11 December, 2015

Germany: Is the refugee-crisis bringing back racism?

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Category: Human Rights, Islamophobia, Refugees
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Written by Miriam Siemon & Paula Holst

People who express themselves in a discriminatory and racist way have always existed – also in Germany. Our history in World War 2 made most Germans extremely sensitive when they choose their words. That’s why there are strict rules, what is morally allowed to say and what discrimination is. Until now.

It’s a matter of common knowledge that a huge number of refugees from Syria had to leave their home because of the civil war and now seek asylum in Germany. With this, the public attitude towards refugees particularly, foreigners in general or even foreign looking persons, changed. Maybe people are afraid about the influence of another culture or some people just use the situation to voice their hidden prejudices. Until this summer, the mass media, especially the tabloids, framed their coverage about the refugee topic in a negative, more problematic way. Suddenly, at a certain point, after the public mood was going worse and worse, you could observe a turn to more positive news coverage.

However, social media, unlike the mass media, are not controlled by ethical rules and committees – there are still a lot of people saying mean things about foreigners and, maybe it is just our impression, but there seem to be more and more people saying racist things without constraints. When you enter a discussion about it, you often hear “it should be allowed to say…” before a discriminating comment. At the moment, racism is excused with the right to freedom of expression. Often, the social platform Facebook was criticized for not being sensitive enough about hate-posts and for deleting pictures of naked persons instead of racist comments.

Of course, fortunately there are also a lot of lovely and helpful comments, actions and initiatives offline and online. Thus, now we have opposite opinions about the way Germany should behave in the refugee-crisis: hate speech versus help, online and on the streets.

The problem is not only that saying discriminating things (online) is possible again without being sanctioned. This is rather an expression of deep-rooted xenophobia, which was hidden for a long time and is now shown.

These circumstances in our home country inspired me to be active against hate speech in Europe. That’s why we decided to make a European Voluntary Service at the Infinite Opportunities Association (www.infopass.eu) in Sofia, which is part of the No Hate Speech Movement and fights for a more tolerant Bulgaria – on and offline! We basically provide workshops in schools, to make pupils start thinking about what discrimination in general and on the Internet means. With this, we hope to provide our input to reduce hate speech and hope that more and more people and organizations will join us on this mission.


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