Governing Muslims and Islam in Contemporary Germany. Race, Time, and the German Islam Conference

  • Book Title:
 Governing Muslims And Islam In Contemporary Germany
  • Book Author:
Luis Hernández Aguilar
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On September 26th 2006, a day before the official establishment of the Ger-man Islam Conference (hereafter dik: Deutsche Islam Konferenz), its founder and at the time current Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble gave an in-terview to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, in which he touched upon a wide range of topics pertaining to Islam, Muslims, and the Conference itself.

The interview, entitled “Islam is part of Germany” (Schäuble, 2006b), succinctly summarized the issues that the dik would come to face in the ensuing years: the training of “homegrown” imams; national security concerns related to “Islamist” terror-ism; the construction of Mosques on German soil; gender inequality within Muslim communities; the organization of Muslims; and the place of Sharʾia in the German legal framework, to name just a few. In the interview, Schäuble also declared that “Islam has become part of Germany and Europe; it must therefore also accept the basic rules, norms and values that make up Europe” (Schäuble, 2006b [emphasis added]).1

The interview likewise reveals some of the discourses foregrounding the institutionalization of the dik and the structuring of its architecture. For in-stance, Schäuble used Christianity as a yardstick to assess and judge not only how Muslims organize and how Islamic organizations should function, but also how Muslims should integrate into the German social fabric, namely, the integration of Muslims should be a process akin to the Ten Biblical commandments.

Far more revealing, perhaps, is the type of Muslims Schäuble longs for in Germany, and the underpinning assumptions about them, Germany, history, and time, when he declared, “We want enlightened Muslims in our enlight-ened country’” (Schäuble, 2006b).

The narrative of the enlightenment here functions as a historicist artifact drawing a time-based distinction and a symbolic border between Muslims and Germans thereby suggesting different historical and temporal trajectories: one more advance than the Other. The appeal to the enlightenment operates through a “we-they” narrative and has the effect to discursively produce a representation of two self-enclosed groups, the enlightened Germans vis-à-vis the benighted Muslims.

It suggests that, as I argue in the following pages, until the appearance of the dik, these two identities, being Muslim and being German were innately incompatible; divided by insurmountable historical, cultural, and temporal barriers; two different populations inhabiting German soil, or at least, two different registers carrying distinctive traditions, cultural baggage, norms, values, and understandings of the political and the religious.

Thus, Islam is part of enlightened Germany and Germany wants enlightened Muslims, integration is the key, and the dik will orchestrate the process.2

Schäuble’s acknowledgement of Islam as becoming, as it were, part of Ger-many was a novel and significant intervention in the socio-political debate, which for decades denied—and at moments still does—Germany’s heteroge-neous social reality, by chasing dreams of a homogenous and cohesive national body.

In a context in which German nationalism was associated with guilt and the remnants of a racial and violent past, the definition of German national identity rested upon the declaration of what allegedly Germany was not, i.e., an immigration country, as the former Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1991) vocifer-ously insisted.

This specific acceptance of Islam, as Frank Peter (2010) points out, goes hand in hand with a set of conditions directed at the attempt to reshape the subjectivities of Muslims. This political process can also be seen as the paradoxical act of “exclusionary incorporation” (Partridge, 2012), understood as the attempt to include racially characterized subjects in the national body, while the same incorporation is used as a means to exclude these subjects from the nation by marking them as racially different from the national identity. Talal Asad (1993, 159) has also documented this tension, the concurrent inclusion and exclusion of Muslims within and from Europe, adding that such a con-tradiction is the result of “how ‘Europe’ is conceptualized by Europeans”, or in the dik’s case how those considering themselves “true” Germans imagine and conceptualize Germany and what it means to be German.

Just as Schäuble elaborated, if Islam is to become part of Germany it has to accept the rules, norms, and values of Europe and Germany, implying that this has not happened yet, while offering a seamless imaginary about Euro-German rules and values.

The symbolic incorporation of Islam in Germany, then, alternates between the promise of inclusion, and the representational exclusion mounted in the discursive differentiation between Islam and Muslims from Germany and Germans.

This book attends to the most ambitious project of the German state to govern Muslims and Islam, namely the German Islam Conference. Contrary to the dik’s self-presentation as merely a forum of dialogue and understanding between Muslims and Germans, I tell a different story by contending that this institution is deeply entangled in political calculations oriented towards re-forming Muslims and Islam. Schäuble, again, explicitly voiced this aim, “Muslims living in Germany should end up becoming German Muslims” (Schäuble in: dik, 2008c, 2). Transforming plain Muslims into German Muslims, further-more, would be accompanied by the appearance of an “Islam of Germany” (Riedel in: bamf, 2010, 31) embedded in the German state’s institutional and intellectual framework. Then, Islam becomes an aspiration contained in a na-tional mold.

But why, one wonders, is it necessary to invest—literarily and  figuratively— in the creation of a nationalized version of Islam while lecturing about and supplementing Germanness, whatever this is, to Muslims by means of integration, especially since, according to the dik’s (2009d) calculations, more than a half of the Muslim population in Germany consists of German citizens? Are they not already Germans, German citizens professing Islam, say, German Muslims, Muslim Germans?

What does this Germanness that Muslims need to learn, embrace, and ultimately interiorize consist of? And what does this proj-ect reveal about how Muslims are imagined, represented, and positioned as ob-jects and subjects of governmental interventions in contemporary Germany?

By exploring the tensions and contradictions opened up by these question, I make a case for understanding the institutionalization of the dik and its poli-cies against the background of racial discourses and imaginaries about Muslims, which in short posit the idea that to be a Muslim is to be a problem, yet a problem that can be solved through a process of temporal alignment, bring-ing pre-modern Muslims into the German present by integrative means as the way to secure the future.3 Implicitly and explicitly the dik’s discourses carry and promulgate interconnected and dislocated narratives of the past, present, and future of Muslims and Germany.

Therefore, I locate the existence of this institution and its highly elaborated plan to transform and reform Muslims and Islam via integration into a racially inspired meta-narrative: the dik’s poli-tics of racial time—ideas and narratives about the past, present, and future of Muslims and Germany, which are the creation of a particular present, simultaneously looking ahead of and before time.

The notion of time politics borrows from Judith Butler’s (2008, 1) discussion about secular time as a narrative whereby “hegemonic conceptions of progress define themselves over and against a pre-modern temporality that they pro-duce for the purposes of their own self legitimation”. The narratives of time molded and disseminated by the dik precisely operate by rendering Islam and Muslims as a religion and subjects from a distant time period and geography, while locating Germany and the German subject in a more advanced, superior, and enlightened stage, which in turn, serves as the basis to call for the temporal alignment of Muslims by means of integrative measures.

Time, as Johannes Fabian (2014) fleshes out, has been of paramount rele-vance in the Western crafting of the Other, an Other that despite being a con-temporary interlocutor remains simultaneously anchored in a distant  temporal space. In this sense, Schäuble’s appeal to the enlightenment exemplifies an in-stance where “coevalness”, as the sharing “of present Time” is denied (Fabian, 2014, 32). In other words, while in the dik Muslims are contemporary subjects in dialogue, they are also represented as inhabiting a different temporal zone.

Paraphrasing Fabian (2014, 173), Muslims “are talked about in a time other that of the one who speaks” as temporarily distant religious subjects in dire need of alignment with the German enlightenment and modern times. This denial of coevalness thus emerges as an allochronic discursive device through which anthropology then (Fabian, 2014, 32) and the dik now have fabricated the  Other.4


These uses and construal of time however were not only part and parcel of anthropology, but also as Anne McClintock (1995) argues, they were fundamental for legitimizing colonial enterprises by producing narratives of progress, where “time became a geography of social power, a map from which to read a global allegory of ‘natural’ social difference” (McClintock, 1995, 37).

McClintock then elaborates the concepts of panoptical time and anachronis-tic space. While the former refers to an epistemological and privileged point of view from which global history could be consume in a single glance (Mc-Clintock, 1995, 37), the latter denotes a discursive device disavowing and rel-egating the “agency of women, the colonized and the industrial classes” to a distant and atavistic temporality “inherently out of place in the historical time of modernity” (McClintock, 1995, 40). And Islam and Muslims have also been rendered as “out of time”, temporarily deemed as having no “place in correct historical or chronological time; they are anachronistic, out of harmony with the present, and in effect they belong to an earlier time that has no relevance to the secular politics of our historical present” (Mas, 2011, 87).

In this sense, the Conference’s representations about Muslims, made from a privileged point of view, advance through transitory narratives, producing three dislocated temporalities overlapping in, and delineating the present— “disjointed times, times out of joint”—as Jacques Derrida (1994, 1) would put it.

The first time concerns the traces of the past in Germany’s present—a pre-ceding time embodied in foreign subjects trapped in an anachronistic space. Those Muslim bodies traveled and brought their time into Germany’s pres-ent. The past represents a first temporality in the dik’s racial politics of time and produces the Muslim subject as a flawed yet malleable figure, but also re-produces the idea of a pristine homogenous national body in two bifurcated narratives. The first refers to strategic and concealing readings of the German past in which tolerance towards “different” religions was inscribed in politics, a…

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