“I had to leave my country under specific political contexts, and I went through some difficult times before arriving in Berlin. I used to think that Berlin was the safe place, the place of stability, where I would build my life and the life of my family. But the mental effort and energy that this place needs - that I did not know about before and I am starting to learn about now - drain me,” Egyptian journalist Basma Mustafa tells Raseef22.
At the beginning of 2020, the British newspaper The Guardian published an interview with contemporary Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, after he moved from Berlin to live in London. Considered one of the most powerful and influential artists in the world, Weiwei in the interview said: “Fascism is to think one ideology is higher than others and to try to purify that ideology by dismissing other types of thinking. That’s Nazism. And that Nazism perfectly exists in German daily life today.”
In the interview, Ai Weiwei recounts many racist experiences that he went through during his years living in Berlin, until he finally decided to leave Germany. Anti-Asian racism is not the only type of racism residents of Germany encounter on a daily basis.
Compound racism in the cultural field
“It is not easy to explain the form of racism,” Palestinian graphic designer, publisher, and co-founder of the Khan AlJanub library, Fadi Abdelnour, tells Raseef22. Abdelnour explains German cultural institutional racism, dividing it into several layers, which in turn makes it indirect racism, cloaked in sympathy and the love for helping. It contains a stereotype that is controlled by many factors, such as market supply and demand, and Eurocentric Orientalism.
Syrian theater director Anis Hamdoun tells Raseef22, in the context of the stereotyping of Arab artists, that “it is clearly noticed among workers in the German cultural community, that the way cultural institutions deal with non-Germans (and in this case I am talking about Syrians in particular) through placing the artists in the field of war and destruction, where we are treated as if we know only one thing - dealing with war. There is great ignorance and superiority in the way that they deal with us.”
“For example, you can get funding to produce a film about ISIS, or a film about the war in Syria, but it is never easy to get funding to produce a community-based drama in Algeria, for instance,” says Abdelnour, adding that Arabs are always shown in an image that contains a lot of “misfortune”. For example, “we do not see dead white bodies, only very rarely, while our bodies are fair game. These things are unspoken but well-established, in both culture and art.”
Those who break the “Stereotyped Image” are ostracized
This image of “misfortune” that accompanies the non-German artist is hardly any different with German cultural institutions that work with and support refugee artists, for reasons that the refugees may have nothing to do with. And those who have ideas different from the stereotyped image set by these refugee institutions - ideas that do not fall within the borders of this stereotype - are ostracized, and removed from the culture and art industry circles. This is how the very same image is reproduced thousands of times, “without reaching any real effective and efficient outcomes.”
This truth may be a harsh one, but artists coming from Middle Eastern or Asian countries feel that society and cultural institutions confine them to a narrow framework, that of refugees fleeing war.
Anis Hamdoun tells Raseef22 that German cultural institutions confine “foreigners” within a very narrow framework, and these actions cannot be justified, except in the context of “awful ignorance or racism”. He adds that he works using the German language, makes plays in German to be shown in German theaters, and that he gives lessons in German universities. Despite this, he is confined to margins much narrower than that of what he is capable of, and he feels that these institutions are racist, as they, according to Hamdoun, “will not give you your rights, because they see you as a refugee first, as a child of war second, and only after that as an artist. These institutions do not recognize your worth as an artist, but as a refugee instead. They cannot just see the artist, even after he has spent many years living in this country.”
Hamdoun adds that he knows people who have studied, graduated, and worked in Germany for many years, and are considered children of the German educational system, but they are limited to presenting the roles of refugees, terrorists, and the stereotyped image of Arabs.
Draining daily interactions
Egyptian journalist Basma Mustafa, a new resident of Germany, tells of racist incidents that she is exposed to on a daily basis. She informs Raseef22 that simple day-to-day interactions completely drain her, “I have been living in Germany for five months, and I am exposed to racist and discriminatory incidents on an almost daily basis, and this makes me quite afraid of the idea of applying to work in various German cultural institutions, because I am afraid of being rejected in an aggressive way, like what happens to me every day on the streets.”
Mustafa adds, “I am exposed to racist situations that stem from anything, at the doctor’s, on the bus, in the supermarket...etc. I wake up every day and think about how I will react and what I am going to be exposed to on the street, which exerts a very great psychological pressure on me.”
According to her personal experience, Basma Mustafa tells Raseef22 that she is subjected to racism in all forms and levels, and despite this she doesn’t want to generalize, but her short experience in her dealings with the German population has not been a smooth one. This country, according to Mustafa, “is not only racist towards Arab artists and journalists, but rather is also racist towards those who are different, whether in color, language, or looks.” Basma goes on to say that she cannot yet determine whether this racism is their general culture, because the authorities say otherwise, and because there are laws to combat racism and discrimination.
Arwa H. - a pseudonym - tells Raseef22 that her experience in a number of different German cities has been full of racism. “I was exposed to violent incidents because of the way I look, and because of the fact that I wear the hijab. I would get pushed at the subway station, for example, and I was constantly subjected to verbal insults and abuse.”
Later on, after Arwa took off her hijab for reasons that have to do with her personal convictions, she experienced racism in the institutions and places where Arwa would mention her Arab or Syrian identity, such as places of work and doctors’ clinics.
Where can we escape to?
Most of the Arab refugees in Germany are fleeing from countries that have been torn by wars, occupations, and dictatorships. They are looking for a life that respects freedoms, will, and personal choices of the individual, but they are now facing populist far-right attitudes, and racism that is growing day by day - a fascist racism capable of causing great harm. But where can they escape to?
We have no country, our country is ruled by individuals who care for nothing but absolute power, so we are killed, tortured, and imprisoned in our countries, and when we reach the country of asylum we are faced with racism, and we cannot live a normal life or even one that resembles life. Where can we escape from stupidity, ignorance, and extremism?
We left our country, our homes, our families, and our loved ones in search of a place where we could think, say, and express far from dictatorship, occupation, extremism, and ignorance. But we were then surprised by the supporters of extremism, ignorance, the lovers of dictatorship and those who uphold it, surrounding us from one side, while fascist racists who do not want us in this country block us in from the other. Where is the escape? And where is the place where we can live without fear - where we can live freely?