is not acknowledged and appreciated, we would not come out of the prejudices or even the prevailing Islamophobic mindset, we experience on daily basis.

Anyhow, once again, thanks for the great work, DW’s Website; Qantara is providing to enlighten the people and give a neutral perspective on Islam and Muslims.

Kind regards
Bashy Quraishy
Secretary General - EMISCO -European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion - Strasbourg

Bashy Quraishy02.08.2019 | 19:33 Uhr

I think the above are arguments by liberals for the converted. The whole body of these arguments is fraught with lack of questining and depth. By lack of questioning I mean the following: given that this negative image of "Islam", racism, Islamophobia, intolerance, etc has taken a bigger dimension within "democracy", surely there must be a cumulative process within such a "democracy" that culminated to today's situation. How come that in a "democratic" society with all the claims of civilisation, with the wealth of literature and knowledge, the high level of education provision that has never existed in human history, the economic and technological advances, such phenomenon of hostility towards the Other, lack of knowledge of "Islam" and Muslims be so mediorcre and highly prejudiced? The media? But what mase the media take the form that it has today?
By lack of depth, I mean the lxk of political economy. What has Germany and Europe experienced in the last 40 years or so, economically and socially that has made a significant section of the population think the way its thinks? If the Islamophobia, racism, prejudice, etc described in the article have risen in a liberal capitalist society, surely there must be concrete contradictions within that society that have given rise to them. On the other hand, what has the MENA region experienced in the last 70 years, i.e. since the nationalist revolutions of the 1950sand 1960s, the failure of modernisation, the neoliberal policies followed by/and imposed on the region, the violence carried out by the local regimes, individual groups and Western powers (the consequences of the destfruction of Iraq, to name just one major event)? Finally, instead of looking at how diverse the majority of Muslims are, one should look at what common features, aspirations and needs they share among themselves and what common features, interests and aspirations they share with the majority of Europeans.

Nadeem03.08.2019 | 12:51 Uhr