How should Muslims react to Holocaust education?

The gateway to the Auschwitz concentration camp with a metal sign overhead reading "Arbeit macht frei" (work liberates). Behind the gates are the red-brick former Austrian barracks buildings.
Entrance to the Auschwitz camp

Someone on Facebook shared an article from Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, on how immigrant (or immigrant-descended) Muslims in Germany react to Holocaust education efforts such as trips to concentration camps. The article notes that since the dawn of the century, “Turkish and Arab background Germans went from being considered irrelevant to Germany’s attempts to come to terms with its Nazi-era past, to being considered its prime obstacle, a status shared to a lesser extent by Germans from the former Communist state of East Germany”. They are accused of being reluctant to go on educational trips to old Nazi camps and of reacting ‘inappropriately’ when they do:

Holocaust educators often complain to me and to others that Muslim Germans express “unsuitable” emotions in response to the Holocaust. What were these “inappropriate” responses? The most common complaints were that participants expressed fear that something like the Holocaust could happen to them too; that they were jealous of the “status” of Jewish victims, and that they felt pride in their own national backgrounds.

The article features interviews with a German camp tour guide identified with the pseudonym Juliana and a woman of Turkish origin identified as Neshide who organises Holocaust education for immigrants (both are pseudonyms). Juliana calls the Turkish and Arab visitors “different from other visitors” and says she and other guides are “irritated” by them:

“For example, when they go to visit the camps, immigrants start to feel like they will be sent there next. They come out of the camp anxious and afraid. I do not like it at all when they do that, and [so] I do not even want to take them there.”

Neshide concurs with the sentiment, and says that Germans become angry when people of immigrant origin express it:

“A month later we were at a church as part of our training program. We told them about our project [to educate immigrants about the Holocaust] and then told them that we are ourselves afraid of being victims [one day]. 

“The people at the church became really angry at us. They told us to go back to our countries if this is how we think. I was really surprised at their reaction. I could not understand why this is not a legitimate question. Why should I not be concerned, personally, about the Nazis?”

During that heated conversation, Neshide repeated Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s statement: It happened once, so it can happen again. 

But this made the ladies in the church even more furious. Neshide and her friends were asked to leave the church. Neshide’s face reddened when she told me this story. She was reliving the shock and dismay she experienced when she was confronted with extreme anger instead of admiration for her empathy and identification with the history of the country of her new citizenship. 

The author notes that German Holocaust education focusses on “triggering feelings of remorse and responsibility” while Muslim Germans do not react in such a way; they react more viscerally, relating what they see to their own experiences of racism and Islamophobia. Germans see this reaction as evidence of a lack of “the correct moral qualities and … the capacity to be good citizens”. However, the article does not raise any questions about the character of those who judge immigrants for fearing for their own safety in a country which perpetrated a genocide within living memory, in a continent where there has been another — against Muslims — only 25 years ago, one which was aided and abetted by European politicians who, according to American sources, were reluctant to assist Bosnia because they regarded it as “not belonging” as a Muslim country in “Christian Europe”.

A street demonstration with a group of men and women holding a banner that reads "Rapefugees not welcome, stay away!" with a group of men with knives shown pursuing a woman.
An anti-immigration demo with a banner seen at many such events across Germany and elsewhere

The Far Right in Europe today have Muslims as one of its principal targets, if not its main target. The same questions that were asked about Jews for centuries in Europe, about whether they could truly be citizens of the countries they lived in when they were not Christians and had roots abroad, are now asked about Muslims. Then as now they were presented as pressing questions which needed to be answered. Then as now, customs such as circumcision and methods of animal slaughter are targeted for prohibition, though in the past Jews had a certain amount of autonomy and were allowed to manage their own affairs in a way Muslims now are not. Muslims are accused widely of being sexual predators, branded “rape-fugees”, both by the Far Right and by feminists who also whip up attacks on Muslim women by branding the way they dress as an ‘oppression’ while refusing to acknowledge anything oppressive about the expectations on women in their culture. German newspapers have portrayed mosque minarets as military formations; such propaganda led to a referendum in Switzerland which went in favour of a ban.

That Germans expect people whose ancestors were not in Europe at the time of the Holocaust and were in no way involved, and who have become a focus of their suspicion and hostility themselves since, really shows that the leopard, so to speak, does not change its spots. Jews are no longer seen as a threat to the German way of life because there are too few of them; Germany is content to show off its guilt, pay substantial reparations and to assist Israel in its repression of the native Palestinians and to attack pro-Palestinian campaigners in Germany, even entertaining the idea that the very name ‘Palestinian’ should be rejected as anti-Zionist and therefore antisemitic, while finding new “enemies within” and building a new narrative of suspicion against them. I should add that Germany is not unique in this; Europe in general does not tolerate different cultures for very long and in every country that was occupied by the Germans, there were collaborators and informers, some of whom joined in the genocide. In France, parties compete to impress voters with their hostility to Muslims, and announce ever more new laws to restrict their normal activities.

Muslims can hardly be blamed for not joining in the German guilt trip: it is becoming part of the German national myth, a way for those in the political mainstream to feel better about themselves and justified in their racism while the Far Right directs the boots and fists. White Germans are as uncomfortable with immigrants telling them that they fear that the racism they face is no different and no more justified than the antisemitism of the past and could have the same deadly consequences in the future as White Americans are by being reminded that their country is still racist, that African Americans have personal experiences of racism from both ordinary Whites and the State and indeed that the racism of the past has not been reckoned with.

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