Number of attacks on refugee shelters quintupled in Germany in 2015

The last year witnessed over 1000 attacks on accommodation for asylum-seekers in Germany. Crimes include arson, various forms of destructive vandalism, as well as the defacement of the shelters with propaganda symbols such as swastikas. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), three quarters of the perpetrators live in the vicinity of the shelters. Most of them are not known to the authorities previously as sympathisers with right-wing extremism or Neo-Nazism. The lack of intelligence on the attackers further hampers police investigations, leading to a very low number of cases being solved. According to the BKA, internet and social media served as prime recruiting devices of extremist ideologues. At the same time however, the attacks were generally not centrally planned and coordinated; rather, they emerged out of the more spontaneous banding together of like-minded individuals on the internet.

After Cologne: Mutually reinforcing dynamics of fear and anxiety at play in Germany

Press coverage of the Cologne sexual assaults and their aftermath has focused above all on the perceptions and fears of the ethnically German majority population. The past weeks have been marked by a frantic discussion about tightening asylum legislation as well as the laws governing sexual offences, by growing alarmism about the continuing arrival of refugees, and by an increase incidence of refoulement of migrants on the Bavarian border. In this climate of fear and suspicion, the sales of self-defence weaponry – such as pepper spray, CS gas, and alarm guns – has soared. Sales of regular arms were also up, especially in Saxony. Interviewed by the magazine Der Spiegel’s TV affiliate, a weapons dealer described how a large number of his customers visited his shop as a response to a refugee shelter being set up in their neighbourhood. Another weapon’s seller described the current “hype” as “scary” and “not normal”. He also observed that this new wave of customers consists not just of ethnic Germans but also of Germans with a ‘migration background’, fearful of far-right violence: as the salesman observed, “we have people from all camps standing here, at times next to each other, and they report on their fears while they buy their defensive equipment. If these camps would communicate some more with each other, then I think everybody would be better off. Because the fears are the same among all of them.”

This highlights the increased fearfulness of Muslims in Germany, as well as of immigrant communities more broadly, in the wake of the Cologne attacks. This fear was captured by Michel Abdollahi, a German-Iranian journalist and performance artist, in a string of interviews he conducted in the streets of Hamburg. A man of Turkish origins expressed opinions held by a large number of interviewees when he asserted: “I was born and raised here, and I feel like a German, but it’s simply the case that one is afraid of the German people itself, afraid that the situation will escalate and that I will be drawn into this.” His ethnically German wife observed that she was treated less kindly on the phone when introducing herself ever since she took on her husband’s Turkish name. In a similar vein, a woman wearing a hijab observed that she felt that judged because of her attire. She was distraught at the fact that too many people did not seem to accept her German-ness and perceived her Muslim faith as an attribute that rendered her inexorably different. For her, the wave of suspicion against Islam in the aftermath of the events in Cologne thus came as an additional burden, for even without this renewed scepticism, she asserted, wearing the hijab prevented her from obtaining employment: “already now it is difficult for me to find a job. I’m an office clerk – but I stand no chance. Maybe I’ll get a cleaning job again if I’m lucky.”

Yet the interviewees’ fears were not only linked to the potential worsening of racist prejudice against Muslims and immigrants but also to the arrival of refugees. A number of respondents expressed the view that these refugees behave in ways “inappropriate for our [i.e. the German] cultural milieu”, an assertion that many linked not to ‘Islam’ but to the endurance of ‘traditional’ individual and societal values. Two women also expressed fears of sexual assault, one of them saying that she was ultimately more afraid of male refugees than of ethnically German right-wing agitation. According to her view, many male refugees “don’t accept the ways in which rules and laws work here”; German society and its value system are “something completely new to them, and they exploit the freedom women have here”. These statements illustrate the unique and difficult position existing Muslim communities face in the current situation, as they try to navigate a complex set of issues and loyalties in the context of a toxic political climate.

 

More Links:

Spiegel Online’s interviews with weapons salesmen: http://www.spiegel.de/video/koeln-waffenverkaeufe-steigen-nach-uebergriffen-an-silvester-video-1641456.html (video, in German)

Michel Abdollahi’s (NDR) interviews in the streets of Hamburg: https://www.ndr.de/kultur/Michel-Abdollahi-Deutsche-Migranten-Ressentiments-Vorurteile-Fluechtlinge,abdollahi202.html (video, in German)

France Restricts ‘Salafistes’, Film on Islamic Radicals

PARIS — The French Culture Ministry ruled Wednesday that a new documentary film on Islamic radicals was unsuitable for minors, saying that it offered images of violence that were “sometimes unbearable” and interviews with members of Al Qaeda and other extremist figures that provided a platform for propaganda.

The documentary, “Salafistes,” will also be accompanied by a warning about its contents. It shows one leader of the Salafists, who practice a fundamentalist form of Islam, supporting the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States and another leader justifying the amputation of hands as a punishment under Shariah, the legal code of Islam. They also speak freely about their opinions on the inferiority of women.

The decision to restrict a movie to those 18 and over is usually reserved for films with pornographic content or extremely violent scenes, and is very rare for documentaries in France, which has been grappling with how to balance freedom of speech and expression with national security after a series of deadly attacks last year. This month, the distributors of “Made in France,” a film about fictional homegrown jihadists, decided to cancel its release in theaters, citing security concerns.

The documentary starts with a tour of Timbuktu, Mali, under the occupation of jihadists in 2012 and ends with propaganda images of the Islamic State last year. The images inspired the movie “Timbuktu,” directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

“We wanted to show what it was like to live under the Shariah when we started the project, but then Daesh emerged and we had to put it in the synopsis,” said François Margolin, who directed the French film with Lemine Ould M. Salem, a journalist from Mauritania, using another term for the Islamic State.

“Salafistes” was among the films to be shown at the FIPA festival in Biarritz in southwestern France. Just before the first screening the National Center of Cinematography, which assigns movie ratings, called the festival to say that the documentary was “degrading human dignity” because it showed images of a police officer killed in the attacks of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo last year.

In response, the festival restricted the screening only to those with credentials, like reviewers and journalists.

The cinematography center recommended that the film receive an under-18 restriction and a warning message. Mr. Margolin and Mr. Ould Salem cut that scene and submitted the new version Tuesday.

But after watching the second version, the culture minister, Fleur Pellerin, who has oversight on ratings, agreed with the center, which argued that the film did not provide any counterpoint to the extremists, some of whom called for the murders of Jews and Christians.

Mr. Margolin said he had not expected the film to be rated at all. “The interviews explain the ideology of these people, and the propaganda images are here to show in practice how their ideas work,” he said Tuesday. “People are intelligent enough to understand the contrast.”

At the film’s Paris premiere on Tuesday night, the audience was split, with some arguing that the movie had the courage to “look evil in the eye,” while others thought it amounted only to propaganda.

The rating is also proving to be a financial blow to the directors. “Salafistes” had been scheduled to open in 30 theaters nationwide but will instead open in just three.

“We are going to lose a lot of money despite the fact that we risked our lives to shoot some scenes,” Mr. Margolin said.

 

A German Muslim female soldier speaks out against bigotry

Nariman Reinke is a 36-year-old daughter of Moroccan immigrants. She is German, she is Muslim, and she is a soldier in the Bundeswehr, or the German army.

And now she’s become a public figure, taking a stand against what she perceives to be the rather toxic conversation of the moment.

That’s been fueled by widespread fears over the arrival in Germany of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and other migrants during the past year. Migrants and men of Arab and North African descent were implicated in a grim spate of attacks and incidents of sexual harassment in the city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve. The backlash in Germany and elsewhere in Europe was pronounced.

Reinke took to Facebook and wrote a post that’s now been widely read and circulated. It begins “I’m German and Muslim” and goes on to decry both the acts of criminality carried out by a handful of migrants as well as the impulse to scapegoat all refugees and asylum seekers.

“My parents came to Germany from Morocco 52 years ago,” she writes. “The consequence wasn’t rape and crimes, but six new German children.”

On Facebook, she points out how sexual assault is not particularly endemic to any place or culture and that it’s wrong to reverse the policy on refugee arrivals because of change of public opinion.


The decision to take refugees remains right – despite Cologne….The events of New Year’s Eve have nothing to do with our own values ​​and our demands on ourselves. Either we believe that the protection of persecuted is right or not. To throw everything out, because one thousandth of refugees have conducted criminal acts, would expose our value system as hypocrisy.

She then offers this delightfully German metaphor: “You cannot be the chairman of the Vegetarian Union, but flee to the nearest schnitzel shack if you have a moldy cucumber in the fridge.”

In an interview with Deutsche Welle, Reinke said she “had a lot of positive feedback, but also a lot of negative comments, many racist comments that had nothing to do with what I wrote.”

She is part of a military organization that provides for refugees and tries to improve efforts toward integration.

“My parents worked very hard to establish themselves here,” Reinke told Deutsche Welle. “I cringe when I hear these people who sexually assaulted women were from Morocco.”

Reinke also worries that the climate of intolerance and Islamophobia may be getting worse.

“My brother likes keeping a beard, my husband too,” she said. “They find it nice. But my brother was beaten up on the street because of the beard because those who did it thought he was a radical Islamist. He had to shave off his beard.”

Muslim journalists no longer as rare in US newsrooms

(RNS) Rummana Hussain was one of those children whose Muslim parents envisioned her in a white coat with a stethoscope around her neck.

Instead, she became a metro editor and reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, where she covers criminal courts and remains the only Muslim member of the editorial staff. She knows “a couple” more Muslims at the Chicago Tribune, the state’s largest paper.

“Blame it on the parents,” jokes one prominent American Muslim when asked to explain the dearth of Muslims in the U.S. media. Many Muslim-Americans are immigrants who see medical school — maybe law school, but not journalism school — as the key to their children’s success, said Ibrahim Hooper, a former television news producer who is now the national spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Well-represented in medicine, Muslims account for a sliver of the mainstream American media. Many Muslim reporters take heart in what they see, at least anecdotally, as a recent uptick in the number of Muslim colleagues: With Islamophobia on the rise and Islam-related stories — particularly on Islamic extremism — dominating the headlines, the need for more Muslim journalists seems all the more pressing to them.

No one knows exactly how many Muslims are working in American media. The American Society of News Editors keeps tabs on the number of minorities working at daily newspapers — about 13 percent of editorial staffs — and specifically the number of blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans. But the census does not count Muslims or other religious groups. The federal agency charged to police discrimination in hiring considers questions about a job candidate’s religion“problematic.”

One scholar of Muslims in America says deep-seated biases within American society and its media limit the extent to which these reporters can influence what Americans read about Islam and the people who practice it.

“There are certain ideological lines that are not commercially viable to sell,” said Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Professor Edward Curtis. For example, he questions why Americans are so quick to define violence committed by Muslims as terrorism, but loath to apply the term to U.S. military actions.

While it may be helpful to have more Muslims in newsrooms, Curtis continued, “I doubt that it will change the fundamental conditions under which news about Muslims is being made in the United States.”

Americans may be getting less religious, but feelings of spirituality are on the rise

The phrase “spiritual but not religious” has become widely used in recent years by some Americans who are trying to describe their religious identity. While Pew Research Center does not categorize survey respondents in such a way, our surveys do find that the U.S. public overall appears to be growing a bit less religious – but also somewhat more spiritual.

Americans have become less religious in recent years by standard measures such as how important they say religion is to them and their frequency of religious service attendance and prayer. But, at the same time, the share of people across a wide variety of religious identities who say they often feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being as well as a deep sense of wonder about the universe has risen.

Propaganda, left and right: Trumped-up news stories on migrants rock German public debate

29 January, 2016

In recent days the German press landscape has been rocked by two widely reported rumours pertaining to migration issues, both of which turned out to be false. The first set of allegations was centred on the 30-hour-long disappearance of a 13-year-old girl from the Marzahn-Hellersdorf district on the Eastern outskirts of Berlin on January 11. After her reappearance, the girl initially claimed to have been kidnapped and raped by a group of men ‘of southern appearance’. After inconsistencies in the girl’s story emerged, it was subsequently discovered that the girl had hidden at the house of an (ethnically German) 19-year-old acquaintance, to escape problems she was experiencing at school.

Nevertheless, the girl’s initial claims struck a raw nerve in the tense atmosphere after the string of sexual assaults in Cologne and other German cities on New Year’s Eve. In this context, distrust of the mainstream media has reached new heights: after more than a year of attacks on the part of far-right groups against what they perceive to be the ‘liar’s press’ (Lügenpresse) controlled by a leftist dictatorship of political correctness, the events in Cologne were followed by embittered allegations of a media cartel of silence shutting down unwelcome questions surrounding immigration and immigrants.

The disappearance of the Berlin girl added another, international dimension to this: in a press conference, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov criticised German media and government for sweeping under the carpet problems linked to immigration. Lavrov as well as Russian state media have been extremely vocal in their defence of the girl, due to her Volga German background. Incited by propaganda on Russian state TV, the past days witnessed a number of demonstrations – including one in front of the Federal Chancellery – by members of the Volga German community on behalf of the allegedly raped girl from their midst. To them, Pegida leader Tatjana Festerling recent accusation that Muslim immigrants are conducting a “sex jihad […] against blonde, white women” rang true. Russia’s propaganda effort in immigration matters also highlights the potential for an intertwining of the complex geopolitical challenges Germany and Europe are facing at the moment.

A second rumour surfaced shortly after the girl’s story had hit national headlines. In Berlin, a volunteer of the migrant aid association ‘Moabit hilft’ asserted that a 24-year-old Syrian refugee had died after prolonged exposure to the cold at the Berlin Health and Social Affairs Office (LaGeSo). LaGeSo had been in the spotlight for months, since newly arriving asylum seekers have often been forced to wait for weeks in LaGeSo’s unsheltered dirt courtyard for registration and an initial interview with an overworked bureaucrat inside. After an investigation involving police, firefighters, hospitals as well as other officials, it was announced, however, that the story was false and that there was “no dead refugee”.

The aid collective ‘Moabit hilft’, which had unquestioningly accepted and disseminated the claims made by one of its volunteers, issued an apology. At the same time, the organisation was fearful of a dip in donations, fewer supporters, and more antagonism on the part of right-wing groups.

Links:

On the alleged disappearance of the 13-year-old girl:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-accuses-germany-of-cover-up-over-rape-of-13-year-old-girl-a6836066.html

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/berlin-angeblich-vergewaltigte-13-jaehrige-war-bei-bekanntem-a-1074642.html

On the alleged death of a Syrian refugee:

http://www.thelocal.de/20160127/refugee-dies-after-days-waiting-in-berlin-cold-volunteers

http://www.thelocal.de/20160128/no-dead-refugee-berlin-police

http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/erfundener-tod-eines-fluechtlings-in-berlin–moabit-hilft–gibt-sich-selbstkritisch,10809148,33634792.html

Carson Calls for Investigation Into Muslim Civic Group

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson is criticizing President Barack Obama for allowing representatives of a Muslim civic group to attend the State of the Union address, saying their actions are “not pro-American.”

Democratic lawmakers have invited two members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to attend Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Speaking to CNN Tuesday morning, Carson said he has called for an investigation of the group, accusing them of having “done things that are clearly not pro-American.”

“Let’s go ahead and investigate the thing,” he said. “Let’s not be giving them access to the ability to further carry on what they call a civilization jihad, and to change us from a Judeo-Christian foundation to a Muslim foundation. We have got to be smarter than that.”