This letter is directed to many organizations: some that participated in organizing the anti-AfD demonstrations last week, and those who publicized it. In this letter I urge you to take action against a specific type of racism that some of your spaces are infested with.
I am writing this in between episodes of anger, rage, anxiety, and trials to empathise with those on the receiving end, so that I can articulate words that will make you read. BIPOC people might understand the emotional burden of having to explain how racism feels to people who have never experienced it.
I experienced a racist incident at the anti-AfD demo in Bonn on Sunday, 21st January 2024. I wanted to report on it when I’d calmed down the day after, when I woke up to an influx of similar cases of discrimination in my community across Germany. After the nationwide anti-fascism demos, while white people were congratulating each other, Arabs were checking on each other. Business as usual.
More than half of all people in Germany hold racist sentiments towards Arabs, racialised Muslims, and people perceived as such (source)
Those are not only right wing AfD voters or Ampel voters. In Germany, this phenomenon is especially prevalent amongst liberals (especially the anti-Deutsch current). It has been shown in the way anti-AfD demos were marked by exclusion of Arabs and Muslims, even though they are the AfD’s frontline targets.
In recent months, it has been shown with the rise of antisemitism, racism against Arabs and Muslims, and people racialised as such. Liberal spaces decided to selectively take a stance against antisemitism while leaving millions of Arabs and Muslims, and people racialised as such with their back to the wall (or as Arabs say: back to a falling wall), facing racist German politicians and media. I appreciate your sensitivity to antisemitism; still, I won’t excuse you further marginalizing a group that is screaming at the margin.
Anti-Muslim racism consists of individual attitudes and/or structural manifestations that express themselves in public discourse, social structures, and practices which lead to the exclusion and/or disadvantage of Muslims and people perceived as such. Muslims are turned into The Other as a result of negative characteristics being attributed to them. They are often considered backward, dangerous, oppressed by their religion, or difficult to integrate. These racist attributions designate them as either cultural, religious, or national non-members. This is where processes of racialization and dichotomization take effect: they construct seemingly opposing groups and position them hierarchically in relation to each other. This logic is based on a we/they distinction.
This definition4 is taken from a report by the Federal Ministry of Interior that was issued in August 2023 (i.e. before the racist shit hit the fan). The report offers a detailed explanation of why anti-Muslim hate is considered a form of racism. It explains the difference between Islamophobia and criticizing Islam or Islamism (a political ideology). In educating yourselves, you can detect these racist tropes and fight them, so I don’t need to take the emotional burden of explaining them to you. Although the biggest populations of Muslims worldwide live in Southeast Asia, not in the SWANA region, Arabs of all religions are racialised as Muslims and bear the brunt of Islamophobia.
I moved to Germany twice, once as a hijabi woman and recently without the hijab. My features can be perceived as a black Brazilian, Ethiopian, or anything in between. I spent the worst days of my life being a hijabi in Germany who white folks either hated or wanted to save. Although I wasn’t committed religiously to the hijab, I continued wearing it as a form of anti-racist resistance and to express my identity, until I decided to move back to Egypt and took it off. I hope that one day, I will be seen and heard in Germany for who I am, not through a distorted German lens.
The anti-AfD demo (Bonn)
On the day of the protest, I walked with a placard on my back that represents how political parties in Germany are treating me and my friends in Germany and Palestine, based on our nationality and (in)security of residency. At the bottom, I wrote a sarcastic note on racism in the liberal scene. During the demo, someone gave me a sticker that said Free Palestine with a heart in the colours of the Palestinian flag. I took it and stuck it on the cardboard. One of my flatmates joined later, with flyers from a Palestinian solidarity group in Bonn. We were walking together towards the front where we had been told the BIPOC block was.
A guy (let’s call him white guy in blue jacket) followed us and told me to take the sticker off, because national flags were not allowed. I thought that this was ridiculous, because I was not even waving a flag and chances were that most people wouldn’t see the sticker anyway.
To some extent, I get where your ban on national flags comes from, although you have been discriminatory in this, too. The Kurdistan flag, rightly, took centre stage because that is part of the Kurdish migrant experience. Someone from the organizing coalition argued that Kurdistan is not a state. Palestine is also a nation with a land and without a state. I would like you to be honest in addressing this ban and the role of censorship in the past months that led to it. Like, imagine if we were free people in a free country (sigh).
White guy in blue jacket said that I carried an unwelcome message and called me an antisemite. Up to this point, there had been no real conversation between us, except for his order and a clear “No” from me. Since there was no basis to his accusation, I called him out on his racism that echoed what we have been hearing from German politicians, including the President, the Chancellor, the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and guess who, the AfD. They all made statements that accuse any Arab/ Muslim/Palestinian or advocate for Palestinian rights of being an antisemitic terrorist sympathiser before we even speak.
Another protester witnessed this and came to my help, my flatmates were there as well. Another woman in a black jacket joined and stood by white guy in blue jacket. I was furious and shouting; white guy in blue jacket and white woman in black jacket were yelling at me about an offensive social media post from October 7th. I didn’t know what the hell they were speaking about, but I understood the concept of guilt by association. Someone my colour did something somewhere, a white woman saw it and now I am guilty. Enraging enough that nothing in the world that I can say in my defense will convince them, because their prejudgement will always be stronger than their judgement. Two more women from the organizing team joined, listened to my rage, and tried to understand. Much love to them.
Just to throw me deeper into my rage, white guy in blue jacket, asked me “Free Palestine from what?”. I can recall his face saying that and what scares me the most is not the difference in our moral positions, but his denial. Such an unaware person shouldn’t be in the awareness team. I told him “If the AfD comes to power, I will be dragged in front of you and you will say nothing.” He said, “They better shoot me first.” Very noble, but in that hypothetical dystopia, the fascists will first dehumanise us by spreading lies and fear, and then act on collective punishment (read history books, or the news).
Finally, he apologised for yelling at me. I told him that I don’t care about the tone of voice, but I care that he apologises for calling me an antisemite. He turned his back and left. I don’t know his name. The other organisers didn’t inform me of it either.
What is in my Free Palestine?
I know that most of you would do everything to avoid opening the topic of Palestine (I excuse migrants). It is not only the state’s silencing of leftist Jews and all Muslims, but also the active canceling campaign, ironically, by the Antifas. One more struggle that my community is going through is being unseen, unheard, ignored, humiliated, and threatened. Some of us have lost jobs, tenancy, or scholarships for expressing solidarity with Gaza or criticizing German policies (enters blue jacket). Some are not able to practice their right to protest because of the fragility of their residence or asylum situation. We are not allowed to be political or grieve together. This brings back a lot of trauma in those who were ready to die for democracy, and those who fled fascist regimes.
Even before the report on AfD’s secret meeting,planning to deport millions of people, we were discussing our way out of Germany. Those of us who are in leftist activist circles feel betrayed and isolated, because the spaces we thought were safe are not inclusive of us. The groups we identified with are now supporting carnage raged by an ultra-right-wing government on our people or acting as if it is not worthy of their attention.
White guy in blue jacket told me “Go read a book”. Ok, I live across the street from THE leftist bookstore in Bonn. I passed by one day and asked the guy to remove a racist book cover from the shop window. It portrays a Palestinian scarf wrapped in a jihadist slogan. While talking to him, I got engulfed by emotions and cried. He was nice and generous, offered me tea and listened to me. I asked him if he could put educational books about Palestine instead, but he told me that “Books about the Middle East, Jordania and these places, don’t sell”. There were books about Israel, Rojava, Kurdistan, and most recently, Sudan. I didn’t argue with him, but it sounded too familiar to me. I lived under fascism most of my adult life; they don’t burn books in 2023, they just don’t sell them.
The next day, I passed by with a friend who just moved from Cairo to Cologne. Originally, I had told her about the bookstore, because she wanted to screen her film on growing up Black and German, but this situation made her feel uneasy. My friend was raised in a Jewish, German, Arab, Muslim, and Black family. Her perspective on Palestine is worth reading.
All the people I know in Gaza are activists like you (but better). Ali Mohanna is an environmental activist and an artist. He started a cooperative called The Sea is Ours to grant Gazan kids an affordable public space. I met him in an EU fellowship program where he founded an open-air cinema in Gaza. Ali was never in a real cinema. He and his children now, including his newborn baby Rose, don’t have access to enough food or any clean water or healthcare.
Being a cycling activist, I connected with the cycling team in Gaza, all of whom cycle with one leg, because they were shot while peacefully protesting in the Great March of Return in 2018. The IDF said that 214 Gazans were killed by mistake, even though the soldiers were ‘just’ aiming at knees. Hazem from the team spent a year in Egypt trying to save any part of his leg. He had five different amputations and couldn’t get a prosthetic. Alaa, the team leader, could have saved his leg, but Israel didn’t grant him a medical permit to leave Gaza on time. They now deploy their bikes for aid delivery to the displaced.
Bisan is a feminist activist. Before streaming her video diary of the genocide, she worked with a feminist organization, founded by a Palestinian friend of mine, on the topic of reproductive health awareness. I used to see Bisan modeling silver accessories shaped after female reproductive organs before I started seeing her covered in rubble dust. She is now evacuating for the 6th time in three months.
My Lebanese friends are mourning journalist Issam Abdallah who was targeted by an Israeli tank in South Lebanon. My feelings for them all are a drop in the ocean next to the suffering of any Palestinian.
I came to the anti-AfD demo, as I come to leftist activists spaces, as a whole being. This includes my history, my emotions, my experience of life in Germany and life elsewhere, my understanding of justice and my connection to people. I am not willing to walk the anti-AfD walk, faking a sterilised version of myself that doesn’t include my struggles. If you march in our defence, you need to accept us for who we are, and show some integrity.
This article first appeared on Kandaka website. Reproduced with permission