Formation of the ‘Alliance for Open-Mindedness’: An attempt at inter-religious dialogue in a toxic political climate

Leading representatives of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim religious organisations, as well as the heads of employer associations and unions, and of umbrella associations in the fields of culture, sports and social welfare joined hands in the creation of the ‘Alliance for Open-Mindedness’. According to Zekeriya Altug, spokesman of the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany, the Alliance’s objective is to speak out against fringe movements – especially those from the populist far-right – claiming to represent the societal mainstream. This sentiment – a thinly veiled reference to right-wing protestors to chant ‘We are the people!’ at their anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rallies – was echoed by the leaders of the other confessional organisations. The Alliance conceives of itself as a civil society platform without any party affiliation, seeking to offer a space for religious and social dialogue. Under the header ‘human dignity shall be inviolable’, the Alliance issued an initial proclamation demanding a less hysterical debate on questions of immigration and integration that would remain mindful of fundamental commitments to human rights and to the German Basic Law.

Dutch minister want to revive imam-education in the Netherlands

The Dutch Minister of Education Jet Bussemaker wants to revive the professional education for imams and mental caregivers in the Netherlands. The few educational programs that were present in the Netherlands closed down three years ago. At the behest of Bussemaker the vocational schools Inholland and Windesheim and VU University Amsterdam (VU) have initiated serious conversations about a possible restart of the educational programs.

The goal is once again to create an educational program that forms Islamic clerics in line with Dutch culture, just as the program at Inholland did three years ago. This program was terminated because it was too expensive and was hardly effective. Of the 105 candidate-clerics that started the program only a few graduated. Just one of them found work as an imam.

From the community the demand for a good educational program still exists, Bussemaker says. A ‘Dutch imam new style’ does not always have to be a theologian according to her. “Outside of the mosque people with knowledge of Islamic theology are also necessary. One could think of I minor or a major, of several trajectories. Then one could study pedagogy and follow an imam-trajectory within that program. Or the other way around: Islamic theology and within that program a minor in another field.”

Immigrants increasingly leaving the Netherlands

1 February 2016

In 2015, 230 thousand people registered in Dutch municipalities as immigrant. This is almost 20 thousand more than in 2014. The amount of emigrants that left the Netherlands approximately stayed the same as in earlier years: 146 thousand. The result is a relatively high migration balance, comparable with similar periods in which many migrants came to the Netherlands.

Remarkable is that the amount of immigrants from Surinam, Turkey, and Moroccan heritage that are leaving the Netherlands is higher than those of the same origins that settled in the Netherlands. This became apparent from date from the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS).

For more information on these statistics follow this link:

Dutch government shows lack of leadership in refugee question

1 February 2016

Both people that are positive and negative about the coming of refugees think the Dutch government is lacking in its information concerning the housing of refugees. People feel uninformed. This was concluded by researcher Marjan de Gruijter of the Knowledge Platform Integration & Society (KIS) based on in-depth interviews about the refugee question.

The interviewees unanimously believe the government is responsible for a solution, but criticize the lack of leadership and communication fro the side of the government and the parliament. Researcher Marjan de Gruijter thinks this consensus is remarkable. Proponents think that because of that the government is undermining the public support for the housing of refugees. Opponents think the government is consciously holding back on information.

The support amongst the interviewees for allowing refugees to enter the Netherlands is extensive. People understand that fleeing the war is not a choice, but a necessity. However the interviewees also thought that many refugees have economic motives. About those the interviewees were not so understanding.

That victims of war are welcome does not mean people are not worried about the impact on society. De Gruijter: “Both proponents and opponents are worried about the consequences for the Dutch society as a whole. They wonder what pressures it puts on facilities and our ways of dealing with each other. On the other hand there are concerns about the wellbeing of the refugees themselves. About the (mental) consequences of having to flee, the circumstances of refugee housing, and the future integration into Dutch society.”

To read more about this research follow this link:

Medicine against radicalism

18 February 2016

With a little bit of luck a Dutch-educated imam would also be a good remedy against radicalism, the minister believes. Some of the current Dutch imams are on another frequency than the youth in their mosques. They do not always speak Dutch well, while they mostly know a lot about theology. Bussemaker: “This is while the youth are also looking for someone to give moral guidance. Someone who can indicate limits.”

That mosques are in need of imams that speaks the Dutch language well and that can also be moral leaders, became apparent at a recent meeting at the VU in Amsterdam. There Bussemaker spoke to a multifarious company of 75 imams. During the debate the imams made clear they do not always succeed in being theologian, pedagogue, and moral leader. “That message was clearly received”, Bussemaker said afterwards. As minister of education she cannot solve all problems, but “I do can show that the imams are not alone in this.”

German Interior Minister seeks to impose residential obligations on recognised refugees

Date: 21 February 2016

The German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has suggested that asylum-seekers ability to choose their place of residence might soon be restricted even after the successful conclusion of their legal proceedings. The initiative, widely supported among both parties of the ruling grand coalition, is aimed at preventing the ‘ghettoization’ of certain groups and an overburdening of large German cities, where most refugees are headed as soon as they have obtained the right to stay in the country. Opposition politicians of The Left party criticised the plan as a breach of European and of human rights law, which grant full freedom of movement. The imposition of prolonged residential obligations on refugees is not without precedent in Germany, however: in the 1990s and 2000s, the so-called ‘Spätaussiedler’ – ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe coming to the country after the fall of the iron curtain – were compelled to reside at specified locations for a certain amount of time.

Mosque attacked with Molotov cocktails in the Saarland

Date: 21 February 2016

A mosque in Neunkirchen in the West German state of Saarland has been attacked overnight by two persons throwing Molotov cocktails. There was no damage to the mosque itself, since the explosives landed in the courtyard of the complex. While the perpetrators were captured on CCTV footage, the police has not been able to identify them so far. So far, the attackers’ motivation is unknown; yet this incident comes after the last months witnessed a dramatic increase in Islamophobic attacks on mosques and other Muslim community institutions in Germany.

Germany contemplating greater military engagement against ISIL in North Africa

21 February 2016

According to German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, Germany and its EU allies are contemplating an expansion of the mandate of the EU Mediterranean naval mission ‘Sophia’ – tasked so far with curbing the flow of human trafficking across the Mediterranean – in order to stem the rising influence of the so-called Islamic State in Libya. Von der Leyen stressed, however, that an official request for military support by a government of national unity in Libya would be a precondition for such an expanded mission. Such a unity government is yet to be formed in war-torn Libya. This shift in focus towards the situation in Libya comes as a US intelligence report averred that the number of ISIL fighters in Syria and Iraq was on the decline, while the organisation’s ranks were swelling in Libya.

In related news, representatives of the German foreign and defence ministries also announced that they would be holding talks in Tunisia in the coming week, with the aim of setting up a military training camp in Tunisia for Libyan soldiers. These new initiatives come after Germany, in the wake of the Paris attacks of November 2015, took on a more active role in the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq, as well as a greater role in the French-led military mission in Mali. At the same time, German military strategists have warned of further overstretching the capabilities of the German armed forces, with all branches of the army struggling with severe shortages in materiel and personnel.

Renewed wave of anti-immigrant violence in Saxony

21 February 2016

Over the course of the past few days, the East German federal state of Saxony was once more the scene of violent anti-immigration protests, described as verging on a pogrom by senior German politicians.

On Thursday evening, a group of one hundred demonstrators attempted to block the arrival a bus bringing refugees from Iran, Syria, and Lebanon to their new shelter in the town of Clausnitz in the Ore Mountains. After a wait of two hours, during which the angry crowd shouted xenophobic slurs at the bus, crying refugees were manhandled out of the bus by police forces, whose conduct has sparked off intense criticism. In chilling video footage, police forces dragged a 14-year old boy out of the bus and into the housing unit. The rough treatment was met with approving jeers from the crowd, erupting in the by now customary chant of “Wir sind das Volk!” (‘We are the people!’). The regional police chief Uwe Reissman defended the use of force against the refugees, asserting that the police were outnumbered and that the refugees had provoked the furious mob. In a further twist of the story, the director of the refugee shelter is held to be a member of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the party-political wing of the Pegida movement. Moreover, the director’s brother reportedly organised and led the anti-immigration protests in front of the shelter.

In a second incident on Saturday, a still uninhabited housing unit for asylum seekers was torched in the town of Bautzen about 50 km east of Dresden. Cheering onlookers prevented firefighters from approaching the burning building. Both of these incidents put the East German state of Saxony into the spotlight once more. Saxony has been the site of some of the most high-profile acts anti-immigrant violence in recent years; it is also the home of the Islamophobic Pegida movement. In 2014’s state election, the neo-Nazi NPD and the AfD took a combined 25 per cent of the popular vote. (including a video showing the mistreatment of the 14-year old boy by police forces)

Euro-Islam’s recent article on right-wing activism in Saxony and the Ore Mountains:

Discussion with Sineb el-Masrar, author of the book Emancipation in Islam

Date: 21 February 2016

In the Muslim TV debate programme Forum on Friday, journalist Nazan Gökdemir interviewed Sineb el-Masrar, a German-Moroccan writer and activist, and discussed the latter’s new book Emancipation in Islam: A Reckoning with Its Enemies. El-Masrar has attained an increasingly high public profile after founding Gazelle, an intercultural women’s magazine, and after participating in several rounds of the government-sponsored ‘Islam conference’ that sought to bring together Muslim representatives and political decision-makers. El-Masrar sees herself as providing a voice for Muslim women who want to live their faith in ways that might not be accepted by more conservative and traditionalist segments in the Muslim community. In this regard, she directs some of her harshest criticisms at the Muslim organisations in Germany and their representatives, whom she deems unresponsive to women’s concerns. For el-Masrar, fellow Muslim women also need to rethink their strategy: according to her, it is not just that many of them are complicit in the maintenance of patriarchal structures that limit women’s choices; rather, even self-styled ‘Islamic feminists’ are often too narrow-minded in their conceptions of permissible forms of Islamic religiosity, or so el-Masrar argues. For her, what is necessary is a reappraisal of the diversity of Muslim women’s lives. This applies to Islamic history, which el-Masrar takes as offering a range of powerful female figures, as well as to contemporary society.