By Seth Tamarkin, Contributing Writer
“I love the German language,” German author and guest speaker Armin Langer said to the audience as he switched to a PowerPoint slide with the German word ‘zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl’ front and center. That mouthful of a word translates to “the feeling of solidarity” and sums up the work his organization Salaam-Shalom aims to achieve by uniting Muslim and Jewish communities in Germany and beyond so they can fight the discrimination that threatens their way of life.
The main contributors of this discrimination are none other than White nationalists, a group President Trump claims have “good people” even though anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks have rose considerably in the U.S. and show no signs of slowing down. That may come as a surprise to many Americans, but Langer is all too familiar with anti-Semitism coexisting with nationalist values in his home country of Germany.
As a Jew living in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood, Langer has witnessed the rampant discrimination affecting the two communities. Since 2005, for example, multiple laws have been enacted throughout Germany that ban religious symbols in public office. That means a Jew wearing a yarmulke and a Muslim wearing a hijab cannot work as a legislator, police officer, or even a teacher. On top of that, since 2012 there has been debate in Germany on banning circumcision as well; a move that just so happens to specifically condemn Muslims and Jews.
Moreover, a study released as recent as 2017 showed that one-in-five Germans harbor anti-Semitic views and every day there are roughly three anti-Semitic attacks despite there only being 200,000 Jews in Germany against a population of eighty-two million. Langer stressed that those numbers are among the lowest in Europe, saying, “another study found that seventy-percent of Poland citizens have negative attitudes towards Jews.” In 2015, after Germany let a million mostly Muslim refugees into their country, Islamophobic attitudes spiked as well, with one-in-two Germans believing Islam does not have a place in Germany.
With so much discrimination facing both communities, one may wonder why an organization to unify them would be needed in the first place. The reason is that the overwhelming media narrative is that Jews and Muslims are bitter rivals, and while Langer admits there is some anti-Semitism fostering in Muslim communities and vice-versa, he also stresses that the hatred is overblown to promote a problematic agenda.
“Nationalist groups have been trying to pit the [two] groups against each other,” he claims, “To further their own ironically anti-Semitic agenda.” To prove his point, Langer switched to a slide depicting recent posters from ‘Alternative for Deutschland’, or AfD, a right-wing nationalist party that ran on extreme Islamophobia as being the moral choice for Germany. One of the posters stated, “We, the AfD, stand on the side of the Jewish community in Germany,” making it seem like Muslim refugees are the cause of anti-Semitism in Germany. Of course, the history of Jews in Germany tells a very different story.
Next, Langer shared American website Breitbart’s multiple articles on so-called “no-go zones for Jews.” According to the website, predominantly Muslim neighborhoods in Germany are so dangerous for Jews that they can’t even step foot in there. The issue with that narrative? Langer literally lives in one of those “no-go zones.” He even wrote a book, titled ‘A Jew in Neukolln,’ about his experiences there that serve as a counternarrative to the ideas pushed throughout the world that Jews and Muslim are enemies.
Counternarratives are exactly what Salaam-Shalom aims to promote. Salaam-Shalom’s name comes from the similar words for peace in Hebrew and Arabic. The organization holds weekly meetings between Jews and Muslims in Berlin so they can discover the similarities the two communities have. This is where zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl comes into play.
By highlighting the feelings of unity between the two groups in Berlin, Langar hopes that people around the world will take notice. So far, it seems Langer is onto something. He jokingly says that the Berlin group now has “over one hundred members, consisting of Jews, Muslims, Christians and one Hindu who we’re very proud of.” In addition to meetings, they have protested discrimination including helping a Muslim woman get a job after she was refused due to her hijab.
Since its inception, Salaam-Shalom now has multiple offshoots in many European countries. Whereas European countries, the United States, and other nations around the world continue to normalize anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Salaam-Shalom promises to be a driving force in aligning the two oft-mistreated groups so they can seek justice together. After all, everyone, regardless of their religion, deserves to have zusammengehörigkeitsgefühl.