Journey into Europe

Writing any type of survey book on Islam in Europe is not a task for the faint of heart. Islam’s long-term presence in Europe, combined with its myriad expressions and trajectories across the continent in modern history, makes such a project a daunting one. Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the Pakistani high commissioner to the United Kingdom and Ireland and the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, takes up this challenge and produces a masterpiece in Journey into Europe: Islam, Immigration, and Identity (Brookings Institution Press, 2018). The book is a magisterial examination of Islam’s place in Europe’s historical, cultural, and political landscape.

The book is the last of a four-volume series from Ahmed devised and written after the September 11 attacks to address the relationship between Islam and the West. Of the four, this is the only one specifically devoted to Islam in Europe. Ahmed’s methodological approach can best be described as anthropological, though he readily acknowledges the book does not reflect “standard textbook anthropology” (34). Ahmed weaves participant observation, ethnographic descriptions, case studies, and personal interviews into a larger narrative amply informed by historical research.

Journey into Europe is both descriptive and prescriptive. What Ahmed describes is a continent at a crossroads as it struggles to determine how, or whether, Islam factors into its own identity formation. Ahmed illuminates this struggle by arguing Europe is best characterized by three competing identities. The first is its primordial identity, a type of tribalism in which Europeans come to value their own unique culture and traditions. The second is its predator identity, an aggressive, exclusivist, and even militaristic form of expression that defines what it means to be European in narrow religious, ethnic, or racial terms. The third is its pluralist identity. This identity moves away from tribe and blood by drawing on the shared history of diverse peoples in Europe. Ahmed uses the Spanish term la convivencia to capture this strand of European identity and lifts up Jewish, Muslim, and Christian co-existence and cooperation in historic Andalusia as an example of this pluralist model.

What Ahmed prescribes is an elevation of the pluralist identity as more central to what it means to be European. But he recognizes Europe faces enormous pressures to choose a more dangerous path. As large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers cross into Europe, as a virulent strand of Islamophobia fueled by the Far Right spreads, and as a small minority with a Muslim background turns to violence or terrorism, the temptation for many in Europe is to revert to a tribal or, even worse, an exclusionary European identity based on blood and lineage. Many have already given in to this temptation, and the result has been a rise in anti-Muslim hatred and violence along with the implementation of policies that jeopardize human rights, civil liberties, and democracy—the very foundations of European modernity. The hope for a peaceful, prosperous Europe lies in imagining and implementing a New Andalusia. Only a pluralist Europe that recognizes the gifts and contributions of its diverse populations can maintain its core values as it moves further into the twenty-first century.

One of the greatest strengths of Journey into Europe is that it does not censor perspectives on Muslims that might give the reader pause concerning the realization of a New Andalusia. In addition to presenting stories of Muslims collaborating and cooperating with the non-Muslim majority for the common good, Ahmed also tackles sensitive topics pertaining to Europe’s Muslims, including instances of anti-Semitism, cases of foreign fighters joining ISIS, and expressions of anger or resentment toward the majority population.

In one notable account, he describes how three researchers on his team, while parked outside a mosque in Bradford, England, as they were preparing to film a documentary, were verbally harassed by large numbers of British-Pakistani students coming out of a nearby school. At one point, some students pounded on the vehicle in an act of physical intimidation. The proximity of the researchers to the mosque was seen as an act of provocation, and the students responded accordingly. It was an ugly scene and a most unfortunate experience given the purpose of the research project.

Ahmed could have kept this story to himself since the incident was an exception to the overall hospitable welcome his team received from Muslims throughout Europe. He didn’t. He puts it out there as something readers must come to terms with in trying to make sense of the anger Europe’s Muslim youth sometimes feels toward the majority population, particularly in light of policies that contribute to their marginalization and alienation in countries like Britain.

Journey into Europe succeeds admirably in giving voice to a diverse array of Muslim perspectives and experiences in Europe’s past and present, and to telling the stories of how Muslims from many walks of life are contributing to their communities while navigating the obstacles that prevent them from full inclusion in Europe. It also presents a bold vision of what Europe has the potential to become not in spite of its religious diversity but because of it. Ahmed’s study is a tremendous and timely contribution to the academic literature on Islam in Europe and is essential reading in these tense, difficult times.

http://readingreligion.org/books/journey-europe

Controversy of British Channel 4’s new documentary about British Muslims

The British TV Channel 4 aired a document called “My Week as a Muslim” on October 23rd. The show created significant backlash because a White, British Islamophobic woman dressed up as a Pakistani, Muslim woman. Katie Freeman not only wore Muslim clothes but also wore dark make-up and prosthetic nose and teeth. Opponents of the documentary call this a racist use of brown-face.

The producer, Fazia Khan, had previously created “Extremely British Muslims” on Channel 4. She says her goal with this new documentary “was to educate, not offend.” She intended to avoid “preaching to the converted” by including Freeman, who was hostile towards Muslims like many White Britons. Khan writes, “We hoped that people who shared some of Katie’s views would go on the journey with her. I think the disguise element was an absolutely crucial part of this.”

Khan placed Freeman in a Muslim household. Khan discussed the idea with local Muslim organizations, such as the British Muslim Heritage Centre, and the family before starting the project.

As a result of the disguise, Khan argues, Freeman experienced an “insider” feeling that otherwise who not have been possible in other situations.

Others disagree that this was the correct way to portray Muslims and Islamophobia. Radhika Sanghani says that the idea of challenging racism is worthwhile but this documentary is “perpetuating old cliches and focusing on physical appearance.” She questions why the show follows a non-Muslim woman rather than Muslim women who experience racism regularly.

Freeman changes her views by the end of the segment. Still, Sanghani is concerned that the Freeman’s “week as a Muslim doesn’t just depict the reality of life behind a hijab – it implies that all Asian women look a certain way, and sends out the damaging message that brownface, with all its historical and racist connotations, is acceptable.”

Austrian elections pave way for populist government, making Muslims apprehensive

The elections to the National Council, the lower house of the Austrian Parliament on October 15, have marked a firm shift to the right in Austrian politics, particularly on matters of immigration, integration, and Islam.

Sebastian Kurz headed for an ÖVP-FPÖ coalition

After an electoral campaign dominated by at times vicious diatribes against Muslims and foreigners, the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) with 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz at the helm managed to secure 31.5 per cent of the popular vote, making it the largest group in parliament.

The Social Democrats (SPÖ), who had previously led a ‘grand coalition’ with the ÖVP as junior partner, took second place, with 26.9 per cent. They are followed closely by the third-largest political force, the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), which gained 26 per cent of the ballots cast. Liberals and an offshoot of the Green Party obtained 5.3 and 4.4 per cent of the vote, respectively.

With no party gaining an absolute majority, the most likely option for putting together a government appears a right-wing coalition between ÖVP and FPÖ. This would bring the Austrian populists into the government afte all, less then a year after they narrowly failed to clinch the country’s Presidency.

A campaign focused on immigration, integration, Islam

An ÖVP-FPÖ government is all the more likely since the obvious alternative – another grand coalition between Conservatives and Social Democrats – is despised by the electorate and viewed with weariness by party bosses. Against this backdrop of dissatisfaction with the status quo, the youthful Sebastian Kurz has not only stylised himself as a figure of radical political renewal since taking control of his ÖVP party; he has also steered a course of rapprochement with the FPÖ.

Throughout the electoral campaign, Kurz presented himself as the guarantor of a restrictive immigration policy – he claimed that it had been his initiative that had secured the closure of the refugee route across the Western Balkans in 2015.

Kurz also pushed the topic of “Islam” into the limelight of the campaign. Among other things, he called for a hijab ban in schools (while demanding that the Christian cross continue to be displayed prominently in every classroom).(( http://www.fr.de/politik/wahlkampf-in-oesterreich-sebastian-kurz-entdeckt-das-thema-islam-a-1337052 ))

Study on ‘extremist’ Islamic nursery schools falsified

Similarly, the ÖVP politician insisted on the need to close nursery schools run by Islamic organisations, claiming that they were hotbeds of Salafist radicalism.(( https://kurier.at/politik/inland/sebastian-kurz-im-kurier-gespraech-islamische-kindergaerten-abschaffen/271.008.503 )) Confessional educational institutions are widespread in Austria, with the Catholic Church running the vast majority of them.

Kurz justified his stance by pointing to a study on Islamic kindergartens that he had commissioned while serving as Austria’s foreign minister. Subsequently it emerged, however, that the Foreign Ministry had tampered with the study’s results in order to make them more amenable to Kurz’s ‘hard-line’ position.

Where the study’s author had observed that Muslim parents who sent their kids to nursery schools run by Islamic associations were looking for an education based on values of “self-reliance, respect, and love”, a foreign Ministry employee replaced this with the assertion that Muslim parents were seeking to “protect their children from the moral influence of majority society”.

In another passage, the study originally asserted that parents were interested in “respect, serenity, the child’s individuality, hygiene, the child’s happiness, punctuality, love, warmth and caring, self-reliance, as well as transparency of rules”. The Foreign Ministry altered this to claim that “parents place particular emphasis on the imparting of Islamic values”.(( https://cms.falter.at/falter/2017/07/04/frisiersalon-kurz/ ))

Difficult times ahead for Austrian Muslims

Against this backdrop, many Austrian Muslims unsurprisingly see an ÖVP-FPÖ coalition under the leadership of Sebastian Kurz as a threat. Austrian blogger and activist Dudu Küçükgöl observed that “when it comes to efforts at integration, Austria will be thrown back by 20 years.” She expects a rise in racism and anti-immigrantism, particularly directed against the country’s Muslim population.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

Austria’s recently passed “Islam Act” might turn out to be particularly important in this respect. Enacted two years ago at the instigation of Kurz, Muslim activists have criticised the law for eroding Muslims’ civil rights.

Notably, the legal text provides far-reaching possibilities to dissolve Muslim associations should they fail to display a “positive basic disposition” towards the Austrian state – whatever this requirement might mean in practice.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/17/rechtsruck-unter-dem-deckmantel-der-integration/ ))

Discriminatory agenda

Consequently, many Muslims fear that the future government will use these extremely flexible legal provisions to their detriment. Murat Başer, chairman of the Islamic religious community in the city of Linz, observed:

“A possible FPÖ+ÖVP coalition could mean a broadening of the burqa ban into a general headscarf ban. It could also lead to a more robust and unchecked application of the Islam Act, which would see mosques and Islamic institutions being put under permanent surveillance.”(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

Should Kurz decide to go down this route, he will have the enthusiastic support of the FPÖ: the populists’ campaign called for “redistribution from foreigners to Austrians”, and their electoral placards promised that “we give back to YOU what THEY take from you.” Importantly, ‘they’ not only usurp economic opportunities but also rob Austrians of their cultural identity: “Islamisation must be stopped”, another FPÖ poster read.(( http://diepresse.com/home/innenpolitik/nationalratswahl/5282218/FPOe-plakatiert-Kurz-Kern-und-Gusenbauer ))

International significance of the vote

Political developments in Austria resonate beyond the country’s borders in particular ways. The FPÖ, one of Europe’s most long-standing and most successful far-right parties has been a pioneer of the present-day populist movement. It thus serves as a model for many other comparable parties across the continent.

When it entered the Austrian government for the first time – as a junior partner to the ÖVP – in 2000, the EU and its (at the time) fourteen other Member States reacted with a downgrading of bilateral relations with Austria. Seventeen years later, no such moves will be forthcoming.

German perspectives on the election

German observers tend to pay especially close attention to events in the Alpine Republic across their southern border. Against the backdrop of the strong showing of Germany’s own right-wing populist fringe in last month’s federal elections, commentators are debating the insights and lessons to be drawn from the Austrian case.

Many – including many German Muslims – see Austria as a harbinger of potential things to come: the inexorable growth of a xenophobic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic party on the right fringe; a party whose ability to attract ever-growing numbers of voters ultimately paves the way to its inclusion in government.

Austria as a warning…

In this view, events in Austria ought to be a cautionary tale to policy-makers and activists in Germany. Academic Werner Ötsch, whose research focuses on populist movements, asserted that “the Austrian development should really be a warning for Germany. Here [in Austria], no means against the right-wing populists has been found; and the participation in government such as it occurred in 2000 has not debunked the FPÖ but only made the situation worse.”(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/interview-populismusforscher-oesterreich-sollte-eine-warnung-fuer-deutschland-sein-1.3711357 ))

German Muslim voices have often struck a similar note, with for instance the Secretary General of the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), Bekir Altaş, echoing the notion that the Austrian election results constitute “a stark warning”.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/10/16/oesterreich-erlebt-einen-starken-rechtsruck/ ))

… or as a role model

Others, however, interpret the electoral outcome in the opposite light: Edmund Stoiber, former leader of the CSU, Bavarian sister party to Angela Merkel’s CDU, asserted that Sebastian Kurz’s campaign had delineated the path to be taken by centre-right parties in order to win elections against far-right populist opponents.(( http://www.focus.de/kultur/kino_tv/focus-fernsehclub/tv-kolumne-hart-aber-fair-bayerns-ex-ministerpraesident-edmund-stoiber-macht-seinem-unmut-in-der-sendung-luft_id_7721375.html ))

Thus, for Stoiber, Austrian developments do not offer a cautionary tale but should instead be emulated. (Stoiber had already supported the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition of the early 2000s. At the time, this sparked enormous anger among his German colleagues from the CDU.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/empoerung-in-der-cdu-ueber-edmund-stoibers-koalitionsempfehlung-zu-gunsten-der-fpoe/96400.html )) )

In some sense, Kurz’s victory might seem pyrrhic: it was, after all, the FPÖ that set the agenda for the electoral campaign and will most likely define the topics and the tone of Kurz’s policy initiatives in government. Stoiber’s statements nevertheless highlight the ways in which the Austrian election results will further intensify the factional dispute within the German CDU/CSU  over whether to respond to the rise of right-wing populists by emulating them.

Interior Minister ignites debate on Islamic public holiday in Germany

Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, member of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, has sparked controversy by asserting that local authorities might be allowed to introduce a public holiday to commemorate an Islamic religious occasion.

A regional Muslim holiday?

De Maizière did not suggest a day off work at the national level but rather a regional one, limited to areas with a large Muslim population. Such area-specific divergences in matters of religious festivities and the corresponding public holidays are widespread in Germany, due to the country’s historical split between Protestant and Catholic areas.

His declarations, which came at a campaign rally in the Lower Saxon town of Wolfenbüttel, were met with considerable surprise. In the preceding months, de Maizière had often struck a very different tone.

Most notably, he had revived Germany’s long-standing debate about a ‘leading’ or ‘guiding’ culture (Leitkultur) in a populist tabloid article. The notion of a ‘leading culture’ stresses Germany’s supposedly Judeo-Christian essence and thus implicitly defines German identity in opposition to Islam.

Backlash against the proposal

The overall reception of de Maizière’s unexpected suggestion was negative. In a poll, slightly more than 70 per cent of Germans rejected the idea that Islamic occasions could become a public holiday. Only 7,8 per cent of respondents declared themselves in favour of the Interior Minister’s proposal.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/videos/70-prozent-dagegen-nach-de-maiziere-vorstoss-mehrheit-der-deutschen-lehnt-islamische-feiertag-ab_id_7724392.html ))

De Maizière’s fellow Christian Democrats expressed anger and outrage at his statements. Bernd Althusmann, the CDU’s front-runner for the state elections in Lower Saxony (which he has since lost), criticised the timing of de Maizière’s advance during the late stages of the electoral campaign.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/aussage-zu-muslimischen-feiertagen-thomas-de-maiziere-erntet-heftige-kritik_id_7708486.html ))

Alexander Dobrindt, Minister of Transport and member of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, accused de Maizière of jeopardising Germany’s Christian heritage. “To introduce Islam-holidays in Germany is out of the question for us.” Other CDU figures also stressed the need to protect the “Judeo-Christian” heritage of the country.(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/thomas-de-maiziere/brauchen-wir-wirklich-einen-muslimischen-feiertag-53525894.bild.html ))

Discrimination of Christians abroad

In a somewhat incongruous move, many commentators also dismissed the notion that Germany might introduce an Islamic holiday by pointing to the religious discrimination and persecution suffered by Christians in Muslim-majority countries.

The Catholic bishop of Fulda asked: “How would Islamic states react, if Catholic Christians attempted to celebrate for instance the festival of Corpus Christi with a [public] procession?”(( http://www.die-tagespost.de/politik/Islam-Feiertagsdebatte-geht-weiter;art315,182532 )) He was seconded by leading CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach, who argued that the religious liberty of Christians in Islamic countries ought to be the priority.

The two men did not elucidate, however, how the highly objectionable suppression of the rights of Christians in other parts of the world could legitimise religious discrimination at home.

Catholic laymen more receptive to an Islamic holiday

Other Christian religious figures and institutions were, however, at least initially less hostile to de Maizière’s suggestions. The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the largest Catholic laymen’s association, welcomed the debate on the potential introduction of an Islamic public holiday in certain localities.

He asserted that “in a multi-religious society, an Islamic holiday can be added in areas with a large share of pious Muslims – without betraying the Christian tradition of our country. That [the betrayal of Christian roots] happens much rather through the transformation of Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus.” CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer has since expressed his “shock” and “bewilderment” atthe ZdK-President’s statements.(( http://www.die-tagespost.de/politik/Islam-Feiertagsdebatte-geht-weiter;art315,182532 ))

Positive reaction of the ZMD

Muslim figures have also taken part in the raging debate. Aiman Mazyek, Chairman of the ZMD – one of Germany’s Islamic umbrella associations – welcomed the statements by Thomas de Maizière.

At the same time, Mazyek – perhaps mindful of the backlash – asserted that he did not demand a public Islamic holiday mandated by law. Instead, Mazyek presented his position as merely wanting to raise awareness of Islamic religious occasions so that they be ‘put on the map’.

On this basis, Muslim employees might be able to reach practicable solutions at their workplace that would allow them to celebrate Islamic holidays. Mazyek gave the example of a Muslim policeman having a day off for Eid while stepping in for his Christian counterpart on Christmas Day.(( http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/politik/inland/muslimischer-feiertag-deutschland-100.html ))

Critical Muslim voices

Other voices were more critical. Ahmad Mansour, a highly vocal counter-radicalisation activist, called de Maizière’s proposition of an Islamic public holiday “a well-meant gesture” but deemed it impractical. Instead, Mansour suggested that all Germans be given two additional days off work, to be used for whichever religious festival people feel attached to.(( https://www.facebook.com/OfficialAhmadMansour/posts/529328327414627 ))

Lamya Kaddor, Islamic scholar and Chairwoman of the Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB) also dismissed calls for an Islamic holiday. For Kaddor, the Muslim community in Germany is too small to warrant a public holiday; like Mansour, she stressed that more practical, hands-on solutions to the needs of Muslim employees could be found at the individual workplace.

Kaddor criticised de Maizière’s statements as a mere exercise in symbolism out of touch with the genuine wishes of Muslim Germans. Kaddor suspected that the Interior Minister’s remarks were merely clumsy advances seeking to attract Muslim voters to the CDU.(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Muslimischer-Feiertag-waere-Symbolpolitik-article20083722.html ))

Individualisation of the religious sphere

The underlying question remains, however, how religious minorities can reconcile their faith with a calendar – and hence a working schedule as well as with a societal sense of time – still based on fundamentally Christian notions.

Many who might consider themselves socially liberal ‘progressives’ appear to be drawn to a particular default answer to this question – namely to the flexibilisation of public holidays: they assert that adherents of different religious traditions ought to be able to take leave from work on different days, depending on their individual faith-based commitments.

Unifying potential of a public holiday

Yet the outcome of such flexibility would be the further segregation of religious traditions. Murat Kayman, a former official of the Turkish-dominated DİTİB Islamic association who was chased from his post in the context of personnel purges after Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt, highlighted the potential of a universal and mandatory Islamic public holiday for inter-religious dialogue:

“It would be a nice thought if on this day Ronny from Dresden or Thilo from Berlin could have time for their families, hobbies, and leisure – only because there are Muslims in Germany. By the same token, there should be a nationwide Jewish holiday. So that Jens from Frankfurt and Mehmet from Duisburg realise that they can only spend a pleasurable, work-free day because of their fellow Jewish citizens.”(( http://murat-kayman.de/2017/10/16/deutschland-muss-deutschland-bleiben/ ))

Lamya Kaddor in fact struck a similar note while steering clear of religious connotations:

“It might be nice to introduce a holiday that represents what constitutes and unites our society. Maybe a ‘Day of Immigration’. There is a centuries-old tradition of immigration into this country, from Huguenots to Syrians. This could be a signal to look towards the future for once, instead of back into the past. Christian values would not be infringed upon by this – and neither would Muslim or any other ones.”(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Muslimischer-Feiertag-waere-Symbolpolitik-article20083722.html ))

De Maizière “misunderstood”

For now, however, such a communal new holiday seems far off. After the fierce criticism directed at his remarks, Thomas de Maizière backtracked quickly, asserting that he had been misunderstood.

On his website, he stated: “There is no suggestion on my part to introduce a Muslim holiday. I will also not make such a suggestion.”(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/muslimischer-feiertag-de-maiziere-fuehlt-sich-missverstanden-15250862.html ))

 

Row arises over plans for a mosque in a Jewish London neighbourhood

The Centre for Islamic Enlightening, a Shia Muslim organization, bought the Grade II (meaning second tier of historical importance) Golders Green Hippodrome building and intends to use it as a mosque and community center. Most recently the hippodrome was used as an evangelical church.

Residents of Golders Green, a London neighbourhood with a large Jewish presence, have voiced opposition to the mosque. An online petition against the building’s repurposing received more than 5,000 signatures.

Some of the objections have focused on the possibility of traffic and parking problems but others are directly Islamophobic. One resident wrote, “This is going to force the Jewish population to run away, and make this beautiful neighbourhood too crowded with loads of burkas.”

Another person suggested that placing a Muslim institution in Golders Green would lead to anti-Jewish terrorism and violence and attract “undesirables” to the area.

A Reform rabbi in Golders Green, Mark Goldsmith, said that the Islamophobic comments were “threatening and misleading.”

Ahmed al-Kazemi, spokesperson for the Centre for Islamic Enlightening, said, “There might be people who don’t like us, but we don’t feel threatened. I have lived in Golders Green for 15 years, I have a Jewish neighbour and a Christian neighbour, and they are my brothers. I would invite people who don’t know us, and maybe have said something nasty about us, to come and meet us, and have a cup of tea or share a meal.”

 

Aftershocks of Berlin Christmas market attack lead to counter-terrorism debates in Germany

It is now almost a year ago that Anis Amri, a Tunisian man who had arrived in Germany in 2015 and claimed to be a refugee, steered a lorry into a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring 56.

New report on intelligence failings

Almost immediately after the event, growing evidence pointed to severe failings on the part of the authorities. Not only had they not noticed the danger emanating from Amri; different sections of the justice system had also failed to arrest the young man following any of his multiple brushes with the law.

Amri, whose legal right to remain in the country had expired long ago, had had repeated run-ins with the police not only on the grounds of suspected Islamist radicalism but also for violations of residence requirements and for a range of drug infractions.

Now, a new report, commissioned by the government of Berlin, has attempted to chronicle the events leading up to the December 2016 attack. Its author, former federal prosecutor Bruno Jost, paints a dismal picture of German counter-terrorism efforts.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/fall-anis-amri-sonderermittler-wirft-behoerden-versagen-vor-a-1172571.html ))

Lack of cooperation and of personnel in the counter-terrorism sector

Jost describes how large gaps opened up in Germany’s counter-terrorism architecture that allowed Amri to slip through the cracks for more than a year. The vertical information flow between different levels of the security apparatus remained deficient, so that high-level counter-terrorism bodies – who discussed Amri and his potential plans – never held all the relevant information that had been collected.

Horizontally, cooperation between the different institutions – various police departments, domestic intelligence agencies, and prosecutorial bodies – was equally haphazard. Moreover, security agencies did not share information across Germany’s internal federal boundaries, meaning that the states of Berlin, North-Rhine Westphalia, and Baden-Württemberg left each other in the dark regarding their respective insights into Amri’s persona and intentions.

Finally, Jost highlighted severe staff shortages particularly in Berlin: although the capital’s authorities had for a time designated Amri as the most dangerous individual with jihadist linkages in the city, they were unable to keep track of him. Notably, he could only be monitored on weekdays: on weekends, there was a lack of staff.

Solving the staffing problems

As a response to the Amri case, politicians from across the political spectrum have called for greater centralisation of counter-terrorism efforts at the national level. Similarly, there is cross-partisan agreement on the need to replenish Germany’s police, whose forces had been depleted over the course of several years of budget cuts.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/nach-bericht-zu-anis-amri-das-ist-wirklich-eine-bittere.694.de.html?dram:article_id=398118, http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-10/terrorismus-union-forderung-reform-ueberwachung-anis-amri ))

More personnel, however, will most likely not solve all problems but may also generate new issues of its own. In fact, the reliability of German counter-terrorism staff has come repeatedly into question in recent months.

Questions about the reliability of intelligence personnel

First, the country’s domestic intelligence agency – the Verfassungsschutz – was rocked by revelations about an alleged Islamist mole. In this somewhat bizarre case, a former porn actor and bank clerk, who had recently joined the agency, had passed on classified information online to a supposed member of the Salafi scene – who, in fact, turned out to be another member of the Verfassungsschutz working undercover.

While it was initially suspected that the man had acted out of jihadist motivations, he ultimately turned out to be not driven by political or religious terrorism but by “boredom”: in different internet fora, the man had enjoyed playing different ‘roles’, passing himself off in turns as a hard-core militarist, a far-right neo-Nazi, and a fervent jihadist.(( http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/vermischtes/urteil-maulwurf-verfassungsschutz-100.html ))

A state informer as an Islamist agent provocateur

In the case of Anis Amri, intelligence personnel has played an occasionally dubious role, too. Prior to his attack on the Christmas market, Amri moved in the orbit of hard-line preacher ‘Abu Walaa’, arrested in November 2016 for being the central node of ISIS’s network in Germany. Recent investigations have shed light on the potentially pivotal role of an inside man employed by the Verfassungsschutz within these circles.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/anschlag-in-berlin-die-mysterioese-rolle-eines-v-manns-im-fall-amri-1.3689391 ))

The undercover informer, working under the codename “Murat”, had driven Amri to Berlin on at least one occasion in 2016. Moreover, there is evidence that Murat pushed Amri to commit an attack in Germany: a Muslim man who had witnessed interactions between Murat and Amri turned to the police after the Christmas market attack, alleging that Murat had been a crucial influencer inciting Amri to violence against German targets.

Murat had reported to his superiors at the agency that Amri was considered a candidate for travelling to Syria in order to join local jihadist groups – rather than being prepared to mount an operation in Germany. Now the possibility emerges that Murat himself may have overplayed his role as an agent provocateur, thereby helping to pave the way for the Berlin attack.

Blurring lines between state intelligence bodies and terror groups

The case of “Murat” thus highlights the possibility that the inside agents of the Verfassungsschutz – called V-Männer in German intelligence jargon – may become important factors in the terrorist groups they are supposed to observe.

The resulting blurring of the lines between intelligence agency and terror group is not confined to the Islamist spectrum: Investigations into the National Socialist Underground (NSU) cell, who killed 10 (mostly immigrant) victims between 2000 and 2006 and was responsible for two bomb attacks as well as 14 bank robberies, have uncovered systematic linkages between the neo-Nazi terror group and the German intelligence community.(( http://taz.de/Die-NSU-Serie-Teil-2/!5350062/ ))

Shadow of the NSU case

Seven intelligence agencies paid more than 40 men and women inside the NSU’s network. Among them were high-level neo-Nazi functionaries; and many informers had a long criminal history ranging from incitement of racial hatred to attempted murder.

A high-level agent the Verfassungsschutz is suspected of having been at the scene of at least one of the NSU’s murders; and the agency’s informers have been accused of having sheltered NSU members and of having delivered weapons and explosives. After the NSU was discovered, the agency shredded a large number of documents pertaining to the NSU affair, protecting its informers and preventing the full investigation of the group to this day.

The Verfassungsschutz’s heavy reliance on inside men also caused the failure of an attempt to ban the neo-Nazi NPD Party in 2003: the fact that high-level NPD leaders were in fact paid informers of the domestic intelligence agency led the Constitutional Court to decide that the party could not be banned because it was too close to the state and hence not independent in its decisions.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/v-mann-affaere-fatale-frenz-connection_aid_204938.html ))

Demands for more electronic surveillance

It is perhaps against this backdrop that agencies have recently renewed their demands for enhanced legal and technological tools that can help dispense with reliance on controversial V-Männer. The President of the Verfassungsschutz, Hans-Georg Maaßen, reiterated  his call that his agency be given access to online messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram. He also demanded enhanced competencies for surveillance of internet browsing.(( http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/verfassungsschutzchef-maassen-fordert-mehr-technische-werkzeuge/20416986.html ))

One might be tempted to observe that none of these new tools would have been necessary to apprehend Anis Amri: existing legal possibilities would have been sufficient, had the various players in the police and intelligence communities only managed to work together and use them.

When asked about the failure to stop Amri, however, Maaßen continues to reject all responsibility. Instead, he places the blame at the feet of Angela Merkel’s (brief) open-door policy of summer 2015. Maaßen asserts that Amri crossed the border irregularly, that he had no legal claim to asylum, and that he should have been deported back to Italy under the rules of the Dublin system even before his agency should have become involved.(( http://www.fr.de/politik/geheimdienst-verfassungsschutz-fordert-mehr-befugnisse-a-1363344,0#artpager-1363344-0 ))

Hate crimes against UK mosques double between 2016 and 2017

Hate crimes against British mosques doubled in the period between March and June of last year and the same time period this year. This may be related to several high-profile, ISIS-claimed terrorist attacks.

Hate crimes at or near mosques have ranged to vandalism of vehicles to bomb threats to violent assaults on worshippers. The greatest increase in hate crimes was seen in Greater Manchester and the second highest increase was in London.

A spokesperson for the home office responded, “all forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable and the UK has some of the strongest laws in the world to tackle it.”

Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Tell Mama, an anti-hate crime organisation that focuses on supporting the Muslim community, said: “Political events have supercharged the sense of confidence in sections of our population which probably held those [extremist] views and didn’t voice them before, but felt confident in voicing them over the last few years. We have seen a rise in anti-Muslim extremism and far-right activity online, with a very slow, dinosaur approach from social media companies to take off hate, and an utter denial for three or four years that this was their responsibility.”

Mughal also noted that Muslim terrorism is correlated with hate crimes against Muslims. He argues it is critical to reduce these terrorist attacks.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the crimes should be “met with the full force of the law.” Rudd also announced a new online hate crime reporting tool which hopefully will encourage more victims to report hate crimes.

The data comes form the British police and was obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the British Press Association.

France adopts new anti-terrorism law

France’s lower house of parliament has approved a new anti-terrorism law intended to bring an end to a nearly two-year-long state of emergency.

The law will incorporate several measures first authorized under the emergency arrangement. They include easier searches of homes and confining individuals to their home towns, without judicial approval.

The state of emergency has been extended six times, but there was a consensus that to continue with the state of emergency indefinitely would be undemocratic.

The bill was approved by by 415 votes to 127, with 19 abstentions, and is expected to become law before the latest state of emergency extension expires on 1 November.

Interior Minister Gérard Collomb told parliament on Tuesday that the threat level was still “very serious”, saying: “We’re still in a state of war.”

The new law will allow members of the government – rather than judges – to approve the confinement of individuals to their home towns, requiring them to report to police once a day.

The authorities will be allowed to mount security perimeters around places deemed at risk – such as railway stations and airports – within which people and vehicles can be searched.

Mosques or other places of worship can be shut down if preachers there are found to be promoting radical ideology.

France fears Iran’s Revolutionary Guard terror listing would fuel crisis

France said on Monday it was worried that designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a terrorist group could exacerbate tensions in the region, and appeared to urge Tehran to show restraint.

“In the context of regional instability, France is vigilant on any actions that could exacerbate the current crises,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne told a daily briefing, when asked if Paris backed putting the IRGC on a terrorism list.

“With this in mind, regional states have a specific role to play and must show restraint and a sense of responsibility,” she said.

Trump is to unveil his strategy on how he wants to contain Tehran in the region next week and is expected to decertify a landmark 2015 international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, in a step that potentially could cause the accord to unravel.

Two Frenchmen charged with plotting terror attack from their prison cells

Prosecutors have filed terror charges against two suspected jihadists believed to have been planning to carry out an attack after their upcoming release from prison, sources close to the case said Monday.
The men discussed the would-be plot, which included possibly taking hostages or machine-gunning victims, while they were serving time in Fresnes prison south of Paris.
“These two radical Islamists wanted to set up a group of fighters with the aim of… various actions outside prison,” said one of the probe sources.
One of the suspects is a 28-year-old Cameroonian described by authorities as an Islamic State group sympathizer, while the other is a 22-year-old Frenchman.
Both were behind bars for non-terror offenses and were suspected of being radicalized while serving their sentences. They were charged Friday with being part of a terrorist conspiracy. The Cameroonian man was also believed to have been in contact with a person in Iraq or Syria, where Islamic State is under pressure from a US-led coalition.