An arson attack on a mosque in Berlin in 2014. | Photo: Paul Zinken / dpa / Picture Alliance
An arson attack on a mosque in Berlin in 2014. | Photo: Paul Zinken / dpa / Picture Alliance

After 50 worshippers were murdered in Christchurch and last year saw more than 800 attacks on Muslims in Germany, calls for an Islamophobia commissioner are growing. An anti-Semitism commissioner took office in 2018.

After it was revealed that a white supremacist who killed 50 worshippers in New Zealand last month had links to far-right groups in Europe;  calls have intensified for Germany to create a government post to combat Islamophobia. A recent report found that there were 813 Islamophobic crimes counted in Germany in 2018. That's a slight fall from the number of attacks recorded in 2017. But many see that number as conservative because a lot of "run-of-the-mill attacks, insults and discrimination ... are not even recorded," said Ulla Jelpke, the Left party's domestic affairs spokesperson in the Bundestag.

German authorities only started collecting figures on specifically anti-Islamic crimes in 2017.

'Attacking and inciting'

More than 1,000 anti-Semitic crimes were recorded in the first nine months of 2018. In that case, underreporting is being addressed with cooperation from the recently appointed anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein.

Since the Nazi era, German officials have worked to publicly fight anti-Semitic attacks, but the commission was not created until 2018, in response to a rise in attacks as Germany also adopted a broader definition of anti-Semitism that some interpreted to include criticism of Israel. Klein's new office could be a model for the representative that Abdul Samad Yazidi, secretary-general of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), wants.

"Anti-Semitism is unacceptable in society and attacking and inciting Muslims is also unacceptable," Yazidi told DW. "We reject any part of German society being threatened, be they Jews, Muslims, blacks, women or homosexuals," he said.

Aiman Mazyek, head of the ZMD, told the newspaper Osnabrücker Zeitung that such a representative is more necessary than ever because of latent anti-Muslim sentiment in Germany. "We need a public discussion around this problem," he told the paper. "Every attack on a minority is an attack on democracy."

The notion has its detractors, among them Ralph Ghadban, a frequent commentator on issues surrounding Islam and immigration. He told DW that a 2006 law against discrimination is "quite enough." Ghadban said the proposal could have a chilling effect on free speech because it may limit his right to criticize religion. Yazidi said, however, that the current law did not suffice. "We accept criticism," he said. "Islam totally depends on critical thinking. But when it turns into systematic aggression, assault, and verbal and physical attacks just because a person is a Muslim, this is unacceptable because it is incitement and must be rejected by German society," he said. Muslims have a right to be protected from attacks, he added. "We, too, are Germans, we do not hate ourselves, we are part of German society, we love Germany, and we consider ourselves part of its cultural makeup."

Hatred that poisons

At the heart of the debate over whether Germany needs this type of representative is the question of how to open up a dialogue about Islamophobia and to what extent it should be recognized.

When 25-year-old law student Mulla Cetin launched a petition for a new commission in 2018, his aim was to draw attention to what he saw as a rising hatred in Germany. His petition cited a report claiming more than half of non-Muslims saw Islam as a threat. Cetin said anti-Muslim hostility "affects us all. It is a hatred that poisons the social climate in our country and divides people. In turn, a hatred that increasingly manifests itself in violent attacks, is a major threat to our society, its cohesion and democracy," the petition said.

Author: Tom Allinson

First published: April 3, 2019

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