Terms such as “criticism of Islam” or the “Christian-Jewish Occident” were invented to distinguish themselves from Muslims, says historian Wolfgang Benz. “Critics of Islam generally have something against Muslims.
According to historian Wolfgang Benz, there is a lot of linguistic dishonesty in the German discourse about minorities. In an interview with the news agency DPA, the 79-year-old cites terms such as “criticism of Islam” and the “Christian-Jewish Occident” as examples.
“The so-called Christian-Jewish Occident is a completely erroneous term,” stresses the former director of the Berlin Center for Anti-Semitism Research. It was invented to distinguish itself from Muslims.
From a historical perspective, he said, it was “a mockery and an impertinence to act today as if there was something in common. After all, for 2000 years the Christian Occident had tried to make things as unpleasant as possible for the Jews – through crusades, pogroms, and the denial of certain rights. “Such concepts creep in at lightning speed, one politician parrots them after another,” Benz criticizes.
Deliberate blurriness has also crept into “anti-Semitism”. With reference to the former Minister of Labor Norbert Blüm (CDU), he said: “It is anti-Semitic when a high-ranking politician, now deceased, claims that the Israelis are waging an unrestrained war of extermination against the Palestinians. But when someone says with regard to Israel “that not all citizens in this territory are equal in every respect” or “that the Israeli government’s occupation policy and the planned annexation of further territories will not immediately lead to peace in the region, this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism”.
“Critics of Islam generally have something against Muslims.
The so-called criticism of Islam, behind which mostly only hostile attitudes against Muslims were hidden, was no better. Benz says: “Those who present themselves to us as ‘critics of Islam’ usually have something against Muslims – even if they claim that this is not the case at all, only Islam is so diabolical and terrible and must be fought.
Ten years ago, Benz caused a stir with his book “Die Feinde aus dem Morgenland. How the fear of the Muslims endangers our democracy” caused a sensation. For his thesis that self-proclaimed “critics of Islam” today use the same methods to discriminate against Muslims on the basis of their religion that were used in the 18th and 19th centuries to exclude and insult Jews, he is receiving much criticism, but also a lot of encouragement.
“I am interested in why a part of this majority excludes minorities”
“For me this is a central insight,” he says today. After all, comparison is “one of the most important tools” for the scientist. He has been accused that “the Benz compares Jews and Muslims, that’s not possible”. Yet he did not do this at all, “because I am neither a Judaist nor an Orientalist or Islamic scholar.
He was more interested in the question of how prejudices arise than in the majority society. “I am interested in why a part of this majority excludes, for example, Sinti and Roma or Muslims or Jews or other minorities. Moreover, he is convinced that it is not the minority that makes you dislike it – “but the image you have in your head of this minority – according to the motto: “All the Irish have red hair, I know one of those.”
Of course it could also happen in Germany that in certain districts conservative Muslims try to dictate to others how they should live – as French President Emmanuel Macron has now denounced in France. “But we have the law and the law for such cases, we have a Ministry of the Interior and the police,” says Benz.
“These milieus see the AfD as their political lobby”
It is now often written that he is a “quarrelsome scientist”. He does not recognize himself in this designation. “I am very peaceful, almost afraid of conflict,” says the professor emeritus. “But I am also not a sneaky person.”
This Monday his new book “Vom Vorurteil zur Gewalt. Political and Social Enemies in History and Present”. Benz is convinced: “Resentment grows from the fear of being surrounded by enemies. The argumentation of certain legal interpreters from the AfD shows me that they are driven by irrational motives and fear”.
Detlef Pollack sees other mechanisms at work here, especially in the East. The sociologist of religion at the University of Münster tries to explain the electoral success of the AfD in the former GDR in his book “Das unzufriedene Volk” (The dissatisfied people). Pollack sees in East German “discourses of discrimination and insult” a “mechanism of indignation and continued self-assertion” – as a reaction to demands made in the West for “willingness to learn, gratitude and adaptation. Some would regard this as an imposition. Pollack notes: “These milieus apparently understand the AfD as their political lobby”.