The original of this article was published in Norway, with an entry in Norwegian, here.
By Clemens Heni, Ph.D.
The failure of German Middle Eastern Studies becomes crystal clear when we look at an event at the 2010 international literature festival in Berlin. On September 16 there will be a presentation focusing on scholarly works about Yusuf al-Qaradawi, probably the most influential and best known Islamist worldwide, particularly in the Sunni world. The Qatar-based ideologist is called the “Global Mufti”. This is, as it happens, the title of one of the books being presented at the event.
Global Mufti, which appeared last year, is edited by the German scholar Dr. Bettina Gräf and the Danish scholar Prof. Dr. Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen. Gräf works at the Center for the Modern Orient in Berlin; Skovgaard-Petersen is a professor at the University of Copenhagen. They are thrilled that Qaradawi is a media star in the Muslim world, thanks in part to his online fatwas, which were the topic of Gräf’s Ph.D. dissertation. (That dissertation will also be presented at the event.)
They know everything about Qaradawi, for example about his relationship to Al-Azhar University in Egypt, his close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and his efforts to Islamize Europe. But they have no problem with Qaradawi. They like him. Gräf even met with Qaradawi in person in Qatar. Gräf, who examines Qaradawi’s concept of being “centristic” (“wasatiyya”), considers Qaradawi a “moderate.”
Gräf and Skovgaard-Petersen say that their “book is not intended to be a defense of, or an attack on, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.” Yet those who have learned the lessons of the Holocaust know that it is necessary to criticize anti-Semites. When it comes to anti-Semitism, you can’t take a neutral position. Anti-Semitism and Islamism are tremendously important issues in our world today and silence is the wrong way to deal with them. Worse, silence most often is a way of conveying support.
For example, Barbara Freyer Stowasser, Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, endorses Qaradawi in Global Mufti because he allows women to kill Jews without asking their parents’ or husband’s permission. Women are even allowed to commit such crimes unveiled! Stowasser portrays these crimes as acts of “defensive jihad” against Israel. For Stowasser, Qaradawi’s fatwa on women and suicide bombing is a sign of “true gender equality.”
Gudrun Krämer, head of the Institute for Islamic Studies at the Free University of Berlin, will also take part in the event at the literature festival. She wrote a foreword to Global Mufti, and as early as 2006 described Qaradawi in an article as a “representative of moderate Islam.” She portrays him as someone who “does not invite or condone violence against others, be they Muslim or non-Muslim (the exceptions are foreign occupation, colonialism, Zionism and Israel)”.
Although Qaradawi is well known for calling for suicide bombing against Jews and Israeli, as well as for his condemnation of fatwas that criticized acts of suicide bombing such as one that took place in 2001 in Israel, Krämer insists that Qaradawi, while supporting violence against “Zionists,” does not “invit[e]” violence.
Krämer is also the author of a long German monograph, published in 2002, which describes the “Palestinian” Izz ad-Din al-Qassam as a martyr. Qassam was killed by the British in 1935 after he had murdered a Jew in the British Mandate. Today Hamas names its missiles after him – the unfamous “Qassam rockets.” Krämer is not disturbed by this, although German historians Martin Cüppers and Michael Mallmann criticized her harshly for her position in 2006.
Krämer wrote her 1982 Ph.D. dissertation about the Jews as a minority in Egypt between 1914 and 1952. In this study, which was published in 1989 by the University of Washington Press, she played down the role of anti-Semitism, and in the original German version she literally attacked brochures about anti-Semitism in Egypt which were issued by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in 1957 (“The Plight of the Jews in Egypt “) and early studies on anti-Semitism in Egypt by the Swiss writer Bat Ye’or and the British author Sir Martin Gilbert.
Describing the latter as “tendentious,” Krämer denounced the AJC as “particularly tendentious,” which is all the more astonishing because the AJC brochure is an early attempt to analyze Egyptian anti-Semitism of the time and the role of former Nazis in spreading anti-Semitism alongside Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East.
In 2006 Krämer served as special editor of an issue of the German-based International Journal for the Study of Modern Islam (Die Welt des Islams) which was devoted to anti-Semitism. Here, too, she downplayed Islamic anti-Semitism and attacked scholars like Matthias Küntzel. (Interesingly, Küntzel has quoted Krämer positively in several of his books and articles, a fact that displeases Krämer.)
Krämer was especially rough on Robert Wistrich, head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. She accuses these scholars of being “openly polemical.” She also criticizes Wistrich for his “more aggressive approach.” Krämer takes exception, for instance, to the term “Islamofascism.” Her own analysis is based on the work of scholars like the anti-Zionist Edward Said, Saleh Bashir, and Hazim Saghiyeh.
The latter two argued some years ago in an article, “Universalizing the Holocaust,” that the Arab and Muslim world should not deny the Holocaust, but should rather accept and “universalize” it – their point being that the Shoah was not an unprecedented crime against the Jewish people, but a crime comparable to the historical treatment of Palestinians. Like Said, Bashir and Saghiyeh even accuse Jews of not having learned the “lesson” of the Holocaust.
Krämer praises Bashir’s and Saghiyeh’s criticism of “political Islam” and agrees with their argument that there is an effort to “silence criticism of Israeli politics” and that it amounts to a “Jewish and Israeli exploitation of the Holocaust.” If we look at the central sentence in the above-mentioned article by Bashir and Saghiyed, we can easily decode the anti-Semitic attempt to trivialize the Shoah by equalizing it with totally different issues:
The Turk in Germany, the Algerian in France, and always the black in every place, head the columns of victims of racism in the world and in them, albeit in different proportions and degrees, is the continuation of the suffering of the Jews of which the Holocaust was the culmination.
The Holocaust was not just a kind of “suffering”; racism in Germany or France in our time is not at all the “continuation of the suffering of the Jews”; and the black “in every place” had a quite different history (blacks were, for example, victims of Islamic slavery and later of Western slavery). The intention here is clear: Bashir and Saghiyed accept the reality of the Holocaust only so that they may then proceed to de-emphasize its specifically anti-Semitic nature and, most important, attack Israel. Today Muslims and scholars alike are operating in much the same manner when they wield the term “Islamophobia.”
So now Krämer and Gräf are going to be embracing the Islamist Qaradawi at the international literature festival in Berlin, where they will describe him as a “moderate.” This is the ultimate proof of the failure of German Middle Eastern Studies: one of its leading scholars, Gudrun Krämer, who has been awarded honorary doctorates and won prizes, has been busy since the early 1980s defaming critiques of anti-Zionist anti-Semitism and Islamic anti-Semitism while supporting one of the leading Islamists of our time, Qaradawi, a man who argues for a kind of gender mainstreaming when it comes to justifying suicide bombing in Israel.
This is the Islamist way to modernity and equality among the sexes.