Rafik Schami on integration

″To the haters, they′re all faceless Muslims″

In this article, the Syrian-German writer Rafik Schami outlines his idea of integration and hospitality.

The Germans, according to Schami, are strangers in their own land. But it didn′t take foreigners and refugees to create this situation: many Germans already had a dysfunctional relationship with their country.

Being afraid of what is foreign isn′t a sin itself, says Schami – and it certainly isn′t racism. You just have to talk openly about the fear. The racists are the people who stigmatise foreigners.

The cloak of invisibility

The professional scaremongers use Islamophobia as a cloak of invisibility to hide their racist attitudes. The aim of the word is to stoke the hatred of foreigners – most recently refugees, Muslims. No matter whether they are first, second or third generation immigrants, or have been living in Germany for 50 years, peacefully contributing to the civilisation of this country; whether they work down the pits, on the production line, cleaning buildings, or if they design and build houses, work in front of or behind the camera, sing, paint, compose or tell stories; whether their work takes them on stage or to patients′ bedsides.

To the haters, they are all faceless Muslims. Now let′s take just five minutes to put ourselves in the position of a peace-loving person in this country, who just happens to belong to the Muslim minority. Despite all the decades he has spent here, he is treated to a defamatory slap in the face, whether it be a silly cartoon that shows his Prophet with a bomb in his turban, or the tirades of Thilo Sarrazin and his defenders Udo Ulfkotte and Peter Sloterdijk.

The haters′ constant defamation of Muslims is increasing the number of Muslims who don′t feel accepted in this country. It is a bitter feeling to be publically defamed after so many years, without a judge bringing charges against those unleashing the tirades of hatred. So what does the average Muslim, who has never been an Islamist, do?  He becomes defensive, uninterested in German society and prepared to adopt a fundamentalist philosophy, thus helping him to understand in a fairly cool and pseudo-rational way why the Germans hate him.

The headscarves are less a success on the part of the fundamentalists than a failure by our society to protect and integrate this minority. For more than 20 years Turkish and Arab women in Germany didn′t wear headscarves, or wore them only occasionally. The foreigner is not to blame for xenophobia; the blame lies with the people speculating about mistakes he hasn′t made yet.

We could garner huge support from our Muslim citizens in helping to integrate the refugees who have been granted asylum here. But no, that′s too complicated for the old rabble-rousers. Foreigners out! That′s their facile conviction. The hater of Muslims and the anti-Semite are both striving for one goal: the exclusion of a heterogeneous group from ″respectable society″ which is under threat, as if they were dealing with a vicious mob. The anti-Semites use the Talmud and the Muslim-haters use the Koran as a witness to their wickedness.The phoney fear of the ex-thinkers

Symbolic image of Islamophobia (photo: dpa)
Fears about Islam unfounded: the results of a study by the Bertelsmann Foundation (January 2015) demonstrate the huge discrepancy between the popular image of Islam and how Muslims in Germany actually live. Most Muslims feel a deep sense of belonging. Law-abiding citizens, they count both Muslims and non-Muslims among their friends and acquaintances. Claims relating to parallel societies are simply not borne out by the reality

Are the scaremongers afraid of Muslims? My unequivocal answer is no. They, along with most other people, fly to countries with majority Muslim populations, countries like Egypt, Albania, Bahrain, Jordan, Dubai, Qatar, Indonesia, Yemen, Syria (before the war) Malaysia, the Maldives, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey. The Muslim is master of the house there. Not so in Europe! I know many German ex-anarchists, ex-Maoists who have never had a problem being a guest of Arab sheiks and Muslim dictatorships. The hotels have five stars; the flights and the food are first-class. On the seventh day of his visit, one of these intellectuals, tipsy and having gained three kilos in weight, exclaimed: “This is all lovely, but I don′t know why I′m here.” Such questions reveal more than their speaker fears: a weak character. The cunning oil sheik grinned. But he didn′t give the answer out loud: publicity for Dubai. The same intellectual now tells anyone who will listen that he is afraid of Islam.

Islam is a religion and, like all religions, it has several faces. Anyone who doesn′t know this should read the Bible thoroughly and learn about witch trials, crusades and, if he has the stomach for it, the atrocities committed by Christian colonisers in Africa, Asia and Latin America. No, an intellectual can′t be afraid of a religion, or he doesn′t deserve to be called an intellectual. The venerable gentlemen seated at their usual table in the bar feel something else: contempt, born of arrogance. And they usually feel it towards foreigners from poor countries, from former colonies.

The vilification of refugees

After the second bottle of wine, conspiracy theorists may make you laugh. But in a sober state they seem feeble-minded, hysterically searching for ways to make Jews responsible for everything that goes wrong, even if al-Qaida officially claimed responsibility for the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. From the appearance of the anti-Semitic ″Protocols of the Elders of Zion″ all the way to the present day, nine out of ten conspiracy theories have ended in anti-Semitism.

Now Reinhard Jirgl has revealed that the refugees are part of a global conspiracy, not led by Putin or Assad, but by the USA, whose intention is to ″further deregulate Europe, economically and politically″. And that the Germans, ″the unsuspecting natives″ are in the firm grip of the USA. These abstruse thoughts appear in Reinhard Jirgl′s article ″The unsuspecting natives″ (″Tumult″, Winter 2016, p.7 ff).

Its language and content are very reminiscent of speeches by the far-right ideologues among German expellees in the 70s. And that′s how he wants to solve the problems of 2016!
This is no longer Islamophobia. This displays an alarming level of arrogance towards the Germans, whom his article paints as feeble-minded, not to mention towards the suffering of millions of people who have fled from a hail of bombs and who need help.

To my mind, the idea that this is a US conspiracy against Germany and Europe is clearly anti-Semitic. I suspect that Jirgl has internalised Udo Ulfkotte, a PEGIDA follower and conspiracy theorist. Ulfkotte′s book ″Holy War in Europe″ presents an image from his alarming fantasies of a ″secret plan to infiltrate non-Muslim states″ – dark forces that have pledged to destroy Germany. This is the modern translation of the invented ″Protocols of the Elders of Zion″, remodelled for Muslims. Do we need any further evidence to see where these gentlemen are heading?Mr Sloterdijk wants to reform Islam

Controversial philosopher Peter Sloterdijk (photo: dpa)
"Islamophobia is acceptable anti-Semitism": the Syrian German writer Rafik Schami has accused German intellectuals of fomenting Islamophobia. Sloterdijk and Safranski are too cowardly to really grapple with the Arab culture. The fact that ″these bigots″ attempt to disguise their anti-Muslim sentiments in a cloak of concern for the German Jewish community makes it all the more preposterous

Of course, this is meant ironically. Mr Sloterdijk can′t even reform himself. The ex-left-winger, ex-Bhagwan follower, ex-preacher of human selection (Rules for the Human Zoo), ex-economic neoliberal and now, for a short period, since it′s in fashion, expert on Islam, says that Islam is ″incompatible with a modern state and a modern society″ (kath.net KAN). Anyone who says such a thing has no concept of history. It is ahistorical. It was this same Islam that produced one of the most wonderful civilisations. The reasons for its crisis are multifarious and Europe has played a part in them. But instead of an analysis, Mr Sloterdijk gives us some more sales patter. So history and research have never interested rabble-rousers? Not when you have a handy, hollow metaphor, which rings all the louder because of its hollowness. Herfried Munkler: ″The dance of the metaphors performed by this type of public intellectual has functioned above all as a barricade to learning. Sloterdijk has taken refuge in all kinds of linguistic imagery to save him the trouble of familiarising himself with the relevant research. This way, he could talk about anything without knowing the precise details.″

But how is that our spokespeople can fall so far? Herfried Munkler gave an answer in the same article (″Die Zeit″, 12.3.2016): ″as long as the Federal Republic was a player without a larger political arena and political agency, it could afford to have this type of public intellectual without suffering any consequences... But since Germany has become a central player in European politics, that is no longer the case.″  

The old gentlemen are intensely preoccupied, almost like theologians, with the weaknesses of Islam. They are eager to demonstrate the characteristics of Islam that prevent it from gaining a foothold here in Europe. Why does Islam have to adapt to Europe? These attacks from outside drip with arrogance and can only lead to resistance. Such arrogance, combined with the insults against Islam permitted all over Europe, is certainly not going to lead to the reform of Islam.

No, a society, a religious community cannot be reformed by assaults from without; they will only put it on the defensive. Reform has to come from within. In all societies this always has been and always will be difficult and involve great sacrifices. What we can do is support liberal forces and have patience.

The Chinese are coming!

I don′t want to frighten anyone, but at this point it seems appropriate for me to make readers aware that our world is racing towards its own end because of an absurd characteristic of humanity. I know, I know, what I′m saying is nothing new. Many scientists know it and many more logically-minded people suspect it.

One of these absurd characteristics of humanity is that nothing in the world satisfies us more than power and cash. No animal would ever consider destroying its existential basis, just so 70 of its species could own half the world. But 70 men do. Humans are so stupid that they don′t even stop to think what their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will inherit: junk, filth, felled forests and ruined soil, disease and war that nobody can hide from any more.

This is not a propaganda exercise, but the introduction to a terrifying vision of natural and environmental catastrophes that is currently circulating. I suspect that the first great blow will fall in China. I wrote as much more than a decade ago; things are produced incredibly cheaply there, and that only works when you don′t give the slightest consideration to nature. So the next refugees will be environmental refugees, the majority of them quite possibly Chinese. And what will Mr Sloterdijk write on his Chinese laptop, which could not have been invented without the Arabic zero?

That Buddhism and Taoism are good for nothing and unsuited to a modern society; that the Chinese are soon going to flock together anyway and build a parallel society with mafia-style triads, which will extort money from the wealthy old gentlemen of the ″Tumult″ circle? And what harmonies will Mr Safranski′s second choral part sing in the ″NZZ-Sonntagszeitung″? That the Chinese have no idea how to live with Christians; that they letch over blonde women and will start hunting dogs, because of course they love dogs...for dinner?Horror kitsch

Writer and literary scholar Rudiger Safranski (photo: dpa)
Head to head over the refugee crisis: Rudiger Safranski has frequently criticised Chancellor Merkel′s refugee policy. In the "Neue Zurcher Zeitung" dated 8.11.2015, he accused ″the Germans″ of pubescent behaviour, saying, ″they see themselves as saviours of the persecuted and the lost; they have sacrificed the ethics of responsibility on the altar of ideology"

On my tour through hundreds of cities, I read and noted down a lot of things about the ″refugee crisis″. I saw posters from the right-wing Alfa Party, depicting a dark-haired, bearded man about to rape a white woman. This is the visual translation of Safranski′s statement: ″The young men bring their macho behaviour, their violence, with them, which is bad for everyone, but particularly for women″ (″NZZ am Sonntag″). This is horror kitsch!

You can′t enlighten old gentlemen. If you prove that one of their statements is false, they′ll pull the next prejudice out of their waistcoat pocket and when there′s nothing left, they start on the lechery of foreigners. It′s a prejudice, but it is one through which the old gentlemen project their fantasies and repressed desires onto foreigners.

Integration without illusion

Taking the path towards integration together is not simple; even with goodwill on both sides, integration is no piece of cake. It is tough and in the long term wreathed in problems and studded with setbacks. It demands a steady nerve from everyone involved and the kind of patience that would make a camel look hysterical by comparison.

In the end, perhaps when our great-grandchildren are in charge, a wonderful reward awaits: a vibrant, peaceful society. If it works, my earthly remains will rejoice and fertilise many little thistles: the thistle-loving goldfinch is my favourite song bird. And like the refugees, it is also under threat.

The great chasm between knowledge and wisdom

Those who claim to have knowledge have no advice for politicians, for helpers and certainly not for refugees. Only then, even if they were wrong, would they be intellectuals in my eyes. No, they don′t have a single wise word, sensible or sympathetic, let alone spoken out of love. Instead, they react cynically from the distance of their regular place at the bar.

It is a remarkable observation that the majority of these cynical regulars used to be radical left-wingers. Now, when for once the people are showing a will to be politically active and behave in a humanist way, having learnt from history, these waistcoat-pocket Stalinists have become complacent and cross – their provincial nature revealed in their verbose paralysis and hostility towards other cultures.

The boundaries of reason lie where reason misleads us into opportunism and cynicism. And this is not uncommon in times of crisis. Only a courageous love can have any effect, one that does not shy away from any victim, one that gives to others without reason or calculation, one that makes it possible to overcome crises and builds a bridge across the chasm between knowledge and wisdom.

Why I have a special radar for xenophobes

I was born into an historical double minority – an Aramean among Arabs and a Christian among Muslims – and through my exile I have become part of a third, modern minority: foreign in Germany.

A member of a minority (let′s say a Catholic Italian or a Sunni Syrian) who has gone into exile, be it as an economic migrant, exile or refugee, spends a long time feeling blind and confused in his new surroundings. He doesn′t have millennia of practice doing this behind him. A member of an historical minority gets into the swing of things much more quickly. He will, for example, never ally himself with xenophobes against foreigners, unless his brain has been reduced to a pile of shit. My observations over 45 years confirm this. I know of a few sad cases that it repulses me to recount.

It is not exaggerated politeness but history that forces me to praise those majorities who have treated their minorities well despite any problems. The Germans have no need to hide. They have at least been living peacefully with their minorities for over 50 years. But nor does the Muslim majority in my country of origin, Syria, which allowed us to live despite 200 years of crusades. I would like Messrs Sloterdijk, Safranski, Ulfkotte, Jirgl, Bockelmann etc. to give me a Christian counter-example. Let′s say a French minority who survived the First World War in Germany. Oh, there isn′t one? Hard to find? A German quarter in Moscow or Leningrad, or a German village nearby? No?

You don′t have to read Herta Muller to see how miserable things were for the European minorities during and after the war. History is my witness.

What does a member of an historical minority learn from a young age? He learns that somebody who hates foreigners hates people in general. And nobody can convince him otherwise, even if he is alone in this opinion.

© 2016 Rafik Schami

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

On the article and its author

Rafik Schami, born in Syria in 1946 and resident in Germany since 1971, is one of Germany′s most successful authors. His latest book ″Sophia″ is published by Hanser. His novel ″Eine Hand voller Sterne″  (A hand full of stars) was named ″Book of the City″ for Cologne and the surrounding region in 2015.

Schami′s title for the article published here was ″Fremder unter Fremden″ (Foreign among foreigners). His inspiration: an interview he gave for the ″Kolner Stadtanzeiger″ in March. These are the first few pages of a manuscript that he plans to publish in book form in the autumn.

The work will be in three parts: the first dealing with hospitality and Islamophobia, the second with literature in exile and the third a retrospective on Schami′s life. (ksta)


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