Three of Germany’s Islamic associations forge an “Islamokemalist” front

Amidst escalating political tensions between Germany and Turkey, three of Germany’s Turkish-dominated Islamic associations have made clear their perspective on the causes of the current diplomatic spat.

Joint press release

On the anniversary of last year’s military coup attempt in Turkey, the DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB organisations issued a joint press release, calling for a “about-face in German-Turkish relations”.(( http://ditib.de/detail1.php?id=610&lang=de ))

In this document, the three signing associations bemoan that “Europe’s highly reserved reaction” to the attempted putsch had “deeply unsettled the people of Turkish descent. It is more necessary than ever to lift German-Turkish relations to the usual, cordial level.”

“Lack of solidarity”

The core message of the statement centres on Europe’s failure to “recognise the great trauma of July 15 [2016]”. DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB criticise what to them appears to be “widespread disappointment at the failure of the coup”. They castigate the “lack of solidarity with the Turkish people, considering 249 dead and thousands injured”.

The three organisations greeted the conciliatory signals made by Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Sigmar Gabriel, who had in the past repeatedly stressed the need to be supportive of Turkish democracy against the coup plotters.

The Gülenist foe

Overall, the statement paints a picture of Turkey as beleaguered by internal and external enemies, ranging from a PKK terror campaign to instable neighbouring states. It is against this backdrop that DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB see the coup attempt as having been committed by “a sect-like parallel state, which has infiltrated nearly the entire state apparatus through illegitimate networks and unlawful means” – i.e. the Gülenists.

Implied in this argument is always the suspicion that Germany is either too soft on Gülenists or that it even actively endorses the movement. In fact, a Turkish tabloid recently claimed that the Gülen organization was “Germany’s long arm”.(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun?lang=de ))

Bridging old divides between DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB

Yet it is not only the statement itself that is of interest but also the entente of the three organisations responsible for its drafting. DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB joining hands represents the convergence of previously disparate groups under the shared commitment to a strong Turkey led by an increasingly authoritarian President.

DİTİB, the subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and thus an indirect organ of the Turkish statem has always pursued a line broadly sympathetic to current Turkish governments. Recently it has come under increasingly tight control of the AKP administration.

Islamists and nationalists

IGMG – in its full name “Islamic Community Millî Görüş” – is an offshoot of Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamist movement. As such, it did not use to be on good terms with DİTİB, as long as the old Kemalist elites were in charge of the organisation. This changed after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s arrival in power: Erdoğan’s own AK Party is a spin-off of Erbakan’s movement.

Finally, ATİB – the “Union of Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations in Europe” – represents a stridently nationalistic version of Turkish Islam. Whilst some of the Union’s funding is derived from the Turkish state and Diyanet, it also has long-standing ties with hardline Turkish nationalism as incarnated by the “Grey Wolves.”

The rise of “Islamokemalism”

As such, ATİB’s co-signing of the press release with DİTİB and IGMG mirrors the rallying of Turkey’s far-right MHP party to Erdoğan’s persona and his authoritarian leadership style. In this respect, the agenda of the three associations is not as much Islamic as it is concerned with projecting a strikingly nationalistic picture of Turkish greatness.

Şahin Alpay, one of Turkey’s leading intellectuals arrested since the coup attempt, has referred to this marriage of authoritarian nationalism with Islamist references as “Islamokemalism”.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-10/sahin-alpay-journalist-gefaengnis-silivri-tuerkei-putsch )) This term perhaps better than any other captures current developments in Turkey.

Arrests of German citizens prompt downgrading of German-Turkish relations

At least since the July 2016 coup attempt, German-Turkish relations have taken a severe hit.

Recurring bones of contention have included the German army’s NATO presence at the Turkish Incirlik air base. German troops, who are part of the anti-IS coalition, are now being transferred to Jordan after a series of diplomatic rows over visits of German parliamentarians to the base.

Conversely, the visits of Turkish politicians – particularly in the run-up to the country’s controversial constitutional referendum in April 2016 – have unsettled the German political elite.

Arrests of German citizens in Turkey

Yet the perhaps most divisive issue has been the arrests of German citizens in Turkey, caught up in the post-coup repression. As of May 31, 2017, 44 Germans were held in Turkish detention. Many of them were dual citizens of Germany and Turkey, meaning that they had no legal claim to be supported by the German Embassy.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/deutsche-in-tuerkei-inhaftiert-101.html ))

In 2017, there have been a number of high profile arrests that have made particular headlines: Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, correspondent of the Die Welt newspaper, was arrested in February; German journalist and translator Meşale Tolu, in April. And on July 5, human rights activist Peter Steudtner was arrested in Istanbul.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerkei-deutscher-menschenrechtler-peter-steudtner-muss-in-haft-a-1158364.html ))

Swift changes to the German-Turkish relationship

The case of Steudtner has led to a major shift in German-Turkish relations. After having merely expressed ‘deep concern’ at developments in Turkey before, this time Berlin was surprisingly swift to react.

The German Foreign Office tightened its travel alerts for visitors to Turkey; a move that could potentially harm Turkey’s tourism-dependent economy. Further measures include the potential freezing of trade credit insurance offered to German companies exporting to Turkey. What is more, all German arms exports to Turkey – on paper an important NATO ally – are also halted.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/tuerkei-deutschland-121.html ))

Domestic ramifications

In the case of Germany, troubles in external relations with Turkey of course risk causing major domestic repercussions, thanks to Germany’s roughly three million inhabitants of Turkish descent. In the past months, the political loyalty of Germans with a Turkish background has come repeatedly into focus, particularly in the context of the Turkish constitutional referendum.

German Turks have reacted with dismay to the renewed bout of antagonism. They perceive themselves to be the first victims of the diplomatic tensions. Many also asserted that they did not feel represented by any German political party or force in this context.(( http://dtj-online.de/deutsch-tuerken-die-leidtragenden-der-deutsch-tuerkischen-konflikte-86452 ))

Letter to German Turks

Against this backdrop, the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel addressed German Turks in a letter published in the country’s leading tabloid, Bild. Gabriel stressed that the German government “has always worked for good relations with Turkey, because we know that a good relationship between Germany and Turkey is important to you.”

Recent arrests were forcing the government to act in order to protect its citizens, Gabriel asserted. Yet he stressed that this should not be seen as an assault on German Turks:

“Nothing of this is directed against the people living in Turkey and our fellow citizens with Turkish roots in Germany. For no matter how difficult political relations between Germany and Turkey are – this much remains obvious to us: you […] belong to us – whether with or without a German passport.”(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/sigmar-gabriel/liebe-tuerkische-mitbuerger-52625202.bild.html ))

An attempt at inclusivity

Gabriel’s statement was striking in the clarity of its commitment to inclusiveness. For months, media discourses had been strongly marked by an implicit perception that German Turks were quintessentially ‘other’, and that ‘they’ did precisely not belong to ‘us’.

Overall, the Foreign Minister’s intervention was well-received among the general public.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-07/deutsch-tuerkei-gabriel-erdogan-deutschtuerken-beziehungen )) Some pointed out, however, that it was left to the Foreign Minister to write this letter – a fact that seemed to point to the ways in which men and women of Turkish descent are still considered ‘foreign’ in Germany today.(( http://www.taz.de/!5428909/ ))

Nevertheless, the letter appeared to spark a kind of bandwagoning effect, as other politicians also called for a measured approach towards Turkey and Turkish citizens. Leading confidant of Angela Merkel and Head of the Chancellery Peter Altmaier (CDU) stressed that Turkey remained “one of the most democratic countries” in the Middle East. “And by that”, he added, “I don’t mean Mr. Erdogan but rather the country and Turkish society as a whole.”(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/konflikt-berlin-ankara-peter-altmaier-warnt-vor-pauschalen-verurteilungen-der-tuerkei/20095232.html ))

Increased polarisation

The impact of Gabriel’s statement remains to be seen. By now, German Turks are exposed to fundamentally opposing narratives of the events of the recent months and years. While the overwhelming majority of German and European news outlets continue to focus on Turkey’s descent into repression, the Turkish viewpoint is still dominated by a sense of persecution and a martyrology called forth by last year’s coup attempt.

Against the backdrop of these competing narratives and visions, the decision where to ‘belong’ is becoming a more and more categorical question facing many German Turks, pitting a group of ‘us’ (however defined) against an inimical ‘them’.

Kalkaska Village leader stands by Muslim killings call

Kalkaska Village President Jeff Sieting said Monday that he doesn’t owe anyone an apology over his Facebook posts, which denounce Islam and call for the killing of “every last Muslim.”

The posts were discovered by area native Cindy Anderson, who along with others unsuccessfully sought an apology last month. They’re now looking to remove Sieting from office.

One post Sieting shared said Muslims are destructive and “there is simply no place for them in our world.”  Sieting contends that his speech is protected by the First Amendment.

The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for state and national leaders to repudiate what Sieting posted.

“Sieting’s unabashed bigotry sounds eerily familiar to those who have stirred people to commit genocide against religious and ethnic minorities in other parts of the world,” said Dawud Walid, CAIR-MI executive director.

Historical high number of Muslims elected in UK elections

In the British elections earlier this month, 16 Muslims were elected to the British Parliament, a dozen of these Members of Parliament (MPs)  from Pakistani backgrounds.

Labour party Muslim MPs include Khalid Mehmood, Shabana Mehmood, Rozeena-Allin Khan, Yasmin Qureshi, Naz Shah, Imran Hussain, Afzal Khan, Mohammed Yasin and Faisal Rasheed, Roshanara Ali, Rupa Huq, and Tulip Siddique.

Conservative Muslims MPs in the new parliament include Nusrat Ghani, Rehman Chishti, and Sajid Javed, the communities minister.

Scottish National Party politician, Tasmeena Sheikh, lost her seat. Liberal Democratic and Conservative parties had reduced the number of Muslims running for election.

This increase was not affected by the fact that the  Liberal Democratic and Conservative parties had reduced the number of Muslims running for election by nearly half.

 

Another Federal Appeals Court Upholds Block On Trump’s Travel Ban

A West Coast federal appeals court upheld the freeze on President Trump’s travel ban Monday, declaring that Trump had exceeded his lawful authority in suspending the issuance of visas to residents of six Muslim-majority countries and suspending the U.S. refu­gee program.  The ban remains on hold, although the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals did clear the way for the administration to adjust its vetting rules.

A three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against the administration unanimously. Their ruling is another blow to Trump — although the administration has asked the Supreme Court to to step in and save the ban in a different case.

 

‘Anti-Sharia’ Marchers Met With Counter-Protests Around The Country

Protesters who gathered on Saturday, June 10th, to denounce Islamic law were met across the country with equally sized or larger counter-protests.  The rallies were organized by the conservative group ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the “largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America, claiming 280,000 members and over 1,000 chapters.” The organization describes itself as “the NRA of national security.”

The rallies were held in about two dozen cities and about 20 states.

Organizers called the “March Against Sharia” rallies to protest what they say is the threat to U.S. society posed by the set of traditional Muslim practices, which they say includes oppression of women, honor killings, homophobic violence, female genital mutilation and other abuses.

 

How attitudes about immigration, race and religion contributed to Trump victory

The story of President Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton has been analyzed and reanalyzed, told and retold since November. Is there more to add? The short answer, based on four reports released recently, is yes, and what the reports say is provocative.

The reports debunk some of the assertions of why Trump won — his criticism of free-trade agreements apparently was not as big a factor as some have suggested — while focusing on the specific role that race, religion, immigration and national identity played in the outcome and particularly how those issues may have influenced voters who switched to Trump after supporting President Barack Obama in 2012.

The reports are the first produced by the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group, which comprises 20 analysts from think tanks or other institutions across the ideological spectrum.

Race, Religion, and Immigration in 2016

How the Debate over American Identity Shaped the Election and What It Means for a Trump Presidency

Key Findings

  • Even before the 2016 election, there was increasing alignment between race and partisanship, with white voters without a college education shifting sharply toward the Republican Party.
  • Attitudes related to immigration, religion, and race were more salient to voter decision-making in 2016 than in 2012. Other attitudes do not show this pattern.
  • There are serious partisan cleavages in how Americans feel about immigrants and Muslims.
  • Large majorities agree on certain criteria for “being American,” but Democrats and Republicans disagree about whether being Christian is an important criterion.
  • Americans see both positive and negative consequences to the demographic changes that are projected to make the U.S. a majority-minority nation.

 

The Finns Party elects a chairman with past convictions for statements against Islam

The election of Jussi Halla-aho (currently holding a position as a MEP) as the new chairman of The Finns Party has caused political trouble in Finland and rebellion against the party’s new leadership. The two other government coalition parties, Keskusta and Kokoomus, announced that they do not want to continue cooperation with The Finns Party and its new management. Moreover, The Finns Party faced immediate internal splitting as 20 MPs, including all those with minister positions, decided to leave the party and form a new parliamentary group named Uusi Vaihtoehto (“New Alternative”). The Premier Minister and chairman of Keskusta, Juha Sipilä, together with the Minister of Finance and chairman of Kokoomus, Petteri Orpo, commented that the gap in common values between the three government parties has grown now to the extent that the government cannot continue its work in its current composition anymore.

Much of this political mutiny and resentment is based on Halla-aho’s past convictions. In 2010, the Helsinki Court of appeal convicted Halla-aho for breach of the sanctity of religion for the quite Islamophobic statements in his personal blog Scripta. He declared in his posts for instance, that “Prophet Muhammad was a pedophile and Islam justifies pedophilia and. Pedophilia was Allah’s will.” The statement was then ordered by court to be deleted from the blog. However, although the posts date back to 2008, Halla-aho stated in an interview after the recent elections that he is not going to distance himself from his previous blog posts.

Jussi Halla-aho is not however the only member in the party leadership with public statements against Islam that have led to convictions. Namely, MP Teuvo Hakkarainen, the new second Vice-Chair of the party, was convicted in 2017 for incitement to hatred due to his facebook-posts that stated “Get Muslims out of this country! Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims.” Moreover, Jussi Halla-aho’s profile as a politician is also very much marked by his aggressive anti-immigration policies. For instance, in 2016, Halla-aho submitted a written question at the European Parliament proposing application of ethnic profiling “to prevent Islamic terrorism” by police officers in the member states, explicitly overthrowing Human Rights which are tightly connected to such questionable measures.

Macron will ‘not recognize Palestine’

Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron has reiterated that he will not recognize Palestine as a state as it would hinder good relations between Israel and France

Prior to his election win, Macron said he backs a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that recognizing Palestine would cause instability and he would not risk France’s relationship with Israel to serve the Palestinian agenda. At a political rally Macron said: “Unilateral recognition of Palestine, right now, will undermine stability.” He added: “it will not change the lives of anyone on the ground, including Palestinians.”