German concerns about the country’s Muslim population are growing, especially among women. Researcher Daniela Krause spoke to EURACTIV Germany about the issue, the anti-Muslim course of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and possible ways to reverse the trend.
Daniela Krause is a sociologist at the Bielefeld Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence who, ahead of regional elections held in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, analysed two major studies carried out on the subject. Some 25,000 people were included in the study between 2003 and 2014.
Krause spoke to euractiv.de’s Nicole Sagener.
You’ve examined two long-term studies on Islamophobia in Berlin and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, where regional elections will be held in the next few days. First thing, what are Islamophobia and Muslimophobia?
Well it’s important to clarify that they are two different things. Islamophobia is the devaluation of the religion itself, while Muslimophobia is hostility towards practitioners of it. In the study, we looked at the latter.
What do the two regions’ inhabitants think about Muslims?
In Berlin, unsurprisingly, there is a lower average level of anti-Muslim sentiment than in other Bundesländer. That is undoubtedly because of the diversity of the city. Nevertheless, it is striking that Berlin did not experience the country-wide reverse trend in Muslimophobia that was seen up to 2014. Two years ago, one in three people surveyed said that because of the number of Muslims, they “sometimes felt like a stranger in their own country”. A quarter said that Muslims should be banned from immigrating to Germany. The reasons behind this cannot be ascertained without further study.
In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, in 2014, about a third of those questioned replied that they “sometimes felt like a stranger in their own country”. A further third also said that Muslims should be banned from immigrating here. That’s significantly higher than in Berlin. Those surveyed between the ages of 16 and 30 in the region were found to be less Muslimophobic than older generations.
A most surprising result of the study was that women were found to be more Muslimophobic nationwide, especially in the capital.
Women are often more concerned and worried about foreign men, and the fear that they could act erratically or threateningly towards them is often unconsciously expressed. Whether the men in question are Muslim or merely come from a different culture rarely matters. But Muslimophobia and xenophobia are clearly linked here.
Since the start of the refugee crisis and the onset of Islamist-motivated attacks in Europe, anti-Muslim sentiment has increased, as shown by a study from 2016, where more than 41% of those questioned said that Muslim’s should be banned from immigrating to Germany. What chances do Islamophobic parties have in those regions?
When you look at the results gained by the AfD which uses Muslimophobia as its call to arms, you can see that concerns and open resentment towards Muslims in society are on the up. A 2015 study on right-wing populism in general showed that a potential 20% of German citizens subscribe to this ideology. This is particularly true of young men and tends to be seen more in the newer Bundesländer.
It has to be said that there are differences between the regions, but that prejudice and Muslimophobia does indeed exist everywhere in some form.
In early 2014, the European Council said that the treatment of minorities in Germany was “cause for concern”. One reason for this is that racist motivation is often discounted by German authorities in investigations and sentencing. What do you see as the political failings?
The police, judges and other officials all have their own concerns, like any other person. The UN also criticised the level of discrimination and inequality seen in Germany. It is important that we do not isolate Muslimophobia from other derogatory tendencies.
Prejudices against homosexuals, disabled people and the unemployed belong in the same category. That is why it is essential that we need political education.
Jean-Paul Sartre said that “if the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him.” This is surely applicable to Muslimophobia too, which is the projection of our own fears onto another. What can a democratic society do against prejudices like this?
Society and also policy should be based around the so-called contact theory. This is the theory that prejudices can be resolved when people from different backgrounds and religions have more than just daily contact at the corner shop, with the cleaning lady or at the bakery, for example. This is of little use. Instead, working on shared tasks, joint projects in schools or other institutions can add so much.
We cannot sweep the problematic views of older citizens under the rug either. It is important that the right political signals are sent so that Muslims and people from a migration background are not isolated in menial jobs. The labour market is also very discriminatory. Decision-makers like teachers or human resources personnel are only human and sometimes have their own prejudices. But they have a lot of influence. Politicians are reacting slowly in the quest to get more workers with a migration background into authorities and public services.
The AfD, which is only three years old, has a clear anti-Muslim philosophy and already has a loyal voter base. The polls for the forthcoming elections in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Berlin show support of 19% and 15%, respectively. Muslimophobia is a factor of society and is being more and more accepted by the established parties. Why is that?
I would not go as far to say that it is a trend. The studies showed that the level of anti-Muslim sentiment declined up to 2014, with Berlin the notable exception. But it is essential to remember that, in our society, prejudice and stigmatisation against other people based on their background and religion has long been a factor. Hostility towards Muslims is based on centuries-old stereotypes after all.