A new report about “anti-Muslim hostility” commissioned by the German government has faced a barrage of criticism after it was revealed that Islamist groups linked to Iran and Turkey were involved in producing the document. Unsurprisingly, the long-awaited report paints a highly distorted picture of Muslim discrimination in Germany: It brands virtually all criticism of Islam or Islamism as “anti-Muslim hostility” and reprimands German lawmakers and even reformist Muslims who oppose the spread of Islamism in Germany.
Fatina Keilani, Berlin bureau chief of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, noted that the report “regards almost every critical statement about Islam as anti-Muslim” although “speech and counter-speech, criticism and counter-argument are essential to a free society.” German lawmaker Christoph de Vries told Focus on Western Islamism (FWI) that the report is “one-sided” and “looks more like an activist position paper than a balanced expert report.” He added that the report “gives the impression that criticism of Islam and Islamism should be completely suppressed.”
The 400-page report — “Anti-Muslim Hostility – A German Balance Sheet 2023” (Muslimfeindlichkeit – Eine deutsche Bilanz 2023) — was produced by the so-called Independent Group of Experts on Anti-Muslim Hostility (Unabhängigen Expertenkreis Muslimfeindlichkeit, UEM) under the auspices of Germany’s Interior Ministry. The twelve-member UEM was commissioned in September 2020 by the government of former chancellor Angela Merkel after a rightwing extremist shot and killed nine immigrants at a Shisha bar in Hanau in February 2020.
An investigation by the German newspaper Die Welt revealed that Islamist groups with ties to Iran and Turkey were heavily involved in producing the report. The UEM consulted with representatives of the Islamic Community of Shiite Organizations in Germany (Islamischen Gemeinschaft der schiitischen Gemeinden Deutschland, IGS), an umbrella group representing more than 150 Shiite mosques in Germany.
Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV), states that IGS is controlled by the Islamic Center of Hamburg (Islamischen Zentrums Hamburg, IZH). German intelligence describes the IZH as a leading “propaganda center” of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Europe that is dedicated to “exporting the Islamic Revolution.” The IZH is well known for spreading “anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel extremist ideology.”
Another Islamist group involved in producing the “anti-Muslim hostility” report is the Cologne-based FAIR International (Federation Against Injustice and Racism), which is closely tied to the Islamic Community Milli Görüs (Islamischen Gemeinschaft Milli Görüs, IGMG). Milli Görüs (Turkish for “National Vision”) is a Turkish nationalist political and religious movement that is strongly opposed to Muslim integration into European society. It promotes the introduction of a “just order” that would replace the existing order of Western civilization.
Other Islamist groups involved in producing the report are: the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), a branch of the Turkish government’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, known in Turkish as Diyanet; the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (Koordinationsrat der Muslime, KRM), which, in addition to DITIB, includes the Central Council of Muslims (Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland, ZMD) and the Islamic Council (Islamrat); and the Hamburg-based Insan association, which according to German intelligence, is close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Accusation with No Definition
The report begins with a 20-page chapter that attempts to explain why the UEM uses the term “anti-Muslim hostility” (Muslimfeindlichkeit) rather than the more conventional term “Islamophobia.” It admits that “there is no consensus” on the definition of “anti-Muslim hostility,” which is subject to a “diversity of concepts,” including “Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism.” The report explains that “anti-Muslim hostility” includes any “manifestations” or “public expressions” in which Muslims are “made to be socially different by ascribing negative characteristics to them.”
The report goes on to identify alleged “anti-Muslim hostility” in all aspects of German society, including in politics, the media and culture. In Chapter 4, the report brands as “anti-Muslim hostility” all public debates about Islamic headscarves, honor killings, migrant rape gangs, clan violence, cartoons, the construction of mosques and political Islam. The report calls for the implementation of wide-ranging recommendations, including interference with press freedom, to combat alleged anti-Muslim narratives.
Honest Discussion of Islamism Not Allowed
The head of the Frankfurt Research Center on Global Islam, Susanne Schröter, told FWI that the report “follows the strategies of the Islamo-Left, which for years has tried to denounce as anti-Muslim any criticism of Islamism or the downside of immigration from Muslim countries.” She said that “the factuality of grievances is denied, be it extremist ideologies, clan crime, honor killings or sexual assaults,” and “anyone who names them is considered anti-Muslim.”
Schröter continued that the concept of “anti-Muslim hostility” stems from post-colonial theory, which claims that white people are fundamentally racist. “The report goes in a similar direction and alleges that every second person in Germany is anti-Muslim, i.e., racist with regard to Muslims.” She added: “That alone is an audacious assertion, and one must seriously ask what makes a federal minister [German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser] join in such insults to the German population.” In September 2022, Faeser inexplicably dissolved the so-called Expert Group on Political Islamism (Expertenkreis Politischer Islamismus) — opting instead to fight “Islamophobia.”
Christoph de Vries, a member of the German Bundestag for the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) told FWI that the “reclassification” of “Islamophobia” as “anti-Muslim hostility” seeks to “portray Muslims exclusively as victims.” Critics of Islam or Islamism “are thus very quickly branded racists, a racism that is believed to be located in a large part of mainstream society,” he said. “There is no real evidence for this, but the report uses a hodgepodge of quotations, which are often taken out of context, in an attempt to prove this thesis.”
De Vries, who has led legislative efforts to outlaw taxpayer funding of Islamist groups, noted that the report treats his party’s parliamentary motion to combat the financing of Islamism as an example of “anti-Muslim hostility.” He warned that “this form of confrontation with democratic parties, but also well-known experts on Islamism, is an unacceptable crossing of the line.”
One of the Islamism experts targeted by the report is Sigrid Herrmann, a well-known biologist-turned-blogger who has frequently advised the German government on the activities and structures of Islamist groups in the country. The report accuses her of “anti-Muslim hostility.”
Legal Action Pending
On August 16, Herrmann, who operates the blog “Islamism and Society” and is regularly quoted by German media, announced that she was taking legal action against Germany’s Interior Ministry for publishing “false factual claims” about her and for violating her “fundamental rights” and “freedom of expression.” She is demanding injunctive relief, which would require the Interior Ministry to withdraw the report and correct the errors. The Interior Ministry has rejected responsibility for the content of the report. It insists that the UEM is independent of the government.
Herrmann, who has set up a GoFundMe account to help cover her legal costs, told FWI that the fundamental issue is whether the Interior Ministry, which is bound by the German constitution, can appoint a body that is not subject to the same rules. “Is the UEM allowed to publish its views under the name of the ministry without respecting the rights of named citizens?” She said the issue is about “civil rights.”
Islamists Control Discourse
The prominent German-Jewish author Henryk Broder is also taking legal action against the Interior Ministry. The “anti-Muslim hostility” report claims that he “generally demonizes Muslims as ignorant, honor-obsessed, bloodthirsty hordes.” Broder’s lawyer, Joachim Steinhöfel, has requested an injunction to prevent that allegation from being distributed. “The fact that violations of personal rights should be permitted by merely spreading them is a very idiosyncratic interpretation of our fundamental rights, by the ministry responsible for protecting the constitution, of all things,” he said. A decision by the Administrative Court of Berlin is pending.
Herrmann told FWI that the UEM’s decision to invite Islamist groups to participate in the “anti-Muslim hostility” report was deliberate and “rather strategic.” The report “takes a protective stance vis-à-vis Islamist structures and organizations” because the German government wants to “partially cooperate” with them. De Vries added that the report “is evidence of the extent to which narratives introduced by Islamists now determine the discourse in Germany.”
Schröter warned that the report’s long list of recommendations “reads like a manual for instituting censorship.” Since criticizing Islam and Islamism “is considered racist and anti-democratic, politicians are called upon to prevent this,” she said. “It doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate that state repression measures, including legal prosecution, can result from this.”
Soeren Kern is a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow.