Every woman was wearing a hijab. From where I stood, looking down Karl-Marx-Straße, maybe one or two were bare-headed. On my right, I could hear Turkish. On my left, Arabic. I had to remind myself this was the heart of Central Europe, not the Middle East.
If you were a conspiracy theorist, fantasising about an Islamic takeover, this was ground zero. With cellphone ringtones playing back Islamic prayers periodically, Sharia law was right around the corner. The possibilities were endless. It was very funny if you put it in that sort of context.
Cheap shots are easy. Particularly when it comes to right-wingers uncomfortable with immigration and diversity. Nine years now in Neukölln, I still can’t get over the pleasure their anxieties give me, even though I understand how dangerous they are, and how they get translated politically.
I’ll be the first to admit that the kick I get out of it is highly subjective. I enjoy it because I am Jewish and understand how challenging it is for white ethnics to be confronted by Muslims.
For persons from Central and Eastern Europe, used to feeling inferior to Western Europeans, Arabs and Turks offer them an opportunity to feel superior. Particularly Muslim women, because conservatives like this are already sexist.
Factor in differences in religion and couture and you get racism, in addition to misogyny.
The importance of gender, in inspiring a sense of superiority, is transparent. It’s a ladder to a more general discriminatory outlook that merges sexism and ethnicity into a single negative.
Walking around my neighbourhood, running errands, or taking pictures, buying groceries, or heading out to work, it’s impossible not to notice the tension.
Older whites, who live nearby, or pass through, look especially nervous, constantly taking in the Muslim – primarily women during weekdays – nervously.
The serious of the vibe can be suffocating. However, it’s by no means unprecedented and its persistence is a sign it hasn’t been constructively addressed.
As much as Germans often complain Muslims don’t integrate enough, I can help but wonder if Germans aren’t working hard enough either.
Commentary courtesy of Joel Schalit. Photographs courtesy of the author.