“Education about Islam is a pressing matter, of course” – Part 2

Petra Wild

If one offers a different view on Islam and its associated culture, is one an Islam apologist as I have increasingly been accused of recently?

It is precisely the well known and, oft-cited European enlightement which claims that everyone is equal in terms of dignity and rights. If I would like to hold onto these rights, why am I regarded as a foreign being from an increasingly large segment of society, regardless of political orientation?

Islam is the second largest religion in the world – over 1.5 billion Muslims roam the planet, most of them living in peace and receiving little coverage in our media.

For Idealism prevails I sought out a talk with Petra Wild, an Islam scholar who has also lived in Muslim countries. Here is the sesond part of the interview:

Since 2001 this religion, which until then had had hardly any significance in Western societies, was ploughed into the heads of predominantly white European and American populations by a broad media front – almost without exception connected with terror, violence and oppression. The trigger was the controversial terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which continue to lead to heated discourses in science and the media and which remain unresolved for many people. Beforehand they lived in Islamic countries and continue to do so. Why was this conditioning of this religion and culture necessary?

The hate campaign against Islam began in the USA after the fall of the Schah in Iran in 1979, which with Israel, was its closest ally. In Europe it began after the first Gulf War in 1991 although with less intensity than after the attacks of 11th September.

On the one hand, the development of Islam as the enemy served to legitimise the first war against Iraq in which Germany was also involved and, on the other hand, the replacement of ‘communism’ as the enenmy following the victory of the capitalist camp in the Cold War.

The US political scientist Samuel Huntington, with his “Clash of Civilizations”, provided a fitting ideology. And so the culturalisation of political and social relationships and conflicts began.

Theodor Adorno, Erich Fromm and others had, already many years before, concluded that the power which the capitalist system has today over people is so great like never before. For all intents and purposes, everyone knows deep down that they themselves cannot decide about themselves and their lives, that international conglomerates and monster bureaucracies make the decisions in a non-transparent manner.

Under pressure of these relationships, it is hardly possible anymore to develop a strong ‘I’. In order to compensate for this “I-weakness” and social powerlessness, many people long to become part of a larger, more powerful collective which appears to have all the characteristics which they lack. Previously nationalism was particulary well-suited for this. Today, as this is no longer socially acceptable, the nation has been replaced instead with the ‘Christian Occident’ or also the ‘Christian-Jewish Occident’.

The term “Occident”  contains the differentiation from the Orient. As a part of this collective, these “I-weak” people feel justified in taking action against anyone who is different and above all, weaker. And thus they can feel powerful. Islam as the enemy, which is spread from above, provides the authoritarian character with the vent with which he can let off the hate and the narcissistic grievances which the system constantly produces in him.

In my opinion, the fact that anti-Muslim racism has spread so much here in the last few years shows that the psychical basic structure of the forced members of society has not really changed since fascism. The “authoritarian character” in the sense of Theodor W. Adornos, which many considered to have been overcome, is once again on the rise: kowtowing to those above and stepping on those below, identification with power, stereotypical thinking, division of the world into good and bad, winners and losers. Those who are considered the losers are punished for being losers because the authoritarian character is afraid of being, or becoming, a loser themselves. Today, under the condition of the all-encompassing insecurity of the population, this can occur very quickly

The development of Islam as the enemy which is a threat also functions to justify the authoritarian formation of neo-liberal western states. France, for example, used an attack with Islamic background as a pretext to introduce a state of emergency which was maintained for many months afterwards. In Germany, the police state is being strengthened and the use of the army within Germany is being discussed.

If the mass media can be believed, Islam is equal to the oppression of women

If one looks to India and the position of women there in the wider society, one quickly recognises that women there in certain regions are treated similarly to those in, for example, Wahhabit-influenced Saudi Arabia.

The horrific circumcision of women is also repeatedly associated with Islam; that this is also practised by Christian tribes in Africa interests nobody.

Why is the focus on Islam?

This has a long history. Since the Middle Ages, there have  been two main reasons for the demonisation of Islam: power and sexuality or women. While previously Muslims were attacked for being too devoted to eroticism and for being too liberal, today the opposite is the case. How Islam is presented and judged is less to do with Islam itself and more to do with the self-perception of western societies.

The Orient was always considered as the opposite of Europe. This served the self-assurance of the self-elevation of western societies.

By projecting the oppression of women onto Islam and portraying it in the worst possible manner, the indirect message is that everything is different here. However, as an old feminist, I would say that women here are just as oppressed but that this oppression is merely different.

Partriarchy is, like capitalism, a global system of domination with respective diverse local forms. Here also, men for the most part, determine how women dress and behave. But here men prefer high heels and clothes which are as as revealing as possible while in Muslim countries, headscarves and discreet clothing is preferred.

In some ways, men and women here have internalised the male view much stronger ,as is evident in the many ‘cosmetic operations’ or eating disorders and other stress symptoms of young women and girls. Violence against women continues to be a great problem in western countries.

In Germany, 35% of all women have experienced physical or sexual abuse and every year, more than 300 women are murdered by violent partners. However, instead of addressing this and doing something about it, misogyny is “outsourced” and projected onto “Islam”. As such, western societies can congratulate themselves on being enlightened, tolerant and progressive although a closer look reveals that this is by no means the case.

Some time ago, I watched an interview with you in which you said that there is an Islamic matriarchy in Sumatra. That was very surprising, even for me, although I am one of the few informed citizens who does not fall for the deeply and widely orchestrated propoganda as regards our Muslim fellow humans. Can you tell us about this society in Sumatra?

The Minangkabau on the Indonesian island of Sumatra are a matriarchal society and also Muslims. Like all matriarchal societies, the society of the Minangkabau is matrilinear and organised matrilocally. Matrilocal means that they have a female successor. Matrilocal means that the home of the mother is the focal point of life. Daughters stay at home or close to their mother’s house, even when they are married.

While in former times the biological father had no significance whatsover and the oldest brother of the mother took on the role of the “social father”, today the patrilineal lineage – i.e. the maternal family of the family – plays a role for children.

Women play a central role in the economy and in social life. Women court men and the mothers marry the daughters. The standing of a woman grows with increasing age. Decisions are made democratically according to the principles of consultation and consensus.

There is a dynamic relationship between the matriarchal structure of the society and its Islamic religion which is constantly changing. Islam is the domain of men and has been adjusted to the relations in the matriarchal society. For example, the Minangkabau say: “Muhammad is our prohet and Aischa (his wife) is our mother“. Their Islam is mixed with mystical and magical components.

The Minangkabau say that their society is based on two pillars: Islam and the Adat, the matriarchal tradition. However, since the 20th century, the significance of Islam vis-à-vis the Adat has grown. Since the end of the 1990s, the Minangkabau women also wear headscarves. This shows that wearing a headscarf does not necessarily mean that women are oppressed.

In fact we know very little about our Muslim fellow human beings apart from them not being part of our society – at least this is what is repeatedly claimed by politicians and the media.

The peace researcher and historian, Dr. Daniele Ganser, speaks about this phenomenon in his talks and refers to it as ‘dividing, devaluing and killing’. For him, this method is necessary in order to maintain the spiral of violence.

Ms Wild, in your opinion, how can we in Europe, and above all in Germany and Austria, escape from this spiral of violence in the sense of a global reconciliation?

I think that in such an acute situation in which we live today, nobody can escape but rather we have to take an active position.

In Europe we are experiencing the greatest racist mass mobilisation since fasicm but there is hardly any opposition to this. The racism directed towards Muslims and above all female Muslims, is not even identified as such. If Judaism was essentialised in the same manner as Islam and constructed to a monolithic block, if it was presented as misogynist, fantatical and violent, if the Tora were compared to “Mein Kampf” and everything that Israel did was attributed to Judaism, it would be clear to everyone that this is anti-semitism. That the same racist approach as regards Islam is not even recognised shows how deeply and broadly anti-Muslim racism is enshrined. Surveys repeatedly make clear that western societies are extremely racist towards Muslims.

The verbal and physical attacks have increased greatly in the last two years. In Germany, according to statistics from the BKA, there were more that 900 racist attacks on refugee homes last year – an average of three per day. According to the victim support unit, Reach Out in Berlin, more than 550 people were injured, hounded or seriously threatened, among them 45 children. The violence towards Muslims continues to be played down.

As an Islam expert, I often do not know how to deal with the general widespread lack of knowledge and ignorance.

Education about Islam is a pressing matter of course but the problem is that many do not want to know anything at all. The racist stereotype is not taken up because the people are not informed, but rather because it meets their needs.

There are so many possibilities to learn about Islam but these are not seized. At this point I would like to recommend two books: “The Mantle of the Prophet” by Roy Mottahedeh and “The Road to Mecca” by Muhammad Assad. In the latter, the Jewish Austrian, Leopold Weiss describes how he found his way to Islam at the beginning of the 20th century. These books provide an insight into Islam. They show what Islam means for Muslims.

I think that it is of utmost importance that we stop thinking in the rigid and reified categories of ‘Islam’ and ‘the West’. We are one human race and our problem is not ‘Islam’ but rather neo-liberal capitalism with its plundering of people and the planet as well as its never-ending wars and destruction. In line with an old rallying cry, one could say: ‘The border does not run between religions but rather between those at the top and those below.

Stephan Bartunek and Idealism prevails would like to thank Petra Wild for the interview. 


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