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Germany: Hostility toward Muslims is widespread

June 29, 2023

How great is the resentment, racism and discrimination against Germany's 5.5 million Muslims? The Federal Interior Ministry's findings paint a bleak picture.

Protesters demonstrating against a new mosque in Mühlheim in 2020
There are hundreds of mosques across Germany, but often their construction is accompanied by anti-Muslim protestsImage: Revierfoto/ Roy Gilbert dpa/lnw/dpa/picture alliance

A hostile attitude toward Muslims is widespread in large sections of German society. Its manifestations are an everyday reality. One in two people in Germany agrees with anti-Muslim statements.

These are the findings published this Thursday (June 29) by the Independent Expert Panel on Hostility against Muslims (UEM) in its final report, "Islamophobia — A German Balance Sheet."

The expert council was appointed after the racist attack in Hanau in 2020 and commissioned to conduct the study.

In more than 400 pages, the nine authors describe society based on scientific studies, police crime statistics and documentation of anti-Muslim incidents by anti-discrimination agencies, counseling centers and NGOs.

Accusations following right-wing terror in Hanau

Discrimination to the point of violence

The UEM defines Islamophobia as "the attribution of sweeping, largely unchangeable, backward and threatening characteristics to Muslims and people perceived as Muslim." In this way, "consciously or unconsciously, a foreignness or even hostility" is constructed, which leads to multilayered social exclusion and discrimination processes, up to and including the use of violence.

Since 2017, explicitly Islamophobic crimes have been recorded separately in police crime statistics. Since then, 700 to 1,000 cases of insults, incitement and threats, damage to property and dangerous bodily harm have been recorded each year.

The report further indicated that across German society, Muslims are perceived [by non-Muslims] as "lacking the ability to integrate" and having tendency to consciously distance themselves and avoid contact with people of other faiths.

Muslim women who wear a headscarf report that they are often the target of public hostility. And there is widespread prejudice against Muslim men, who are believed to have an affinity for violence, extremism and patriarchal values. The researchers say that the equation of Muslim piety with fundamentalism is particularly problematic. There is even a willingness to advocate restrictions on Muslims' fundamental rights in the area of religious freedom and to deny them the right to equal participation.

The failure of political parties

The study also looks at Germany's political parties. In the Bundestag, the far-right populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) has "a manifestly anti-Muslim program." In the biggest opposition block — the center-right bloc of Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and regional Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU) — "latent hostility toward Muslims can be seen in the inconsistent recognition of Islam as part of the German nation or culture. The ruling center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) fail to fight institutional racism consistently. The post-communist Left Party is a notable exception.

Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) described the report's findings as "bitter." She pointed out that among the approximately 5.5 million people of the Muslim faith and culture, most are German citizens.

"Muslim life is a natural part of Germany. We want all people in our diverse society to have the same opportunities and rights," Faeser said.

The inside of a Berlin mosque on 'Open Mosque Day' in 2021
Every year on 'Open Mosque Day,' Germany's mosques open their doors to the publicImage: Fabien Sommer/dpa/picture alliance

The experts make numerous recommendations: First, that all people and organizations in the country show solidarity. They suggest the appointment of a federal commissioner for combating hostility toward Muslims and recommend that a permanent council of experts be set up. They also say there should be more investment in establishing and expanding institutions that register and document complaints.

Revising textbooks

The experts recommend that the German government develop a strategy to promote the participation of people "with Muslim identity references" in all state institutions — with binding targets, and an investment into targeted public relations campaigns. There should be further training for teachers, educators and police officers, as well as for employees in the judiciary, administration, media and cultural institutions.

According to the recommendations, schools should be required to address the issue of hostility toward Muslims. The Conference of Culture Ministers calls on experts to "revise curricula and textbooks across subjects" to remove anti-Muslim content.

The UEM also sees deficits in the arts and culture scene. A comprehensive analysis of the portrayal of Islam in German-language movies, for example, shows that nearly 90% of them show a negative bias.

"The focus is on stories about terrorist attacks, radicalization, wars and women's oppression, narrowing the cinematic range of Islam themes to a few conflict and crisis topics," the report says, while the diversity of Muslim lifestyles remains largely invisible in German-language productions.

The German Islam Conference, which financed the work of the UEM, will now consider the final report of the expert panel, and a specialist conference is planned for the fall.

This article was originally written in German.

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