Tag Archives: islamophobia

Remembering 9/11: A Personal Account

Today, exactly ten years ago, a terrible tragedy happened that would change Western society’s attitudes and mental state forever. The social and political implications of this event have yet to be dealt with; some are surfacing just now, others have occupied us for years. And while this topic may offer all sorts of fodder for conversation and reflection, I find it interesting to reduce it to the most individual level: my own personal account of how I experienced the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

I know that’s not terribly original, but I have never done this before, at least not in written form. And it may mean nothing more or less than that this moment shaped me in different ways for the rest of my life. Everyone old enough to store a vivid memory of what happened will be able to tell you exactly where they were, what they were doing and how they reacted when they first heard the news. Here is my story:

In September of 2001 I was 15 years old and I had never been away from home for more than a few weeks, yet of all the places that I could have been on that particular fateful day I found myself in the United States of America, in a small town close to the Bible Belt but far away from any liberal urbanity that I had grown up with.

I went to high school like every other 15-year-old, and my first class each morning day after day was World History with Dr. Sch., who had German ancestors and immediately took a liking to me, perhaps because I was German, or because I was the only one in the class actually willing to learn something. The morning started like every day: open the book, start reading a chapter and take notes. No one suspected anything, not even when the head secretary came in and went over to Dr. Sch. to whisper something into his ear. When she had left, Dr. Sch. turned to us and said in a casual manner: “Guys, I’m going to turn on the TV. There’s something happening in New York City.”

I found out later that we had been the first class in the whole school to watch the news, because our room was closest to the secretary’s office. The others were informed only later over the speakers. I think I must have watched about ten minutes of live coverage before I had even the vaguest idea of what was going on. And before I was able to process anything, the second plane hit the second tower, right then and there, right in front of my eyes, even though I was hundreds of miles away from where it happened.

I remember watching the impact. I remember watching the towers collapse, a while later. I don’t remember what I was thinking about during that time. But I will never forget my teacher’s voice: “Guys, remember that you are witnessing a historical moment.” He had a sense of pathos, good old Dr. Sch., I thought.

During lunch time everyone was talking about it, but not with fear or anxiety. They were excited, they were giggling. I remember wanting to ask them: “What does this all mean? What does it mean to you, to your family, to your culture.” But they didn’t seem interested. Do you have family in New York? Will the gas prices go up? Are we going to go to war? These questions didn’t become relevant until much later.

Back home after school the TV was on the entire evening. That was nothing unusual, except that the home shopping and cartoon channels and the wrestling championship had been replaced by the news, and nothing but the news. It would stay like this for many days, and I watched the same footage over and over again, while the names of dead people were streamed on the bottom of the screen.

One might have thought that the consequences would be felt immediately, but little did change over the next few months. Sure, some people resorted to hoarding, the sermons in the local churches became more dramatic, and some believed the Antichrist was coming in the shape of Osama Bin Laden, but overall the population in rural America seemed to remain calm. The creeping paranoia evolved much slower and more subtly than one might have expected, but it erupted in sudden irrational reactions, for example when after a near-by gas explosion the high school refused to let us go home and made us stay in our classrooms for hours. Another time my host family started asking me really weird and personal questions about my father. It turned out that they had found strange spam on their computer (“Win a greed card!”) and accused my father of spamming my emails, while he was trying to enter the states illegally.

Other than that things went back to normal very quickly, and I couldn’t say how much those events had affected me, if it wasn’t for two very different things:

I became aware of my own mortality, and it made me paranoid. I’m not sure if it happened long after the attacks or before them, but I know that I have developed a fear, a fear of dying in a terrorist attack, that is slightly irrational and that prevents me from living the carefree life that I used to know. I get slightly uncomfortable in crowded spaces, especially in airports and metro stations. I start noticing people that look slightly “suspicious” in that they seem nervous or carry strange luggage. I get anxious when I find seemingly unaccompanied bags or other items. I have left rooms and other spaces because of that. I have decided to not get on the metro and wait for the next one instead. I know how silly I acted but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t fight the fear.

I find myself noticing suspicious people, but they are not necessarily Arab, not necessarily “foreign-looking”. However, it wasn’t until 9/11 that “Arabs” or “Muslims” entered my mind as some sort of category. I used to be familiar with immigrants, with the Turks living in Berlin, but I never thought of them as a particular group of people in terms of culture or religion. I didn’t know any personally and so they never entered my radar. I understand that this naiveté was based on ignorance but also on a certain innocence. Not having an opinion meant at least I didn’t have a bad one.

All of a sudden they were everywhere, those “Arabs”, those “Muslims” with their strange laws and customs and religion, but now they had become dangerous, a constant threat. Careless ignorance had developed into suspicion and hatred.

Today, I find myself defending “them” (as if they were a homogenous group, but unfortunately they are often being presented as such) against islamophobic bigots, racist immigration policies and critics of multiculturalism. Even though we seem to have so little in common. Yet somehow I know that there is something more important at stake here. Something that not only threatens our security, our well-being, but our basic humanity. 9/11 didn’t cause this. 9/11 triggered certain sentiments that had been brooding for a long time. 9/11 has done a lot of damage to us all, but it has made me the person that I am today: anxious, worried, but also angry and reflective and striving to change things, while not letting fear get the better of me.

Feel free to leave your own story in the comments.

Norwegian Psycho? – Anders Behring Breivik as Everyman

I doubt that I need to repeat here the details of the events that happened in Oslo and Utøya last week, when within a couple of hours a car bomb exploded in front of a government building and an assassin shot into a crowd of people participating in a political youth camp on a nearby island. Almost eighty people were killed, many more were injured or pronounced missing.
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During the immediate aftermath, bloggers and activists were quick to point out the premature judgment of some of the biggest news sources in the world, who hastily concluded that Muslim terrorists must have been responsible for these heinous attacks, even though no evidence whatsoever had been released by the police or witnesses. Turns out the perpetrator was a man who goes by the name of Anders Behring Breivik, and whom the New York Times chose to describe as “an ethnic Norwegian, a blond, blue-eyed man” (the statement has since been redacted).
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So, like, the exact opposite of a Muslim, right? Who could have guessed?
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And this aftermath, the media response, is part of the whole tragedy for me: the shock, the disbelief and the defensive demeanor at the fact that a white middle-class European could have done something that we normally attribute to those barbaric, medieval Islamist extremists. Which is why the media tends to describe him as a killer, a mass murderer and a homicidal maniac, but not a terrorist. If we can agree on a basic definition of a terrorist as a radical who commits violent acts for political, ideological or religious reasons in order to provoke fear (terror) in the general public, then Breivik can easily identified as such.
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Thanks to his extensive “legacy” in the shape of a ca. 1500 pages long essay and Youtube videos, we can all find out exactly what his motivations were, just as he intended to, and learn that this man has some very strong convictions and opinions, and he knows how to justify them, too. How strange, then, that the public was quick to condemn him as a sick freak, a lunatic, in short: a social aberration. As though what he believes in, supports and, eventually, killed for was completely ridiculous, crazy, unheard of. Sure, he may not be an historian or political scientist, but he’s no Jared Lee Loughner either. He read his news, some Marx, some Spengler probably, some political commentators and he voiced his opinion on Facebook, on blogs and in forums… In short: He is one of us!
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We may or may not agree with his views (I know I certainly don’t) but we have to understand that this person cannot be dismissed as a crazy obsessive, a social accident. To do so would be dangerous. After all, his views on society are not the product of a madman, they are very common these days, especially in Europe, and they have become perfectly socially acceptable.
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narcissism, megalomania, aggression...

Breivik is in many ways the everyman of today’s Western society, a society in turmoil. Being a white, middle-class heterosexual male he is at the pinnacle of privilege and power, or at least he should be, right? But all he can see are violent and criminal immigrants, reducing the notion of being Norwegian to having a passport, Muslims imposing their habits, even their laws, on him and his nation, and women being STD-carrying sluts when they should be having blond babies. Losing privilege hurts those the most who have the most. Which is why it is mainly those with privilege who can call Breivik’s concerns legitimate, proving once again how “normal” he really is:
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His views regarding immigration and the loss of a nation’s identity are perfectly compatible with a lot of conservative parties in Europe, in fact, with the new far-right movements and political pundits, which have been gaining momentum for a while now. Of course, the owners of the names Breivik drops in his so-called manifest are trying to distance themselves; they have to. It would be outrageous if they didn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that they share a system of beliefs, one that is inherently racist, often classist and sexist.
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Breivik is also a classic antifeminist, alarmed by society’s “moral decline” and “ladies” who don’t know their place anymore (at home, making babies). He can thus be easily related to the chauvinism and misogyny of Men’s Rights Activists, another fairly recent but increasingly popular “backlash” in Western societies. Add to that some homophobia, the fear of political correctness and anti-progressivism and you have a European version of a Tea-Partier.
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This is not too say that any of these people who share Breivik’s beliefs will end up going on a shooting rampage and bombing government buildings, but fear-mongering can lead to hate which can lead to violence. It doesn’t take a psychopath to do the math, and if it does, we are all potential psychopaths.
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the white male in crisis?

News- and Blogwatch

France’s Burqa Ban
Yesterday, France’s so-called burqa ban went into effect. The decision was made last summer but from now on women wearing the burqa or the niqab in public can actually be fined, can be forced to attend civilization courses and be taken into custody if they refuse to remove their veils. Two women have already been arrested who protested the burqa ban in Paris. I have stated my position on this subject last year here and here. By now it has become fairly obvious that Sarkozy is only trying to gather votes from the right. His policies on immigration and the Roma have made clear that the only women he cares about, if at all, are white and born in France.
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You can blame Feminism for everything
Every now and then scientists come up with these new theories regarding the differences between the sexes, that are somehow considered valuable for society because, duh, they’re scientists, so they must be true. Like this one: Why feminism is the anti-viagra. Neuroscientist Ogi Ogas claims that “gender equality inhibits arousal” because women are hard-wired to be submissive and cannot negotiate this natural urge with their strife towards equality, which therefore limits their libido. Now, I don’t quite understand what one’s personal sexual urges have to do with leading an emancipated life and enjoying equality in one’s relationship. After all, someone with a golden shower fetish is not likely to be urinating on people at work or his or her partner outside of “the bedroom”. But I was interested to find out what this scientist bases his theory on. He references research done on Norwegian rats. Enough said.
Needless to say, homosexual relationships don’t seem to exist in this guy’s universe. According to his theory, homosexuals would have a hard time finding a partner because the men would always want to be dominant and the women always submissive. Unless, of course, this theory doesn’t apply to them because homos are weird anyway, right?
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Future Stalkers of America
When I first read about this video, I thought it had to be a joke, possibly even a trolling stunt by men’s rights activists themselves, who enjoy posing as “feminists” in order to ridicule the movement, even though their views of feminism are completely misguided and far from reality. But no, these guys are for real: a couple of new age gurus (they still exist?) thinking they are doing the world a favor by apologizing to women on behalf of all men who have done harm to women throughout centuries of masculine rule. The concept is already flawed in itself, but the execution really takes the cake. While I do agree with perhaps a couple of statements, the overall creepiness and obsolescence of the whole thing is just unbearable. The heyday of ecofeminism was nothing in comparison. If you cannot finish watching the video, for which I don’t blame you, but you still in need of a good critique, David Futrelle over at Manboobz has a great summary:
[…] no matter how earnest all the men in the video are trying to sound, none of them (except perhaps the two ringleaders) seem to really believe the ridiculous things they’re saying. Instead, they seem to be, with varying degrees of insincerity, mouthing a series of essentially meaningless New Age platitudes – in short, simply saying what they think women want to hear.

No one is buying this bullshit, guys. Give it up.

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Since When Did It Become “en vogue” To Be Politically Incorrect?

The titles of the increasing amount of blogs, online communities and forums that call themselves “politically incorrect”, or “heretic”, or “against the mainstream” seem to suggest that they are somehow more bad-ass and controversial than what else can generally be found in the media. A closer look, however, usually reveals that they are just trying really hard to denounce everything left-wing progressive thought has been fighting for for the last forty years.

Political correctness were the buzzwords of the New Left rhetoric during the 1970’s. Politically correct language meant talking about topics in a way that took into consideration the sensibilities of particular groups of people that were often ignored, marginalized, belittled or degraded in the political discourse. Examples of politically correct speech include gender neutral speech, not using the N-word, not referring to people as retarded, and all other means necessary to minimize people taking offense.

Feminism in particular has taken a special interest in political correctness since the theories of Derrida and Lacan revealed the importance and all-encompassing relevance of language as a crucial determinant of all of our lives. Post-structuralist feminists found that language cannot be thought outside of the power structures that generate it, and thus it is inherently a male construct that determines which things we consider male or female, normal or deviant, and which in turn we connote positively or negatively. Gender-neutral speech was a way of lessening the problem, as well as increasing the visibility of minorities that were previously ignored or subsumed under the default person: a white, heterosexual, able-bodied man.

Naturally, political correctness is not without its discontents. To use it appropriately can be complicated and long-winded. In fact, there are no distinct rules for the perfect use of politically correct speech. These are guidelines that are in constant flux and dispute, making it an easy target for anyone who is traditional-minded and reactionary.

Needless to say, the backlash was quick to follow. In the 1990’s the political right used political correctness as an insult for all ideas that they rejected. It was decried as censorship and cultural Marxism, two concepts that they equalized with intolerance when, in fact, political correctness was supposed to achieve the opposite. The Angry Black Woman writes:

It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that people who rail against Politically Correct speech are those who do not want to have to be polite or civil to folks different from them. They see nothing wrong with using the language they grew up with or that they’ve come to use. They do not care if the language they use is hurtful to others because, after all, the most important thing is that they get to do what they want when they want. This is the prevailing attitude of people with privilege.

Political correctness and what it stands for are often misunderstood, not just as being in line with the leading ideology, but as being in line with the ideology that one doesn’t like. That’s why Sarah Palin finds nothing contradictory with getting upset about the “lamestream media” trying to “shut her up”, while at the same time complaining at length about a politician’s use of the word “retarded”.

Europe, too, has its own heroes of political incorrectness: Nicolas Sarkozy thinks women’s rights are not that important (except when it’s about protecting women from the burqa, of course), David Willetts blames feminism for widening the poverty gap, and Marine Le Pen, Thilo Sarrazin and the likes blame Muslim immigrants for, well, pretty much everything. These individuals pose as provocateurs and are being praised for their seemingly controversial statements by their sizeable following, online and off. Finally someone says it how it really is! Finally a slap in the face of the establishment! Or is it? Alfie Kohn writes in the Huffington Post:

To classify something as PC isn’t just to say that one would prefer not to deal with it. It implies that what might be called a liberal sensibility represents the conventional wisdom (of which the challenger is attempting to remind us). I’d argue that exactly the opposite is true: Our political system and the norms of our culture are largely built on an edifice of conservative beliefs regarding power, tradition, religion, and nationalism, many of them invisible to us precisely because they’re so widely and uncritically unaccepted.

Being politically incorrect is nothing but a way to ensure self-confirmation, to feel special and extraordinarily brave, when really all they do is repeat the same polemic bullshit that’s already well-established in mainstream opinion. I wish the “lamestream media” would shut them up already, but sadly their voices are being heard loud and clear. And any attempt at criticism is being denounced as limiting our freedom of speech.

No one is trying to take away your freedom of speech! Political correctness is not censorship. There are hardly any laws that prevent you from saying whatever is on your mind. I just don’t see the positive effect of getting into everyone’s faces just because you can. But when you think you have to call out “p.c. lies” and claim to call things what they really are, be sure to apply this to yourself as well. When you state that Muslims are stupid, you’re not being politically incorrect. You’re being a racist.

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The Issue with Public Opinion: How the Sarrazin Debate Encourages Socially Accepted Racism

The current debate in Germany about Berlin’s former finance minister and social democrat Thilo Sarrazin may not have lead to solutions regarding Germany’s integration problem, but it sure has once again pointed out the great divide between the public opinion and the political and cultural elite. While many politicians, authors and academics have spoken out against Sarrazin’s highly questionable theses, public opinion polls have shown that a large percentage of the population supports his ideas. Regardless of whether these people constitute a majority or not, it appears necessary at this stage to question the will of the people. Does living in a democracy mean people should be able to directly vote on subjects such as building mosques and wearing head scarves because of their gut feeling?

Let’s face it – the whole debate has generally been more about emotions than based on actual facts. The controversy already started before Sarrazin’s book was even released and many of his supporters and critics refer to his general ideas and interviews more than to his actual written theses. And that is what people respond to: not to all the numbers and statistics but to the public statements that confirm what they believe they already know.

When talking about political and media-related phenomena it usually pays off to take a look at what’s happening in the United States where one can often find similar examples taken to the extreme. The analytical comment by Jakob Jochmann does just that by relating the current debate to the satirist Stephen Colbert’s concept of ‘truthiness’, “a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.” Jochmann gives two examples: the current debate about the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, which is neither a mosque nor located at Ground Zero, and the well-established, yet completely absurd belief that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

“Professional demagogues such as Thilo S. take advantage of this new media reality. The often quoted master of ‘truthiness’, also known as ‘inconvenient truth’, is a child of the zeitgeist rather than a prophet, because self-promoter Glenn Beck uses the same virtuosity on the claviature of this attention spiral to fire up the American culture of outrage.” [my translation]

Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin are all perfect examples of demagogues who appeal to the people’s gut feeling, which now equals the truth that needs to be vocalized by someone even if it ‘hurts’. However, these ‘truths’ are not inconvenient or difficult at all. They are simple solutions to complex problems. Instead of trying to find ways which encourage integration and a feeling of belonging among immigrants and to lessen the current fear of the Islamic take-over, which often is little more or less than the common fear of the unknown – instead of doing actual hard work, Sarrazin reduces all of these problems to the inferiority, be it cultural or biological, of a certain group of people.

Luise F. Pusch examines this way of thinking within a feminist framework. She sees parallels to the Eva Herman controversy from a few years ago by pointing out that both debates are about putting a certain group of people, be it women or foreigners, in ‘their proper place': “In the past, an entire sex – mine, the female one – was considered “dumb” and genetically inferior. That is one reason why I am not keen on those theses that deny the intelligence of entire groups of people. […] Because women were dumb, had a smaller brain than men and studying would harm their uteri, they were not allowed to study, to vote – so as not to steal men’s place in the sun.”[my translation]

The parallels to the Sarrazin controversy are obvious and emphasize that his theses are not only not helpful for the immigration discourse, they are simply discriminatory and tainted with his belief in racial and class superiority. What complicates the whole issue is the fact that Sarrazin is a member of the social democratic party and not part of the spectrum of the far right and a potential Tea Party activist. However, he should seriously reconsider his political convictions. Being left does not necessarily mean being anti-racist and many voters of the left-wing parties wish for social benefits and welfare, but only for the ‘genuine German population’ (whatever that might mean) and not for immigrants. However, the left parties generally stand for equal chances for everyone, and that means equal support as well. Sarrazin believes that some people are more valuable than others and therefore more equal than others, and that disqualifies him as a social democrat. It is not surprising, then, that openly nationalistic far-right parties such as the NPD and the Pro Köln movement have announced their support for Sarrazin and welcome the current debate as a means to make racism (in their words: “critique of foreign infiltration”) socially acceptable. If Sarrazin continues to be stylized as the martyr for middle-class worries, they will be right. Far-right movements and xenophobic attitudes are on the rise all over the world, but at least Germany should know better than that.

“In the 19th century and during the 1st World War, poverty, hunger and a lack of working opportunities forced many Jews from the east of the austro-hungarian monarchy to relocate in Vienna. After 1918, the systematically fuelled fear of foreign infiltration made anti-semitism a popular element in almost all political parties.” [my translation]

“Wehret den Anfängen”: “Pro Deutschland” jumps on the islamophobic bandwagon

"Pro Köln" demonstration

If you thought Germany didn’t have enough parties on the far right already (NPD, DVU, REP), say hello to Pro Deutschland! Pro Deutschland was founded in 2005 by members of the islamophobic initiative Pro Köln, which was voted back into Cologne’s city council in 2009 with a 5,4 percentage of votes ( http://www.taz.de/1/berlin/artikel/1/wowereit-ruft-zum-protest/ ). Lately, it has received more attention for trying to get into Berlin’s city parliament in 2011.

Even though Pro Deutschland locates itself on the far right, it refuses being connected to the other parties mentioned above, by distancing itself from all extremism and antisemitism. So why should this organization be considered dangerous?

Looking over the party’s program as presented on their homepage (http://www.pro-deutschland.net ), the critical passages are not easy to detect, as Pro Deutschland is eager to present itself as ultra-democratic and constitutional. Against the neoliberal trend, it strives towards a social market economy in favour of the petty bourgeoisie and strong nationalism instead of globalization. In fact, any issues faced by non-Western nations are not to be considered at all; international organizations such as Greenpeace and Amnesty International are discredited.

Since antisemitism is out of the picture, a new enemy has to be found and who would be more convenient at this time than muslim immigrants? Pro Deutschland claims that the multicultural society has failed and Germany has become an immigrant nation. It calls for a stop on ‘loose’ immigration laws, a stop on the building of minarets, and suggests separate classes for migrant school children. Patrik Brinkmann, the main financier of Pro Deutschland, has been cited to view Muslims instead of  Jews as today’s central issue. He has also had previous connections to NPD and DVU, but failed to connect with them on fundamental issues, among them his lack of antisemitism and his pro-Christian attitude (http://www.netz-gegen-nazis.de/artikel/brinkmann-patrik-3452).

I have to emphasize here that Pro Deutschland is a Christian party. This may not become apparent at first glance. While I would not criticize moderate Christian organizations that do not try to impose their values on others, this initiative is clearly fundamentalist in some of their views. In interviews Brinkmann talks about welcoming Muslims who want to convert from their ‘barbaric’ belief to Christianity. Naturally, these values are being transported into gender-related issues. It’s easy to read between the lines of the program statement that the family should be privileged over all other living communities. Pro Deutschland is openly homophobic and anti-choice. Other than that, their program features nothing on gender equality or women’s issues.

Pro Deutschland clearly distinguishes between good (Christians, ‘Germans’) and evil (foreigners, leftists). I cannot help worrying that in the future this party will have similar success like the FPÖ in Austria and PVV in the Netherlands…