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  • Fatal (In)Tolerance?The Portrayal of Radical Islamists in Recent German Literature and Film
  • Petra Fachinger

Aber illusorisch ist es, zu meinen, eine Version des Islams, die nur endlich mit den Menschenrechten kompatibel ist, werde dem Terror den Boden entziehen. Der Boden des Terrors sind die gesellschaftlichen und politischen Zustände.

(Kermani 92)

Dennoch war es über 20 Jahre lang völlig tabu in Deutschland, auch nur ein einziges kritisches Wort über diese neuen antisemitischen und sexistischen, ja generell menschenfeindlichen Kreuzzügler und ihre bärtigen und verschleierten AnhängerInnen zu sagen, die auch mitten in Deutschland agitieren.


ist der islam tolerant? religionen sind wie vaterländer. man muß sie nach eigener fasson begreifen. sonst wuchern sie aus, mutieren zu einem moloch, der alles zertrampeln will.

(SAID 27)

After not having been a prominent topic in Germany's political, cultural, and literary discourse in the 1980s and 1990s, the German debate on Islam changed dramatically in the wake of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent bombings in Istanbul, Madrid, and London. For many Germans, Islam became synonymous with fundamentalism and terrorism after it was revealed that several of the men involved in the 9/11 attacks had previously lived in Germany. The 2004 murder of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri, a Muslim Dutchman of Moroccan descent, fuelled the fear of homegrown terrorism even more. Apparently van Gogh, a Dutch film director who worked with Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali on the film Submission, which was aired on the Dutch public broadcasting network in August 2004, was assassinated because of the film's criticism of the treatment of women in Islam. In the aftermath of all these events, Germans of Turkish and Arabic descent, regardless of their religious affiliations, have been put under suspicion of terrorism, slogans such as "tolerance for intolerance leads to intolerance" have gained currency, and Muslim-German writers [End Page 646] and intellectuals with various religious and political perspectives have had to declare their position with respect to Islam. Perceived as cultural insiders, they are also expected to explain the phenomena of radical Islamism and suicide bombings and to make suggestions of how to respond to those who seem intolerant of one's tolerance. Iranian-German writers and essayists SAID and Navid Kermani and Turkish-German writers Zafer Şenocak and Feridun Zaimoğlu are among those who have most often been asked to assume the role of cultural and religious interpreters of Islam and to act as spokesmen for Muslims in Germany and elsewhere in the world. For Şenocak, for example, as Karin E. Yesilada explains, "Islam, though immanently present from the beginning, had never been at the center of [his] writing until September 2001. After 9/11 Şenocak began to comment on Islamic perspectives, responding to the new demand for supposed experts on Islam ('Islamexperten') in the media" (184). She observes that "today's public discourse in Germany positions writers in a new role as public Muslims, and it no longer asks about their fictional or poetic writing but rather about their Islamic upbringing and attitudes" (183). While ten years ago, the struggle to be recognized as German was similar for Turkish-German and Arabic-German writers and for those with other migrant backgrounds, the events of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks have led to their being singled out and treated differently.

The portrayal of Arabs, Turks, and Muslims in German fiction and film has also changed profoundly over the last few years. Whereas Günter Wallraff's "Turk" in his 1985 bestseller Ganz unten was part of the European proletariat rather than a fundamentalist threat (Weidner 67), Turks and Arabs are now almost always portrayed as Islamist terrorists and suicide bombers. In their writing on Islam and the German Muslim community, Şenocak, Kermani, and Weidner all seem to suggest that the western world has not yet begun to adequately comprehend the current ideological crisis. Indeed, most films and works of fiction that discuss 9/11 and its aftermath reflect the inability to understand the sources of violence and terror by addressing them solely within a western discourse. Novels and films that attempt to illuminate the viewpoint of the radical Islamist deserve credit...


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