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Islamophobia is an urgent problem in Germany, expert says

Islamophobia is a serious problem in Germany, and addressing it requires active participation of larger sections of society, a prominent expert has said.

Mathias Rohe, who co-authored one of the most comprehensive reports on Islamophobia in Germany, spoke to Anadolu about the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

“Our study has revealed that Muslims in Germany encounter Islamophobic discrimination in their everyday life, for example in the education, in the labor market, while looking for accommodation, in the media, and much more,” Rohe said.

“It’s an urgent problem, and we have to recognize that this is a problem for society as a whole. We must not leave the Muslims alone with this. This is a problem for all of us,” he stressed.

According to the study of independent experts, which was published in June, anti-Muslim sentiment is not a marginal phenomenon, but widespread in large parts of the German population. Around every second person in Germany agrees with anti-Muslim statements.

Professor Rohe from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg said while millions of Muslims have been living in Germany for many years and become an integral part of the society, negative stereotypes and misconceptions about Muslims are still widespread.

He said many Germans still believe in the stereotypes such as Muslims cannot bring any positive change or their values are completely different.

“On the contrary, we have so much in common, and every person in this country has the right to live freely in their religion, and to pursue their own values as long as it fits within the framework of our legal system. And the vast majority of Muslims support this, and they don’t deserve such discriminatory attitudes,” Rohe said.

According to the report, every third person from a Muslim country of origin experiences discrimination in Germany, indeed a few times a month. Muslim women who wear headscarf more often report worse treatment in everyday life.

Rohe said the way media reports about current international conflicts and its negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims have a great impact on public perceptions.

“We already have a strong tendency in the German media to report on the Muslim population in a problem-oriented way, even more so on television than in the newspapers,” he said.

“There are very few reports in the media when Muslims become victims of attacks, when their places of worship are attacked. In reality, Muslims are more often the victims of attacks, but the media reports more often incidents where Muslim individuals are perpetrators,” he added.

Rohe also pointed out that since the escalation of Gaza conflict last month, Muslims in Germany face growing animosity and blanket suspicion that they sympathize with Hamas.

“At schools for example we now hear that Muslim students are asked to take a position on these terrible incidents in Israel and Palestine,” he said, adding that those who are asking for this presuppose by default that all Muslims have taken a stance in support of Hamas.

“We are currently experiencing this in a wide variety of areas. The waves are also running high at the moment, and there is a concern that general suspicion toward Muslims is actually becoming even stronger,” he added.

Rohe said German authorities have rightfully become more sensitive about antisemitism in recent weeks, but underlined that they should not neglect the equally important problem of Islamophobia.

“We have to make sure that the issue of Islamophobia remains on the agenda. Yes we also have other important issues like antisemitism, we still have it. But the problems add up, and they don’t cancel each other out,” he said.

A country of more than 84 million, Germany has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France. It is home to more than 5 million Muslims, according to official figures.

There has been a rise in anti-Muslim racism and violence in the country in recent years, fueled by the propaganda of far-right political parties and movements.

In the first half of 2023, police recorded 258 Islamophobic crimes, including attacks on mosques, cases of bodily harm, and threatening letters.

Berlin-based rights-group CLAIM warned that there has been a rise in Islamophobic hate crimes since the Gaza conflict escalated.

The group documented 53 cases of anti-Muslim threats, violence and discrimination in recent weeks, including 10 attacks on mosques.

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