Content warning: This column discusses anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Since the end of the Third Reich, Germany has been praised for its acknowledgment of the horrific crimes that the nation committed during the Holocaust, as the state has devoted copious resources to the study of anti-Semitism. However, despite Germany’s highly publicized atonement for its actions during the Holocaust, far-right viewpoints and Nazi memorials are present in rural areas of the European nation. Moreover, right-wing nationalism has witnessed a resurgence in German politics. The “Alternative für Deutschland,” a far-right party running on an anti-immigrant platform, has gained significant ground in Germany’s parliament in recent years, winning the third-most seats of any party in the 2017 elections. Unfortunately, despite widespread German condemnation of anti-Semitism, nationalistic views, such as those espoused by the Alternative für Deutschland, have caused Islamophobia to increase in recent years across the country, in the wake of an influx of refugees. Although Germany claims to have atoned for its xenophobic past, the recent rise of far-right politicians and an increase in Islamophobic rhetoric indicates a disparity between Germany’s self-perceived tolerance and the actions of the German population as a whole.
In a recent presentation at Tufts, anthropologist Sultan Doughan discussed the intertwinement of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Germany. Doughan’s presentation revolved around the disparity between how Germans treat Jewish people and how they treat Muslims. Per Doughan, Germans believe that because they strongly condemn anti-Semitism, they are inherently tolerant people. However, she stated that many Germans expect Muslims to fully assimilate into German culture, and that there is little tolerance for the practice of Muslim traditions in mainstream German society. Moreover, according to Doughan, nationalist extremism is seen as a phenomenon that exists on only the right-wing fringes of society. In reality, even liberal German political parties have recently utilized Islamophobic rhetoric, which has facilitated harassment and violent treatment of Muslims with little social or legal consequence.
Doughan explained that Islamophobia has increased across Germany since 2015, when Angela Merkel permitted hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees who had fled war-torn regions, such as Syria, to enter “the homeland.” Since this decision, acts of Islamophobia have increased significantly in Germany; in 2020, there were 632 Islamophobic crimes reported between the months of January and November. Most notably, Doughan described how a right-wing extremist gunman attacked two hookah bars in the city of Hanau in February 2020, killing nine innocent civilians. Events such as the Hanau shooting demonstrate that although Germany has allowed many refugees into their homeland, the country has done little to curb the rise of xenophobia and Islamophobia.
Unfortunately, right-wing extremism has once again infiltrated national politics and catalyzed the systemic mistreatment of a religious minority within Germany. Tragically, Muslim immigrants are not the only minority in Germany to have experienced increased violence in recent years; anti-Semitic crimes increased by about 26% from 2018 to 2020. Although the German government’s rejection of anti-Semitism is commendable, the country will only truly address its legacy of nationalistic violence if it addresses the blatant hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim people within its borders today.