Germany’s population has seen a significant increase in recent years, thanks in large part to immigration. As the demographics continue to shift, right-wing organizations in Germany are using anti-Muslim rhetoric to advance their agenda and are finding a receptive audience.
The rise in anti-Muslim hate groups in Germany is the focus of a recent staff report by Der Spiegel, a prominent German weekly with a circulation of more than one million across Europe. The article,
“Islamophobic Hate Groups Become More Prominent in Germany,” describes the growth of anti-Muslim sentiment in a way that should read familiar to observers of a similar phenomenon in the United States.
Der Spiegel cites a study that found 56 percent of Germans consider Islam to be an “archaic religion, incapable of fitting into modern life” and many respondents said religious freedom for Muslims should be “substantially restricted.”
The article highlights neo-Nazi and far-Right groups such as the National Democratic Party (NDP) and says they are capitalizing on such prejudices to build political power. In NDP’s newspaper, an article flatly argued that anti-Muslim campaigns can be used to “open doors for much broader anti-immigrant sentiments.”
Der Spiegel also focuses heavily on the activism of Michael Stürzenberger, a leading figure in Germany’s anti-Muslim movement. Once a spokesperson for a sister party of Angela Merkel’s moderate-conservative Christian Democratic Union, Stürzenberger now preaches hate against Muslims in his position as the chairman of a splinter party called Die Freihet (“The Freedom”). Stürzenberger’s pattern of activism is striking in its similarity to anti-Muslim activism in the U.S.
First, according to the article, a campaign begins in response to the construction of a mosque. For two years, Stürzenberger has been collecting signatures opposing an Islamic center planned for Munich. From there, “reluctance turns into resistance, then hate and violence,” the article says, noting that there have been arson attacks against Islamic centers in Berlin, Hanau and Hannover over the last two years.
Similar patterns have played out in U.S. cities and towns, most notably with the 2010 campaigns against Park51, the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” in Manhattan and intense and ongoing opposition to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Tennessee. These and other mosque construction debates have preceded structural attacks, including arson, and fueled policy debates at all levels of government in the United States as in Germany and other parts of Europe, as pointed out in the article.
The Der Spiegel piece was not without fault.
As Garibaldi points out on Loonwatch.com, the article says one explanation for the rising criticism of Muslims in Germany is the more strict lifestyle of “third-generation Muslim immigrants.” This label highlights a mindset that has difficulty accepting “third-generation” residents of Germany who are not ethnically German as anything but “immigrants.” In continuing the explanation, the article says many Muslim girls are afraid of going outside without a headscarf and a trend of “German Jihadists” training and fighting in Pakistan and Syria. Both of these statements are repeated without statistics, anecdotes or sources to back them up.
Another criticism, which may be a drawback of translation, lies in the terminology the article uses. The reporters regularly used the “anti-Islam,” “anti-Islamic” and “anti-Islamists.” The extremists spewing hate against Muslims may very well be against the religion of Islam, but the article does not distinguish between the right to oppose an ideology and the violation that occurs when the rights of people are suppressed. While there is an ongoing debate between the use of “anti-Muslim” vs. “Islamophobia,” the “anti-Islam” label is a poor fit for this discourse. Further, “Islamist” is term that conveys a different and sometimes varied connotation altogether.
Despite these problems, the rest of the article does a good job to highlight the propaganda and fear-mongering that is driving anti-Muslim hate in Germany. As demographic shifts continue to stir anxiety and be used as the basis for xenophobic hate and discrimination in the United States and abroad, such thorough reports are not only instructive, they are wholly necessary.