Our researcher, Jacob Lypp, spoke to The Breakfast Show on Voice of Islam Radio UK on 30th March about Islam in Germany.
Jacob’s discussion was especially relevant considering Germany’s new Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer from the Christian Social Union (CSU), has recently made the comment that Islam does not belong to Germany. You can read Jacob’s analysis of these comments here.
In the interview, Jacob discussed how the debate about Islam’s place in Germany has haunted German politics for more than ten years. Comments like Seehofer’s, that Islam does not belong in Germany, construct Islam and Muslims as an abstract entity onto which everything Germans are afraid of is projected. Seehofer’s framing of these comments within a discourse of crime and security illustrates the construction of Islam as this entity, and this construction means there is a tendency to construct German identity and Judeo-Christian identity with the exclusion of Muslims.
This demonising of Islam is not just a German phenomenon and this political discourse is added to by the media representation of Muslims, creating a larger negative discourse which is difficult to resist by those who do not have the inclination or the interest to see the inaccuracy and reductionist nature of many of these statements.
Analysing Islam’s place in Germany is not as simple as making these general statements, Jacob says. Instead, it is necessary to understand the way in which Muslims actually live in Germany.
Doing this links in heavily with the debate about the extent to which Muslims are integrated into German society. While the public perception is probably that Germans are not integrated into society, the reality is that the level of so-called integration depends on which part of the community you look at. Jacob notes that the integration paradigm itself is too reductionist, as it suggests that a homogeneous group of Muslims exists outside the homogeneous German society, which is not an accurate understanding of the situation.
If we unpack this paradigm, Jacob notes that there are many challenges faced by Muslims in Germany, but not all of these are necessarily related to individuals being Muslim. He uses the example of Turkish Muslims to demonstrate this. Turkish Muslims came as guest workers to factories in Germany and these factories later closed down. Thus, Turkish Muslim communities in Germany face high levels of unemployment, but this is not to do with the fact they are Muslim. Statistics for labour market participation, as well as other factors like educational attainment, can often be explained through trends in social class rather than religious affiliation.
There are of course some issues in Germany which do affect Muslims specifically. Jacob cites the example of the lack of quality religious services for Muslims to benefit from in German society. This is because of various laws and regulations which mean that some Muslim communities cannot pay for mosques and imams.
Jacob was asked whether religion is even a relevant part of the discussion of German society, which is considered to be secular. The trouble with the idea of secularism, Jacob explains, is that it is never as neutral as it claims to be. It is not necessarily a rejection of all religion in the public sphere, but more a rejection of elements of religion which we view as foreign, as has been seen with the debate around the wearing of the hijab.
The reduction in tolerance of people who want to live in modern society, but still in accordance with the tenets of their faith, is perhaps more to do with being part of a more atheist society rather than a secular one. This makes it more difficult to have conversations about faith which is a shame, and also counter-productive.
Increasingly, the idea from right-wing political parties in Germany and the wider continent of Europe is that Muslims do not contribute anything to society. Of course, there are differences between Muslims and non-Muslims, Jacob says, but the two are not incompatible. Despite the under-representation of Muslims at some levels, there are enough Muslims at every strata of society for people to be able to see their contribution to German society. It does not cost people their German identity to recognise the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims, but seeing the ‘other’ as the ‘other’ often fuels the idea of ‘otherness’.