Friday, October 13, 2006

Islamic anti-Semitism rises in modern Germany 

German Turk takes on 'anti-Semitic Islamic propaganda'

By Ofri Ilani
Thu., October 12, 2006 Tishrei 20, 5767

BERLIN - When Aycan Demirel looks out his office window onto the main street of the Kreuzberg neighborhood, center of the Turkish community in Germany's capital, he is unimpressed by the diverse human mosaic for which "Little Istanbul" is famous. Businesses along Oranienstrasse are populated by young Germans eating shwarma to the sounds of Turkish music, but Demirel pointedly recalled the darker side of the neighborhood experience. "The residents here love to treat this neighborhood as a model of multiculturalism and tolerance, but that image is fraudulent," he said.

"The Jews have no place in this multiculturalism," Demirel said. "If you wear a kippa or a Magen David, there's a big chance you'll be cursed at and even assaulted. Anti-Semitism is rearing its head in Germany, only now the anti-Semites are young Muslims."

Demirel, 38, is not Jewish; he emigrated from Turkey 16 years ago. In today's Germany, his decision to confront radical Islam places him on the frontlines of one of the stormiest social debates the country has known.

Last month, a storm erupted over statements about Islam made by the pope, himself a German. Conservative politicians hastened to his defense in what was presented as a struggle over freedom of expression. Shortly afterward came the controversial cancelation of a Mozart opera because of a scene in which the severed head of the Prophet Mohammed is displayed. This self-censorship due to "fear of Islam" aroused protests across nearly the entire political spectrum.

According to Demirel, the recent expressions of anger by radical Muslims in Germany are just the tip of the iceberg of what he terms the "culture of hate" in Muslim communities. Daily exposure to a "barrage of anti-Semitic Islamist propaganda" led him two years ago to found KIGA (Kreuzberger Initiative gegen Antisemitismus), whose local activists - of German, Turkish and Arab origin - work with schools and youth centers to fight anti-Semitism, primarily in Muslim communities.

Some say criticism of immigrant communities is too harsh, and connected to essential hostility toward the Muslim faith. "I actually think this phenomenon should be examined within a more defined context, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and not seen as ingrained anti-Semitism," said Tzafrir Cohen, an Israeli journalist and founder of the Berlin Jewish Film Festival, who has lived in Kreuzberg for 20 years. "To say that there is a racist atmosphere in Kreuzberg is an outright lie. It's true you see graffiti here along the lines of 'Fight Zionist Fascism' and similar slogans, mostly among Palestinians who live here. But I never heard of a Jew being attacked for being a Jew, and if such incidents occur, they come from the radical right."

Oguz Ucuncu, Secretary General of Milli Gorus - a major Islamic organization that runs 300 mosques in Germany - denied allegations of anti-Semitism in Muslim communities. "We do not have hostility toward the West, nor hostility toward Jews," he said. "But there is of course frustration with the international community's double standard when it comes to Muslim countries.."

Demirel rejected the claim that fear of anti-Semitism prevents any criticism of Israel. "There is room for criticism of certain matters in Israel," he said, "for instance, the attitude toward Arab Israelis and certain actions by the Israeli army. But what interests us is how the criticism is worded, and whether hatred of Jews isn't hiding behind 'Israel.'"

Dr. Juliane Wetzel, chair of the Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Technical University of Berlin, agreed that anti-Semitism among young Muslims in Germany has been rising in the past five years. "Since the Muslim community in Germany is largely of Turkish origin, there is a lot less hatred toward Israelis and Jews than in comparable communities in Europe," she said. "But in recent years, the youth here have apparently been influenced by Islamic Internet sites and satellite channels, and absorbed certain anti-Semitic stereotypes that they did not have in the past."
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