Damaged Image

The results of the study show that Muslims in Germany suffer from a particularly negative image. Ülger Polat believes that this is due to one-sided, over-emotional debates in society about such issues as forced marriages or honour killings

Muslims in Germany (photo: Ikhlas Abbis)
There is a need not only to oppose the social disadvantage under which Muslims live in Germany, but also to carry out policies which will promote intercultural and interreligious dialogue, Ülger Polat argues

​​The results seemed to show that Muslims in Europe have a far more positive and differentiated image of the West than Muslims living in Muslim countries. For example, European Muslims consider that people living in Western industrialised countries are honest, tolerant and respectful towards women.

In contrast, the majority of Muslims living in Muslim countries consider people from the West to be egotistic, selfish and immoral as well as violent and fanatical.

Negative picture of Muslims in Germany

On the other side, people living in Western industrialised countries tend to have negative views of Muslims and see little chance of peaceful coexistence with them.

The study is clear here too: the large majority of Westerners believe that Muslims are fanatical, violent and lack tolerance.

There is particular cause for concern in the fact that, among the European questioned, the Germans have the largest proportion of people holding such views. They also hold the view more frequently than other Europeans that conflict between the Muslim way of life and life in a modern Western society is natural—in spite of the fact that most Muslims in Germany do not perceive any such conflict.

What explanation can be offered for this negative image of Muslims in Germany? There have, luckily, been no Islamist attacks in Germany and Islamist groups, such as those supported by Al Qaeda, have few supporters among Muslim immigrants. So why do the Germans hold such views more strongly than the British and the French?

The most important institution in society communicating collective opinions and feelings is the media. In Germany the media conduct one-sided and over-emotional debates on issues such as forced marriage or honour killings among Turkish families, or on the uncontrollable criminal behaviour of young Muslims in German schools (like the Rütli school in Berlin), or on the introduction of attitude tests as in Baden-Württemburg, or over Turkish accession to the European Union. Such coverage has an effect on attitudes.

Complexity is missing

Repeatedly, these debates have taken up centre stage in German awareness over the last few months. This makes it more difficult for people to become aware of the complexity of reality, and it stops Germans and Muslims from getting closer to each other.

They confirm a negative image of Muslims, who are already seen as being uncivilised, anti-democratic, opposed to the constitution, misogynist and intolerant of other religions. As a result German public opinion has come to see them as a possible risk factor for public safety.

Antipathy towards Muslim immigrants has a tradition in Germany, but a new development can be observed by which problems in society at large and widespread social abuses are laid at the door of Muslim immigrants or on Islam as a whole.

Already in the 1990s, a wide-scale survey carried out by the Association of Social Science Infrastructure Organisations showed that the large majority of Germans tended to dislike Muslims. They were more reluctant to have Muslims as neighbours or family members than they were to have Italians or ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe.

What is surprising about this survey is that it shows that the antipathy towards Muslims existed even before the emergence of Islamist terrorism or the start of the public debate on the failure of Muslim immigrants to integrate into German society.

Dialogue does not take place

The causes are the same: since the beginning of migration for employment until now the majority of Germans have very little or no contact with Muslim immigrants. They base their opinions on the emotionally heated debates, which, because they are founded on generalisations, tend to defame Muslims.

A study by the Socio-economic Panel of the German Institute for Economic Research found that a large majority of Muslims had no German friends, even though they would like more contact with Germans.

This shows that there is an urgent need not only to oppose the social disadvantage under which Muslim immigrants live, but also to carry out policies which will promote intercultural and interreligious dialogue in Germany.

Integration and equality in education and employment are not enough. The two communities will only move closer together if there are encounters between Muslims and Germans in which both sides can learn about each other without prejudice. There has to be regular contact and exchange, and in the end, the growth of friendships. Only that way will social peace be possible.

Only that way can antipathy and prejudice towards Muslim immigrants be broken down. Such processes have to be initiated and promoted both by institutions of the state and by those of the civil society. At the same time, politicians, organisations, associations and the media have to commit themselves to working against increasing Islamophobia in Germany.

Ülger Polat

© Qantara.de 2006

Translated from the German by Michael Lawton


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