A ‘people’s Islam’ (Volksislam) as an enrichment: breaking linguistic taboos in the German political debate

05 March 2016

In 2006 and 2007, Wolfgang Schäuble (at the time Minister of the Interior) and then-German President Christian Wulff both asserted that ‘Islam is part of Germany’. These statements led to acrimonious public debates about German national identity and about whether the fact that Muslims lived in Germany also meant that Islam was part of the country in a deeper sense. This controversy was periodically rekindled, notably by Angela Merkel’s occasionally voiced agreement with the idea that Islam was indeed part of Germany.

In some sense, it appears that the growing number of predominantly Muslim refugees arriving in the country since summer 2015 has moved this old debate to a new stage – not primarily because the number of Muslims in Germany is now greater, but mainly because all of a sudden existing Muslim communities now appear as settled and integrated ‘Germans’. As Euro-Islam reported, these older communities also share with their ethnically German compatriots many of the anxieties vis-à-vis current immigration.

Consequently, the Green Party Prime Minister of the south-western state Baden-Württemberg has now asserted in a public speech that a ‘people’s Islam’ (Volksislam) constituted an enrichment for the country that was to be welcomed. Whilst offering little by way of specifics on the nature of such a Volksislam, he proceeded to reassert that “Islam is part of Germany and of Baden-Württemberg, or to be more precise: an Islam that is inculturated in our constitutional order”.

A leading politician claiming that Islam was a positive enrichment to German society would have been hard to envision only a few years ago. Yet this stance fits with Kretschmann’s overall positioning on migration issues. In recent weeks and months, Kretschmann, who is on the centrist wing of his Green Party, has emerged as one of the most vocal defenders of Chancellor Merkel’s line in the ongoing migration crisis. Ahead of crucial state elections in Baden-Württemberg on March 13, the state’s Green Party is thus more aligned with Merkel’s policy than the regional branch of her own Christian Democratic Party (CDU), which has distanced itself from the Chancellor and called for a dramatic reduction in numbers of new arrivals.





New survey: Germans believe in the possibility of integration but fear ‘growing influence of Islam’

05 March 2016

According to a new representative survey, 67 per cent of Germans believe that the integration of refugees into German society is manageable – with the significant addition that 52 per cent assert that a positive integration will only be possible if the numbers of refugees is limited from now on. 55 per cent advocate a maximum of 500,000 refugees per year.

In their answers to most questions, the German public was evenly split in their views: 50 per cent agreed that refugees were an important asset for the future of the German labour market; 49 assented to the statement ‘I am afraid that so many refugees are coming to us’; and 46 per cent saw refugees as an positively enriching the lives of Germans.

The biggest worries evinced by respondents were fears of increasing public debt levels (77 per cent), tightening competition for scarce housing space (72 per cent), growing crime levels (62 per cent), and high costs for sheltering and providing for refugees (58 per cent). 57 per cent of respondents answered the question ‘Do you fear that the influence of Islam becomes too strong in Germany’ in the affirmative, while 40 per cent denied having such fears.

Dead pig placed in front of Leipzig mosque

25 February 2016

Unknown assailants have placed a dead pig in front of a mosque under construction in the East German city of Leipzig. The cadaver, which was discovered by passers-by in the morning, bore an inscription in red paint that read ‘Mutti Merkel’ (Mummy Merkel), a popular nickname for the German Chancellor. While previously associated with Merkel’s down-to-earth pragmatism and what many Germans perceived as her ‘motherly’ type of leadership, the nickname has also taken on a derogatory dimension, especially when uttered by those on the political right criticising her allegedly emotion-driven decision to let (Muslim) immigrants into the country.

The building of the mosque, which is affiliated with the local Aymadiyya community, had already witnessed unrest in the past: in November 2013, five bloody pig’s heads had been displayed on spikes on the construction site. Leipzig itself has witnessed a series of violent clashes in recent months, pitting various far-right demonstrators (Pegida’s more radical Leipzig branch ‘Legida’, as well as neo-Nazi groups) against the city’s large left-wing and far-left scene.

German Muslims demand greater protections for mosques

05 March 2015

Following the recent rise in hate crime against Muslim buildings and institutions, leading figures from Muslim organisations in Germany have demanded greater protection for mosques and other sites. The Secretary General of the Turkish-Islamic Union (DITIB) demanded “a partnership-based security concept for the protection of Muslim prayer rooms. And that as quickly as possible.” Similarly, the chairman of the (Arab-dominated) Central Council of Muslims (ZMD) asserted that “mosques are not protected enough in Germany. We need more police protection in order to build up an effective deterrent.” He compared this to the need to protect Jewish institutions.

Yet Michael Szentei-Heise, executive director of the Jewish congregation in Düsseldorf, with 7000 members Germany’s third-largest, was critical of this demand. He observed that whilst Jewish communities fear right-wing radicalism, they were “far more [concerned with] Islamic terrorism.” He asserted that “Muslims have lived very safely in Germany for years”, pointing to the fact that terrorists had been smuggled into Germany amongst the recently arrived refugees. Generally, Arab asylum-seekers “have been indoctrinated their whole lives, Israel is the enemy”, or so Szentei-Heise argued.

The potential of rise of anti-Semitism due to the arrival of immigrants from an Arab-Muslim background has been a prominent issue in recent German public debates. Judith Porath, coordinator of the Union of Counselling Centres for Victims of Right-wing, Racist and Anti-Semitic Violence (VBRG) observed that there was no compelling argument that Muslim immigrants were to be held primarily responsible for recent anti-Semitic crimes. According to her, racist agitation hits Muslims and Jews alike. The deputy head of the Union of Federal Police, Jörg Radek, was equally supportive of Muslim groups’ call for greater protection. This would only be possible, however, if funding and personnel of the police forces were strengthened, or so he argued.

CDU in north German state advocating a ‘right to pork’ in public cafeterias

01 March 2016

The Christian Democratic Party in Germany’s northernmost state, Schleswig-Holstein, has petitioned the Social Democrat-led state government to push for the inclusion of more pork dishes in the region’s public canteens. According to the leader of the CDU faction in the state parliament, Daniel Günther, “more and more cafeterias, nurseries and schools are removing pork from their offerings in order to respect religious customs. The CDU deems this to be wrong.” Günther also asserted that pork was part of a healthy diet according to German culinary custom.

Whilst on the face of it this initiative resembles a controversial move by the Danish city of Randers which had made pork a mandatory dish in the city’s public institutions, the CDU of Schleswig-Holstein merely advocates a ‘right to pork’. Nor was the initiative able to demonstrate the share of pork in public canteens had dropped in a statistically significant manner. Only anecdotal evidence recounting the removal of pork from the menus of several local institutions was given.

Germany′s Muslims and the refugees: Integrating a new generation

What do Muslim migrants who have already lived in Germany for many years think about the recent arrivals and the European refugee crisis? Canan Topcu found out what Afghan, Turkish, Arab and Bosnian migrants in Hesse have to say

When Fatah Qayumie talks about the recent wave of refugees, he can look back upon his own experiences. He feels that his integration into German society was helped by a quick asylum hearing and, soon afterwards, being able to attend a German language course as well as start work. “Having a job is very, very important,” says Qayumie. He doesn’t agree that the state should, as he says, “prop people up,” since that makes them too comfortable to look for work.

It has been almost three decades since Qayumie fled to Germany from Afghanistan. He made his way here with his wife and six-month-old daughter. The family was granted asylum in Germany after a half a year and Qayumie began work –first as a cleaner, then a taxi driver and later as a letter sorter at the post office, until he eventually started his own business.

Qayumie is now 51 years old. He has five children and his own home on a housing estate near Giessen. He is in the facility management sector and his company employs 70 people. He has achieved far more than most politicians and labour market researchers expect from migrants. Why shouldn′t the newcomers do the same?

″Too many at once″

The problem, as Qayumie sees it, is that “too many have come all at once.” He believes the German Chancellor is partly responsible. The result of Angela Merkel’s claim that “We can do it!” is that now “those who are not necessarily leaving their country because of war” are coming here too. He includes “economic refugees from the Balkans” as well as “people from Pakistan and Afghanistan” in this category.

While the politicians are debating whether to classify Afghanistan as a safe country of origin, Qayumie has a clear position on this issue. “There are no reasons to leave Afghanistan other than economics,” he asserts in a conversation after Friday prayers.

Qayumie is one of the few Muslims that criticises Merkel for her position on the refugee situation. Most remain loyal to “our Chancellor” and have nothing but praise for Merkel. Quite a few Muslims feel that the “we” in Merkel’s remark is addressed to them.

A young woman from Frankfurt, the daughter of Turkish migrant workers, sees this as the crux of the matter: “I think that I can and must make my own contribution within my ‘microcosm’ so that sometime in the far distant future I can say that I was part of this social challenge, that I got involved and made a difference.”

The Chancellor’s “we” appears to be motivating people to help. Everywhere in the country, countless Muslim communities are active in providing assistance to refugees. They collect clothing and financial donations. Members of the community are active as translators or helping to look after refugee children and young people.

The commitment by mosque communities is completely based on voluntary activity without any institutional support. Islamic associations have continuously stressed this point over the past few months, thereby also reacting to criticism that they have done too little in assisting refugees. It is true that the mosque communities, whether part of an association or not, lack professional staff and the necessary financial resources. In contrast to Christian organisations and charities, they do not receive any state subsidies.

Reputation under fire

Ahmed Araychi, an industrial foreman, serves on the board of a mosque association that mainly consists of Muslims of Moroccan origin. He views it as important to highlight his community’s commitment to helping refugees. “When things are bad in Germany, we Muslims are also affected. We therefore have a duty to make our contribution, so that our country can solve its problems,” says the man in his mid-forties with a persuasive voice.

Araychi is of the opinion that an awful lot of complaining is going on in Germany. “We all have to be prepared to forego a little bit in order to help people in need.” This country is economically strong and there is enough work and prosperity here, he believes.

Anxiety over economic difficulties and an uncertain economic future is something rarely expressed by Muslims, regardless of gender, age, academic status, job, or profession. It must be said, however, that many fear a growth in Islamophobia. Many Muslim women who wear a headscarf claim that they have experienced more scepticism and aggression over the past few months. A large number also fear that the newcomers, estimated to be around 80 percent Muslims, could damage the reputation of the Muslim community as a whole.

There is, however, no measurable data on whether these people are truly religious. Experts suspect that many of those who fled their homeland because of Islamic terrorism have an ambivalent relationship to Islam and are not particularly devout.

“We have gone to great lengths over the years to achieve recognition,” explains Ayse Erogul. The 28-year-old female student now fears “a worsening of integration for Muslims at the societal and political levels, because the newcomers are not familiar with cultural practices and traditions in Germany and are behaving badly.”

Selma Ozturk-Pinar does not share such views. Born in Hanover, she is the daughter of Turkish guest workers. “We already had problems with recognition before,” says the 38-year-old lawyer. It is absurd to spread the fear among “long-established” migrants and Muslims that the newcomers will trigger an increase in marginalisation, says Ozturk-Pinar, who wears a headscarf and clearly identifies herself as a Muslim.

Ozturk-Pinar calls for greater empathy with the refugees. These people have been traumatised: In most cases they have arrived powerless in a completely foreign land, having suffered the loss of their homeland and the people close to them. They need help upon their arrival in Germany. In comparison with her parent’s generation, however, the newcomers have a big advantage. Their integration into German society can work out better and faster, because there is “already an infrastructure here.” This includes mosque communities and the many migrant self-help organisations that address the concerns of Muslims, says Ozturk-Pinar.

Others place their trust in the German political system and institutional support networks. The refugees are “well provided for and in good hands here,” says Mersudin Cehadarevic. The 42-year-old arrived in Germany in 1989 from Bosnia as part of a family reunification programme. Since then, he has had a family of his own, runs a car dealership and engages in volunteer work as the chairman of a mosque association in Frankfurt. Initially, there was a lot of discussion in the community about the refugees, reports Cehadarevic. “We even donated money.” The refugee situation is no longer the “number one” issue in the mosque.

Even though he is not actively engaged in helping refugees, Cehadarevic is very preoccupied with the issue. He is particularly concerned about those in the war zones that are subject to bombings and fear for their lives. Although he is a Muslim, he does not have an overview of the wars going on in countries and regions where Muslims live, says Cehadarevic.

Why “Sunnis and Shias, Turks and Kurds go around smashing in each others’ heads” and why “idiots with shrivelled brains” murder people, while claiming to be Muslims remains a mystery to Cehadarevic. The father of four feels so overwhelmed by world events that he seeks calm and composure in prayer. One of these is an appeal to the Almighty: “Dear God, please help mankind to come to its senses so that we can live together in peace.”

Canan Topcu

© Qantara.de 2016

Translated from the German by John Bergeron

“Yes to diversity – but please without Muslims”: Naika Fouroutan on German attitudes towards immigration

25 February, 2016

In a recent interview with Der Freitag newspaper, renowned German migration expert Naika Fouroutan discussed the current volatile state of affairs in the area of immigration and integration. Of Iranian heritage, Fouroutan is Professor of Integration and Social Policy at Humboldt University Berlin, as well as deputy chairwoman of the Berlin Institute for Empirical Research on Integration and Migration. She also advises the German federal government on migration issues. She characterised contemporary German society as marked by a profound ambivalence, torn between competing impulses of ‘welcome culture’ (Willkommenskultur) and national isolation. As evidence for this almost schizophrenic juxtaposition, Fouroutan cited a recent poll in which 29 per cent of respondents asserted that they would support a shoot-to-kill order at the German border to prevent uncontrolled immigration, while at the same time 73 per cent of those questioned were of the opinion that men and women had a right to flee and be granted asylum.

Fouroutan linked the rejection of immigration above all to the question of ‘visible minorities’, especially Muslims: there is “integrational optimism on the one hand – and on the other hand its limitation as soon as it’s about visible minorities. People are saying ‘yes’ to diversity – but please without Muslims! And without refugees. And without the homeless. And without whoever doesn’t conform to the majority’s image.” For her, this view is crucially linked to media representations of Muslims: questioned about the utterances of Rüdiger Safranski, a leading German intellectual who recently warned of the arrival of ‘millions upon millions of Muslims’, Fouroutan observed that “in his perception the issue of Islam is so present in every day affairs that he simply overestimates the number of Muslims and of refugees.” She pointed to a poll she had conducted, which had shown that half of Germans dramatically overestimate the number of Muslims living in the country. In this respect, she demanded more honesty from German politicians, and the acknowledgement that, like other important migration destinations around the world, Germany would have to expect annual immigration levels of roughly 1 per cent of the existing population (800,000 individuals) for the foreseeable future.

These numbers are not in themselves problematic, according to Fouroutan: “integration is something that does not fail because of the numbers but because of its acceptance [among the population].” While conceding that old preconceptions and stereotypes were slow to change, she also contended that recent years had seen considerable changes for the better in Germany. Positive signs, according to her, include legal changes (such as the recognition of dual citizenship), as well as an evolution in social attitudes. Among the latter she counts the unprecedentedly welcoming reception given to refugees in the summer and autumn of 2015, as well as the gradual realisation that Muslim women wearing a headscarf are not necessarily oppressed individuals that need to be liberated and saved. Fouroutan averred, however, that the focus of insecurity and prejudice has now shifted from Muslim women to (young) Muslim men, to whom too little positive role-models were made available by German society.

Controversy surrounding ‘room of silence’ at German university

25 February 2015

In a case that has received widespread attention in the press, the Technical University of Dortmund has closed down a ‘room of silence’ for reading, relaxation, and mediation, following the growing usage of the space as a prayer room by Muslim students. For the purposes of praying, the room had been divided by movable partitions into a bigger segment for men and a smaller one for women. When this triggered complaints from female students, and when prayer rugs and copies of the Quran were found, the university proceeded to close down the room: Eva Prost, the university’s spokeswoman, asserted that “as a public institution we are bound by the Basic Law, which demands equal treatment of men and women; this is what we must defend and therefore we cannot tolerate such a gender segregation.”

Already in 2012, the students’ union had insisted that religious symbols and utensils be removed from the room. At the time, sets of flyers with instructions for women on how to dress (hijab and no perfume) had also been removed.

A petition was started by students protesting against the closure. A Muslim student complained that the loss of this space meant that there was no possibility to pray in the university buildings other than in the staircases, which need to remain unobstructed due to fire safety regulations. As a response to the petition against the room’s closure, one of its signatories has received electronic hate mail of sufficient gravity that state security services have sought to bring charges against the sender for incitement of the people (Volksverhetzung).