Meine Bemerkungen gestern auf einem Panel hier in Delhi über den Umgang, der Medien mit Fragen der muslimischen Minderheit in Deutschland (Bitte um Nachsicht mit Englischfehlern):
Let me begin be stating that things have become tense in Germany around the questions of Muslims as a minority, about Islam as a defining factor of our identity, about the new emerging German „We“.
Because that is what is it all about: My country is undergoing a dramatic demographic and cultural change, and we are struggling to find a concept for it. A new We is necessary after a period of massive immigration.
Germany used to be comaparatively reasonable in these matters – compared to our european neighbours. No right wing anti-immigrant party bashing minorities, moderate press coverage about inter-community violence and other conflicts of a pluralistic society. But that seems to be changing.
Three incidents suggest there is something shifting. Two months ago a book came out by a prominent social democratic politician who served on the federal bank. Its title: Germany does away with itself. The book claims that Germany is falling back because of muslim immigration – mainly from Turkey. Germany, Mr. Sarrazin says, is threatened in its identity by the demographic change that will continue to create muslim majorities in many inner cities. He proposes changes to immigration laws and to social policies to stop this trend.
No other nonfictionbook has created such a heated debate in the last decades. Until last week, 1.1 million copies have been sold – and counting.
The author, Thilo Sarrazin, has been heavily criticized by the political establishment of all parties, including his own, who threatens to kick him out. He was relieved of his post at the Federal Bank. But this makes him all the more a hero in the eyes of his growing fan base. It seems that a levee has been broken. The politicians who criticized him and said his book was „not helpful“ (the chancellor) or even „racist“ now begin to copy his wording when speaking of the muslim minority: nobody wants to be seen as „weak“ or „soft“ in an election season. How do you deal with this in the media?
My paper – the most widely circulated weekly paper – has been critical of Mr. Sarrazin from the beginning. We exposed the divisive and discriminatory nature of his discourse. Our competitors have shown a certain ambivalence: pushing the sensationalist theses in one issue, criticizing them in the next one, then again asking with a certain bigotry: shouldn’t it be allowed to raise these concerns? DIE ZEIT has stayed the course, I am proud to say, against the vicious and poisonous arguments brought forth by Mr Sarrazin – like his policies aimed at discouraging the fertility of muslim immigrants, reminding of eugenics of earlier times.
BUT: We also have to admit that many of our readers think Mr Sarrazin is right in criticizing Muslims for their backwardness in education, on the labour market, in civil society as a whole. And he is. We have been exposing these problems for years. Still, every new book on the issues poses as a taboo-breaker.
It is very popular at the moment to bash Muslims – even in the educated, liberal circles of our readership. How do you deal with this? It is one of those moments as a journalist and as an intellectual, as a concerned citizen and observer of your society, in which you have to realize that free and fair reporting is not a given. It is something you have to fight for, against a rising tide of bigotry.
The second event to illustrate the change: On our national holiday two weeks ago, the annual celebration of German reunification, things took an unexpected turn. The newly elected president gave a much anticipated adress at the occasion of 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down. He chose to speak about this glorious past of reunification between East- and Westgermans. But then he turned away from the obvious and focused on the future, and on another form of unification that has still to be won: that between the new Germans and the old inhabitants of our country, between immigrants and their children and the majority, between muslims and other faiths. He said one sentence that at first seemed unremarkable: Islam belongs to Germany. If you consider the 4.3 million Muslims living in the country, making up for about 5 % of the population – that seems evident. YET – a fierce debate broke loose about the normative character of this sentence: Did he mean to say that Islam should be considered a contribution to our national identity, to our values, to our customs – just as we consider Christianity, Judaism, Roman law, Hellenistic philosophy our heritage? Well, the president did not elaborate on this, but he forced a discussion. Obviously, Islam has not have as much of an impact on German history as in other places (in Europe: the Balkans, Spain, Greece). That is not what the president said. But he was right to focus our discussion on an important shift: Islam has been considered an immigrant religion, and many hoped it would disappear with the guest workers who brought it to Germany, once they went home again. But they are not going home, they are becoming Germans in large numbers, and so their religion will become a part of the makeup of our society. The media have succumbed to the temptation of exploiting the excitement. Germany’s BILD, the most widely read popular newspaper came out with the headline: „Mr President, why are you courting Islam?“ The next day’s headline continued this trend: „How much Islam can Germany take?“ I am not saying that the answers the paper gave were as biased as the questions suggest. But simply by posing the questions like this, a new type of anti-muslim discourse has become mainstream. This is very worrying.
Third example: Just last week, a politician of the ruling Christian Social Union gave an interview to a major magazine stating Germany „needs no more Immigration from foreign cultures“. He was not talking about the Chinese or Indian software engineers that his native Bavaria is actually desperately seeking. „No more immigration from foreign cultures“ is actually code for: no more Muslims. We actually don’t have net immigration. More people have been leaving Germany for Turkey in the last year than have come to this country. So it seems to me this is a way of saying: we should not have let in Muslims in the first place. It was a mistake to let Muslims come to Germany.
Now this politician was heavily criticized by the media. But still: anti-immigrant Slogans are making it to the center of the political sphere.
What does all this mean for the media? Should we hold against this trend? Certainly, we must counter the singling out of a vulnerable minority, we must not play along with this blame game. But how to counteract and not become a part of the politicization of minority issues and the fragmentation of our public discourse is difficult.
Some years ago I was on a panel in Frankfurt at the invitation of a German Muslim group. I was asked what I as a media person could contribute to a more peaceful, more consensual, more constructive atmosphere between religious groups in Germany.
I have to say, I did not like the underlying idea: that media were somehow responsible for social peace. We are not. We have to expose whatever is out there, whether it pleases a specific group or furthers their interest – or not. As reporters or editors, we are not priests, and we should not confuse ourselves with community leaders. Independent journalism should not be seen in terms of community relations. This destroys the common public sphere that democracies rely on.
Still – I fully understood what the question was aiming at. At the moment Germany is witnessing a wave of distrust, mutual mistrust, when it comes to relations between minority and majority, Turks and Germans, Muslims and Non-Muslims. How is that?
Is it because we are witnessing a massive wave of immigration of Muslims to Germany?
No, for several years already we have had a negative ratio: more people of turkish origin are leaving Germany than are immigrating to it. The Same goes for other Muslim majority countries. If it is not the actual development, something else must be the reason.
My guess is this: it is only after big waves of immigration that conflicts about national identity take place. This is where we are now, and this is what links our German discussion with those of almost all our European neighbors. Just think of the Netherlands, Denmark, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria. Germany does not – yet – have a single-issue anti-Muslim populist rightwing party like all our neighbors do. But in public discourse, we are getting there.
This is not the whole picture. On the other hand there is the temptation of the sanitized language of political correctness. Another politician proposed something lately that might lead into that direction. In the state of Lower Saxony the first German Minister of turkish origin was greeted with universal acclaim: German Turks were happy about the success of Aygul Özkan, and the majority congratulated itself on the openness of German society. She came to this office on a conservative ticket, mind you. One of the first things she proposed was a list of recommendations for the media – how to adress contentious issues in a „culturally sensitive“ manner. Media were supposed to subscribe to a speech code of acceptable and inacceptable phrases and expressions.
This was a big mistake in my eyes: we need an open debate, especially in a more diverse environment, and maybe Muslims need it more than others, because most of them come from outrageously repressive countries. It is very bad for Muslims if they are always attached with infringements on the freedom of speech, not with its defense. This is why I opposed the minister’s initiative. All sides in our public debates will have to grow a thicker skin and learn to live with more questions, attacks and insults.
Some quick points to sum up what I see as the media’s responsibility when it comes to Muslims in our societies. We must not leave serious and rational questions like the following to the rightwing fringe:
– how does sharia law relate to the German constitution
– is it possible to develop a genuinely european form of islam, complete with european educated imams and teachers for islamic religious education in schools
– will Muslims be permanently ready to live as a religious group among others in a pluralistic society dominated by customs and values that have developed before their arrival?
There were instances in German schools where students of turkish or arabic background have viciously attacked other students and teachers, insulting them as „pigeaters“ or „potatoes“. That is as inacceptable as any other kind of racism, and it has to be exposed in the media.
We have to stop creating more and more muslims every day by islamicizing the discourse about everything from terrorism to education. Stop lumping everybody together – from secular to pious, from Sunni to Shia to Sufi and Alevi.
There is also danger in stereotyping European Muslims as victims, even in the good intention of defending them: Muslim migration to Europe is not a victim’s story; there is a lot of heroism, self-reliance, toughness in this story that is rarely told.
Last remark, on a skeptical note: What we are witnessing in Europe since at least the last decade is undoubtedly part of a closing process. All over Europe pressure is mounting to curb immigration and at the same time to enforce more integration, sometimes even assimilation. This can be dangerous, it can lead to an illusionary nationalism – to an futile idea of homogeneity.
But closure can also help with a realistic reevaluation of the new nature of our societies: much more diverse, much more pluralistic than we thought possible – after a historic wave of immigration since the second World War and the end of colonialism. Maybe it is understandable that our societies need some time to divulge and adjust. Germany had a handful of mosques in 1925. Now it has around 2600 mosques and prayer rooms. A new We is being shaped in the conflicts sparked by this development.
The most important question is, if this We will be inclusive and open enough for all those who want to participate. This is something we in the media have to be watchful about. Like every other citizen.