When Islam is covered in the German media, discussion frequently mixes political, social and religious issues. Debate on Islamic topics can only gain in sophistication when more Muslims are involved in producing content.
The more Muslims get involved in the media, the more balanced representation will be
German journalism has developed more sensibility and increased the knowledge about Islam and Muslim culture, some experts say.
In late October, the evening broadcast on Channel 3, a public television station, featured the talk show "Nachtcafé." It chose the "fear of Islam" as its theme. The invited guests were to discuss a number of very complex issues: terrorism, the potential for reform in Islam, forced marriages, the headscarf, honor killing, and radical tendencies among young Muslims in Germany.
This combination of social, political, and religious topics under the label of Islam has been increasingly apparent in the German media for a number of years, according to Claudia Dantschke, a freelance journalist in Berlin.
"In Germany we see an extremely homogenized discussion," she said. "In the past, this was accompanied by ethnic connotations. This translated as an 'us' -- ethnic Germans -- versus ethnic Turks, Arabs, and so on. The language has changed since Sept. 11.
"Now the debate is not one of ethnicity, but of culture," Dantschke added. "This means that 'Muslim' currently stands as a synonym for what used to be referred to as 'Arab' or 'Turk.' This societal discussion is reflected in the media. And the media doesn't exist in a vacuum outside of society."
Of course, topics such as honor killing or the situation of young people from migrant families should be discussed in public. The religious aspect, however, is only one among many and should not be misrepresented as providing the public with a deeper understanding of any particular issue or of being yet another underlying cause of certain problems.
Devout or fa n atical?
Western journalists struggle to understand some religious forms of expression
The generalizing manner in which the German media covers adherents of a world religion like Islam is also a sign of difficulties within society. Many journalists in an overwhelmingly secular society find it difficult to deal with religious forms of expression.
How should they describe someone who prays five times a day or a woman who wears a headscarf? Are they simply devout or already fanatics?
Yet, there is also something positive to report about the situation in the German media. In recent years, Islam and its rituals have managed to be covered regularly, even in the local press. Reports on the fast month of Ramadan, on religious festivities, or on the "open-door" day at mosques appear regularly.
Both Muslim and non-Muslim media observers have confirmed the increasing competency of German journalists in handling Islamic topics.
"It is getting better to the extent that most journalists who used to approach us knew next to nothing about Islam," said Ayman Mazyek, editor in chief of the Web site islam.de. "They lacked even a basic knowledge of Islam. Things have improved. Reporters writing about Islam have developed a higher journalistic ethos."
Actors i n the media la n dscape
Newspapers like the "Islamische Zeitung" in Germany act as a bridge between cultures
In addition, Muslims in Germany are no longer merely the objects of reporting in the German press, but have since become actors in the country's media landscape. One example is the newspaper Islamische Zeitu n g, established in 1996. It is published every three weeks with a circulation of 10,000 copies. It aims to promote communication between Muslims and serve as a bridge between Islam and Europe.
Another example is the Internet portal "islam.de," which began in 1996 as an information forum of the Central Committee of Muslims in Germany. Today, the portal claims to provide critical and constructive reporting on Islam and Muslims, while contributing to a better understanding of Islam. Ayman Mazyek, however, has no illusions about the role played by the Muslim media in Germany:
"In relation to the mass media, the few sprouts of Muslim media here in Germany are truly miniscule," he said. "They could, perhaps, enjoy a disproportionate influence in that it is currently difficult to report on Islam or make a claim without also providing an account of what Muslims themselves think on the issue. It used to be the case – because we didn't have our own media institutions or the Internet – that claims were simply published as is.
"Now, at least, when reporters conduct their research, Muslims can be found to have positions on any number of issues," Mazyek added. "The result is that many disseminators of information in the media turn to authentic Muslim Web sites or newspapers to find out what Muslims are saying and thinking."
Second and third generation Muslim migrants have a unique view of life in Germany
A n i n depe n de n t Islamic media?
Yet one of the big problems is the question of loyalty in the media. Is islam.de truly independent or does it remain a mouthpiece for the Central Committee of Muslims? Is the controversial Sheikh Abdalqadir behind the Islamische Zeitung, as Cologne journalist Ahmet Senyurt claims? Both islam.de and the Islamische Zeitu n g have denied the charges.
It's remarkable, nonetheless, that so many young freelance journalists work in the Muslim media. It's evident that second and third generation migrants want to have access to German society and engage in discussion. It's high time for German mass media to provide broader access to this social group by welcoming Muslim journalists into their fold.