Halm, D.: The Public and Political Perception of Islam, 2007

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The peaceful coexistence of people from different cultures and religions, against the backdrop of an emerging Europe, migration, the emergence of transnational areas and other developments in globalization, is one of the central social challenges.

Migration Research has accurately identified the establishment of a Christian-Islamic dialogue within European society as a crucial integration component.
The basic conditions for such a dialogue appear to have deteriorated rather than improved over the past years.   

In particular, the 11th of September is often seen as the turning point in the relations between “Islam” and the “West” and therefore indirectly a turning point in the coexistence between Christian and Muslims in western societies.
The assumption of a conflict between both “cultural regions” is a product of the 1990’s, which found its most prominent manifestation in Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” (1996).  Actually, an asymmetrical conflict between western countries and parts of the Islamic world has developed in recent years (and after the 11th of September intensified) and is characterized by Islamic motivated terrorism on the one hand and the “anti-terror-wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq on the other, not forgetting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Now a large number of Muslims have immigrated to the West and are expected to integrate into intercultural societies. To what extent does an “Islam” and “Western” confrontation challenge their integration?

The Center for Studies on Turkey examined the correlation between socio-cultural involvement of Muslims in the Federal Republic of Germany and the
changing image of Islam in German society. In examines the question: To what extent have Islam-phobia attitudes, which have received increased attention in sociology and Conflict Research in recent years, developed in German society and how these developments affect coexistence.

The controversy surrounding the Mohammed caricatures in February 2006 clearly shows the potential for conflict inherent to publicized opinions about Islam in the West.

Empirical evidence documents that hostility towards Islam exists in German
Society. However, the present findings are contradictory enough to clearly indicate the need for a differentiated examination.  There exist distinct differences between the rejection of Islam – understood as an abstract category – and of Muslims living in Germany.  If the attitude towards Islam is, for the most part, dismissive, this applies only marginally to Muslims.
The present text asks the question “How did the evolving discourse about Islam between 2000 and 2004 affect the coexistence of Muslims and the majority of the population in Germany?”

The intent is to clarify the connections between the expected developments of coexistence, daily experiences, the political debate, the depiction of Islam in the media and the prospects of Muslim participation.

References for the analysis here are the German Parliament Protocol, an analysis by the German news magazine, “Der Spiegel” and the newspaper “Westdeutschen Allgemeinein Zeitung” in 2000/2001 and 2003/2004, a representative poll taken in 2000 and 2005 of the Turkish ethnic community in Germany as well as the discussion with representatives from Islamic Organisations in Germany. The evaluation of the parliamentary minutes and the analysis in “Der Spiegel” and the “WAZ” occurred in two steps: first, key terms from relevant passages in the text were extracted via data processing. The Islam view, in official and unofficial discourse, was then, through the classification of identified statements in the first step, described and quantified as follows:

- Strategies for Exclusion, e.g.: Muslims are different, the don’t belong to Europe or to the German defining culture, examples of non-integrated Muslims
- Accentuating the fear of Islam through Islam’s connection to acts of terror, violence, aggression and anti-Semitism
- The enhancement of the dissimilarities between Islam and Democracy, Human Rights and Education
- The opposing discourse:  The reassessment of Islam, e.g.: Statements against discrimination due to religious affiliation; Appeals for dialogue with Islam; Islam as part of European Culture; Criticism of the Islam discourse; Demands for a more differentiated view of Muslims; Muslims as the victims of terror.

The quality of coexistence and its transformation is indicated by two representative polls in 2000 and 2005 of the ethnic Turkish population in Germany.  Here they were asked how difficult it was to create a life in Germany and what correlations they see between the “Islam” and “Western” conflict and life with the German host society.

Representatives from all large Mosque organisations as well as two umbrella organisations were invited to participate in a group interview to discuss the interaction between organized Islam and German host society at the Center for Turkish Studies.

The discussion had an underlying guideline of four complex themes to which specific questions were assigned. The emphasis of these themes were:
- The development of organised religiousness
- The lobbying of the organisations
- Public perception of these organisations
- Conflict and hostility towards Islam

The marginal influence on this discourse of Muslims themselves became apparent.  The Muslim organisations were able to express themselves within this open discussion.  However they were forced to address problems that were defined by the host society.The 11th of September 2001 was however not a turning point for the coexistence of Muslims and the majority of the population in Germany. Our analysis easily confers with past research in the development of Islam-phobia/rejection of Islam in Germany. A look at print media coverage confirms that the negative view of Islam is based primarily on the association with Islam and (terrorist) threatening scenarios and that this view influences the Islam discourse, after September 11th, more than ever.  This negative view of Islam did not burden the daily coexistence of the Muslims in Germany although the self-criticism of German society has decreased and failures with immigrant integration after September 11th are rarely scrutinized as before.  Leibold/Kuehnel observed that the nominal presence of Islam-phobic attitudes within the German population correspond with the official discourse in the Federal Republic of Germany as much as  criticism of Islam is primarily within the context of terrorist threats. This criticism is not to such an increasing extent that it leads to a general rejection and exclusion of Muslims, even when appeals for religious tolerance after September 11th rarely occur, as long as they are not associated with the restriction, a “false” tolerance should not be allowed. The self-criticism in regards to integration political mishaps has decreased. There were contrasting findings with the unofficial discourse: here an increasing general scepticism was formulated and reported regarding the integration of Muslims in Germany. Simultaneously the frequency of generalized judgements about Islam and Muslims is decreasing. The changes in the social climate of Germany are probably due less to the qualitative changes in the discourse as to the fact that, especially, the unofficial discourse about Islam is not only considerably more negative but due to the strong rise in the media coverage of Islam and Muslims and the multiple increase in negative connotations. This example shows how subtle the exclusion of Islam can occur: The number of Islam motivated terror attacks after September 11th has increased, consequently you cannot judge the media coverage of them as hostile. However, the number of Muslim artists in Germany and in the rest of the world since September 11th  2001 has not decreased. The attention the media gives them has.The association between Islam and terrorism in the official and unofficial discourse manifests itself in other studies such as the Bielefelder GMF-Survey in which a majority of those questioned established an undifferentiated connection between Muslims and terrorism. In the GMF-Survey between 2003 and 2005 there was a distinct increase in the rejection of Islam culture. Thus, a considerable pressure to justify Islam in Germany has developed which the individual Muslim regards as an (abstract) burden for coexistence within Germany.  Consequently they relate more to conflicts which occur outside of Germany due to their own affiliation with Islam. The representatives of the Islamic organisations deplore a loss of the sovereign interpretation of Islam.They have found no satisfactory approach to, what they consider, the forced discourse concerning Islam and terrorism. On one side, this situation is seen as a chance for cooperation between the organisations of Islam; on the other side as an obvious intensified competition between these organisations. This could result in an adequate interpretation in German society for single Islamic groups – in particular for the Alevis -  without evidence  of such a development in previous public discourses.  The 2005 GMF-Survey supports this sceptical assessment because German society presently is not able to discriminate between the different Islamic denominations.  In Germany today there exists a wide disparity between the negative expectations of Muslims for coexistence and their actual experiences.  In the different areas of life: from the workplace to recreational time and one’s community, between 80% to 90% of Turkish Muslims say that they encounter an understanding for their faith in German daily life.  Notwithstanding, a majority of Turkish Muslims also believe that September 11th, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have had a negative affect on their ability to live together.A dialogue with Islam, (in which the theme would not be singularly dictated by the host society) could attenuate this imbalance.The events surrounding the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed, that originated from Denmark in February 2006 and caused massive anti-western protests in Arab countries and beyond, give an indication of the future development. The circumstances in which the Danish Imams were outraged by a large Danish newspaper’s treatment of Islam, as was the case here, can also be interpreted as a result of the lack of access to public discourse in Denmark. A detour through foreign countries attracted extensive European media attention because the caricatures were objects of the Western and Muslim conflict in the international context. They did not help their original issue of the defamation of their religion in Danish society. At the same time, there is the danger that expectations will grow into a public conflict of cultures within European immigrant countries, sustain mutual prejudices and become an obstacle for coexistence. Although the research time frame represented here does not take into consideration the conflict concerning the Mohammed caricatures, the news coverage surrounding it and the reactions of Muslims in Germany, a further danger is suggested:  the amount to which criticism of Islam and Muslims increases, the self-criticism of German society, in regards to the errors/omissions in integration policy, decreases.  In order for us to continue to shift the responsibility of disintegration to immigrants - the “Muslim Test” for naturalization in Baden Württemberg is an example of this development. Steps toward improvement of social equality and opportunity are being threatened by these (unjustified) accusations – a subtle exclusion mechanism of German society towards Muslims.


Dirk Halm/Marina Liakova/Zliha Yetik:  On the Perception of Islam and Muslims in German Society 2000 to 2005. In:  Magazine for Foreigners’ Rights and Policy on Foreigners 5-6/2006 (Nomos, ISSN 721-5746) pages 199- 206.

Dirk Halm, 2007