Following the attack in Germany, I thought I’d share some thoughts. I’m angry but especially troubled how the attack is being discussed, or rather, how the historical and political portrayal of Kurds/Turks [the non-German] is continuously erased.
And more importantly, thinking of Malcolm X’s legacy, I’m going to say something which we must bear in mind today, more than ever: just because you’re anti-Far Right (in research or practice) does not mean you’re anti-racist or anti-Islamophobic.
To establish my position to speak on this subject: I grew up in Berlin and I’m familiar with Muslim community activism there (though this is dated now); my PhD compared Muslim identity development according to the political contexts of Germany, Canada and Denmark; and my current research looks at how racism perpetuates through counter-terror logic and political rhetoric.
I’m specifically interested in how ‘psychology talk’ is a 21st century vehicle in dismissing racist structures. This is very relevant to how Tobias R, the Hanau killer, is being discussed, focusing on his online activity, social networks, mental health, etc.
In 2003, I remember vividly being attacked in Berlin. The guy was screaming “du bist dreck, raus aus Deutschland” [you’re dirt, get out of Germany]. I know of many such ideologically-motivated, violent incidents among friends and within the Muslim community—“racism” was never acknowledged, let alone “Far Right terrorism”.
That’s not even the worst of it: others were sharing with me similar experiences. At that time though, we didn’t really have (or knew of) what to do with those experiences. They simply dissipated into the xenophobic winds of German social life.
I also remember protesting the terrible murder of Marwa el-Sherbini in 2009. She was stabbed by Alex Wiens, who had called her an ‘Islamist, terrorist and slut’. Political sensationalism was never interrogated, let alone even the mention of any systemic problem in the country.
It is not uncommon for high-ranking politicians like Horst Seehofer, the interior minister of CDU, to say things like "Islam does not belong to Germany.” This has been going on for a long time.
Of course, as Ozan explained very well, racism is hardly taken as a serious political issue in Germany. I would argue this is partly due to who counts as an ‘expert’ on racist incidents today.
Germany has had problems with racialised minorities for a long time. This rise of the ‘Far-Right’ (if we’re to even agree with that category, as xenophobia was never partisan) is absolutely not sudden, nor is it unforeseen. Germany’s history of ethno-citizenship is an example.
Beginning in the 1960s, the German Muslim population increased drastically due to the influx of Turkish guest workers, who were solicited to immigrate due to shortage in labor. When these Turkish ‘guest workers’ arrived, they were welcomed with acclaim, with the president of the Federal Labor Agency embracing the millionth guest worker to arrive .
German politicians expected these guest workers to eventually return to Turkey however so they never provided them, their families or descendants citizenship, declaring they are ‘not a land of immigration’. See this revealing book for more: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-politics-of-citizenship-in-germany-9781859737811/
Here’s another uppercut: remember Marwa el-Sherbini, the Muslim woman stabbed in court? She was stabbed by Alex Wiens, a Russian who immigrated to Germany and immediately received German citizenship because of his ethnic (German) origins.
To ensure they don’t ever feel like they belong, citizenship was denied for a long time—including many generations later. People like to blame the Turks for “not integrating” but there were many legitimate political reasons to this, if it were ever true
The denial of all this history also erases decades of anti-fascist work. Now the fight against ethnonationalists has been co-opted by State counterterrorism/extremism ‘experts’, many of whom developed their careers by securitising Muslims
Part 2: The Far Right “Experts” and Malcolm’s Legacy
Why is this a problem? The official State narrative conveniently views these “Far Right” individuals as a result of (fringe) group dynamics. To them, racism isn’t systemic—no need to look at policy or, you know, Horst Seehofer
As Liz Fekete outlined very well in her book, the Far-Right is well within the centre of governments: ‘the Far-Right has move from the periphery to the centre of society, consolidating their authority at a local level, and establishing power bases in municipal and regional governments across Europe’
This is key: politicians succeed through racism and xenophobia. This fascist threat is not at all equivalent to “domestic Muslim extremism”, where someone may be given a 15-year prison sentence for unintentionally supporting a terrorist group.
Let’s go deeper then: it’s really not difficult to understand how counter-extremism, which the State launches to both produce and resolve the moral panic of ‘bad Muslims in our midst’, in fact bolster nationalist counter-jihadis who see Muslims as an existential threat.
Indeed, the Far-Right’s counter-jihadi and Islamophobic outlook sprouts from the same political tree as counter-extremist policies. Unsurprisingly counter-extremists may operate upon the same Islamophobic logic of the Far-Right.
So we need to begin to separate between experts who recognise the centrality of political and industrial conditions which give life to all xenophobia, and “experts” who not only erase them from the discussion, but perpetuate Islamophobic tropes.
Here I’m talking about ‘Far Right experts’ who seek, for example, to “improve” existing security policies targeting Muslims--without either addressing the criticism or indeed even working with Muslims—collaborating with State institutions and “jockeying for power” (quoting Malcom X).
Malcolm X was, as always, clairvoyant in his analysis of white liberals. Drawing an analogy then, yes the wolves (the Far Right) are a problem, but there’s cause of concern for foxes (White liberal experts) who claim they’re helping Muslims through their work but exacerbate the very structures which marginalise us
Wolves and Foxes—we run from the wolves who show their teeth in a snarl, straight “into the open jaws of the smiling fox” who pander to our deepest anxieties and remind Muslims, “oh I know, not all of you are bad guys—we need to catch all extremists.”
Their collusion with the State (like Prevent) for all its politically instigated public strategies—the War on Terror has been a highly effective political ‘moral panic button’ for too long now—or even just decades of eroding Muslim civil society, reveals foolishness, ignorance and, and a vying for proximity to power.
This isn’t a blanket condemnation of everyone who studies the Far Right—Liz Fekete is a great counterexample. We need to do better to track and encourage great allies we have against fascism, and the foxes who smile through their teeth while perpetuating the very structures which subjugate us all.
In memory of Malcom X’s: just because someone’s anti-Far Right doesn’t mean they can’t be Islamophobic. There are allies and there are wolves, but never forget the foxes in between.