Saturday, February 06, 2010

Daniele Dell'Agli on Criticism of Islam: Xenophobic?

NPD Poster
"We clean up"
Xenophobic Germans?
(Image from Wikipedia)

The National Democratic Party of Germany is certainly a profoundly xenophobic political organization -- as demonstrated by its ties to the old Nazis (sympathy for Rudolf Hess), links to international racialist thought (meetings with David Duke), disdain for anyone who is not white (remarks about Barack Obama), and imagery that plays on some Germans' racial fears (campaign posters such as the one above) -- but are all German critics of Islam to be lumped with the NPD as extreme xenophobes?

In "Criticism of Islam has only just begun" ("Die Islamkritik hat gerade erst begonnen," Die Welt, February 4, 2010), the philosopher and literary critic Daniele Dell'Agli whom I quoted yesterday continues his critique of Islam and disputes the accusation that any criticism of Islam is racist or xenophobic:
Doch der Islam ist keine Rasse, sein homogenes Erscheinungsbild verdankt sich zuallererst der Unterwerfung aller Lebensvollzüge unter dieselben religiösen Vorschriften. Der Rassismusvorwurf soll Islamkritik in die Nähe nationalsozialistischer Gesinnung rücken -- so etwas nennt man schlicht Demagogie. "Fremdenfeindlichkeit" hingegen -- ein Klassiker deutscher Selbstbezichtigung -- suggeriert eine bösartige einheimische Neigung, wo es tatsächlich um eine überall auf der Welt vorkommende Disposition geht, die als Xenophobie bekannt und gut erforscht ist. Ihr Gegenteil ist mitnichten die vielbeschworene Gastfreundschaft, sondern wären Übergangsriten zur Verwandlung von bedrohlichen Fremden in akzeptierten Fremden, also Akzeptanzriten als Vorstufen von Assimilation, allen voran die Exogamie. Gerade in dieser Frage besteht bei den meisten Zuwanderern aus dem islamischen Kulturkreis nicht die geringste Bereitschaft, irgendeine Form der Vermischung einzugehen. Das ist das deutlichste Signal in der beide Seiten verstrickenden Dialektik von Ausgrenzung und Verkapselung. Wenn unter allen Migranten, die seit mehreren Jahrzehnten in Deutschland leben bzw. hier geborenen und aufgewachsen sind, ausgerechnet Muslime (nicht alle, aber viele) immer noch als Fremde, nicht selten als verschlossen bis feindselig jeden Kontakt abwehrende Fremde auffallen, dürfte dies nur zum geringsten Teil den Deutschen anzulasten sein.
Here's my loose translation -- really more of a paraphrase -- assisted by Google Translate because I'm lazy this morning:
Islam, however, is not a race. Its homogeneous appearance is due first and foremost to the subjugation of all lifestyles under the same religious rules. The accusation of racism is used as a means of suggesting that any criticism of Islam stems from Nazi sentiments -- that it's nothing more than simple demagoguery. But the charge of "xenophobia" -- a classic German self-critique -- suggests a malignant native tendency among Germans even though a disposition to distrust strangers occurs everywhere in the world, as is in fact well known and widely studied. The much discussed practice of hospitality is by no means the opposite of a fear of strangers, but rather a system encompassing rites of passage for transforming a menacing stranger into an acceptable stranger, rites that served as precursors to assimilation, most notably through the practice of exogamy (i.e., marriage between groups). On this issue in particular, most immigrants from the Islamic world show not even the slightest willingness to enter into any form of mixing. This unwillingness is the clearest signal in the dialectic of exclusion and encapsulation that entangles both sides. Among all of the various migrant groups who have lived in Germany for several decades, or even their children who were born and grew up here, Muslims (not all, but notably many) are still like strangers, often defensive strangers who are closed or hostile to any contact with non-Muslims, so their lack of integration in German society can be attributed to the Germans only to a very limited extent.
Mr. Dell'Agli is not quite right on this point, or not quite precise enough. Muslims do allow mixing through conversion to Islam or through marriage between Muslim men and non-Muslim women who belong to a religion of the book (e.g., Christians or Jews). But this mixing, of course, is entirely on Islam's own terms, a point that Mr. Dell'Agli could note, for it implies that Muslims in Germany (and Europe) have no intention to become assimilated to the host society but to assimilate the host society to Islam.

But this assumes that 'European' Muslims in general follow the dictates of Islam and only practice exogamy in the two ways noted. Is this true? Or do Muslim women living in Europe also marry non-Muslim men who do not convert to Islam? What are the statisitics on this?

At any rate, Mr. Dell'Agli makes an interesting point, i.e., that properly understood, xenophobia and hospitality work together. A reasonable fear of strangers is appropriate, so long as a society also has rites of hospitality for integrating the strangers that it fears. An extremely nationalistic society would probably exaggerate xenophobia and therefore lack the requisite sort of hospitality.

But as Mr. Dell'Agli makes clear, responsibility for integrating lies not only with the host but also with the guest.

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