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.

German NGOs seek to coordinate and enhance their work on religious extremism

25 German non-governmental organisations active in the prevention of religiously-driven radicalisation and violence have come together to create a new coordination body. The Federal Working Committee on Religiously Motivated Extremism, founded on November 30 in Berlin, seeks to pool expertise and best practices from a range of actors engaged on the ground.(( http://www.ufuq.de/gruendung-der-bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft-religioes-begruendeter-extremismus/ ))

Capacity building among diverse organisations

Participating organisations are diverse, ranging from local social work initiatives active in underprivileged neighbourhoods to associations operating at the national level. Major Islamic associations, such as the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) also take part.(( http://islam.de/28232 ))

The Committee’s creators hope to forge a network that crosses Germany’s often cumbersome federal administrative divisions that have vitiated a common approach in the past. Its foundation comes as the parliamentary opposition has once more criticised the lack of a national-level prevention strategy against violent Islamist movements.(( https://www.welt.de/newsticker/news1/article159834940/Gruene-fordern-bundesweites-Praeventionszentrum-gegen-islamistischen-Terrorismus.html ))

Beyond Islamism

However, the Committee and its participating NGOs have stated that they will seek to assert their independence from politicking and a public debate that is uniquely focused on the Islamist threat. Instead, the Committee seeks to retain a broader, cross-religious focus: whilst radicalisation of Muslim youth will be a prominent aspect of its work, it will also encourage projects dealing with Christian fundamentalism or extremist sects.

Moreover, the group seeks to build bridges to organisations active in preventative efforts in the far-right and neo-Nazi scenes. This is an approach with considerable potential, given the fact that over the past years and decades, a whole landscape of NGOs and institutions working with individuals and communities vulnerable to right-wing extremism has developed.(( http://www.ufuq.de/gruendung-der-bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft-religioes-begruendeter-extremismus/ ))

Need for a strong voice

The actual impact of the newly created Committee remains to be seen. Its members will gather in early 2017 for a first conference and exchange of ideas. Yet the Committee’s biggest task is perhaps to develop stronger capacities for public advocacy and lobbying. Whilst demands for their services are on the rise, many projects and organisations working with groups vulnerable to the appeal of jihadist messaging are struggling with financial constraints and cutbacks. (( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/praevention-in-berlin-es-fehlt-geld-fuer-kurse-gegen-radikalisierung/14929730.html ))

Indeed, as politicians shift to the right and advocate a ‘law and order’ approach to Islamist terrorism in order to tap into the growing voter base of the populist Alternative for Germany party, ‘soft’ strategies of prevention and social work are in danger of being side-lined. The creation of the Committee is thus exceedingly timely.

Dutch Vice Prime Minister Asscher Lodewijk: “Task of Muslim community to bar hate imams”

Minister of Integration and Vice Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher thinks it is also a responsibility of the Dutch Muslim community the bar preachers of hate from the Netherlands. He has stated that he sees it as a task for Dutch Muslims to not invite these characters. The minister has stated so after a meeting with Muslimas in Amsterdam.

According to the minister a role might be played by Islamic organizations that are united in the CMO (English: Contact Organization for Muslims and Government). “They can make sure these creeps will not be invited and can alert the government when these kinds of imams come to the Netherlands,” Asscher said.

If it were to the minister these “hate imams” would not be given entrance to the Netherlands. Their coming does not help in the protection of Muslim youth against “the poison that they spread.” We cannot purify the society totally from this hatred,” Asscher said. “But we can make the youth more able to defend itself.”

Imams from Amsterdam start website for youth, against radicalism

Five imams from Amsterdam are starting a ‘peaceful jihad’, consisting of a website and meetings where youth can ask questions, to prevent them from radicalizing. They say they want to make clear what the correct meaning of jihad is. Not ‘war’, as many people in general and Muslim youth think, but: ‘striving.’

According to Mohammed Ercharrouti, chairman of the Board of Moroccan Mosques in North-Holland’, radicalized youth have weak theological knowledge, which makes them amenable to the ideas of radical organizations.

New Book: Inventing the Muslim Cool: Islamic Youth Culture in Western Europe by Maruta Herding

June 4, 2014

Inventing the Muslim Cool: Islamic Youth Culture in Western Europe

Maruta Herding

May, 2014 
Paper270 pages, 17 b&w 1 color
ISBN: 978-3-8376-2511-0
Transcript-Verlag 

Inventing the Muslim Cool: Islamic Youth Culture in Western Europe by Maruta Herding
Inventing the Muslim Cool: Islamic Youth Culture in Western Europe by Maruta Herding

In the current environment of a growing Muslim presence in Europe, young Muslims have started to develop a subculture of their own. The manifestations reach from religious rap and street wear with Islamic slogans to morally impeccable comedy. This form of religiously permissible fun and of youth-compatible worship is actively engaged in shaping the future of Islam in Europe and of Muslim/non-Muslims relations.
Based on a vast collection of youth cultural artefacts, participant observations and in-depth interviews in France, Britain and Germany, this book provides a vivid description of Islamic youth culture and explores the reasons why young people develop such a culture.

Dr Maruta Herding is a sociologist at the German Youth Institute (Deutsches Jugendinstitut e.V.) in Halle, Germany. The book «Inventing the Muslim Cool» is the publication of her doctoral research, which she conducted at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests include the study of young people, subcultures and Muslims in Europe.

Young Muslims and social networks

November 16, 2013

 

Social networks such as Facebook are becoming as popular among Muslim youth as among all parts of the society. However protecting data and youth privacy associations are concerned about the amount of misinformation distributed in the digital world. Conservative Muslims warn Muslim users to avoid visiting websites, which would lead to what is described in the Koran as “Fitna”, meaning the loss of faith.

German Salafists such as the populist Pierre Vogel use facebook to address young Muslims. Having more than 10.000 Facebook fans, they call female Muslims to upload photos with the the niqab only. Their face should is supposed to be covered in public.

According to Akif Sahin, a social media manager in Hamburg, Muslim youth are vulnerable to misinformation and negative influences diffused by extremists – especially as young Muslims search for guidance on their religious and cultural identity. This aspect is often abused by extremists, such as Islamist and Islamophobe groups, which would begin to agitate Muslims against each other.

 

Spiegel: http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/muslime-auf-facebook-keine-angst-vorm-fitnabook-a-933570.html

 

Reactions to the Pope’s Resignation in the Arab World

Ilsussidiario.it (the subsidiary) 12 February 2013 Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will be stepping down at the end of month. Many news outlets have begun to discuss this pope’s relations with Muslims as well as how a future pope may interact with the Muslim faith. The Subsidiary published an overview of the Pope’s interactions with Muslims and the Muslim world understandings of the Pope. Egyptian professor, Wael Farouq is interviewed. According to Dr. Farouq the first reaction in the Arab world to the Pope’s resignation has been primarily silence. Many felt the pope was promulgating a very different and violent understanding of Islam particularly in his Regensburg speech. Also according to the article Dr. Farouq feels the Pope did not sufficiently create an open inter-faith dialogue.

ANSAmed 13 February 2013 also published a story on the Pope’s resignation primarily focusing on the Al Azhar campus and Muslim youth’s reactions to the Pope—which are not positive. The article explains that though many did not know of the resignation all agreed that the following pope needs to show respect for the Muslim faith.

Fault lines of the French model on integration and immigration

04.01.2013

Liberation

During a debate on the crisis of integration in France at this year’s Forum de Grenoble, Tareq Oubrou, imam from Bordeaux and Jean-Claude Sommaire, former Secretary General of the Council on Integration, came together to identify some issues that have created today’s social tension amongst immigrant youth.

Sommaire considers the French model of integration to have never really existed. In his eyes, members of earlier waves of immigration have integrated in distinct ways. Whilst their children have most commonly left behind their ancestral roots by integrating and assimilating into French society, the descendants of more recent immigrants from the Maghreb and Sub-Saharan Africa have in contrast not.

In a survey conducted by Liberation, 25% of youth state to live in rupture with society. With increasing discrimination and being exposed to the growth of Islam in economically and socially difficult environments, these youth often have no choice but to replicate communitarianism. Sommaire says that “in some quarters it is not the number of Muslims that is rising but the visibility of them”.

Oubrou identifies the failure of schools and the exclusion of Muslims as the main reason for communitarianism amongst Muslims. According to him, Muslim youth consider religion as a shield of protection where they can find refuge and answers to the wrongs done to them. He however also strongly argues that the notion of secularism in France is what puts the relation between Muslim youth and French society in strain. Oubrou comments that “historically secularism has never been anti-religious. Secularism permitted the public expression of faith but today there is a virtual schizophrenia between lived realities and what the law says. It has become normal to see the Muslim faith as a threat. Hence, there’s an increasing demand to adapt the faith to Western civilization and culture”.

Omar Abdel Rahman: The push to free the imprisoned Islamist extremist

Before bin Laden, there was the blind sheik.  A generation ago, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman stood as the embodiment of Islamist terrorism: A bearded, religious extremist with a trademark red and white cap and dark sunglasses who helped orchestrate the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and plotted several unrealized attacks against other New York landmarks.

Two decades of imprisonment in high-security detention centers in the United States have diminished his public profile. But the Egyptian cleric is gaining notoriety among a new generation of Muslim holy warriors, and he has become a cause celebrate for Islamist political leaders who came to power during the Arab Spring.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi came into office with a pledge to press the case with the United States for Abdel Rahman’s release.

And Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the leader of a jihadist brigade that attacked American and European oil workers this month at a natural gas facility in Algeria, placed Abdel Rahman’s liberty on his list of political demands.

The 74-year-old spiritual leader of the extremist Gama’a Islamiya, or the Islamic Group, Abdel Rahman has been a revered figure in Islamic extremist circles since the early 1980s, when he was charged, and acquitted, for his alleged role in the 1981 assassination of Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat.

Preached in Brooklyn, N.J.

Branded a political outlaw in his homeland, Abdel Rahman traveled to the United States in 1990, where the blind cleric preached at mosques in Brooklyn and New Jersey and, according to federal prosecutors, plotted the killing of hundreds of Americans.

He was convicted in October 1995 on charges of conspiring to “levy a war of urban terrorism against the United States,” including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which killed six people, and a plan to blow up the United Nations headquarters and other New York landmarks. He was later sentenced to life in prison.

Abdallah insists that his family does not condone violence, but he said that the United States is responsible for turning his father into a symbol of violent resistance.

“All those actions did not come from nothing, for it was America that pushed the Muslim youth to revolt,” Abdallah said. “America is using force, and what is taken by force must be returned by force.”

Annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention takes place in Toronto

News Agencies – December 19, 2012

 

Thousands of Muslims from across North America gathered in Toronto from December 21 through December 23 for the annual Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention. “The conference has always been about uniting and joining hands with scholars, journalists, academics, representatives from other faiths, and artists to promote messages of peace and tolerance,” RIS spokeswoman Farhia Ahmed told OnIslam.net.

Themed “Divine Light for Living Right: The Light of Prophetic Guidance in the Midst of Modern Darkness”, the convention is organized and managed by approximately 400 young Canadian volunteers. It brings a galaxy of prominent Muslim scholars including Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyah, Karen Armstrong and Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Islamic studies professor at George Washington University. Also attending are the Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Cerić, scholar Habib Ali Al-Jifri, Swiss professor Tariq Ramadan, Egyptian preacher Amr Khaled, Dr. Aisha al-Adawiyya; Dr. Tawfique Chowdhury; Yasmin Mogahed and Edina Lekovic.

Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention was first launched in 2003 by Muslim youth to tackle the backlash on Islam and Muslims after the 9/11 and to build a bridge of understanding with non-Muslims. Last year, over 20,000 people attended the event and for the first time tickets were sold out by the second day of the 3-day program.