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The need to expose and discuss racist discourse…

June 14, 2012

I have been wondering about the changing dynamics of racism in New Zealand… Grey Power’s submission last year against Chinese immigration to Auckland, based on culturalist arguments but racist nonetheless, is on my mind a little, as is the general lack of multicultural literature for young adults in our country – this in spite of our claim to great ethnic and cultural diversity. I read with interest, then, this article on the shifting dynamics of racism in Germany by Sabine Schiffer and Constantin Wagner

Abstract: The authors argue that to compare Islamophobia with anti-Semitism is not to equate them. But finding some parallels might help German society to combat a growing and dangerous anti-Muslim racism.” (77) “Across Europe activists and some academics are struggling to convey, both to their governments and their countries at large, the understanding that anti-Muslim racism/Islamophobia is now one of the most pernicious forms of contemporary racism and that steps should be taken to combat it. Nowhere has that struggle been more difficult and poignant than in Germany. There, because of the necessary attempts to come to terms with the Nazi past and understand the dimension of the Holocaust, the horror of any form of anti-Semitism can blind people to new and different forms of racism. And even more than elsewhere, the contradictions of the Middle East get transferred to internal discussions about a new anti-Semitism. Yet there are attempts in Germany both to use anti-Semitism as a comparative with which to help understand Islamophobia and to expose the nature and extent of it.” (77)

“Time and again, the comparison of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia/anti-Muslim racism generates public angst. The high point of this disquiet in Germany surrounded the conference ‘Feindbild Muslim – Feindbild Jude’ (The Muslim as Enemy, the Jew as Enemy) organised by the Berlin-based Zentrum für Antisemitismusforschung (Centre for the Study of Anti-Semitism) in December 2008.
This reaction to such a comparison is understandable and justified to the extent that there can be real doubts as to whether the horrors of genocidal anti-Semitism – the Nazi Holocaust – should be relativised (that is, on the moral level) and there could be grounds for suspecting that to mention both phenomena in the same breath comes from faulty analysis. For example, if someone claimed that Muslims today were in the same position as Jews had been under Nazi rule. However, it is inappropriate to play Jews and Muslims off against each other as objects of racist discourses; to deny the existence of this new phenomenon of Islamophobia, which does indeed exist, or to dismiss as trivial all expressions of racism that fall short of total barbarism.
To compare is not to equate, as Micha Brumlik (a famous pedagogue who analyses issues of Jewish identity, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism) and others have repeatedly emphasised. Quite the contrary. When comparing, one naturally also examines the differences between two things.” (78)
to the extent that there are parallels, why should we not try to learn from the findings of research on anti-Semitism?” (78)

It is obviously absurd to claim that Muslims today are in the same situation as Jews were ‘back then’. In comparing anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, we should not relativise the Nazi Holocaust – instead, the goal should be to recognise racist mechanisms before even the threat of a comparable situation arises. The thesis that the Nazi Holocaust, while historically singular, is capable of repetition is not a new one in the study of anti-Semitism and the Shoah. The fact that we must assume that a total catastrophe is capable of repetition must be treated separately from the fact that the Shoah is a historically singular phenomenon, and that victims and perpetrators can be named specifically. However, memory alone will not suffice, particularly because we know today that the destruction of the Jews in the Third Reich would not have been possible without a decades-long and centuries-old preparatory anti-Semitic discourse. Based on the historical imperative to deconstruct racist discourse before it is too late, a racist discourse that threatens to become highly dominant in society must be exposed as such. To this end, we must also expose and analyse the occasionally frightening parallels to anti-Semitic discourse. While there is still evidence of anti-Semitic explanatory styles and resentments, anti-Islamic voices are becoming more and more influential in public discourse. … We do not need more information about Islam, but more information about the making of racist stereotypes in general. In order to do this, it is necessary to understand that the ideas and images of a ‘foreign group’ say more about the group that produces them than about the group marked as the ‘out group’.” (83)

Ref:  Sabine Schiffer and Constantin Wagner (2011) Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia – new enemies, old patterns  Race Class 52: 77


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