Film Projects on Islam, Islamophobia, Islamism and Muslim Life in Germany

Short films play an important role in our work with young people. They are a well-suited medium to highlight current – especially lifeworld-related – topics and to stimulate discussions. Nalan Yağcı introduces some of them.

Currently, there are several film projects that deal with the subjects of Islam, Islamophobia and Islamism. They inform, initiate discussions or stimulate a change of perspective when it comes to the discrimination encountered by Muslims in Germany, religious diversity in Islam or current issues including the refugee situation and the war in Syria. Some of these projects are presented here.

Wuppertal Media Project: Anti-Muslim Sentiment

The central focus of this film series is the discrimination of Muslims in Germany. Released in 2013 the films, which can be ordered online, put a spotlight on anti-Muslim racism from various angles. The seven films run an average of 30 minutes. They were directed by educators who intend to use this material in their work with students. The target group is mainly youths with German roots: The film sequences are intended to make them aware of their own prejudices and grudges as well as encourage them to critically question their attitudes. The films provide background information on Islamophobia as a phenomenon that affects society as a whole and put a focus on individuals who have personally experienced anti-Muslim racism. So far, it is the only film project that exclusively and comprehensively deals with this topic while also letting Muslims have a say on the matter.

Begriffswelten Islam’ (‘Nomenclature of Islam’): Bundeszentrale für Poitische Bildung (Federal Agency for Civic Education): YouTube activists against Islamism

As part of the project ‘Begriffswelten Islam’, which uses the hash tags #WhatIS and #travellingIslam on YouTube, well-known YouTube activists Hatice Schmidt, MrWissen2go and LeFloid make and present films. In this project, which is under the auspices of the Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung (Federal Agency for Civic Education), the three involved activists use videos in the YouTube channels they host to broach the thematic field of Islam und Islamism. Prior to joining the project, all three of them already enjoyed plenty of YouTube success in their own right. The project banks on their popularity as YouTube personalities and takes advantage of their reach among youths to sensitize them to the diversity of Muslim lifeworlds in Germany, Islamic propaganda and also to the anti-Muslim hate speeches circulating on the Internet.

Just how big the interest in such undertakings is became clear even before the project was launched, with numerous media outlets covering it even before first videos went online. Since mid-October 2015, they can be viewed on YouTube. Between three and 15 minutes long, the videos explain terms like ‘ummah‘ or ‘infidel‘.

These films address young people. Already now, especially Hatice Schmidt’s comment section shows that these films do in fact reach many young people – even those who identify themselves as Muslims. The comments are moderated by ‘Experts for bpb’; a project group comprising experts (generally scholars of Islamic Studies) who answer questions and provide background information on Islam.

Whether it makes sense or not to have experts deliver theological answers to religious questions on behalf of the Federal Agency for Civic Education is debatable. Perhaps it would be more helpful to get youths to discuss these issues amongst themselves and also to find out how they would like to deal with these topics.

Muslim Diversity: JUMA Project Films

The project ‘JUMA – Jung, muslimisch, aktiv’ also produces films on the topic of Muslim life in Germany. And, in the meantime, their film series has won several awards. The films are not only geared to youths; they are also created by youths. In one of the films, Muslim youths talk about their daily life in Berlin, what defines them and what being Muslim means to them. It’s about 20-minutes long and includes several self-portraits of young Muslims. The voices that are given a platform here seem authentic and one can sense that the protagonists are keen on making an own film and conveying their own messages. In this particular film, young Muslims don’t come across as passive objects or as victims; they present themselves as players who are shaping their lives on their own terms, independently of the often contradictory expectations of their families and society. This film is especially promising because it helps empower young Muslims.

Das Satirekalifat (‘the Caliphate of Satire’): Die Datteltäter (literally ‘date culprit’, this tongue-in-cheek term rhymes with the German word ‘Attentäter’ or ‘assassin’)

The humorist titel ‘Datteltätern‘ stands for a group of young Muslims and non-Muslims from Berlin who have been trying to establish a self-styled satire caliphate on YouTube over the past several months. Datteltäter uses short videos to take up current issues, for example, the refugee situation in Germany, ISIS propaganda or day-by-day experiences of Muslims who have to put up with stupid comments and exclusion. They make fun of everything, whether this is the mini terror cell ‘IS Trier’, EU bureaucrats and their policies with regard to refugees or anti-Muslim online comments. They take on clichés, stereotypes or even enemy images and dismantle them by means of satire from a Muslim perspective. Their target audience is Muslim and non-Muslim youths and the popularity of their YouTube videos is reflected by a following that has grown significantly lately. Since they release a new video just about every week, the Datteltäter are able to keep up with all the current issues. The Datteltäter don’t offer civic education in the proper sense, yet their films are a great starting point for discussions on politics and society.

Counter-narratives: Abdullah X

So far, the films by Abdullah X were only available in English. They are produced by an individual who used to be part of the Islamist scene in Great Britain and he uses an animated fictional character that comments on world affairs and on Islamist propaganda videos. The videos offer a counter narrative that questions propaganda and confronts it with an alternative point of view. In the films, Abdullah X himself says that he wants to squelch the myths and prejudices that young Muslims have with regard to their belief system and – at the same time – he picks up the concerns that move them. His first videos went online on YouTube in 2014. Since then Abdullah X has released a number of films of different lengths. The target group is narrower here than the one of the other film projects presented. First and foremost, the videos are directed at young people who have already had first-hand contact with Islamist propagandists. The stories presented are rather sophisticated and the issues are often discussed in a philosophical, abstract way. Thus, in conjunction with the language barrier, their use for work with German-speaking youths may be somewhat limited.

Animated films from the exhibition: ‘Was glaubst du denn? Muslime in Deutschland‘ (‘What do you think? Muslims in Germany’)

Sponsored by the Federal Agency for Civic Education, this exhibition has been touring throughout Germany since 2013. As part of the Peer Guide program, it encourages youths to talk about the diversity of Muslim life in Germany – but also about Islamophobia and religious extremism. Short Animationsfilme asting just a few minutes each, are part of this exhibition. They convey information but also offer food for thought about basic questions, for example: How do religions function? Is there just one Islam or are there many? What does the day-to-day life of Muslims in Germany look like? The accompanying website features two of these films and a few video portraits of young Muslims who relate their personal stories. In part, these animated films are suitable for working even with fifth graders. Their advantage is that they explain complex topics in a short, vivid but also differentiated way.

But that, by no means, exhausts the possibilities: Projects that deal with such subjects as Islam, Islamophobia and Islamism with film or online content are not exclusively pedagogical either. Often enough, these are films that were created spontaneously to deal with a current issue or depict Muslim lifestyles in Germany. Last year, for example, it was the video Happy by Pharell Williams. It was met with spontaneous reactions first by British Muslims and then by Muslims across the globe who made their own Happy video. These videos were a huge success – perhaps even greater than our film project could ever hope to be – and spread like wildfire online.