New figures: Jews, Muslims face rising levels of religious hate crime in Germany

2017 marked the first year that the German Interior Ministry officially registers Islamophobic (islamfeindliche) hate crimes. The authorities have now released preliminary figures on anti-Muslim criminal activity for the past year.1

950 Islamophobic criminal incidents in 2017

According to these statistics, Muslim individuals or institutions were targeted in 950 separate instances in 2017. This includes roughly 60 attacks on mosques or other Islamic places – ranging from bomb attacks to acts of arson to the spilling of pigs’ blood.

33 individuals were physically injured in these assaults. In virtually all cases, the perpetrators were categorised by the authorities as coming from the far right of the political spectrum.

The statistic also aims to include online hate speech, for instance on social networks – an attempt that seems a lost cause, given the vitriol routinely spewed on Facebook or Twitter. (The German government has reacted to this by passing a controversial law requiring social network administrators to delete any posting or comment punishable under German law.)

A large number of unreported cases

Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), greeted the introduction of a statistic devoted to anti-Muslim crime. He bemoaned, however, that authorities were still insufficiently sensitive to the topic and that the number of unreported cases was probably extremely high.2

Mazyek asserted that a few years ago, mosques had only faced the occasional Molotov cocktail. “Today, however, there are targeted bomb attacks on Imams”, he said.3

Burhan Kesici from the Islamic Council of Germany (IRD) demanded the creation of a Federal Commissioner against Islamophobia. He also struck a defiant note, asserting that “Muslims should not be intimidated by these attacks. The aim remains the full and equal recognition of Muslim life in Germany, together with unlimited equality of opportunity.”4

Lack of political interest

What was also notable, however, was how relatively little attention was paid in public debates to the release of these figures. Thomas Schimmel coordinates the Long Night of Religions in Berlin – which sees churches, mosques, synagoges, temples, and other houses of worship open late into the night to welcome an interested public – and chairs a Franciscan organisation for interreligious dialogue.

Following the release of the statistical figures on Islamophobic hate crime, Schimmel wrote:

“I miss any comment from bishops, chairpersons of religious councils, union leaders, party functionaries, government representatives and social welfare organisations. One could get the impression that no one cares about this topic. […] For us who are active in interreligious dialogue, this phenomenon is as worrying as the rising anti-Semitism. […] All religious communities urgently need to close ranks against prejudices, sweeping judgements, hatred and violence.”5

1,453 anti-Semitic offences

By contrast, statistics on anti-Semitic and anti-Christian hate crime have received significant political and media attention in the past weeks. In particular, politicians were quick to denounce attacks on Jewish and Christian targets and demand respect for Germany’s (presumed) Judeo-Christian identity and heritage.

In 2017, German police recorded 1,453 anti-Semitic offences. 32 of these were violent attacks; the vast majority fell in the category of ‘incitement of racial hatred’ (Volksverhetzung). These figures are broadly the same as in 2016 but represent a slight uptick from 2015.

The far-right face of anti-Semitism

In the preceding months – particularly in the aftermath of unrest following President Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital – German public and political figures had engaged in a heated debate surrounding the supposedly ‘imported’ nature of contemporary anti-Semitism in the country.

Yet contrary to the expectation of all those wishing to lay blame for anti-Semitism at the feet of Muslim immigrants, German police found that 95% of offences had a right-wing background; in 33 cases the perpetrators were catalogued as “foreigners”; and only 25 offences were committed by “religiously-motivated” (mostly Islamist) anti-Semites. (Given the heightened concern about forms of anti-Semitism that ostentatiously attack only Zionism while shielding behind an anti-imperialist garb, it is perhaps worth noting that only one offence was found to have been driven by left-wing ideological motives.)6

97 attacks on Christian targets

Much public attention was also devoted to the fact that Germany counted 97 attacks motivated by anti-Christian sentiment. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office, they included one act of arson, nine cases of assault, and a murder. (The latter occurred when a man stabbed a woman in a shelter for asylum-seekers after she had converted to Christianity and sought to convert him in turn.)7

At a time when more and more Germans wish to re-emphasise their country’s Christian identity, these events struck a nerve and added to a sense of cultural threat, emanating mostly from Muslim immigration.

Yet irrespective of the precise reliability of the various sets of statistics presented by the German authorities, there is one thing that these figures make clear: as a religious group, it is not Christians who are most under threat in Germany; it is, rather, Jews and Muslims. And the perpetrators are generally not Muslims or Muslim immigrants but rather white Germans with far-right sympathies.

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