The hatred is completely out of control
Amid rising tensions in Germany due to the ongoing crisis in Gaza, Ahmad Mansour is interviewed by journalist Antonie Rietzschel about the increasingly pronounced anti-Semitism among Germany's young Muslims.
SZ.de: At a recent anti-Israel protest in Berlin, there were instances of Jews being called “cowardly pigs” by Muslims. Anti-Semitic chants have also been heard in other cities. Where does this hatred come from?
Ahmad Mansour: It’s part of the upbringing in some Muslim families – also here in Germany. Over the generations, the children in these families are given the sense that Muslims are being oppressed all over the world. And “the Jews” are to blame. “The Jews” do all they can to fight against Islam. The current conflict in the Middle East allows this hatred and aggression to be expressed openly. And at the same time, it unites Muslim groups which are otherwise very diverse.
The things which have been happening in the Muslim world over the past few years have been very unsettling for believers across the world: Muslims are fighting each other in Syria and Iraq; that doesn’t fit in with a black and white perception of the world. For some people, this renewed conflict in the Middle East has come at just the right time, and it allows them to focus again on a clear-cut enemy figure: “The Jews.” Watch the video of the protest in Berlin and you’ll see supporters of Hamas, Salafists, Sunnis, Shiites. Completely unrelated groups are coming together.
Yet nobody intervenes when the anti-Semitic chants begin.
Which shows just how deeply rooted this anti-Semitism is.
There seems to be a lot of young men and women among the anti-Israel protestors …
They are particularly aggressive and they represent a large group. For them, the protests provide a legitimate way of acting out their aggression. Since childhood, these young people have become familiar with the image of an enemy, from their parents, friends, acquaintances, but also in the mosques and Quran schools. In their living rooms at home, they watch Arabic television channels where propaganda is rife.
What role does social media play in the spread of anti-Semitism among Muslims in Germany?
For many, Facebook is the most important source of information -- especially for younger people. It is often pure incitement which can be found there. In many of the posts and articles, no distinction is made between Israelis and Jews. Instead, you can watch horrific videos along the lines of, “Look that ‘The Jews’ have done this time.” If you take a closer look at the recordings, you see that many of them actually originate from Syria or Iraq. There are hardly any critical voices in the online debates – anyone who has the guts to speak against something gets shouted down, bullied, humiliated.
Can you give us an example?
A Muslim women was involved in an online debate. She wrote that Hamas is also partly to blame for what is happening in Gaza. Because of that, she got called a whore. One person wrote that she deserved to be raped by a Jew. Israelis are also active on Facebook. Some of them are actively looking for arguments. And then they are met with threats that they will be gassed.
Do Islamic groups play any part in the incitement?
They don’t play an active part in it. But I would like to see the issue of Muslim anti-Semitism being addressed and taken seriously by groups like Millî Görüş, the Turkish-Islamic Union, and the Muslim Council. Anti-Semitism has been present in most mosques and Muslim youth groups for years. Anyone who preaches a one-sided version of current events, or uses words like ‘genocide’, or propagates black-and-white images, contributes to this incitement. I used to be a member of the German Islam conference and I repeatedly called for this problem to be taken seriously. On one occasion I got the response that there are also anti-Muslim sentiments among Israelis. That may well be the case, but that’s not the point. The hatred has got completely out of control, and the Islamic groups have no authority over the young people. I think it’s very possible that we could see violent clashes at future protests.
In a mosque in Neukölln, a southern district of Berlin, a preacher called for death to the ‘zionist Jews.’ The video can be seen online. What kind of effect does this have on Muslims who are anti-Semitic?
The preacher didn’t say anything new. But there is a difference between comments like these appearing on Facebook, and them coming from a preacher in a mosque in the middle of Germany. This is a different level. It doesn’t surprise me that nobody has stood up to criticise it. It goes to show how self-evident these statements are. The protestors who were calling Jews “cowardly pigs” didn’t have to face any consequences whatsoever from the police officers who were also present. That of course gives them a sense of security and encourages them to carry on. But we have to make it very clear that they have crossed a line.
The police officers were clearly helpless when faced with the radical nature of the statements – how should society deal with anti-Semitism among Muslims?
People are very uncertain as to how to react – often because they themselves know far too little about conflicts like the one in the Middle East. They waver between shock at what is happening in Gaza and a sense of responsibility for Israel because of German history. The leftist debates alone show how badly this subject is handled politically.
How can we change this, in your opinion?
By addressing it early, in schools. It’s crucial that the young people we are talking about come into contact with people who question and challenge their prejudices.
The Holocaust is covered in great depth in history lessons. Is that not enough?
It is important that pupils are taught about the Third Reich. But we currently use very “German-German” teaching methods which often fail to reach pupils from Muslim families. Their anti-Semitic tendencies are connected with conspiracy theories, with a one-sided view of the conflict in the Middle East. Islamist tendencies also play a role. It is important to consider these factors. Because of this, topics like the Middle East absolutely have to be covered at school. There are teaching resources available which discuss the topic in a sensitive way. At the same time, pupils must be given a space to openly voice their prejudices so that these prejudices can gradually be broken down.
Haven’t the schools been doing that for a long time?
The education system still has a long way to go. I have worked with young people with Palestinian backgrounds who were excluded from a school trip to a concentration camp. The teachers were afraid that it would provoke the youngsters. And then there are teachers who empathise with the pupils’ anti-Semitism because they are also emotionally affected by the suffering in Gaza. That has nothing to do with education.
You grew up as a Palestinian in Israel and have also felt contempt for Jews. How have you managed to let go of this hatred?
As a teenager I wanted all Jews to die, and I also used to compare them to pigs. That’s how I was raised – my friends thought the same way. When I began to study in Tel Aviv, I came into contact with lots of Israelis and Jewish people. I came to see that they bore no resemblance to my prejudices. This face-to-face encounter helped me to see everything in a more nuanced way. And now I want to give young people in Germany, who have a similar background to mine, the chance to move away from their prejudices.
This interview was conducted by Antonie Rietzschel and originally appeared in German in the Süddeutsche Zeitung.