If there is a “Muslim question”, understood as the deceptive representation and addressing of Muslims as a sealed-off, homogenous, and atavistic community, living under archaic rules, disavowing secularism, and overall posing a wide range of problems to Western governments, then the dik can be seen as the German government’s answer to such a question.
Sara Farris (2014a) lays out a compelling case for understanding current discussions about Muslims as reminiscent—yet not identical—of the Jewish question in Germany and France at the beginning of the 1870s. At that moment Jews were accused of threatening the national body and unity, since it was alleged that Jews constituted a group of their own “a nation within the nation” (Farris, 2014a, 296), excluding themselves from the polity, and living under their own religious and pre-modern rules. This construal gave rise to the forceful call for assimilation. Political emancipation was therefore presented as a promise and as a reward for those Jews who assimilate themselves by disavowing their religion and pledging their allegiance to the nation.1
In contemporary Germany, Muslims have been accused of living in a world of their own: in unruly parallel societies (Parallelgesellschaften) governed not by German law but Shariʾa. Likewise, it has been argued that Muslims innately disavow secularism based on the content of the Qurʾan and Islam. Moreover, the integration of Muslims in German society has been presented as a promise not of political but rather cultural emancipation, especially for Muslim women and queer Muslims. This is because one of the most recurrent allegations about Muslim backwardness, so the argument goes, is their patriarchal understanding of gender roles and sexuality. In addition to these allegations, Muslims have also been charged with anti-Semitism. Thus, as Iman Attia (2007, 17) has critically documented, the racial representation of Muslims in Germany relies on three interrelated discourses: Muslims do not abide by secularism; they live
However, the “Muslim question” has also been explicitly formulated in the German media. Framed in the aftermath of the London attacks and the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands, an article from the national newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (faz) titled “The Muslim question” (Die muslimische Frage) discusses the most violent side of this issue, i.e., terrorist violence as “Islamist Jihad” (Zastrow, 2005). The author argues that the “Muslim question” is exclusive of Europe and “Islamist Jihad” is one of its answers being shaped as a civil war arising from the tensions of the inner Islamic conflict with modernity.
The author calls for the German state to confront the violent threat posed to Europe by the “Muslim Question” through an encompassing answer involving not only the use of the security apparatuses, but also all the political and legal instruments of the state with a well-defined aim:
With decisiveness and in all seriousness, with push and pull, the democratization and liberalization of the Muslim minority must be pushed forward. An essential requirement to make this happen is to open channels of communication with this community’s organizations. The Muslim minority must be articulated within the democratic state. Otherwise, we are throwing them to the wolves.zastrow, 2005, 1 [author’s translation]
The call was heard. The Islam Conference is the German state’s attempt to articulate the Muslim minority—using the Islamic organizations as proxies, and seeking, among other issues, to defuse the violence, and potential violence, allegedly rising from Muslim communities.
Although the dik’s representatives have not framed this institution as the answer to the “Muslim question”, different solutions have been offered to what has been deemed a problematic presence. The dik has been predicated as the state “reaction” to a social reality marked by—cultural—conflicts between
In this part, I answer the questions foregrounding the “Muslim question” in the context of the dik, in other words, who are these Muslims fracturing the German social fabric? How they are represented as problems? Chapter 1 looks at the dik’s political act of defining Muslims, and the procedures whereby the dik defines and counts Muslims. At first glance, defining, counting, and assessing how many Muslims live in Germany might appear simple and trivial, something that governments usually do; however, these actions are crucial in several ways. On the one hand, counting allows the calculation of risks and potential risks. Moreover, in the dik’s case, it enables the crafting of a particular representation of German society comprised of at least two different groups: population and sub-population, the German majority and the Muslim minority respectively. On the other hand, defining who is a Muslim and who counts as one not only produces demographical figures, but also reveals imaginaries about what dimensions constitute a German and a Muslim subject, symbolically enabling the establishment of fixed boundaries. As I show, being Muslim, as far as the dik is concerned, involves not so much religiosity, rather a birthplace that becomes an inescapable destiny; the same goes for the German subject, who amidst these calculations cannot be a Muslim even if she or he truly decides to become one. In Chapter 2, I outline the general lines whereby the dik represents Muslims and Islam as problems of governmental rule, and as different from the German population. This sketch is based on the dik’s reports, and interim résumés.
These two chapters describe the dik’s politics of the past, the discursive operations through which the dik situates Muslims in a discordant temporal and geographical zone: IslamLand (Abu-Lughod, 2013). Making Muslims problematic subjects of an anachronistic time-world is completely necessary, for it becomes the point of departure of integrative measures seeking to transform Muslims in the present in order to secure the peaceful future to come. In this sense, my contention in these chapters is twofold, integration as a political paradigm requires for its functioning not-yet-integrated subjects, representing Muslims as figures of the past fulfills this need. And this form of representing Muslims draws on, reconfigures, and updates a racial archive.
Salman Sayyid (2014b, 3) conceptualizes the “Muslim Question” as “a series of interrogations and speculations in which Islam and/or Muslims exist as a difficulty that needs to be addressed”, creating the conditions, and calling for the state’s involvement in different areas of Muslim life. Anne Norton’s (2013) essay On the Muslim Question provides an analysis and a map of the contemporary contours of the problematization of Muslims. For an argument about how the “Jewish Question” represents a failure of the idea of Europe in relation to the making of minorities vis-à-vis the crafting of nation states see Aamir Mufti’s (2007) Enlightenment in the Colony. The Jewish Question and the Crisis of Postcolonial Culture. Wendy Brown (2008, 48–76) has also developed a poignant argument about the supplementary relation between the “Jewish Question” and the “Woman Question”.
In Germany, comparing anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism or Islamophobia has been the source of heated polemics and debates, though, “comparison does not mean equalization” (Ünal, 2016, 35), rather “comparing always leaves the question open as to whether one will find parallels, differences, or, in most cases, both” (Hafez, 2016, 19). For an insightful analysis of the similarities and differences between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Germany see: (Benz, 2016; Schiffer & Wagner, 2009, 2011; Shooman, 2012b).