Could anti-religion be hostile to Islam

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Ozan Zakariya Keskinkilic

Ozan Zakariya Keskinkilic

Ozan Zakariya Keskinkilic is a political scientist and lecturer at the Alice Salomon University in Berlin. He researches and teaches on the topics of (anti-Muslim) racism, anti-Semitism, orientalism and (post) colonialism as well as memory and Jewish-Muslim relations. He is co-editor of the volume "Fremdmachen & Reorientiert. Jüdisch-Muslimische Verwickungen" (2018) and author of the book "Die Islamdebatte belongs to Germany" (2019).

Islamophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Muslim racism - many terms for one phenomenon?

Various terms are used to describe hostility towards Muslims or their experiences of discrimination. Ozan Zakariya Keskinkilic advocates the designation "anti-Muslim racism" because it also takes political, structural and institutional dimensions into account. The author makes historical references and shows which forms anti-Muslim racism is taking on today.

Series: Anti-Muslim Racism (& copy picture-alliance)

There are a variety of terms that refer to the discrimination experience of Muslims and people marked as Muslim. The term "Islamophobia" came about after a sensational report by the British think tank Runnymede Trust from 1997 international popularity [1]. Islamophobia describes the aversion to Islam and the associated attacks and (social) exclusion of Muslims in public life. For the authors, this also included discrimination in work and education, physical violence and verbal abuse or prejudice in political debates and media coverage.

In Germany the "Islamophobia"prominent through the investigations of the Bielefeld Institute for Conflict and Violence Research on" group-related enmity "(GMF). At the beginning of the aforementioned research series under the title German conditions (2002-10) Islamophobia was defined as "general negative attitudes towards Muslim persons and all beliefs, symbols and religious practices of Islam" [2]. From 2010 the terms "Islamophobia and Muslim hostility" appeared: "Hostility to Islam and Muslims means a generalized attribution of negative stereotypes, emotions, thoughts and convictions to 'Islam' or 'the Muslims' "[3], so Andreas Zick.

The terms Islamophobia and Islam / Muslim hostility are often used synonymously in German-language publications, but depending on the context, they can focus either on fears or (violent / prepared) hostility and hatred. Due to their conceptual focus on religion and religious practice, they are explicitly treated separately from classic biological (skin color) racism in the GMF classification. [4] With Islamophobia and Islamophobia / Muslim hostility it is emphasized that it is about unfounded and diffuse fears of Islam. Wilhelm Heitmeyer therefore also speaks of irrational stereotypes or feelings "latent permanent threat with the corresponding psychological effects" [5].

In my opinion, this results in significant weaknesses: On the one hand, the terminology is trivializing and misleading. They semantically allude to supposed fears of 'Islam' and 'Muslims' and thus convey the impression that religion is the starting point for discrimination that is expressed in direct rejection or hostility. By focusing on researching socio-psychological causes and prejudices at the individual attitudes level, political, structural and institutional dimensions are neglected - not to mention problems of pathologization. Questions about historical continuities and social contexts also take a back seat.

The term "anti-Muslim racism"[6] is therefore preferable from my point of view. He does not understand the phenomenon as an irrational occurrence in the present, let alone as a (right) exceptional situation in democratic, egalitarian societies in Europe, but as an inherent aspect of European modernity. He initiates current debates on Islam the context of the historical emergence of Europe and recalls the legacy of European colonialism [7]. The term anti-Muslim racism gathers criticism of various strategies and rhetorics, all of which are characterized by the fact that they refer to processes of racialization, i.e. of construction as 'others'. Muslims are separated from 'us Germans' ("They are different from us"), homogenized ("They are all the same") and essential (negative) characteristics are ascribed to them ("They are theirs Culture and religion according to just like that "). People are thus based on phenotypic differentiation, from Na men or attributed origins are classified as Muslim. They are made into a metaphor of social evil - by ascribing the attributes of sexist, homophobic, violent, unwilling to integrate - and thus declining them from the national 'we'. The 'others' are demoted and 'we' are inflated.

Overall, anti-Muslim racism is to be classified as racism precisely because people are essentialized according to certain ideas of culture, religion and origin, i.e. they are assigned genuinely 'Islamic' characteristics according to (alleged) descent, which they are virtually natural from their 'own' group differentiated. This justifies the racist discrimination against 'others' ("not German") and 'our' ("German") privileges are secured.

Twenty years later the Runnymede Trust in his current report "Islamophobia: Still a Challenge for Us All" a broader definition that is essentially based on the United Nations definition of racism. [8]

"Islamophobia is any distinction, exclusion, or restriction towards, or preference against, Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. "[9]

In this definition it is now expressly pointed out that not only Muslims, but also people perceived as such are affected. In addition, any forms of delimitation, restrictions or exclusion (even unconsciously) Islamophobia added. The decisive factor is not whether they happen on purpose, but whether they have discriminatory effects.

In addition, the report shows that the phenomenon - unlike in the aforementioned Islamophobia studies in Germany - cannot be investigated in isolation from other racisms Not can be reduced to a religion-related discrimination: The formulation is unmistakable, "Islamophobia is anti-Muslim racism" [10]. Although most English-language studies continue to insist on the term Islamophobia, despite its semantic narrowing, it is specifically defined as racism and analyzed as such. This is not the case in the previously mentioned studies from German prejudice research - on the contrary, this research tradition remains anchored in an individualizing, socio-psychological dimension. [11] The term "anti-Muslim racism" can prevent widespread misunderstandings, trivialization and denial of racism in the German context and is therefore preferable.

Historical traces of anti-Muslim racism: Reconquista on the Iberian Peninsula

Anti-Muslim racism cannot be reduced to a prejudice. It is neither a unique feature of the right margin, nor new. The traces of anti-Muslim racism can be traced back to the late 15th and early 16th centuries on the Iberian Peninsula, when ideas of religion, culture and 'blood ancestry' were already mixed there and Muslims, side by side with Jews Jews who were conceived by Christians as minorities alien to their origin, as the following historical review shows.

In the course of the so-called Reconquista Muslims on the Iberian Peninsula were initially given the choice of converting to Christianity or migrating. As François Soyer shows, various disciplinary and control measures followed, which stigmatized Muslims who had been converted to Christianity and their descendants, also known as 'Moriscos', as suspicious converts in the middle of the Christian nation, because they would still secretly adhere to Islam. [ 12] Even then, the accusation of lying and fraud, as well as the topos of a silent infiltration of the majority society, belonged to the anti-Muslim as well as the anti-Semitic language repertoire. [13] Muslims or 'Moriscos' were under general suspicion, they were considered to be deficient people who had to be corrected and integrated, controlled and observed.

Soyer reports of an assimilation program passed in Granada in 1526 [14], according to which 'Moriscos' were obliged to dress like Christians. The Muslim veiling, the Arabic script and language were forbidden. On Fridays and Sundays, the forced converts and their descendants had to keep house doors open to make sure that they did not perform the Muslim Friday prayer and do not work on Christian Sundays.

As with Jewish marks, there were also Muslim marks from the universities, religious orders, city councils and the 'Statutes of Blood Purity' introduced by the Inquisition, the limpieza the sangré, concerned. This legal concept differentiated people between 'clean' and 'unclean'. [15] To be of pure blood descent meant "to be free from Jewish, Muslim or other religious 'defilement'" [16] as Max Sebastián Hering Torres explains. Hering Torres emphasizes this point, as the idea of ​​blood ancestry and purity reflects the racial content of the programs that 'Moriscos' and 'Conversos' (Jews forcibly converted and their descendants) accused of their quasi-natural ancestry To threaten nation. Therefore, they should be placed under special observation and control. The conversion to Christianity did nothing to change the persecution - not even for subsequent generations, even if they actually saw themselves as Christians. From 1571 further measures to solve the 'Morisco' problem were discussed, including deportation, enslavement, forced labor until death, castration and sterilization up to shipping and drowning [17]. In 1609, under King Philip II, 300,000 'Moriscos' were mass expelled to the coasts of North Africa.

The sociologists Ramón Grosfoguel and Eric Mielants and the Arabist Maurits S. Berger share the view that the case of the limpieza de sangré and the surveillance and education programs tailored to these groups, as well as their displacement, was more than religious discrimination, as it was build on processes of racialization. [18] Grosfoguel and Mielants speak of a "protoracist process", the consequences of which were comparable to those of the later developing modern racism. [19] Berger also explains that the religious-cultural difference was defined as 'racial': "Moriscos [were] perceived as racially different from the 'old' Christians, who claimed descent from the Germanic (Visi) Goths as opposed to the allegedly semitic Arab descent of the Moriscos. "[20] The racism researcher Iman Attia agrees with this assessment and assumes that 'Moriscos'" classified as a separate 'race' and nation on the basis of their foreign culture, which was religiously defined "[ 21] were.


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Anti-Muslim Racism Today

Nowadays the term 'race' is taboo in Germany and socially frowned upon. But that does not change the fact that racist or anti-Semitic ideas still shape the way people talk about blacks, Jews, Sinti and Roma, Muslims and other affected groups. [22] Anti-Muslim racism is a prime example of "racism without races", as the French philosopher Étienne Balibar put it, "whose predominant theme is no longer biological heredity, but the indissolubility of cultural difference." [23] That is, culture and In hegemonic debates on Islam, religion takes on the function of biology or repeats the fundamental constructional character of biological racism. According to their alleged origins, Muslims are constantly perceived as strangers. This is shown very clearly by demographic threat scenarios ("popular exchange", "foreign infiltration").

In the AfD program for the 2017 federal election it says: "In the spread of Islam and the presence of over 5 million Muslims, the number of which is constantly growing, the AfD sees a great danger for our state, our society and our system of values." [24] The enemy image of Islam is reflected here in the perception of those associated with it as non-Germans / intruders. Their presence and number of births are problematized with a view to "our" order.

As Yasemin Shooman explains, in demographic threat scenarios "who are descended from Muslim parents - and that alone makes him or her a problem or even a danger" are considered Muslim [25]. Being Muslim then means the opposite of being German, this refers even to people with German citizenship, German language skills or those who identify themselves as German. In fact, according to this logic, the presence, visibility and even social participation of Muslims or people perceived as such is rejected as a sign of 'Islamization' and infiltration of 'our' country. [26] That is why PEGIDA chants against Muslims, migrants and refugees to protect Germany at regular Monday demonstrations.

But the idea of ​​seemingly natural boundaries between cultures and religions, the contact and / or mixing of which is a problem for the preservation of "our" identity and society, is not limited to right-wing populist parties or right-wing civil movements. Arguments about the incompatibility of "foreign" cultures with the European and German cultures for deficit-oriented integration models up to restrictive migration and asylum policies can be used across party lines. "Germany must remain Germany", was a demand in the draft resolution for the CSU party executive meeting in 2016. Christsoziale advocated preferring the immigration of people from "our Christian-Western culture". [27]

Notions of foreign infiltration and infiltration are also well received by the general population: In a survey by the "Leipzig Authoritarianism Study 2018", 55.8 percent of those surveyed in Germany said that "[th] o the many Muslims here [...] sometimes like "To feel" a stranger in their own country [28]. Obviously, the respondents assume that there are "many" Muslims and understand them as Non-Germansthat would not really belong here - because only with such an image of Muslims does consent to the statement about "the many Muslims in one's own country" only make sense.

In the survey, 44.1 percent of those questioned even advocate banning Muslims from immigrating to Germany [29] - regardless of the fact that being Muslim as an alleged religious difference is not a contradiction to being German and certainly no information about citizenship and / or Residence permit there. In other words, 'German' and 'Muslim' are negotiated as a pair of opposites and then the 'others' are denied the right to immigrate or to live in Germany. Muslims and people perceived as such are - to use the words of the survey - alienated in their own country.

Perpetrator-victim reversal

The existence of anti-Muslim racism in public life in Germany is repeatedly denied or relativized. It is then said, for example, that Muslims stylized themselves as victims. They only imagined the discrimination or could not deal with 'legitimate criticism of Islam'. This type of argument is common and dangerous. They hold victims of racist violence responsible for their experience of discrimination; this is also called "victim blaming".Discussions about anti-Muslim racism in society as a whole do not materialize because the topic is instead relocated and fended off with the cliché image of violent, sexist and radical Muslims. In this way, victims are turned into perpetrators.

Criticism of anti-Muslim racism is regularly watered down and relativized for the purpose of so-called "Islamic criticism" or the phenomenon is denied as a whole. With "Islam criticism"As a result, social problems are depoliticized and instead Islamized, as Iman Attia emphatically puts it. [30] Responsibility is shifted to Muslims and Islam, while the" German "majority society is relieved Indications for a fundamental Muslim otherness are read, or if the crimes are abstracted from individuals and projected collectively onto people marked as Muslim - as decidedly Muslim characteristics - these are decisive criteria for speaking of anti-Muslim racism. that the explanation for social grievances is reduced to a questionable category. Other strands of explanation are neglected for the purpose of a Muslimization of social issues. [31]

This is how detour communication works [32]: Discriminatory worldviews find an outlet in other, supposedly neutral terms and are articulated under the argument of democratic criticism. This means that criticism of racism is fended off so that Muslims (again) come into focus as a (real) problem and are constructed as (potential or true) perpetrators. Thus the perpetrator-victim reversal reaches its climax in the conspiracy fantasy of an Islamization of Germany. Right-wing populists, above all from the AfD environment, conjure up the foreign infiltration of 'our' society. There is an exchange of people, the 'real' people are endangered by migration and Islam. The Muslim minority is accused of taking over and destroying the country. With these narratives, calls for deportations, for restrictive asylum and migration policies, for restrictions on the practice of religion and for the systematic observation and disciplining of others under the 'leading culture' are becoming louder and louder. This means that the practice of anti-Muslim racism is used as an alleged self-defense and claimed as a (majority) right.

When anti-Muslim words are followed by action

Anti-Muslim discourses precede violent assaults and attacks. The right-wing, anti-Muslim terrorist attacks in Oslo and Utøya in July 2011 and in Christchurch, New Zealand in March 2019 testify to the global extent of a problem that is also underestimated in this country. Right-wing extremist terrorism in the form of the NSU or the Freital group, as well as anti-Muslim attacks on mosques and physical attacks on the street, still do not receive the necessary attention. In 2018 alone, German crime statistics counted over 910 Islamophobic crimes. [33] Compared to the previous year, the number of people injured by violent acts increased. The number of unreported cases is estimated to be much higher.

The anti-Muslim racially motivated murder of Marwa El-Sherbini in the Dresden Regional Court on July 1, 2009 marks an absolute low point in Germany. The pharmacist with a hijab was invited to witness. She had reported Alexander W. because he had previously insulted her on a playground as a "terrorist" and "Islamist". Sherbini, who was three months pregnant, was stabbed 16 times during the trial. Her husband, Elwy Ali Okaz, rushed to help. He was also seriously injured, mistaken for the perpetrator by a police officer and shot at. The Council of Muslim Students and Academics then proclaimed July 1, the anniversary of Sherbini's death, the day against anti-Muslim racism.

Nonetheless, anti-Muslim racism has so far not been adequately (critically) taken into account in debates about security and terrorism, unless Muslims are (again) brought into focus as (potential) perpetrators and their experience of discrimination is focused on as a factor of radicalization. It should come as no surprise that anti-Muslim arguments can also make themselves felt in the context of preventing extremism and securitization. [34] Precisely because anti-Muslim narratives rely on an unbroken reading of Muslims as perpetrators, it seems almost impossible to address their experiences as victims of racist violence without relativizing or denying the problem. If the fears and worries of the citizens are mentioned in media and political debates, the worries and fears, the interests and (protective) needs of Muslims are not or only rarely heard or mentioned.


Anti-Muslim racism is not an exclusively right-wing phenomenon. Debates about security and terrorism have played a central role in the stigmatization of Muslims since 9/11. Nonetheless, the discrimination against Muslims can look back on a long historical tradition that is closely linked to the history of Europe. Anti-Muslim racism affects not only practicing Muslims, but all those who are perceived as Muslim. It is present when essentialist markings of Muslims serve the purpose of justifying observation and control, disciplining, educating or excluding others and securing one's own privileges. In order to explain the unequal treatment of Muslims, the narrative of the Muslim aggressor is used: Muslims are - in contrast to 'us Germans' - according to their religion and culture as sexist, violent, anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-democratic. They are suspected of rejecting democracy and the rule of law, while members of their own group are presumed to be innocent. As a result, Muslims are invented to be the opposite of German.

Criticizing anti-Muslim racism means looking behind the scenes of hegemonic debates on Islam. [35] That means, to direct one's gaze from the supposed truth about 'the Muslims' to how people are marked as Muslim and with which attributions this is connected. Ultimately, it is not the otherness of 'Muslims' that explains their unequal treatment, but the logic that makes them strangers.


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