TCS Daily

Fear of the Other

By Joseph Tom Goeller - December 6, 2004 12:00 AM

BERLIN - Xenophobia in Germany is increasing "dramatically" according to a new study released in Berlin. Some 60 percent of Germans see their country as being überfremdet - an increase of 5 percent over the number two years ago who believe that the six million foreigners out of 80 million inhabitants are infiltrating Germany. The main target of German xenophobia is the community of three million Muslims, mostly Turks. Some 70 percent of Germans believe Muslims are not suited to Western societies, the German one in particular. Two years ago the number was 55 percent.

German Jews are confronted with rising anti-Semitism. Amazingly, according to the study, two-thirds of Germans consider the conduct of Israel towards the Palestinians the same as the conduct of the Nazis towards the Jews. Paul Spiegel, chairman of the Central Council of German Jews, is not surprised. For quite a while he has noticed that within German society "there is no distinction anymore between Jews, foreigners and Muslims".

The director of the "German Conditions 2004" study, sociologist Wilmelm Heitmeyer of Bielefeld University, connects the rising tendency of xenophobia to social disparities within German society. Heitmeyer emphasizes that the major increase of xenophobia can be traced to persons who consider themselves as politically moderate. He links this trend with a growing feeling of economic uncertainty of Germans. The country, governed since 1998 by Gerhard Schröder and his Social-Democrats in a coalition with Greens, has been suffering for three years from no economic growth. The study shows that 40 percent of Germans expect a worsening of their economic situation.

In addition, the disparity between East and West Germany is growing, according to Heitmeyer. While in the West a quarter of the population has become richer by 27.5 percent since 1993, the poor in the East have become poorer by 21 percent. "This social split works as an intensification of misanthropic devaluation," he concludes. .

The only prominent politician to react publicly to the results of the study was Wolfgang Thierse, chairman of the German parliament. In the face of this "partially shocking change of mentality" the Germans now have to prove that they can hold to basic values in difficult times, Thierse said. However, Thierse, who is a member of Schröder's Social-Democrats, admitted that the social gap between rich and poor and the economic disparities between East and West Germany in particular "cannot be diminished within the next years".

Since reunification in 1990, Germany has suffered a wave of xenophobic violence, leaving more than 100 foreigners dead. With Turkey at the threshold of the European Union and in the wake of the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by radical Muslims on November 2, German mass media are fueling Islamophobia with a rash of polemical cover stories.

The weekly Focus, for example, headlined a story "The Sinister Guests" in which it shoed rows of kneeling, worshipping Muslim men and a mosque on its cover. "The Death of a Berlin woman with a veil" was the entire front page story of Berlin's biggest daily Berliner Zeitung on November 27. And the leading German weekly Der Spiegel published a cover featuring a dark and sad looking woman dressed in a veil, with the title: "Allah's right-less daughters. Muslim women in Germany".

The rampant Islamophobia in Germany perhaps explains why Schröder persistently and vehemently has refused to deploy German troops to Iraq. His fellow countrymen obviously don't like Muslims and. Schröder is well known for monitoring the pulse of the nation.


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