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Germany: Islamophobia rise unchecked as Muslim children's graves vandalised

German Muslims decry 'rooted hatred' against their communities as anti-Muslim crimes continue to increase
A man prays at the Mevlana-Moschee in Berlin's Kreuzberg district on 23 November 2018 (AFP)
By Hebh Jamal in Mannheim, Germany

When 25 Muslim children's graves were vandalised by unknown assailants in Hanover on 22 November, Muslim Germans were left appalled that an attack of such nature had gone largely unnoticed in Germany.

The chairman of the Muslim organisation Lower Saxony Schura, Recep Bilgen, condemned the attack at the Stocken city cemetery and demanded an enquiry by the police. 

Later that afternoon, police in Hanover said they would open an investigation, though they cited the likelihood of "animal or natural causes", as well as "personal fault".

"Suspects are currently not listed in the process, likewise there is currently no concrete evidence of an Islamophobic connection," they said.

But Khallad Swaid, president of the German Muslim organisation Deutsche Muslimische Gemeinschaft said the attack was just another form of bigotry against Muslims.

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"We feel deeply sorry for the families of the victims... The violation of graves, whether of children or adults, is one of the many disgusting forms of hatred against Islam and Muslims in our country," Swaid told Middle East Eye. 

'The violation of graves, whether of children or adults, is one of the many disgusting forms of hatred against Islam and Muslims in our country'
- Khallad Swaid, Deutsche Muslimische Gemeinschaft

Yet, Swaid believes the bigotry against Muslims that would leave a child's grave vandalised is a result of Germany's own hostile rhetoric.

"It is a result of a hostile language of, especially, [the] far-right movements that have made their way into the mainstream of our society and [are] given platforms in many of our media outlets to spread their hatred against Islam and Muslims," he said. 

This is not the first time that Muslim graves suffer vandalism in Germany.

Just earlier this year, in the city of Iserlohn, unidentified individuals knocked over 30 Muslim gravestones.

The Muslim communities in Iserlohn, which include community leaders, Islamic Council for the Federal Republic and Islamic Community Milli Gorus, said in a statement at the time that they were deeply disturbed by the attack and called on the police to bring the perpetrators to justice.

"The fact that even the resting place of Muslims is not respected shows how deeply rooted hatred is in some parts of our society. The attackers, who were not caught and held accountable, will continue their attacks," the statement said.

Historical roots

The phenomenon of targeted vandalism in Germany has historical roots, according to Anna Esther-Younes, a scholar on anti-Muslim racism in Europe.

"I am not aware of a decade in post World War II Germany where the vandalising of Muslim, Jewish or Sinti and Roma graveyards in Germany didn't happen," Younes told MEE.

"In terms of the political climate, it is important to understand that the destruction of minority graveyards, along with the vandalisation of memorial sites shows two things: on the one hand, society has become more aware of the danger of white supremacists, and on the other hand, it shows how far right we are by now," Younes said.

Anti-Muslim hatred has been on the rise in Germany in recent years. Last year alone, 662 attacks on Muslims by predominantly right-wing extremists were recorded. Many of these attacks have included vandalising Muslim institutions and mosques, but received little attention in German media. 

The Hanover incident, Swaid said, had "unfortunately not been recognised, apart from a few local media outlets, by politicians or civil society at large. That is another level of the problem."

"As long as racism is not identified and condemned as such, and the perpetrators are neither convicted nor receive the full force of the law, we won't be able to tackle hatred of Islam and Muslims," he added. 

The total number of anti-Muslim crimes in the past year is likely much higher as it remains hard to prove what constitutes anti-Muslim crimes in Germany. Prior to 2017, there were no recorded statistics or markers for anti-Muslim racism. They were recorded under a general category of hate crimes. 

Instead, with the increase of refugees in Germany, the state introduced the concept of anti-white racism into nationwide criminal police statistics as a category of its own. 

'They should leave'

"While anti-Muslim acts of racism can be counted in the thousands, at times up to 3,000 criminal acts per year, with people being killed, houses and asylum houses burned down, the introduction of anti-white racism as a policing category is promoting an understanding of racism without any understanding for power structures, access and hierarchies," Younes said. 

"I have experienced Islamophobia, especially at school,'' in Ammerland, Lower Saxony, said Elias el-Bekkouri, a 20-year-old law student.

"Most teachers don't understand the difference between Muslims and Islamists, and would make assumptions that our families are uneducated people. I believe this had impacted my grades as well."

A former non-Muslim German student from Bad Schönborn, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that they were a witness to the Islamophobia their classmates experienced in a German school 10 years ago.

"It was explicitly forbidden to speak Turkish," they told MEE.

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"One time, a classmate asked the teacher if it was okay to pray during the afternoon break on Friday. She refused and told them that this is a German country with Christian customs.

"She then continued to entertain a discussion in class where she agreed with a student that if my classmate did not like German customs, they should leave."

Anti-Muslim attitudes are widespread in Germany, according to a recent study conducted by the Expert Council on Integration and Migration (SVR). 

Nearly 48 percent of respondents said they believed "Islam is not compatible with German society", while 29 percent suggested restricting the practice of Islam in the country.

"Negative attitudes towards Islam are widespread in all groups examined – people with and without a migration background," the SVR report said. 

Nearly 44 percent of Germans surveyed argued that Muslim organisations should be monitored by the state's security agencies, while only 16 percent opposed such a move.  

"These are dangerous developments because now everybody can be the victim of racism, which is exactly the trope the far-right is peddling," said Younes.

Swaid, meanwhile, urged all segments of German society to acknowledge Islamophobia and become actively involved in fighting it.

"We need more racial literacy - meaning what racism actually means - on the government and policy level," Younes said.

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