An independent expert working group on anti-Muslim sentiment sponsored by Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community recently issued a nearly 400-page report called “Anti-Muslim Sentiment: Germany Takes Stock” in September 2023 to analyze the current state of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment within Germany for millions of its diverse Muslim populations across the central European country today.
According to most estimates, Germany currently hosts the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe today. The September 2023 German Interior Ministry report stated that there are approximately 5.5+ million Muslims currently living in Germany; however, only half of them are legal citizens. Needless to say, this creates a large swath of the Muslim population who are denied access to basic social, educational, and governmental services around the country.
On the the legislative side of the German Islamophobia debate, the last few governments (both right and left) have deemed it wise to pass their own legislative bans on Muslim (and Jewish) religious practices; including banning ritual Jewish/Muslim circumcision, bans on Islamic headscarves in several German provinces, restrictions on mosque minarets, and bans on ritually-slaughtered meat to conform to either Muslim halal (and Jewish kosher) religious standards. This latest September 2023 study from the Germany interior ministry was meant to analyze why millions of German Muslim citizens still do not enjoy the same religious freedom privileges as white Christians in their same country and feel like second-class citizens today.
To offer some recent historical context, this growth of Islamophobia across Germany has led to at least one deadly act of weaponized mass violence against Muslims which still reverberates within German Muslim communities to this very day. In February 2020, the German city of Hanau witnessed an Islamophobic act of terrorism when nearly nine Musims were murdered (and five others injured) by a white supremacist terrorist at several locations—including two hookah lounges— frequented by local Kurdish & Turkish Muslims. After the hookah lounge massacre in Hanau, German police officials found a 24-page right-wing racist manifesto posted online where the anti-Muslim gunman ranted against Muslim minorities in Germany and said that people from certain African, Asian, and Middle Eastern origins should be “completely annihilated” from Germany. “If there was a button available that would make this become a reality, I would press it in a flash,” the white supremacist terrorist ominously wrote (while at the same time also bizarrely claiming to have invented the Trump-ian slogan “America First” inside the same rambling manifesto).
“Racism is a poison. Hate is a poison,” the then-German chancellor Angela Merkel responded in a video statement after the anti-Muslim hookah lounge massacre in Hanau. “This poison exists in our society and it is to blame for far too many crimes.” Merkel noted the mounting evidence that the perpetrator was motivated by his right-wing anti-Muslim worldview.
Nancy Fauser- the current German Federal Minister of the Interior- began the September 2023 German Islamophobia report by clearly stating that, “Muslims have been part of our society for many decades. Nevertheless, they are often attacked, marginalized, and excluded because of their faith. We need to seriously address the recommendations of this report and act decisively against anti-Muslim sentiment” across Germany.
To be sure, there have been numerous politicians from all sides of the German political aisle who have used anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamophobic dog whistles for their own electoral advantage in the recent past. Even former German Chancellor Angela Merkel once publicly told attendees at a Christian Democratic Union conference that, “The full [Muslim] facial veil is inappropriate and should be banned wherever it is legally possible” endorsing a legislative ban on burqas and niqabs for Muslim women who freely choose to wear them.
According to an Amnesty International report, anti-Muslim hate crimes in Germany drastically increased in recent years because of the rise of Islamophobia. The report found that between 2013 and 2015, there was a nearly 87% increase in violent racist crimes primarily targeting German Muslims. The researchers also noted a 1600% increase in bias-motivated crimes which specifically targeted shelters for refugees and asylum-seekers (who happen to be predominantly Muslim as well).
The European Network Against Racism (ENAR)—an EU-wide network of NGOs in all European Union Member States and Iceland- once published a major 2016 report called “Forgotten Women: The Impact of Islamophobia on Muslim Women” which found that in Germany, only three percent (3%) of German companies had invited Muslim women for job interviews if they were wearing headscarves in their application photographs and which also found that nearly sixty percent (60%) of female German Muslims claimed that they had been publicly insulted, verbally abused, or physically assaulted by random strangers during their lifetimes in Germany.
In terms of overall Islamophobia across German society today, the September 2023 interior ministry report found that almost “every second person in Germany has an anti-Islamic attitude” (p. 39) and this high figure has remained almost unchanged over time. The report also noted that at least forty-five percent (45%) of the German population reject a Muslim mayor for their own town or municipality—purely on the grounds of Islamic religious affiliation. Finally, the German government found that “every third person demands the restriction of Islamic religious practice, thus voting against the fundamental right to freedom of religion” for millions of German Muslims.
When it comes to Islamophobia within German political discourse, there have been several key debates that the interior ministry noted as being central to promoting anti-Muslim discourse within Germany society today. Like other EU countries like France, there have been a litany on hijab/burqa/niqab bans of female Muslim attire across many provinces throughout Germany (especially southern provinces like Bavaria which are more conservative in their right-wing ideologies).
Both observant Jewish and Muslim communities across Germany have banded together to rally against legislative attacks on similarly shared religious practices; including ritual halal and kosher slaughter for Muslims and Jews, as well as their shared common religious practice of male circumcision which remains legal today in Germany primarily because of their combined Jewish/Muslim joint advocacy efforts over the years.
In terms of quantitative analysis of German media and Islamophobia, the researchers pointed to a long-term study of major German national publications over a 50 year period (from 1940s-1990s) which covered more than 12,000 published articles from the highest-circulation weekly magazines DER SPIEGEL and Stern as well as the leading daily newspapers Süddeutsche Zeitung and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. During that time period, they found that “about 60 percent” of all articles dealt with Islam in a “negative” context. This negative coverage includes regular metanarratives linking Islam/Muslims directly to violent conflicts (such as terrorism) as well as non-violent conflicts (such as religious fundamentalism) disproportionately to other minority groups in Germany.
Finally, the current political landscape of Germany was analyzed in regards to anti-Muslim sentiment across the country. The researchers highlighted the political rise of the ultra-nationalist right-wing political party called Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) who have parlayed Islamophobia and anti-immigrant nativist sentiment for their political gain. In recent years, prominent AfD right-wing politicians have made public statements proclaiming that Islam “does not belong to Germany” and that Orthodox Islam was not compatible with the secular German political state. Other right-wing AfD politicians have made public statements including: Islam was in “conflict with the free democratic basic order”, the spread of Islam was a “threat to internal peace” & “our cultural identity”, and that the growing number of Muslims across Germany was a “great danger” and that Islam was “incompatible with our European values”.
To counteract the rise of far-right political parties like AfD and their racist nativist rhetoric, tens of thousands of Germans protested AfD in January 2024 after a racist “master plan” for the mass deportation of Muslims and asylum seekers after a secret political meeting of AfD members, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists was made public in November 2023. “The AfD’s party programs create the image of a fully developed anti-Muslim ideology that permeates all federal levels and sweepingly dissociate, disparage, and demonize Islam,” the German ministry report further stated and concluded that “AfD’s Islam program in its entirety violates the secular principle of equality” under German law and that anti-Muslim narratives run rampant “like a red thread through all AfD programs” across the nation.
The democratic government of Germany is founded on the basic principles of liberal democracy, which demands the neutrality of the state and freedom from discrimination within the state sphere. However, in their latest September 2023 report on Islamophobia, the German Interior Ministry concedes that there is still much work to be done to combat Islamophobia and creating a welcoming society for millions of diverse Muslim communities who call Germany their home today.