Insults and attacks: Muslim students from Berlin experience Islamophobia on Holocaust memorial trip

Anti-Semitic prejudice amongst Muslim youth has become an issue of growing concern in Germany. Schools, while at times being the site of anti-Semitic hatred,(( http://www.taz.de/!5406125/ )) have reacted by expanding educational opportunities aiming to combat the hostility to Jews exhibited by some of their students.

Grass-roots project combating anti-Semitism

The Theodor-Heuss comprehensive in Berlin has mounted one such educational initiative. Its project group “Remembrance”, founded by teacher Sabeth Schmidthals, takes groups of students to various sites of Jewish life and persecution in Europe.

Schmidthals says that the starting point for her project had been an in-class reading of Inge Deutschkron’s autobiographic book I Wore the Yellow Star, in which the author recounts her experiences as a Jew living in the Third Reich. It was in this context that “I noticed how strong the prejudice against Jews and also against Israel really is”, Schmidthals says.

As a response, she took her students on a trip to Israel in 2015; in 2016, they visited France and Spain. In June 2017, she and twenty predominantly Muslim 16- to 18-year-olds made their way to Poland, stopping in Warsaw, Lodz, Lublin, and Krakow.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/theodor-heuss-schule-in-moabit-berliner-schueler-in-polen-rassistisch-beleidigt/19985282.html ))

Islamophobic assaults

In Poland, however, the remembrance of Jewish life and of the Holocaust was somewhat overshadowed by repeated Islamophobic assaults on Muslim group members. Hijab-wearing girls were particularly targeted, facing repeated insults as well as physical attacks: one was drenched in water, another one was spat at. A young man was threatened with a knife.

Some students were not served in shops, with shopkeepers asserting that they would only sell to Poles. Another female pupil was kicked out of a shopping centre when she spoke Persian on her phone. The group was also denied access to a synagogue in Lublin, with guards citing “security concerns”.

According to Schmidthals, a number of Polish bystanders stepped in to defend the group; yet they received no help from the authorities. When students sought to report some of the incidents at the local police station, they were laughed at.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

Students’ reflections

Upon their return to Berlin, students voiced their astonishment at the events of their trip. One of them stated that they “had absolutely not expected something like this, especially not from a member of the EU.” A girl found it “very sad, because we came for them, in order to find out about their history.”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

The school has forged intimate links of cooperation with the Haus der Wannseekonferenz, a memorial site and foundation located at the Berlin villa where Nazi leaders decided on the “final solution” in 1942. Its director expressed dismay at the students’ experiences: “I am particularly shocked that it happened to adolescents who are entrusted to us for this trip, and on a trip dealing with this topic [the Holocaust].”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

The teacher echoed this sentiment, adding that “against the usual opinion that youth don’t care about this topic, especially not Muslim youth, I can say the exact opposite. The motivation is high.”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

Racism on an anti-racism trip

Berlin’s Minister for Education, Sandra Scheeres (SPD), condemned the incidents as “unacceptable”. A number of Polish-German organisations have written to the school to express their solidarity with the assaulted students.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/theodor-heuss-schule-in-moabit-berliner-schueler-in-polen-rassistisch-beleidigt/19985282.html ))

One can only hope that the events on their trip have sensitised students further to the plight that Jews have endured in Europe and still endure in many parts of the world today, and that their own experience with racism strengthens their resolve to reflect critically on all forms of racial oppression, including those directed at Jews.

French authorities accused of covering up Jew’s slaying by Muslim neighbor

A European Parliament member and prominent French intellectuals protested the omission of anti-Semitism from a draft indictment of a Muslim for the murder of his Jewish neighbor.

Frédérique Ries, a lawmaker from Belgium, on Thursday criticized French authorities’ handling of the investigation into the April 4 incident, in which Sarah Halimi was tortured and thrown out of her third-story apartment to her death, allegedly by Kobili Traore, who lived in her building.

“French authorities have treated her murder with icy silence,” Ries, who is Jewish, said in reference to the fact that Traore, who had no history of mental illness, was placed at a psychiatric institution and has not been charged with a hate crime despite evidence suggesting he killed Halimi because she was Jewish.

In a voice recording of the incident, Traore is heard shouting “Allahu akbar,” calling Sarah “Satan” and calmly praying after her killing, according to reports.

17 French intellectuals published a scathing criticism of the handling of the incident by authorities and the media.

“Everything about this crime suggests there is an ongoing denial of reality” by authorities, the intellectuals wrote, citing also testimonies of neighbors who said Traore had called Halimi a “dirty Jew” to her face and called her relatives “dirty Jews” as well in the past.

Many French Jews believe authorities covered up Halimi’s alleged murder to prevent it from becoming fodder for the divisive presidential campaign.

 

Anti-Semitism rows highlight challenges of religious pluralism in Germany

Germany is often perceived as a country that has dealt exceptionally well with the ghosts of its past, most notably with respect to the reflection on the Holocaust. Yet upon closer inspection, the old demons do resurface and intermingle with contemporary political predicaments.

Nothing shows this more clearly than a series of ongoing rows that touch upon the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in the context of a pluralistic society marked by strong immigration. Several events in recent months have shone a particularly harsh spotlight on the question of the prevalence of anti-Semitic attitudes among Germany’s growing Muslim population.

 

Anti-Semitic bullying at a Berlin school

In spring, a case of anti-Semitic bullying at a public school in Berlin made headlines. A 14-year-old pupil of Jewish faith was withdrawn from his school by his parents after having experienced four months of what appeared to be anti-Semitically-motivated taunts as well as severe physical aggression. The perpetrators had mostly been of Arab and Turkish extraction.(( http://www.spiegel.de/lebenundlernen/schule/antisemitismus-junge-verlaesst-schule-in-berlin-friedenau-nach-angriffen-a-1141494.html ))

The boy’s parents accused the school of having done too little too late to protect their son. The Friedenau Comprehensive School prides itself on being a multicultural and diverse environment and has the tagline “school without racism” as its motto. Consequently, the reproach implicit in many of the ensuing criticisms of the school’s handling of the case revolved around the fact that ‘political correctness’ towards mainly Muslim children appeared to have prevented a clear and resolute stance against anti-Semitism.(( https://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article163675459/Der-hilflose-Anti-Antisemitismus.html ))

Defending the school

This, in turn, propelled into action a group of parents, who issued a public letter defending the school against what they deemed “unreflective and one-sided” reporting. The parents asserted that they were “left aghast by the attack” on the Jewish pupil and declared their solidarity with him and his family.

Yet they also stressed that tensions between different groups of students were the “outgrowth of international conflicts” in the Middle East, which made “religiously motivated disputes” inevitable.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/antisemitischer-vorfall-in-berlin-eltern-der-friedenauer-schule-nehmen-stellung/19623020.html )) The letter was met with a sceptical echo from Jewish voices, as well as from politicians.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/nach-uebergriff-an-friedenauer-schule-volker-beck-sieht-antisemitismus-in-elternbrief/19635496.html ))

Muslim anti-Semitism

The Friedenau school case highlights the complexities of religious coexistence in an increasingly pluralistic society. In recent years, Germany has witnessed a marked growth of both its Muslim and its Jewish population.

At the same time, a sociological study conducted in Germany has highlighted a persistently higher level of anti-Semitic attitudes especially among young people of Arab extraction, but also among their Turkish counterparts.(( https://causa.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/antisemitismus-unter-muslimen/muslimische-jugendliche-haben-haeufiger-antisemitische-einstellungen-als-deutschsstaemmige.html ))

Derviș Hızarcı, chair of the Initiative against Anti-Semitism in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, nevertheless sought to stress in an op-ed for the Jüdische Allgemeine newspaper that while there is Muslim anti-Semitism, “there has also never been more Muslim engagement against anti-Semitism and for Jewish-Muslim dialogue than today.”(( http://www.juedische-allgemeine.de/article/view/id/28253 ))

Islamic voices for inter-religious dialogue

Subsequently, a group of six Imams and 12 Muslim organisations based in Berlin issued a brief public statement in which they condemned anti-Semitic hatred and urged all Muslim believers to “act in ways that are worthy of our faith”. The statement also suggested that Muslim and Jewish representatives join hands for joint visits to schools in Berlin where anti-Semitic incidents have been reported.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/downloads/19752144/2/gemeinsamer-brief-von-muslimen-gegen-die-diskriminierung-und-ausgrenzung-von-juedischen-mitschueler.pdf ))

Responding to the Friedenau case, Ármin Langer and Ozan Keskinkılıç, the respectively Jewish and Muslim founders of the “Salaam-Schalom” initiative for inter-religious dialogue, stressed that both Jews and Muslims are often made to feel foreign in Germany. Similarly, both groups are constantly identified with external political groups and agendas – with political Islam or jihadism in the case of Muslims, with the policies of Benyamin Netanyahu in the case of Jews.(( http://www.fluter.de/antisemitismus-und-islamophobie-bei-salaam-schalom-kaempfen-juden-und-muslime-gemeinsam-dagegen ))

Against this backdrop, the two men urged a Muslim-Jewish entente against various racisms. Muslims should not be presented as a homogeneous anti-Semitic problem group; rather, care should be taken to strengthen the potential for inter-religious dialogue and to harness Muslim voices to a quest against discrimination targeting Muslims and Jews alike.

Division tactics by the populist right

Needless to say, bringing about this unity is far from easy. In the aftermath of the events at the comprehensive school, Frauke Petry, chairwoman of the far-right AfD party, sought to play upon the tension between Jewish and Muslim communities by asserting that her party was the “guarantor of Jewish life” in Germany.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/frauke-petry-nennt-afd-garant-juedischen-lebens-a-1142090.html ))

She went on to suggest that the increased immigration of Muslims was a direct threat to Germany’s Jewish population. This particularly blatant justification of the AfD’s Islamophobic agenda came shortly after a high-ranking AfD politician had disparaged the central Holocaust memorial in Berlin as an objectionable “memorial of shame” and called for “a 180 degree turn” in the ways in which Germans remember their past. Unsurprisingly, leading Jewish voices thus retorted that the AfD continued to be “unelectable” for Jewish voters.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/frauke-petry-nennt-afd-garant-juedischen-lebens-a-1142090.html ))

Shelved anti-Semitism documentary

The debate on anti-Semitic attitudes among Muslim immigrants and their descendants received further nourishment when the Franco-German TV channel Arte refrained from airing a documentary on anti-Semitism that it had commissioned in a joint venture with German public broadcasters WDR and ZDF.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany demanded that the documentary be shown and a range of public figures accused Arte of censorship. Conservative circles’ particular ire was reserved for the fact that the movie, which had focused on anti-Semitism of Muslim populations, had been shelved for what was deemed ‘political correctness’.

To right-wing commentators, the decision not to air it pointed to the widespread complicity of the liberal media in the Jew-hatred of the Islamic world.(( https://www.welt.de/kultur/article165401199/So-ist-die-Doku-die-von-Arte-zurueckgehalten-wird.html )) Conservative German-Israeli historian Michael Wolffsohn spoke for many like-minded observers when he accused Arte of “caving in to Islamist terrorism in preemptive obedience ”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/medien/streit-um-antisemitismus-doku-zensur-bei-arte/19907424.html ))

Bumbling defence of the broadcaster

Initially, the WDR broadcaster’s editorial team asserted that the documentary had been shelved for its “one-sidedly pro-Israeli” stance.(( https://www.welt.de/kultur/article165401199/So-ist-die-Doku-die-von-Arte-zurueckgehalten-wird.html )) Subsequently, Arte issued a second, more elaborate press statement defending its decision not to air the documentary.

The channel’s director for programming, Alain Le Diberder, asserted that the commission for the documentary feature had explicitly demanded that the film provide “an overview of the contemporary strengthening of Antisemitism in various countries of Europe […], including in Norway, Sweden, Great Britain, Hungary and Greece”.

However, the directors had taken the liberty to fundamentally alter the project by creating a product focused on the Middle East. “We cannot accept that a producer and writer attempts to choose his subject freely in a unilateral manner and without consultation with Arte.” Le Diberder argued that Arte had been “consciously left in the dark with respect to these fundamental changes” to the film.(( http://www.arte.tv/sites/de/presse/files/antwort-von-alain-le-diberder-an-den-zentralrat-der-juden-in-deutschland.pdf ))

Limited Muslim reactions

Public comments by Muslim figures on the affair surrounding the documentary were relatively scarce. Ahmad Mansour, a well-known psychologist and public commentator on issues of (de-)radicalisation, wrote in a Facebook post that while he had not been part of the film crew, he “support[ed] the movie and its contents”. He castigated Arte’s decision to shelve the movie as “unacceptable and worrisome”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/medien/streit-um-antisemitismus-doku-zensur-bei-arte/19907424.html ))

Yet for the most part, the discussion of the documentary subsequently turned into a shouting match as to whether and how the critique of Israel and of Zionism could be distinguished from anti-Semitism.(( http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/kultur/-maischberger–zur-antisemitismus-doku-wolffsohn-lobt-wdr-haemisch-fuer–gelungene-pr–27839684 ))

Ultimately, the documentary did air on German public TV, yet with critical commentary and an additional “fact checking” feature. Of course this fact-checking device was hardly able to counter-balance the fiercely ideological positions that many of the documentary’s viewers undoubtedly held already before the turned on the TV to watch the film.

Muslim organisation organises interfaith vigil

A Muslim organisation in Manchester, the Ramandan Foundation, organised an interfaith vigil in St Ann’s Square for the victims of the Manchester terrorist attack. The ceremony included a message from Pope Francis, read by the regional head of the Catholic Church, the Bishop of Salford John Arnold. There were also speeches by other religious leaders from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim backgrounds.

Bariza Khiari wants ‘to structure French Islam’

The national delegate for En Marche, Bariza Khiari, hopes to play a role in the transformation of French Islam. She also speaks out against the Foundation for Islam in France.

Her “last political struggle,” was Emmanuel Macron’s election, and she has big plans for her country’s future: she wants “to structure French Islam.”

“There are too many people at the head of Islam in France who are aligned with their countries of origin. That may have been useful when it was mostly immigrants, when there was the myth of return. Today, Muslims are settled in this country, and we need, like the Jewish community, completely independent affairs,” she said.

Khiari wants “young people of immigrant backgrounds, born in France,” to take the lead.

She also lashed out agains the Foundation for Islam in France.and its director Jean-Pierre Chevènement. His nomination sends the wrong signal that there were no Muslims “capable of assuming the role.”

 

Report: left-wing think tank urges days off for Muslim and Jewish holidays

The French left-wing think tank Terra Nova recently published a report in which it urges a “less centralized Islam” in France, as well as additional days off for Muslim and Jewish holidays. The study, entitled “the Emancipation of French Islam,” notes the limits to the French Council of the Muslim Faith’s ability to represent the country’s Muslim population.

The study suggests two additional days off for Muslim and Jewish holidays instead of the usual the days allotted after Christian holidays. Researchers argue that this change would ensure “that all religions are treated equally.” Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha would replace the Mondays off following Easter and Pentecost Monday.

To view the full report click here.

 

 

Jewish scholar prosecuted for anti-Muslim remarks in France

One of the world’s leading historians on the Jewish communities in Arab countries is being prosecuted in France for alleged hate speech against Muslims.

The Morocco-born French-Jewish scholar Georges Bensoussan, 64, is due to appear before a Paris criminal court over a complaint filed against him for incitement to racial hatred by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, the group recently announced on its website.

The complaint, which leading French scholars dismissed as attempt at “intimidation” in a statement Friday, was over remarks about anti-Semitism by Muslims that Bensoussan, author of a definitive 2012 work entitled “Jews in Arab Lands,” made last year during an interview aired by the France Culture radio station, the Collective said.

The Collective based its complaint on two remarks by Bensoussan.

“Today, we are witnessing a different people in the midst of the French nation, who are effecting a return on a certain number of democratic values to which we adhere,” read the first quote flagged.

The second quote cited read: “This visceral anti-Semitism proven by the Fondapol survey by Dominique Reynié last year cannot remain under a cover of silence.” Conducted in 2014 among 1,580 French respondents, of whom one third were Muslim, the survey found that they were two times and even three times more anti-Jewish than French people as a whole.

“Besides, with the animosity toward the French nation, there will be no integration as long as we will not be rid of this ancestral anti-Semitism that is kept secret (…) as an Algerian sociologist, Smain Laacher, very bravely said in a film that will be aired on France 3, ‘it’s disgraceful to keep in place this taboo, knowing that in Arab families in France and beyond everybody knows but will not say that anti-Semitism is transmitted with mother’s milk,” the quote continued.

At least 12 people have been murdered in three attacks by suspected jihadists from France on Jewish targets in that country and in Belgium since 2012.

The anti-Islamophobia collective called Bensoussan’s statements “dangerous and in line with far-right rhetoric” targeting Muslims.

But three prominent French writers and historians — Jacques Tarnero, Yves Ternon and Michel Zaoui – disputed the allegations, calling the complaint against Bensoussan “scandalous.”

The cautions taken against Bensoussan “are part of a strategy of intimidation intended to censure any lucid statement, any form of criticism,” they wrote in a statement they published online last week.

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France wrote in its statement that Paris prosecutors initiated the prosecution against Bensoussan “in light of the gravity of his remarks.”

 

Trump Effect: Jewish and Muslim Organizations Form New Alliance

A new Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council will work to protect religious minorities’ rights as well as other ‘issues of common concern.’

Less than a week after an election that left many minority and religious groups in the United States feeling disenfranchised, two important organizations – one Jewish and the other Muslim – announced an unusual alliance on Monday.

The American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America have teamed up to form a new national group of leading Jewish and Muslim Americans: The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.

In a press release, the AJC said that the new group “brings together recognized business, political and religious leaders in the Jewish and Muslim American communities to jointly advocate on issues of common concern.”

Trump’s proposal to keep out Muslims crosses a line for many in both parties

Republican and Democratic leaders leveled their most forceful criticism yet against Donald Trump on Tuesday, widely denouncing the GOP presidential front-runner’s call to bar Muslims from entering the United States and signaling that Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic rhetoric has agitated both parties more than ever.
At the White House, President Obama’s top spokesman said Trump’s proposal “disqualifies him” from the presidency, marking a rare administration foray into the 2016 race. On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the idea was at odds with the values of their party and the United States as a whole.
In working to tamp down anti-Muslim sentiment that erupted after the attacks, Bush repeatedly talked about Islam as a peaceful religion and said the terrorists did not represent Muslims around the world.

Paris terror attacks: We Muslims must hunt down these monsters who make a mockery of our religion

Twelve years ago, I converted to Islam to marry a Tunisian. It was a purely formal conversion. I remained fundamentally agnostic until 20 months ago, I experienced a spiritual revelation, started to believe in God and to practise my religion of adoption.

We must take the lead in fighting and hunting down extremists, not just beside, but ahead of, our Christian, and Jewish brothers and sisters.

In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks earlier this year, I felt it was my duty as a concerned Muslim citizen to express my outrage at having my religion hijacked by mindless thugs.

With several French Muslim theologians and intellectuals, we launched the “Khlass le silence!” (“Enough with the silence!”) movement, which called on French Muslims to take the lead in the struggle against the monsters who make a sordid mockery of our religion.

Despite the emotion felt throughout France and the French Muslim community, our appeal fell largely on deaf ears.

Less than a month later I teamed up with Anwar Ibrahim, the charismatic leader of Malaysia’s opposition; the Palestinian-Austrian theologian Adnan Ibrahim; and a number of other authoritative Muslim figures from all around the world.

In pictures: A night of carnage in France’s capital

Together, we argued that while our natural instinct as Muslims to distance ourselves from the jihadists, saying that the latter have “nothing to do with Islam”, was understandable, it was dubious intellectually and altogether irresponsible to keep our reaction at that.

The last serious attempt at launching a movement of Islamic reform, led by the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh at the turn of the 20th century, ended up in failure and gave way to the creation of the Muslim brotherhood.

To overcome the state of denial described above and the moral decadence that is affecting many of us, nothing less than a new movement of Islamic reform is needed.

Despite some welcome marks of support, our calls continued to go unheeded. Our initiative was attacked or ridiculed by many in the French Muslim community and we were soon branded apostates by Islamic State (my picture appeared along with death threats in their French language propaganda magazine Dar al Islam).

Not a single Muslim leader came to our defence in France when that happened, and barely a thousand of our fellow Muslims manifested their support for our initiative.

On this ignominious day, the time has come for me to repeat with a greater sense of urgency still what my cosignatories and I said earlier this year:

“My dear Muslim brothers and sisters, it is time to make our voices heard: we must rise up massively and tell the barbarians who ordered, executed or condoned the acts of mass murder just committed in Paris that from now on we will take the lead in fighting and hunting them down, not just beside, but ahead of, our Christian, Jewish, or agnostic brothers and sisters.

“We must do so because Muslims are the extremists’ first victims and because we have mustered the courage to take our responsibilities and launch a massive, global movement for Islamic reform.

“If we do not, we must accept that these monsters represent Islam (and us) in the face of the entire world. With obvious consequences in many an forthcoming European election. The choice is ours.”