IFI Press Release on the Discussion Concerning Islamophobia

Institut für Islamfragen

Distinction Between Criticism of Islam and Xenophobia is Necessary

BONN (October 26, 2009) – On the occasion of the trial beginning on Monday, October 26, 2009, in the Marwa el-Sharbini murder case, the scholar of Islam Christine Schirrmacher, from the Institute of Islamic studies, speaks out in favor of the necessary distinction to be made between legitimate criticism of the ideology of political Islam and justified criticism of deficits in integration on the one hand, and a general rejection of all Muslims or even xenophobic offenses against Muslim fellow citizens on the other. In the past weeks, and especially before the German Bundestag elections, Islamic associations in Germany had taken the el-Sharbini case as an occasion to deplore the increase of an open as well as a hidden hostility toward Islam in Germany. Under “the cloak of the pseudo-explanation of Islam, hatred toward Muslims continues [to be] sown further”, declared the Central Council of Muslims (Zentralrat der Muslime) on July 5, 2009, on its Internet page. The Co-ordinating Council of Muslims (KRM: Koordinierungsrat der Muslime) deplored the reserved reaction of the Chancellor’s Office and expected an apology from the Federal Chancellor and words of consolation directed toward the Muslims in Germany. Before the federal elections, as well as also before the beginning of the trial today, Islamic associations called on the political parties unequivocally to place measures on the political agenda that work against hostility to Islam and against an Islamophobia.

Critical Questioning of Islam is Caricatured as Pathological and Requiring Therapy

In Schirrmacher’s assessment, however, the inflationary and vague use of the term of Islamophobia and the de-legitimation of any statements critical of Islam as racism and hatred of Islam does not promote the reduction of actually existing concerns and fears about the political claim of Islam, but is rather much more suitable for suppressing necessary, open discussion in society from the very beginning. In this context, it is also alarming, according to Schirrmacher, that, as documented in the so-called Heitmeyer Study conducted by the Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Conflict and Violence in Bielefeld, it is the case that whoever does not wish to have his or her child instructed by a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf already must endure the charge of Islamophobia. In England, the “Committee for British Muslims and Islamophobia”, which is part of the British Runnymede Trust, already in 1997 defined Islamophobia “as an unfounded hostility toward Islam and, therefore, fear or antipathy toward all or most Muslims” and called for the expansion of the legal concept of “racist violence” to include “religious violence”, so that the desired “change in public opinion and popular understanding” might be consolidated appropriately. According to Schirrmacher, the legal criminalization of critical or disapproving convictions concerning Islam, which is aimed at here, would lead to intolerance and the erection of taboo zones. The description of the criticism of Islam as a pathological fear implies, so Schirrmacher, that critical questions – for example, in regard to an Islamic understanding of human rights – already have been refuted objectively and thereby are unfounded. The necessary social discussion thereby is obstructed in an intolerably intolerant manner.

The Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGÖ) justified its increasing use of the term Islamophobia by stating, among other reasons, that the “aspect of fear frequently lying in the unconscious and hardly to be dealt with by means of rational argument” comes to bear more effectively in this term than in the use of the term of hostility toward Islam. In the view of Carla Amina Baghajati, the author of the corresponding article, the addition of the term “phobia” expresses above and beyond this “that a ‘cure’ [is] desirable also for the person concerned”. For this reason, the IGÖ would like to help in coming to terms with Islamophobia by applying its “competencies and its internal perspective of the field of conflict”, and thus pave the way for an objective discussion. Thus, in Baghajati’s perspective, an objective, reasonable, and unbiased representation of Islam in all its facets within the scope of the media and the area of education in Austria appears possible only through the auspices of the IGÖ.

Anti-Semitism Study Withdrawn out of Fear of Islamophobia

In addition, according to Schirrmacher’s assessment, the advocates of a social as well as a legal ostracism of Islamophobia get caught up in an internal contradiction when they desire to hinder supposedly sweeping and simplistic views of Islam by stamping certain statements in a sweeping manner and without examination of the justification for each statement, and thereby ignoring the fact that the concern about a growing influence of Islamistic as well as jihadistic movements is shared by a large number of secular or liberal-minded Muslims. As an instructive example for such a wrongly understood religious and cultural tolerance, Schirrmacher cited the withdrawal of a study by the Berlin Center for Anti-Semitism Research from 2003 that had verified that anti-Jewish acts of violence in Europe no longer are committed only by the “usual” rightist radicals, but rather increasingly also by, in most cases, youthful radical Islamists. The “European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia” withheld the study, which it specially commissioned, with the justification that the study could encourage Islamophobia. Such a timid self-censorship based on the assumption that Muslims always may be perceived only as victims places human rights as well as the freedoms of opinion, the press, and academic inquiry in question, according to Schirrmacher’s assessment.

Criticism of the Sharia Reservation in Islamic Human Rights Declarations is Legitimate

How closely the Islamophobia discussion is connected with an intended Islamization of the understanding of human rights is illustrated, so Schirrmacher, also by the use of the term by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), to which more than fifty-seven predominantly Islamic states belong. The foreign ministers of the OIC states described Islamophobia as the “worst form of terrorism”, responsible for which are, among other things, the Danish Muhammad caricatures and the remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI in his Regensburg speech. By means of such an argument, so Schirrmacher’s assessment, the OIC attempts to establish its Islamic understanding of human rights, which it laid down in 1990 in the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam. According to this declaration, “every human being [has] the right to freedom of movement within the framework of Sharia” (Article 12) and “the right to enjoy the success of his academic, literary, artistic, or technical work […] provided that these works do not contradict the principles of Sharia” (Article 16). Freedom of opinion is, according to Article 22, the right of every human being only to the extent “that he therewith does not violate the principles of Sharia”. Also, information may “not be employed and misused for the purpose of violating the sanctity and dignity of the Prophet”. Accordingly, the president of the “Office of Religious Affairs” (Diyanet) in Turkey, Ali Bardakoglu, in a speech on November 1, 2006, characterized criticism of Islam as a “threat to world peace”.1 Article 25 of the OIC declaration emphasizes finally that Sharia is the “only competent source for the interpretation or explanation of each individual article of this declaration”.

Therefore, in view of the documented and, in fact, alarming human rights situation in many Islamic countries, a stigmatization of all those who are concerned about an increasing Islamization of European society does not help a great deal, in Schirrmacher’s view. While every form of xenophobia must be combated resolutely, Islamistic endeavors as well as the deficiencies in integration in Western societies, to the benefit of all, ought not to be declared to be taboo subjects.

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  1. See URL: www.radiovaticana.org/ted/Articolo.asp [as of October 25, 2009].