The Next Holocaust; Islamophobia Is Not a Uniquely British Disease: Across Europe, Liberals Openly Express Prejudice against Muslims. Do New Pogroms Beckon? Ziauddin Sardar Reports from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France
Sardar, Ziauddin, New Statesman (1996)
It's a bitterly cold night and the centre of Dortmund is deserted. On weekdays, says our taxi driver, everything closes by ten o'clock. It is not easy to find a place to eat. Eventually, he drops us at the Cava restaurant in Lindemannstrasse. Just one couple punctuate the ultra-chic of this postmodern bistro. We sit near them and order our food. Dortmund, Germany is the first port of call on my journey through the industrial heartland of northern Europe. After the terrorist attacks in London and the riots in the French suburbs, I want to assess the racial divide, the fear and the loathing that permeate so much of our European continent.
Christoph Simmons is an insurance broker in his forties; his girlfriend, Baneta Lisiecka, is a Polish immigrant. They invite us to join them for a night out in their "green metropolis". We drive in Christoph's sports car to Limette, "the only pub in Dortmund open till 6am". Dortmund is a multicultural city integrated into the global economy, explains Christoph; this former mining town is now a thriving base for high-tech research. "Our immigrant communities are well integrated," he says. Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, Poles live in proverbial perfect harmony with Germans. There is only one problem: the Turks--"they don't integrate". Baneta thinks they are "mostly criminals" and she is afraid of them. Christoph also says: "They are conservative; their women cover their heads. The Koran tells them to murder Christians." Has he ever met a Turk, I ask. "No," he says. "They stick together and never come into our pubs." I talk to other people in Limette. Jasmine, a Catholic from Corsica, sums up the overall feeling. "I don't like Turks. I don't know why. I just don't like them."
And yet I discover that these open manifestations of racism do not seem to be reciprocated by German Turks. At the Orhan Narghile Grill Cafe, in the Turkish part of Dortmund, I meet Suniye Ozdemir, a single mother born in Germany. "I don't know," she says with genuine amazement, "why the Germans hate us so much. I don't know why they are scared of the Turkish people. Maybe they're jealous. Maybe they're afraid we will steal their jobs." She introduces me to a group of girls from the Helmholtz Grammar School. Aged between 16 and 18, these girls are confident and articulate, and they speak good English. They want to become professionals and to succeed. Gulsum, who wears a hijab, says they experience racism every day--at school from their teachers, on the bus, on the streets. Her friend, who does not wear a hijab, says: "We were born in Germany and we are Germans. We stick together for protection, to avoid hostility."
Throughout my journey, from Germany to the Netherlands, onwards to Belgium and finally into France--the object of much recent attention--I meet people all too ready to describe Muslims in the colours of darkness. Islamophobia is not a British disease: it is a common, if diverse, European phenomenon. It is the singular rock against which the tide of European liberalism crashes.
There are common themes but also subtle differences in the way each nation's history influences its people's present attitude to immigrant communities. Much of this is rooted in the various colonial histories. Germany came late to nationalism and colonialism, and caught a bad case of both. In the 1880s it scrambled briefly and brutally for colonies to prove its importance as a nation. The roots of its ethnic problems lie deeper, however, in its history and cultural psyche. Many of the erstwhile principalities and tiny statelets that formed Germany were part of Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire, a unity forged under siege and in reaction to the perceived threat of Muslim civilisation. The Germans embraced the Crusades with great vigour: the first, infamously, commenced at home with pogroms against the Jews. …