The forming of a coalition between the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Christian Democratic Unions (CDU & CSU) relieved many, who believe in the European Union, that one of Europe’s most important countries will have a stable future. But the negotiations were difficult, and Germany’s new government will most probably face many tensions over contested issues such as social spending, defense, and Europe. Less remarkable is what the coalition program is revealing about its Islam-related politics.
The 177-pages of the coalition program that was drafted by the coalizing parties was already made public on 7 February 2018. The program that entitled “A new Awakening for Europe. A new Dynamic for Germany. A new Cohesion for our Country” explicitly lists Islam seven times, while speaking one time about Muslims in Germany. The emphasis is clear. Four out of seven times, the program refers to Islamism, while it only refers to an “anti-Muslim atmosphere” once.
Islam as a Threat and “the Anti-Muslim Atmosphere”
“The program that entitled ‘A new Awakening for Europe. A new Dynamic for Germany. A new Cohesion for our Country’ explicitly lists Islam seven times, while speaking one time about Muslims in Germany. The emphasis is clear. Four out of seven times, the program refers to Islamism, while it only refers to an ‘anti-Muslim atmosphere’ once.”This quantitative angle reveals the perspective the program takes. Islam is first and foremost perceived as a threat. Germany recently made an important step towards tackling Islamophobia by including it as a category of hate-crime. The preliminary data reveals that more than 950 incidents have been registered in the past year alone. Therefore, there is an average of three attacks on a Muslim individual or institution a day. The Muslim umbrella organization Ditib documented 100 attacks on mosques in 2017. And there is reason to believe that the estimated number of unknown crimes is much higher. As a study of the Fundamental Rights Agency reveals, an average of only twelve percent of Muslims report their cases of discrimination. At the backdrop of this data, you can appreciate that the coalition program mentions “anti-Muslim atmosphere” next to anti-Semitism and that the government says that it will “decisively fight it.” But on the other hand, one wonders, if the notion of “atmosphere” really grasps the full meaning of anti-Muslim racism that is not only restricted to the sphere of society and the far-right, but is a structural problem threatening the notion of equality as a central basis of democracy and the principle of rule of law.
When the government program mentions Islamism, it is argued that there is a need of strengthening democracy and extremism by fighting right-wing as well as left-wing extremism and Islamism and Salafism. In this framework, the already 400-million-dollar funded ‘National Prevention Program Against Islamist Extremism’ was reassured. This fits into the narrative of Countering Violent Extremism-projects, which often affect common Muslim people on the assumption that they are potential terrorists, while at the same time the real numbers of terrorist attacks committed by Muslims remains minimal compared to terrorism committed by white supremacists and ultra-nationalists. As the latest statistics from 2017 provided by EUROPOL reveal, 13 ‘jihadist’ terrorist attacks were committed out of 142 failed, foiled, and completed attacks .
For the government, Islamist extremism is on the rise and has to be challenged on a national as well as EU level. Beyond the discussion of terrorism (which is mentioned 19 times in the document, also including the threat of Daesh in one paragraph), Islam is mentioned as a religion, and this is, where Islam-related politics is at play.
Islam-politics, ‘Judeo-Christianity’ and DIK
Generally, freedom of religion is confirmed as a human right in the program. This is not done in the context of domestic politics however; the government program approaches freedom of religion foremost as a foreign policy issue. Solidarity with persecuted religious minorities is mentioned specifically in relation to “the millions of persecuted Christians.” Also, the cultural foundation of German identity is restated as being “Christian-Jewish,” hence excluding the third Abrahamic religion, Islam. This mainstream discourse not only functions as a discursive basis for an exclusionary practice of structural racism but also represents a reiteration of the tendency to witewash the persecution of Jewish identity in most of the 2000 years of European history. Elsewhere, the coalition program states that “based on Christian values of our country, we take a stand for an emancipated social life in diversity.”
“…formal cooperation between the state in Germany with legally recognized and privileged churches and religious communities is central to the German state’s understanding of cooperative secularity. This is not the case for Muslim religious communities, amongst whom are many who are struggling since more than 60 years to achieve the same legal status, which grants them privileges like those enjoyed by other churches and religious communities.”
The coalition program also says that churches and religious communities are recognized as being important stakeholders and partners in civil society. Here, interreligious dialogue as well as the religious communities’ role in social cohesion are mentioned. It is especially mentioned that religious institutions play a vital role for institutions such as those focusing on education, social work, pre-school care, schooling, medical care, and other care facilities. This is not surprising, since formal cooperation between the state in Germany with legally recognized and privileged churches and religious communities is central to the German state’s understanding of cooperative secularity. This is not the case for Muslim religious communities, amongst whom are many who are struggling since more than 60 years to achieve the same legal status, which grants them privileges like those enjoyed by other churches and religious communities. One of the most relevant means of the German state to deal with this issue was the inauguration of the so called German Islam Conference (Deutsche Islamkonferenz, DIK) in 2006 by the Ministry of Interior.
Deutsche Islamkonferenz, DIK
As social scientist Luis Manuel Hernández Aguilar showed in his analysis of the DIK, its proclaimed aim was the so called ‘integration’ of Muslims in German society as well as the institutional integration of Islam. Aguilar argues that the “goal to integrate Islamic institutions into existing institutional structures in Germany traps Muslim organizations in the paradox of suffering rights. On the one hand, they find it hard to refuse the additional rights associated with the institutional integration of Islam; on the other hand, integration is deployed as a site of control and regulation.”) This critical assessment of the DIK allows Aguilar to conceptualize the DIK as a governmentality technique that is “based on the racial construction of Muslims as problematic and endangering the German nation from within.”
The coalition program gives an interesting outlook on this politics. It says: “We will continue with the German Islam Conference. The treaty between the Republic of Germany and the Central Council of Jews in Germany regarding the state subsidies will be adjusted.” This quote reflects the very asymmetric stance of the German state in treating the Jews equally to other legally recognized churches and denominations, while offering nothing more than a ‘dialogue’ with the Muslims in exemplifying what is essentially an asymmetric power relation.
“A last quote taken from the coalition program shows us in a nutshell, how the government defines the struggle against extremism, while using its Islam-related politics to construct exactly a version of German Islam that basically serves the German state by not allowing a critical political Muslim identity to emerge…”A last quote taken from the coalition program shows us in a nutshell, how the government defines the struggle against extremism, while using its Islam-related politics to construct exactly a version of German Islam that basically serves the German state by not allowing a critical political Muslim identity to emerge. This is how we can read this quote of the coalition program: “We will force back radical Islam in Germany. We expect that Imams from foreign countries speak German. Radicalized mosques will be surveilled and possibly closed.” It reaffirms the dominant role of state agencies in their treatment of Muslims, which racializes them as ‘the other,’ locates them in the mosque to tackle ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ ideas, whatever these terms may mean to the authors of the program. It restates the means of surveillance adopted by the ministry of interior to possibly adopt it for any Muslim institution that falls within the slippery notion of ‘radicalism,’ which is neither defined, nor can it ever be defined. Hence, the asymmetric power relation between the state and its Muslims is affirmed in this document.
If the new German government wants to make a difference and really challenge Islamophobia, it has to go beyond the documentation of Islamophobic hate crimes coming from the fringe far right, which was an important step last year. The government has to embrace an understanding that Islamophobia is a form of structural racism and tackle it within their own institutions to a) treat Muslims based on the constitution and hence equally to other religious minorities; b) stop securitizing Muslims; and c) challenge structural racism within its own institutions.