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Henryk M. Broder
Henryk M. Broder

"You cannot separate Islam from Islamism. One has to ask the question: If Islam is the norm, if it is peaceful, non-radical and open to co-operation, where does Islamism come from? What is its basis if not Islam?"

(Henryk M. Border in Planet Interview, November 2007)

Henryk M. Broder is a writer and journalist born in Katowice, Poland, in 1946. In 1958 his family emigrated to Germany. He writes regularly for Der Spiegel and Spiegel Online, the most widely read German-language  news website.

Broder has published several books about German-Jewish relations. Recently his major concern has been Islamic terrorism and what he considers European appeasement of its radical agenda. One of Broder's favourite targets is what he considers displaced 'political correctness'. At the beginning of his recent book "Hurra, wir kapitulieren!" ("Hurray, we capitulate", 2006) he quotes Winston Churchill: "An appeaser is somebody who feeds a crocodile, hoping that it will eat him last."

In his book he defends Necla Kelek against her critics, praises Peter Schneider and attacks the anthropologist Werner Schiffauer. Given Broder's status as a respected and widely read commentator, his arguments are a good illustration of the turn that the German debate on Islam took in 2005.

Islamic terrorism

One factor that has shaped the German debate on Islam and Muslims is the fear of Islamic terrorism.

In November 2003 bombs went off in Istanbul, destroying two synagogues and a British bank , leaving 57 people dead and 700 wounded. In March 2004 bombs aboard four commuter trains in Madrid killed more than 190 people. In November 2004 Dutch film director Theo van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch-born Islamist. In July 2005 multiple suicide bombings in London left 53 people dead.

There were no terrorist attacks in Germany itself in recent years, but there have been enough reasons for concern. Several of the plotters behind the 9/11 attacks on New York's World Trade Centre  came from Hamburg, where they had been living as students. In September 2007 three men were arrested in Southern Germany on suspicion of planning attacks on Frankfurt International Airport, a U.S. military base, pubs and schools. An attempt by foreign students of Lebanese origin to detonate suitcase bombs aboard German trains narrowly failed.

Against this background, not surprisingly, the debate on Islam came to focus increasingly on the issue of terrorism. Broder argues that, rather than fighting Islamic terrorism and the ideology behind it ,Europeans, led by their intellectuals, sought to appease these threats. As the cover of his book points out,, this approach "accelerates the danger of a transformation of Europe into an Islamic continent."


Hamas fighters. Photo: Ali Rafiei

Broder also regards the failure to defend full freedom of speech in the case of the Danish Mohammed caricatures as alarming: "Islamic fundamentalists are considering the West, with full justification, as weak, decadent and not ready to defend itself." (p. 24) He goes on:

"Is a system more vulnerable to totalitarian temptations, the more liberal it is and the less experience it has with political ideas that use democratic means to annul democracy? This would explain why the Brits are so endlessly tolerant. But Germany, which went through the steel storms of two dictatorships […], should know well where tolerance in response to intolerance leads: straight into a catastrophe."

(Henryk M. Broder, Spiegel Online, 17 December 2007)

The phantom of "Islamophobia"

Broder's central claim is that it makes little sense to distinguish between "good" Islam and "bad" Islamists. European politicians and intellectuals have too much empathy for Muslims, he says, and show too much concern for their sensibilities.

Broder dismisses concerns about "Islamophobia" in Germany. He sees instead a direct link between Islamic terrorists in the Middle East, Palestinians fighting Israel, and violent youth in the streets of Berlin:

"There is a direct line leading from Al Qaida in Iraq and the Intifada in Palestine to the young people of "migration background" in Neukolln and Moabit [districts of Berlin] … Osama Bin Laden says to the whole world to F*** off – and they do just that in the schoolyard and in the Berlin underground. Meanwhile the Central Council of German Jews, together with the Turkish Islamic Union, organises a symposium on 'Antisemitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia', thereby suggesting that there is something real about the phantom concept of 'Islamophobia'."

Germans are much too concerned about the perspective of "people with migration background", particularly Muslims:

"Whoever has a "migration background" only needs a lawyer very rarely, for example when slaughtering a film director in the street. In case of smaller infractions of law and order it is generally enough to point out – in the media and to the general public – that  the offender is of "migration background". This immediately triggers empathy with the criminal, criticism of the behaviour of the victim ("a provocateur, not showing respect for anything") and the usual question: What have we done to them, that they hate us so much?" (p. 92)

Broder points out that there are "around 2,000 mosques in Germany, while in Saudi Arabia even owning a bible carries an enormous risk" (p. 30). He suggests that one prominent German critic of "Islamophobia", Nobel Prize-winning author Gunther Grass, should apply the principle of reciprocity instead:

"We will transform a church in Lubeck into a mosque, if at the same time a mosque in Riyadh is transformed into a church" (p. 45)

Not surprisingly, Broder is also critical of academics who call for more "understanding" of the problems of (mostly Muslim) migrants. He sides with Necla Kelek in arguing that it is "Islamic culture", which makes it so difficult for Muslims to integrate into Western societies. What counts "for Muslims from Turkey and Arab countries (with different nuances) is above all honour, respect and submission."

(Henryk M. Broder in "Hurra, wir kapitulieren!" p. 113)

Broder notes that in the spring of 2006 the German debate on Islam intensified:

"Three great media events came together: the arguments about the caricatures of Mohammed, the debate about honour killings and other cases of crimes in "migrant families", and the discovery that many German schools were beginning to look like pools full of piranhas." (p. 107)

In 2005, writes Broder, there were no less than 849 cases of violence in Berlin schools. His chapter on violence in German schools ("Foreigners prefer schools without foreigners") also ends with a discussion of terrorism and the murder of Theo van Gogh.

The overall message of his writing is clear: that the Western world faces a serious threat from Islam, be it in the form of terrorism or violence in schools. This requires a robust response, which is not forthcoming. What exactly this response should be in Germany, however, is left unclear.

Suggested readings

Broder on multiculturalism, tolerance and integration in Germany (in German)

An interview about religion, multiculturalism, the causes of terrorism and Islam.

Book in English

Books in German (since 2000)

Other links:

November 2010

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1 November 2010, 00:00