German Muslims’ react to election results, rise of far-right AfD party

Germany has gone to the polls – and the results have thoroughly shaken the country’s political scene. The impression, prevailing at times in sections of the liberal international media, of Germany as a beacon of stability in a Western world marred by the rise of populism had for a long time been a faulty one. The election results of September 24th should finally dispel this myth.

A diminished Chancellor

To be sure, Mrs. Merkel will most likely remain Chancellor for a fourth term. Yet after her CDU/CSU party obtained only 32.9 per cent of the popular vote – its worst score since 1949 – many are expecting her to step down and make way for a successor before the next scheduled elections in 2021.((http://www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.kanzlerdaemmerung-in-berlin-wie-lange-bleibt-merkel-noch-kanzlerin.a322c77d-9fc8-4cff-9792-3569fd3cff5a.html ))

Not only the CDU/CSU took a drubbing, however – the Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel’s junior partner in the outgoing coalition government, also suffered heavy losses. In what amounted to the SPD’s fourth electoral defeat since its ousting from the chancellery in 2005, the party only took 20.5 per cent of the vote – the worst results of the post-war era.

‘Jamaica’ coalition at odds on immigration, Islam

With the SPD immediately declaring that it would not join another Merkel-led coalition government, the Chancellor is now faced with the unenviable task of having to piece together a new government made up of her CDU/CSU party, the Greens, and the Free Democrats (FDP).

Whilst this coalition is gaily referred to as the “Jamaica” option because of the black, green, and yellow colours of its composite parties, reaching an agreement between conservatives, liberals, and ecologists will be anything but easy.

Not least with respect to questions of immigration, integration, identity, and Islam the three parties espoused strongly diverging positions throughout the electoral campaign. These differences are likely to harden now: the conservative wing of the CDU/CSU is attributing the severe losses of the election night to an insufficiently conservative profile. Long-standing critics of Merkel’s centrist course announced immediately after the publication of the first exit polls that they would seek to “close the party’s right flank”.((http://www.fr.de/politik/bundestagswahl/nach-der-wahl-seehofer-will-die-rechte-flanke-schliessen-a-1357158 ))

Ending Germany’s anti-populist ‘exceptionalism’

This ‘right flank’ had fallen prey to the large-scale electoral gains of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The AfD had started as an anti-Euro movement; it centred on dissatisfaction with what it perceived as an overly concessionary stance on Mrs. Merkel’s part towards Greece and other southern European countries during the Eurozone crisis.

Yet the group quickly took on an anti-immigration line, particularly since the arrival of several hundred thousand refugees in 2015. Ever since, it has developed a staunchly Islamophobic profile and relied upon the calculated breaking of taboos in order to gain attention. Leading party functionaries have strong ties to the Pegida movement, as well as to the neo-Nazi scene.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/neue-abgeordnete-das-sind-die-radikalen-in-der-afd-fraktion/20361302.html ))

After scoring 12.6 per cent of the popular vote on September 24th, leading AfD politician Alexander Gauland announced to overjoyed supporters that this was the first step to “taking back our country and our people”. This statement built not only on the widespread populist slogan of ‘taking back control’, so widespread for instance in Brexit Britain. It also retained the völkisch-nationalistic tone of the AfD’s election campaign.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/bundestagswahl-gauland-afd-wird-die-bundesregierung-jagen.1939.de.html?drn:news_id=795978  ))

“What is wrong with this country?”

The AfD thus emerged as the biggest winner of the election night by far: in 2013, the party had failed to take the five-percent-threshold below which parties do not obtain any parliamentary seats. Whilst it had been expected that the AfD would make it into the Bundestag – and thus constitute the first far-right party to enter the national parliament since 1961 – the populists’ strong showing was nevertheless met with shock by German Muslims.

Many took to Twitter to express their incredulity: lawyer Serkan Kirli asked “What is wrong with this country?”(( https://twitter.com/RA_SerkanKirli/status/912216210045128704 )) And renowned journalist Hakan Tanrıverdi‏ felt like he “had been made a foreigner” by the millions who voted AfD.(( https://twitter.com/hatr/status/912026940986535936 ))

Religious leaders’ reactions

Religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups have expressed their concerns over the AfD’s entrance to parliament. Many Christian leaders stressed that the party’s positions were irreconcilably opposed to the fundamentals of the Christian faith. (( https://www.domradio.de/themen/kirche-und-politik/2017-09-25/religionsvertreter-zu-den-ergebnissen-der-bundestagswahl ))

Among the initial Muslim voices, the most widespread fear has been that the established parties might adopt the AfD’s far-right positions in an attempt to regain the trust of the populists’ electorate. Burhan Kesici, leader of the Islamic Council of Germany (IRD), voiced the expectation that “not a single Islamophobic or xenophobic statement be tolerated in the Bundestag”(( http://islamrat.de/kesici-zum-wahlausgang-wir-alle-tragen-eine-historische-verantwortung/ ))

Muslim representatives demand AfD’s ostracism

The Islamic Community Milli Görüş (IGMG) stated that “we expect a clear demarcation against the AfD’s positions”(( http://islamrat.de/kesici-zum-wahlausgang-wir-alle-tragen-eine-historische-verantwortung/ )); a sentiment echoed by Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD). For even if the other parties should make the AfD’s suggestions their own, “in the end”, Mazyek asserted, “voters will not vote for the copy but the original”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/gastkommentar-des-zentralrats-der-muslime-was-wir-im-umgang-mit-der-afd-falsch-gemacht-haben/20370900.html ))

Non-denominational organisations, such as those representing ethnic Turks in society and in politics, have taken a similar stance. For the Turkish Union in Berlin and Brandenburg (TBB), “the democratic parties are now called upon not to seek any cooperation with the AfD and to refrain from making any AfD positions their own.”(( http://tbb-berlin.de/?id_presse=634 ))

Approach towards AfD and its voter base unclear

What continues to be unclear from the formal statements of German Muslim figures, as well as from the post-election utterances of the mainstream parties, however, is how democratic forces should actually engage with the AfD and its sympathisers.

To many observers – Muslim or other – the desired ‘clear demarcation’ against the AfD amounts to de facto ignoring the populists. Yet it is not only that the AfD managed to gain millions of votes: judging from the party’s behaviour so far, its spite and disregard for democratic rules will simply be difficult to ignore in the Bundestag.

In a post-election opinion piece for the Tagesspiegel newspaper, Aiman Mazyek consequently noted that merely ‘ignoring’ the party would not do: “We should precisely not ignore [the AfD] but rather take on the controversial debate and lead it in the light of the defence of freedom and human rights”. What this might mean in practice remains of course to be seen.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/gastkommentar-des-zentralrats-der-muslime-was-wir-im-umgang-mit-der-afd-falsch-gemacht-haben/20370900.html ))

Explaining the AfD’s rise

In any case, the night of the election was less dominated by a discussion of how to deal with the AfD in the future Bundestag than by the attempt to make sense of its electoral success. Scrutinising the role of the media, ZMD chairman Mazyek highlighted the ways in which populists had managed to set the political agenda through their dominance of airtime.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/gastkommentar-des-zentralrats-der-muslime-was-wir-im-umgang-mit-der-afd-falsch-gemacht-haben/20370900.html ))

In particular, he criticised the TV duel, which had focused overwhelmingly on issues of migration, integration and Islam, and in which suggestions that migrants were dangerous scum wishing to drain the German welfare state and upend the country’s social order went unchallenged.

A deeper process

Yet whilst the media circus obviously boosted the AfD’s taboo-breaking messages by giving them a disproportionate share of the broadcasting time, the roots of right-wing populism in Germany are much deeper than suggested by a  mere focus on skewed pre-election media reporting.

The arrival of the AfD in the federal parliament only renders visible what had previously remained hidden under the surface (or, perhaps more accurately, been swept under the rug). On September 24th, mainstream observers and politicians alike were finally made to take note of the fact that a non-negligible part of the country no longer shares the very basics of the political consensus.

“Why did you vote AfD?”

In a sign of its befuddlement, the socially liberal Die Zeit newspaper asked “Why did you vote AfD?” and asked readers to describe their electoral motives in the comment section. The paper received hundreds of answers. These are of course not statistically representative; they are nevertheless illustrative of the parallel universe of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and paranoia many AfD voters live in.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-09/wahlentscheidung-warum-afd-gewaehlt ))

Responding to the Zeit’s question, one women commented that “I have voted for the AfD because I have thoroughly studied the Qur’an and the hadiths; terms such as ‘abrogation’ or ‘taquiyya’ [misspelling of the Arabic term original] are more than familiar to me.”

She went on to name the most trusted sources for her supposedly authoritative understanding of Islam. Pride of place was accorded to the right-wing blogs of ‘intellectuals’ such as Henryk M. Broder and Roland Tichy, both of which regularly pedal in conspiracy theories and anti-Muslim hatred.

‘Critics of Islam’

She also mentioned a barrage of books on the ‘Islamic danger’ that have often dominated Germany’s best-seller lists over the last few years. Authors include Hamed Abdel-Samad, Abdel Hakim Ourghi, Bassam Tibi, Zana Ramadani, or internationally-known Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Authors and activists such as Seyran Ateş and Ahmad Mansour also had the dubious honour of being included on her list. This shows the unfortunate development in which politically conservative voices get co-opted into the worldview of the radical right – even if they seek to avoid it and even if they might offer an understanding of issues such as jihadism that is at least in parts more nuanced.

A parallel discursive universe

All of these seemingly legitimate voices have created a far-right universe of immense depth. AfD sympathisers can move within this segregated sphere of ‘alternative facts’ without ever being confronted with diverging statements – or with a Muslim, for that matter: once more, support for the AfD was strongest in areas with the lowest number of immigrants.(( https://twitter.com/georgrestle/status/912271976185651200 ))

Consequently, the AfD’s stronghold continues to be the territories of the former GDR, where it obtained 21.5 per cent of the popular vote. In the state of Saxony, home of the Pegida movement and the site of some of the most vitriolic anti-Muslim and anti-establishment hatred, the AfD emerged as the largest party, outdoing even the CDU in its former heartland.

In a somewhat ironical take on the election results, Green Party politician Belit Onay noted that it was therefore not Muslim immigrants who had created ‘parallel societies’ in Germany – a supposed development often presented as proof of insufficient integration. Instead, he argued, the true ‘parallel society’ existed in the AfD milieus of the East. ((https://twitter.com/BelitOnay/status/912010309031915521 ))

“Anxious citizens” and their fear of Islam

Many Muslims have also taken offence at mainstream politicians’ insistence – both before and after the election – that they would ‘take seriously’ the fears and worries of the AfD electorate. In a euphemistic turn of phrase, Pegida marchers and populist supporters have become known in Germany as ‘anxious citizens’ (besorgte Bürger).

This term connotes a predominantly but not uniquely Eastern swathe of the electorate that is in part hard-pressed by socio-economic conditions, yet whose overall fearfulness is squarely directed at cultural change associated with immigration.

According to statistics published by the ARD public broadcaster, 95 per cent of AfD voters feared “the loss of German culture and language”, and 92 per cent were afraid of “the influence of Islam in Germany”.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/afd-im-bundestag-hier-spricht-eine-besorgte-buergerin-kommentar-a-1169716.html )) This resonates with previous studies, in which 40 per cent of German respondents believed that the country was being ‘infiltrated’ by Islam.

Minorities not present during the campaign

In a piece titled “Here is an anxious citizen speaking”, journalist and activist Ferda Ataman castigated the fact that all parties rushed to embrace and legitimise the fears of the AfD electorate. Conversely, she observed, “no one spoke of the anxieties of Muslim, Jewish, or homosexual voters” in the face of the AfD’s rise.

In fact, she asserted, the voice of these minorities had been almost completely absent during the campaign, ensuring that everybody talked about them but that they were never at the table. In this way, racist, xenophobic, and sexist claims were never effectively contested in public.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/afd-im-bundestag-hier-spricht-eine-besorgte-buergerin-kommentar-a-1169716.html ))

Pushing back against populism

Some hope that such contestation will take place now, and that the arrival of the AfD in the Bundestag will reinvigorate civil society activism – especially among those groups most targeted by the AfD’s programme. Christian religious leaders have already urged their community members to step up against nationalism, xenophobia, and racism, and to become politically active.(( https://www.domradio.de/themen/kirche-und-politik/2017-09-25/religionsvertreter-zu-den-ergebnissen-der-bundestagswahl ))

The Liberal Islamic Union (LIB), a small group of self-definedly ‘progressive’ Muslims, wrote in a Facebook post that the LIB was now “confronted with an important task: to continue to work together for an open and tolerant society, in which everybody has his or her space.”(( https://www.facebook.com/liberalislamischerbund/posts/1487350311300459 ))

Many existing Muslim civil society initiatives will also take the election result as a call to action: Ozan Keskinkılıç, one of the co-founders of the Berlin-based “Salaam-Shalom” initiative for Jewish-Muslim dialogue, emphasised his willingness to take up the fight with the surging forces of populism: when asked whether he was contemplating emigration from Germany, he vowed “I stay and thereby I resist”. ((https://twitter.com/ozankeskinkilic/status/912012221026271232 ))

Limited organisational footprint

It would surely be a most welcome development if the AfD’s success at the ballot box should lead to increased Muslim engagement in society and in politics. At the same time, financial and organisational resources of many Muslim initiatives continue to be exceedingly limited, and the political climate is likely to worsen in the coming years.

Against this backdrop, some think that the best hope for Germany’s Muslim community is the potential breakup of the AfD amidst infighting between its national-conservative and quasi-fascist factions. Indeed, the party’s short history has been thoroughly marked by infighting. Although these disputes have shifted the party to the right countinously, some observers expect the party to lose popular appeal as it becomes ever more radical.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/demoskop-richard-hilmer-zu-afd-das-geht-bis-tief-in-die-mittelschicht-hinein/13318392.html ))

Waiting for the AfD’s break-up?

Indeed, on the morning after the vote, AfD leader Frauke Petry (who had just been elected to the Bundestag) announced that she would not join her party’s parliamentary group. For months, Petry had wished to take her party on a firmly ethnonationalist yet parliamentary course, with the ultimate aim of forming a coalition with the CDU/CSU.

Her party base thoroughly rejected her ‘moderate’ stance, however, opting instead for an opening to the neo-Nazi flank and a more rabble-rousing style. Following Petry’s departure from the parliamentary group, leading counter-terrorism expert Peter Neumann commented sardonically: “The AfD is radicalising itself through successive schisms. Social scientists know such processes from terrorist organisations as well.”(( https://twitter.com/PeterRNeumann/status/912270720440373249 ))

Waiting for the AfD’s self-destruction nevertheless seems a risky gamble. Not only is the implosion of the populists not a foregone conclusion; even if it did happen, they might still manage to do severe harm to German democracy in the process.

German Turks gear up for upcoming election

As Germany prepares to go to the polls on September 24th, the public debate has zoned in on questions of immigration, integration, and Islam. Consequently, German Muslims are under particular scrutiny in the run-up to an election that will most definitely hand a good number of parliamentary seats to the openly Islamophobic AfD party.

German Turks: the largest part of the Muslim voter bloc

German Turks continue to be the largest group of predominantly Muslim voters. To be sure, their share in Germany’s overall Muslim population has been falling – not least because of the arrival of several hundred thousand refugees from the war-torn Middle East.

Yet by virtue of having lived in Germany for many decades, Muslims from a Turkish background are much more likely to hold German citizenship and thus to be allowed to vote: of the three million German Turks, 1.3 million will be able to go to the ballot box in nine days’ time.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/doppelte-loyalitaet-die-deutsch-tuerken-und-die.724.de.html?dram:article_id=388019 ))

A ‘Muslim vote’?

Scientists observing electoral behaviour of Muslims in Germany nevertheless warn of a simplistic conceptualisation of a ‘Muslim vote’. Muslims are not only in themselves a heterogeneous group; they also tend to focus on a whole set of diverse issues that other German voters are also concerned about – ranging from education and employment to security, healthcare, or taxation.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/09/05/wahlverhalten-von-muslimen-in-deutschland/ ))

Beyond that, many Muslim voters traditionally voice strong demands when it comes to equality of opportunity and anti-discrimination. This concern does not arise out of their Islamic religiosity per se but rather out of their experiences in the German context: recent studies have highlighted the continued impact of discriminatory practices to the disadvantage of individuals with ‘foreign-sounding’ names on the housing market,(( https://www.hanna-und-ismail.de/ )) in job applications,(( http://www.spiegel.de/lebenundlernen/schule/auslaendische-vornamen-migranten-diskriminierung-durch-firmen-bestaetigt-a-960855.html )) and even when dealing with the state bureaucracy.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/video168461476/Mitarbeiter-von-Jobcentern-neigen-zur-Diskriminierung.html ))

Traditional affiliation with the political left

In the past, these particular concerns meant that German Turks’ political affiliations were clear: at the last elections in 2013, 64 per cent of voters with Turkish roots supported the Social Democrats (SPD). Undoubtedly, an additional factor playing in favour of the SPD was the blue-collar identity of a large share of German Turks – a socioeconomic position that many of the former Gastarbeiter have passed down to their children.

In 2013, another 24 per cent of German Turkish voters chose two other left-wing parties, with 12 percent supporting The Left – a conglomerate of political factions to the left of the SPD – and another 12 per cent coming out in favour of The Greens.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/10/30/bundestagswahl-2013-so-haben-deutsch-tuerken-gewaehlt/ ))

While the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) obtained 41.5 per cent of the overall vote in 2013, only 7 per cent of German Turks put their trust in Chancellor Merkel’s party. And although Muslims have sought to organise in the CDU, the Conservatives count far fewer men and women of Muslim faith or of immigrant extraction among their representatives than other parties.

Diverging electoral preferences in Germany and in Turkey

By contrast, those members of the German Turkish community who are still eligible to vote in Turkish elections regularly deliver resounding victories to conservative and Islamically-oriented President Erdoğan – rather than to the leftist opposition.

This might be due to the fact that political and ideological preferences diverge fundamentally between those German Turks who still hold Turkish citizenship and those who have acquired a German passport.

Yet it is perhaps more likely that, in the past, German Turks were perfectly capable of balancing an emotionally-driven support for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s agenda in Turkey with a rational cost-benefit analysis of the political game in Germany.(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/bundestagswahl2017/tuerken-wollen-nicht-waehlen-52799904.bild.html ))

Ending EU accession talks with Turkey

After years of degrading relations, however, German Turks are finding this balancing act harder to accomplish. More particularly, there are indications that they are feeling less and less represented by the SPD and their traditional, leftist political home in Germany.

Although SPD Foreign Minister Gabriel sought to reassure German Turks of their continued importance to the German government and to his party, the SPD’s relationship to its formerly staunchly loyal clientele is increasingly fraught.

This trend culminated in the TV debate between incumbent chancellor Merkel and her SPD Challenger Martin Schulz on September 3rd: Schulz – somewhat surprisingly and perhaps ill-advisedly – sought to be ‘tough’ on Turkey and announced that, if elected to the Chancellery, he would immediately end EU accession talks with Turkey.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/tv-duell-martin-schulz-ueberrascht-spd-mit-hartem-tuerkei-kurs-15182702.html ))

Detachment from the SPD

Schulz’s statements may resonate with dominant public opinion in Germany, which is increasingly sceptical of Turkey and its authoritarian President. Yet his brash and somewhat populist stance may also turn out to be politically unwise: Chancellor Merkel noted that talks over EU membership could only be ended if there was agreement among the 27 member states to do so, and that they constituted an important political lever to influence developments in Turkey.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/tv-duell-martin-schulz-ueberrascht-spd-mit-hartem-tuerkei-kurs-15182702.html ))

In any case, Schulz’s outburst during the TV debate may have done considerable harm to his party’s standing among German Turks. Interviewed by news magazine Tagesschau, a Cologne resident of Turkish extraction who had previously supported the Social Democrats stated that he would not go to the polls on September 24th. Voicing his disillusionment with the SPD, who had always claimed to be the voice of German Turks, he said:

I prefer to have someone who tells me openly and honestly that he doesn’t like me – instead of someone who pretends to like me and at the end of the day does nothing that is in accordance with my wishes and interests.(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9prj-3VZ44 ))

Mainstream parties “hostile to Turkey”

In this way, Schulz’s announcement, which was ostentatiously aiming to curtail President Erdoğan’s standing in Europe, may actually end up fostering the loyalty German Turks feel towards ‘their’ President.

Erdoğan himself has already called upon his countrymen in Germany not to cast a ballot in favour of parties who are “hostile to Turkey” – a list which, according to him, includes CDU, SPD, and Greens.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/erdogan-und-die-bundestagswahl-wie-stimmen-die-deutsch-tuerken-ab/20294522.html ))

The Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), an affiliate of the AK Party in Europe, has echoed this statement: in a press release, it condemned (albeit in somewhat broken English) not only the AfD for stoking populist hatred but also The Greens and The Left for supporting “known […] terrorist organizations”. This swipe aims not only at Gülenists but also the PKK, whose secularist struggle for independence is indeed seen in a positive light in some quarters.(( https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DJds1nUWAAImIKd.jpg ))

Pro-Erdoğan splinter parties

The political home of German Turks thus appears to be in considerable flux. As a response, a new Erdoğanist splinter party has been set up in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), home to the largest number of German Turks.

The Alliance of German Democrats (ADD) uses the portrait of President Erdoğan on its election posters calling for solidarity with the friends of Turkey. Yet the party only managed to obtain 0,1 per cent of the vote at recent state elections and thus has no political significance beyond the purely symbolic.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article168473921/Mit-diesem-Erdogan-Plakat-wirbt-eine-Partei-im-Bundestagswahlkampf.html ))

Another pro-Erdoğan faction, the Union for Innovation and Justice (BIG), recently announced its decision to boycott the elections. BIG seeks to unify the German Turkish vote; a quest that has so far remained elusive: in most of its electoral attempts, the party did not manage to attain as much as one per cent of the popular vote – even in constituencies with large numbers of German Turkish voters.(( https://dtj-online.de/big-boykott-bei-den-bundestagswahlen-87268 ))

A more limited influence?

The failure of these attempts to constitute a quasi-AKP as a viable political force in Germany also points to the limitations of President Erdoğan’s appeal. Some of Germany’s largest ethnically Turkish immigrant organisations continue to be opposed to Turkey’s authoritarian turn.

The Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), as well as the Federation of Democratic Workers’ Unions (DIDF), called upon German Turks to vote in the elections and to defy President Erdoğan’s demand to reject the established political system. This statement was echoed by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), a predominantly non-Turkish Islamic umbrella association.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/erdogan-und-die-bundestagswahl-wie-stimmen-die-deutsch-tuerken-ab/20294522.html ))

Ultimately, how German Turks will decide to deal with these competing pressures will only become clear after polls close on the evening of September 24th. One respondent on the street stressed the need to retain a modicum of calm: Mustafa Karadeniz, entrepreneur from Berlin, asserted that

We should do neither Erdoğan nor German politicians the favour that the Turkish President becomes the main topic of the electoral campaign. There are really bigger Problems in Germany: the climate, the automotive industry, the old-age pension system.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundestagswahl-wie-viel-einfluss-hat-recep-tayyip-erdogan-a-1165992.html ))

German TV debate between Merkel and Schulz focuses on migration and Islam, catering to populists

German voters will choose a new chancellor on September 24 in an electoral contest pitting incumbent Christian Democrat Angela Merkel against Social Democrat Martin Schulz. After a brief surge in the polls earlier this year, Schulz’ SPD now looks set to lose the election to Merkel, trailing her CDU by about 15 percentage points in recent polls.

Four journalists steering the debate

Against this backdrop, the campaign’s only TV debate took place on September 03. Seen as the highlight of a previously rather lukewarm electoral contest, the debate was supposed to discuss four main topics in equal measure: migration, foreign policy, social justice, and internal security. Yet it was the first item on the list that took up nearly 60 of the debate’s 90 minutes.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

The four TV journalists hosting the programme – and particularly Claus Strunz of the Sat. 1 TV network – honed in on questions of immigration and integration, giving the discussion distinctly populist overtones.

It was above all the hosts who presented refugees and migrants as a threat to internal security and as a drain on Germany’s resources; who insinuated that Islam was inherently irreconcilable with German constitutional principles; and who claimed that Muslims were unwilling and unable to participate in German society – in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Populist demeanour

In order to pressure the two candidates into conceding that politicians were unable to take effective control of migration and to ensure migrants’ integration, the hosts (again with Strunz in the lead) resorted to all available means. Shortly after the onset of the broadcast, Strunz appeared to deliberately falsify a quote by Martin Schulz, in which the SPD politician had stated that refugees were “more valuable than gold” – a fact that Schulz managed to call out.

Other misrepresentations went unquestioned, however – such as the claim that Germany was home to 226,000 people who had no legal right to stay and remained in the country only due to politicians’ failure to expulse them.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/claus-strunz-internetnutzer-empoert-ueber-tv-duell-moderator-a-1165932.html ))

One-sided discussion of migration

Summing up the TV event, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper noted that it was as if the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) had been a prominent guest in the studio. It also castigated the complete failure to discuss the issue of migration from any other but the most myopic of all perspectives.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

For instance, not one of the hosts’ questions dealt with the deplorable conditions faced by migrants in Libyan camps or with the deaths of thousands of men and women in the Mediterranean. Neither did anyone inquire about the hundreds of attacks on refugee shelters or the resurgence of right-wing terrorism plots in Germany.

Negative Muslim reactions

The reactions of the targeted ‘foreigners’ and ‘Muslims’ were, predictably, negative. Author and activist Imran Ayata summed up their sentiment when he asserted that the “clear winner” of the debate had been the AfD.(( https://twitter.com/ImranAyata/status/904416160086716417 ))

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, noted that the hosts had fallen for the own “populist trap”. While moderator Claus Strunz had recently claimed that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing democracy”, Mazyek asserted that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing and ever more shallow media coverage”.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/aiman-mazyek/merkel-schulz-muslime-_b_17907854.html ))

Luay Mudhoon, renowned commentator on Islamic affairs, deemed the TV duel a “black day for German TV journalism” and bemoaned the “AfD-leaning leading questions”.(( https://twitter.com/Loay_Mudhoon/status/904426758325366785 )).

“Islam is a part of Germany”

Yet some Muslim observers chose to concentrate on the – rare – positive elements in the debate. The German-Turkish Journal welcomed the fact that both Chancellor Merkel and her challenger Martin Schulz had stressed the positive contributions of many Muslims to German society and that they had agreed to the statement that “Islam is a part of Germany”, albeit in a somewhat roundabout manner.(( https://dtj-online.de/angela-merkel-bekraeftigt-der-islam-gehoert-zu-deutschland-tv-duell-87597 ))

This question – “Is Islam a part of Germany” or “Does Islam belong to Germany” (“Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland?”) – has been a staple of public controversy since a 2010 speech by then-President Christian Wulff. Wulff asserted that Islam was indeed part of Germany’s social fabric.

A question of belonging

Ever since, commentators have argued about whether ‘Islam’ can belong to Germany or whether only ‘Muslims’ can (but not ‘Islam’). The same discussion regularly resurfaces and never yields any conclusion, in part because the question is itself a non-starter and any answer to it always seems to degenerate into nothing more than semantic sophistries.(( An entire academic literature has focused on this debate. For an overview see Spenlen, Klaus (ed.) (2013), Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland? Fakten und Analysen zu einem Meinungsstreit. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press. ))

Many have nevertheless rejected the notion of allowing either Islam or Muslims any part in German identity, citing the country’s inherent and primordial ‘Judeo-Christian’ make-up. (There is always something slightly odd about this claim, given that not too long ago Germany thoroughly erased Judaism from European lands by killing six million of its adherents.)

The Muslim ‘other’

Responding to these pressures, some Muslim voices seek to highlight that they are ‘more German’ than others, also in order to advance their own agendas. Ercan Karakoyun, leader of the Gülen movement in Germany, tweeted during the debate: “A form of Islam that can be reconciled with the Basic Law? There is one! #Gülen movement.”(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun/status/904417326442962944 ))

Ultimately, however, the enduring lesson of an evening spent in front of the television remains that people of Muslim faith are still seen as ‘other’ in significant parts of German society: ‘they’ really do not belong to ‘us’. The TV debate between Merkel and Schulz did nothing to challenge this perception and almost everything to reinforce it.

Reflection on news outlets calling an attack “terrorism” after Finsbury Park

Guardian journalist, Paul Chadwick, responds to concerns about what should be considered terrorism. He said he started calling the incident a terrorist attack early but it was not premature.

He says events can be called terrorist attacks if they involve “serious harm to random innocents, a location and/or victims with symbolic resonance, apparent intent to generate widespread fear, and a political purpose.” A political purpose means aims at pressuring government or intimidating populations, often stemming from nationalism, racism, or religious fanaticism.

He argues that journalists do not need to wait for courts and official pronouncements to call something “terrorism.” Based on witness reports, journalists on the scene at Finsbury Park decided to call the incident a terrorist attack.

In the case of the Guardian, at 2:01am, about two hours after the attack, the live blog contextualised the event by referencing recent terrorist attacks. The crime correspondent arrived on scene at 3:07am. The correspondent reported at 3:54am that counter-terrorism police were there and at 4:45 am reported that the Muslim Council of Britain described the incident as a terrorist attack. At 5:15am, Prime Minister Threresa May classified the event as “a potential terrorist attack.”

 

The chimaera of a ‘liberal’ Islam: the fate of the new mosque in Berlin

The opening of a self-styled ‘liberal’ mosque in Berlin – marked by the mixing of genders, the absence of headscarves, and the openness to pluralistic understandings of Islam – by lawyer and activist Seyran Ateş has sparked a media frenzy both in Germany and abroad.

Liberal and conservative media outlets have celebrated the mosque. Liberals see it as much-needed proof that Islam is capable of ‘reform’ and that Islamophobic discourse is not only morally objectionable but also factually mistaken. Conservatives welcome the establishment of the mosque as heralding an Islamicality that is thoroughly ‘integrated’ and ‘assimilated’ to the German context.

Muted reaction at home

The reaction of Islamic institutions from abroad – most notably from Turkey and Egypt – has been similarly loud, although fiercely critical: religious authorities in Ankara and Cairo have castigated the new mosque as a doctrinal abomination.

Yet while many media outlets were quick to pick up on the pugnacious hostility coming from state-controlled Muslim institutions in the Middle East, the arguably more important aspect of the Muslim response to the mosque went almost completely unscrutinised: hardly anyone bothered to take into account the perspective of German Muslims themselves. And in contrast to journalists across the world and state clerics in the Middle East, German Muslims have so far been comparatively unfazed by the mosque.

Isolated high-level endorsements

To be sure, a number of Muslim public figures have given their largely favourable opinions. Sawsan Chebli, high-ranking Social Democratic member of the government of the state of Berlin, took to Twitter to greet the mosque’s establishment. (She was then heckled by both an Islamophobe on the one hand and an infamous former journalist-turned-Salafi-activist deeming the mosque to be a desecration of Islam on the other hand).(( https://twitter.com/SawsanChebli/status/878268593359642625 ))

Beyond these isolated exchanges, however, responses of high-level Muslim actors have been scarce. Most notably, the ‘conservative’ Islamic foundations – i.e. the main targets of the mosque – have kept an icy silence.

Even the chairman of the ZMD association, Aiman Mazyek, the most vocal representative of the established foundations, contented himself with asserting that those who seek to distinguish a ‘liberal’ from a ‘conservative’ Islam unduly politicise the religion. When asked how he felt about Ateş’ mosque, he refused to comment, simply stating: “she should do whatever she wants”.(( http://vorab.bams.de/der-vorsitzende-des-zentralrats-der-muslime-aiman-mazyek-lehnt-eine-unterteilung-des-islam-in-liberal-oder-konservativ-ab/ ))

Lack of popular engagement

Yet the true disappointment for Ateş must be the extremely limited response of ordinary Muslim believers to her mosque. At the first Friday prayers, the congregation was far outnumbered by journalists; and one week later barely any faithful bothered to show up.

According to Ateş herself, this lack of attendees is due to the fact that liberal Muslims must be afraid of recriminations if they display their progressive ideas about religion openly.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article165832629/Die-meisten-liberalen-Muslime-haben-Angst.html )) Of course this possibility cannot be discounted and might very well be true in some cases.

Yet the much larger problem that appears to beset the new mosque is its lack of religious credibility. Most notably, Ateş herself has given very little indication in the past of any will to thoughtfully engage with Islam. Instead, she has chosen the populist route, with for instance her past polemics against headscarf and religious conservatism antagonising virtually all active Muslim politicians from among Greens, Social Democrats, and Christian Democrats.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/reaktion-auf-kommentar-gruene-muslime-greifen-islamkritikerin-seyran-ates-an/1603712.html ))

What is more, although Ateş has stated that she wishes to become an Imam, so far she does not hold any formal qualification to lead prayer. The fact that she also decided to publish a self-referential book on the day of the mosque’s opening – the work is titled Selam Mrs. Imam: How I Founded a Liberal Mosque in Berlin – adds to the perception that the project is too much about her rather than about a genuine attempt at religious reflection.

“Liberal Islam is a chimaera”

In a piece for Qantara.de, journalist Loay Modhoon takes up many of these issues, arguing that “liberal Islam is a chimaera”.(( https://en.qantara.de/content/berlins-new-mosque-liberal-islam-is-a-chimaera )) According to Modhoon, “fervent enthusiasm in the media and political realm cannot […] gloss over two fundamental problems”:

Firstly: so-called “liberal Islam” consists of individuals, public personalities; it has no structure to speak of. In Germany there are now a number of civil society initiatives by liberal Muslims, but their level of organisation is still low, as is their ability to connect with the conservative Muslim mainstream.

Secondly: so far, those who represent liberal Islam are still very vague as far as content is concerned. They usually define themselves by their rejection of conservative Islam. And that’s just too little substance to have a big impact.

Not the first mosque of its kind

Modhoon goes on to note that the Berlin mosque is not the first of its kind, and criticises the vacuity of the supposedly ‘liberal’ Islamic project:

No question about it: the opening of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe Mosque is a courageous and remarkable step. But outside Germany liberal mosques like these are not a new phenomenon. Similar mosque projects have already existed for a long time in Britain and the United States.

In addition, the heterogeneous supporters of liberal Islam should have explained – well before the mosque opened – on what Islamic principles their liberal understanding of the religion is based. They should, for example, have held a pertinent debate on the role of Sharia in a secular constitutional state. This would certainly have been helpful in terms of drawing a distinction between acceptable and unacceptable aspects of Sharia.

In other words, just as Turkey’s state authority for religious affairs, Diyanet, cites the “tenets of the Islamic faith” as its reference point, the liberal Muslims should also have justified their efforts with reference to genuine Islamic sources.

State-enforced ‘liberalism’ lacks credibility

In some sense, then, Ateş’ mosque suffers from a set of fairly predictable problems. At the same time, the political environment in which a liberal Islam is being articulated is particularly challenging:

Neither the meagre response to the Muslim peace and anti-terrorism demonstration in Cologne nor the hostile reactions to the opening of the mosque in Berlin can be taken as evidence that Islam is incapable of reform. We are, after all, seeing efforts by Muslim activists all around the world who are striving for reform. The battle over who has the prerogative of interpreting and defining “Islam” is being fought almost everywhere, with a vengeance.

In any case, politicians would be well advised not to privilege particular versions of Islam – neither liberal nor conservative. An Islam protected or even controlled by the state would have no credibility and would be unworthy of a pluralist democracy.

For the ongoing development of Islam in Germany it would therefore be better, in the spirit of our liberal-democratic constitution, to respect the real-life plurality of Muslims and their different understandings of what Islam is – and continue to promote its institutional naturalisation.

Macron advocates for an Islam compatible with the Republic

President Macron and Interior Minister Gérard Collomb joined the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) for Iftar on June 20.

Macron first thanked the CFCM’s outgoing president Anouar Kbibech for his tenure, which was marked by numerous terror attacks. “Thanks to you, the nation’s unity was upheld along with the voice of reason.”

Macron added: “We live in a time where there is much to divide us, where everything could collapse…Our challenge is, of course, security, as we are faced with raging terrorism, but it is also moral and civilizational. And with this challenge, as part of your [CFCM] responsibilities, you play an important role. The State and public authorities will be with you to face these challenges. My presence here, tonight, by your side, is meant to thank you. Faced with the immense responsibilities that await us, you will have me by your side.”

He concluded: “No one in France should believe that your faith is not compatible with the Republic, no one should think that France and the French reject the Muslim faith. No one can ask French men and women, in the name of the faith, to reject the laws of the Republic.”

 

 

Outspoken defender of women’s rights founds a gender-equal mosque in Berlin

 

The – patchy and insufficient – provision of religious spaces and services for Germany’s growing Muslim population has become a fiercely political issue. This is not only linked to a general and widespread sense of hostility towards Islam and its spatial visibility in the form of mosques, minarets, and headscarves. Rather, it is also due to the fact that much attention is now focused on the real and supposed political influence mosques and Islamic associations wield over Muslims.

The country’s largest Islamic associations have been a particular object of criticism in this regard: politicians from across the ideological spectrum have lambasted these organisations as too conservative or even reactionary and as too beholden to foreign interests. Whilst they continue to figure in government-sponsored forums of dialogue – such as the national-level German Islam Conference – as well as more local initiatives, they are increasingly viewed as unfit to be considered legitimate Muslim representatives.

A ‘liberal’ mosque

To these critics, the foundation of a self-consciously ‘liberal’ mosque community in Berlin must be a welcome sign of change: a well-known activist of Turkish-Kurdish heritage, Seyran Ateş, announced the opening of the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque, marked by its gender equality and its openness towards all Islamic currents.(( https://international.la-croix.com/news/women-imams-to-help-lead-prayers-at-new-mosque-in-berlin/5201 ))

The mosque, which is an explicit counter-project to the established Islamic associations, will hold its first Friday prayers on June 16. Every Friday, a man and a woman will both function as Imams and jointly lead the service. Ateş herself is seeking to become an Imam. What is more, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, an openly gay prayer leader from Marseille, France, will also participate in the Friday session of June 16.(( https://international.la-croix.com/news/women-imams-to-help-lead-prayers-at-new-mosque-in-berlin/5201 ))

Defence of women’s rights

The project – notably with its feminist reading of Islamic religiosity, expressed by its insistence on gender-mixed prayers and on the prominent role given to female Imams – inscribes itself into Ateş’ long-standing fight against patriarchal structures of oppression.

A lawyer by training, Ateş has spent the bulk of her career defending the rights of Muslim women against abusive family relations, forced marriages, and so-called ‘honour killings’. During a consultation with a client in 1984, the client’s enraged husband made his way to Ateş’ office and shot both his wife and Ateş. While the wife died, Ateş spent several years recovering from her life-threatening injuries.

Following the 2009 publication of her book Islam Needs a Sexual Revolution (Der Islam braucht eine sexuelle Revolution), Ateş received a number of death threats that caused her to reduce her public appearances. She also closed down her lawyer’s practice temporarily, before reopening it in 2012.

Muslims ‘need to enlighten Islam’

Ateş laid out her vision for the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque in an impassioned and highly personal op-ed for the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. She recounts how her late father no longer felt at home in Berlin’s mosques due to their conservatism, and how at his burial the male Muslim clergy made her feel like a second-class believer. “Nowhere do I feel as discriminated against as in mosques”, she asserts – and goes on to ask: “Is my religion the business of men only?”(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/22/islam-reform-liberale-moscheen-berlin/komplettansicht ))

Against these entrenched tendencies, Ateş sees her new mosque as making a contribution to the “reform of our religion” and as helping to address the “modernisation problem in Islam”. For Ateş, Muslims “finally need to enlighten” their religion: “Not every tradition is worthy of being kept. Not every pious resistance to what is novel is truly pious.”((http://www.zeit.de/2016/22/islam-reform-liberale-moscheen-berlin/komplettansicht ))

A political minefield

At the same time, Ateş is aware that by opening a mosque, she is entering a political minefield where she faces opposition not only from the side of Muslim traditionalists but also from the political right. In her opinion piece she recounts how her past activism against the oppression of mainly Turkish Muslim women has – albeit unintentionally – made her a respected persona at the Islamophobic end of the spectrum.

According to Ateş, when she posted good wishes for a Muslim religious festival on facebook, some of her friends and followers were outraged – even though they very much appreciated Ateş’ acknowledgement of Christian and Jewish religious celebrations.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/22/islam-reform-liberale-moscheen-berlin/komplettansicht ))

Undoubtedly for this reason, Ateş also refuses the label of ‘critic of Islam’ (Islamkritikerin), with which she is often connected in the German media: “I am not an ‘Islamkritikerin’”, Ateş asserted in a recent interview. “If anything, then I’m a critically-minded person overall. That I make critical statements on certain matters of religion, including of Islam, does not mean that I am not devout.”(( http://www.taz.de/!5395895/ ))

‘Liberal’ or ‘Islamophobic’?

These issues highlight the political difficulties the mosque project will encounter, squeezed between the Scylla of religious conservatism and the Charybdis of being co-opted by the far-right as a fig-leaf for an Islamophobic agenda. As to whether Ateş’ mosque in particular and her project of Islamic renewal in general will be able to withstand this test remains to be seen. Some doubts nevertheless appear apposite in this regard.

Notably, a number of the supporters of the ‘Freiburg Declaration of secular Muslims’ are to assume – as of yet unspecified – roles in the mosque and its community. These figures include Abdel-Hakim Ourghi, initiator of the Declaration, and Saida Keller-Messahli, chairwoman of the Swiss ‘Forum for a Progressive Islam’.(( http://www.taz.de/!5395895/ ))

The Declaration – whose language of religious reform and enlightened secularism Ateş echoes in her op-ed for the Zeithad divided Germany’s liberal Muslims. The Liberal-Islamic Union swiftly condemned its initiators of “having become the accomplice of racist and Islamophobic discourses”, adding that “[a] ‘liberal’ Islam stops being liberal where it unreflectingly falls into line with marginalising discourses of mainstream society.”

Traditionalism, Islamism, jihadism

Ateş otherwise moving defence of her mosque project in her op-ed is not free from some regrettable tendencies in this regard. At times, the piece appears to veer uncomfortably close to amalgamating Islamic traditionalism, Islamist activism, and jihadist violence.

To be sure, each of these forces are formidable; and they may – all in their own way – undermine a genuinely inclusive, progressive, and vibrant Islamic religiosity. Yet this does not make them one and the same: Islamic traditionalism, infused with local norms going back to the modus vivendi of ancestral generations in rural Anatolia, does indeed hold back many Muslim women living in Germany.

Nevertheless, the Islamist challenge is structurally and ideologically different, particularly insofar as Islamism seeks to break with many of these traditional fora and modes of authority. Jihadist violence is again different in both means and ends, and in its perspective on women. One is left to wonder as to whether it is either theologically accurate or politically far-sighted to castigate mainstream conservatism by ranging it with the most barbaric jihadist killings and doctrinal innovations.

Need for enhanced public clout and credibility

Against this backdrop, Seyran Ateş’ very public persona may very well turn out to be both a blessing and a curse for her new mosque project. On the one hand, her long and courageous struggle for women’s rights may enable her to make herself heard to all those who would otherwise regard the foundation of a mosque with suspicion.

Ateş might, in other words, be able to galvanise more political support among decision-makers in Berlin. This is an all-important asset: in the past, the foundation of strong, visible ‘liberal’ mosques that could function beyond the purview of the conservative associations has often failed due to a lack of political clout.

More generally, it is surely an important development to see someone like Ateş, who has for a long time fought the gender violence commonly associated with Islam in Western public perceptions and who thus cannot be seen as being ‘too soft’ on uncomfortable issues besetting the faith, should openly vindicate her right to be a practicing Muslim herself.

A difficult trajectory ahead

On the other hand, critical questions might be asked as to who or what legitimises Ateş, who has not shown a marked interest in Islamic religiosity in the past, to open a mosque. One might also wonder whether it is helpful for her to publish another book on the day of the mosque opening, titled Selam, Mrs. Imamin: How I Founded a Liberal Mosque in Berlin. There appears to be a real risk that the new mosque becomes Mrs Ateş’ vanity project rather than a way of supporting a process of reflection on the part of Muslim communities.

For now, although Ateş’ books are already in print, the mosque’s work remains unaccomplished as the first Friday prayers are yet to be held. The mosque also does not have its own buildings so far: initially, services will take place on the premises of the Church of Saint-John (Sankt-Johannis) in the Moabit district of Berlin.

Ateş hopes that she will be able to witness the construction of a true mosque building at a later stage. In this respect, it remains to be seen whether her project will come to be a powerful manifestation of a liberal Islam, or whether it will be derailed by political vicissitudes in the meantime.

Elected Politicians with a Muslim Background in the UK, France and Germany


The UK

Information collected by euro-islam contributor Shayna Solomon

In the most recent elections, in 2015, the 13 Muslims were elected (or reelected) to the House of Commons, of which 6 were women. Only one Muslim former MP, Anas Sarwar lost the election in his Glasgow constituency. In 2015, Sadiq Khan also was elected to become the mayor of London, making him the first Muslim mayor of a major Western city. The current Muslim members of parliament are as follows:

Imran Hussain

Born 1978 in Bradford, West Yorkshire to a working class family, he started his political career in 2003 at the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council. In his first run for Parliament, he unexpectedly lost to George Galloway in 2012. He mostly fits within the Momentum branch of the Labour party.

Labour since 2015
Khalid Mahmood

Born in 1961, trained as an engineer. 1990-1993 Birmingham City Councillor. He entered the parliament in 2001, failed to be re-elected in 2005, but won his seat back in 2010.

Labour 2001-2005 since 2010
Naseem ‘Naz’ Shah

Shah is the Labour MP for Bradford West. She is a women’s rights activist, advocating for policies to protect women from domestic violence and stopping forced marriage. She has also challenged the Prevent policy.

Labour since 2015
Yasmin Qureshi

Born in 1963 in Gujrat, moved to Britain in 1972, qualified as a barrister. Was the Head of the Criminal Legal Section of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the Director of the department of Judicial Administration in Kosovo. She served as the London Mayor’s Human Rights advisor and entered parliament in 2010 as one of the three first female Muslim MPs.

Labour since 2010
Shabana Mahmood

Born in Birmingham, she was educated at Oxford and worked as a barrister. In 2010 she entered the parliament as one of the first three Muslim women to become British MPs.

Labour since 2010
Rushnara Ali

Born in Bangladesh, moved to Britain at age of seven, grown up in London’s East End, educated at Oxford. She had jobs in Parliament, the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office before being elected one of the first female Muslim MPs in 2010.

Labour since 2010
Sajid Javid

Born in the UK, studied economics and politics, worked as a banker. He was elected as one of the first two Muslim MPs of the Conservative Party in 2010.

Conservative since 2010
Rehman Chishti

Studied law and worked as a barrister before pursuing a political career. Along with Sajid Javid he is the first Conservative MP of Muslim background.

Conservative since 2010
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh 

Born in Chelsea London in 1970 to a political family her father was the first Asian councilor in Scotland), Ahmed-Sheik is a lawyer, actress, and businesswoman. Ahmed-Sheikh serves as the Trade and Investment spokesperson for the SNP, as well as its National Women’s and Equalities Officer.

Scottish National Party Since 2015
Rupa Asha Huq

Dr Huq is a Sociology lecturer by training and currently serves as the MP for Ealing Central and Acton, both in London. She has also served as the former consort to the deputy mayor of Ealing.

Labour Since 2015
Tulip Rizwana Siddiq 

Siddiq was both in 1982 in London. She currently serves as the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and the vice-chairwoman for the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism. She is also the Shadow Education Minister.

Labour since 2015
Nusrat Munir Ul-Ghani

Born in 1972 in Birmingham, Ghani is the MP for Wealdon in East Sussex.  She has worked for several charities and the BBC World Service. She lost her first parliamentary election in 2010 but won in 2015. She was the first Muslim Conservative woman to be elected to the Parliament.

Conservative Since 2015

 

There are also Muslim politicians in the immediately pre-Brexit European Parliament. In the 2014 European elections, the number of Muslim British MEPs doubled. There were previously two Conservative Muslim MEPs, Syed Kamall and Sajjad Karim. These MEPs retained their seats and were joined in the European Parliament by Afzal Khan (Labor) and Amjad Bashir (UKIP). More information about Muslims in the 2014 European elections can be found here.

 

FRANCE

Information collected by euro-islam contributor, Selene Campion

 

Muslim Parliament Members in France (out of 577)

 

  1. Ibrahim Aboubacar (Parti socialiste), Mayotte (2nd district), born 1965 in Comoros, Constitutional Acts, Legislation and General Administration Committee

 

 

  1. Pouria Amirshahi (unattached), French citizens living outside of France, born 1972 in Iran, Cultural and Education Committee

 

  1. Kader Arif, (Parti socialiste), Haute-Garonne (10th district), born 1959 in Algeria, Foreign Affairs Committee

 

 

  1. Kheira Bouziane-Laroussi, (Parti socialiste ), Côte-d’Or (3rd  district), born 1953 in Algeria, Social Affairs Committee

 

  1. M. Georges Fenech, (Les Républicains), Rhône (11th district), born 1954 in Tunisia, Constitutional Acts, Legislation and General Administration Committee
  2. 6. Razzy Hammadi, (Parti socialiste), Seine-Saint-Denis (7th  district), born 1979 in Toulon to Algerian and Tunisian parents, Financial Commission

7.  Kléber Mesquida, (Parti socialiste), Hérault (5th district), born 1945 in Algeria, Economic Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Karima Delli: Europe Écologie Les Verts (EEEV); since June 2009 in North West district, Algerian parents; born in France.

 

Tokia Saifi: Les Républicains; since 1999 North West district; Algerian father; born in France.

 

Rachida Dati: Les Républicains; since July 2009 in Ile-de-France district; Moroccan mother and Algerian

 

 

Muslim politicians in Germany

Information gathered by euro-islam contributor, Jacob Lypp

 

Following the 2013 Federal Elections, 8 Muslim representatives entered or re-entered parliament of which 4 were women. This means that 1.3 per cent of Germany’s 630 federal-level parliamentarians are Muslim. This compares to Muslim’s share of roughly 5 per cent of Germany’s 82 million inhabitants.

Sevim Dağdelen

After having worked as a journalist, Dağdelen joined the Bundestag in 2005. Since then, she has been one of the most prominent figures of the anti-capitalist wing of The Left. The professed atheist has caused a number of stirs, including by stating her support for the Kurdish PKK.

The Left Since 2005
Ekin Deligöz

After her studies of public administration, Deligöz, a long-time Green Party activist, acquired German nationality and quickly joined the Bundestag. Since then, she has been involved mostly in budgeting commissions.

Bündnis 90/ The Greens Since 1998
Cemile Giousouf

Following her studies in political science, Giousouf joined the CDU, becoming the party’s first Muslim MP in 2013. She serves as the CDU’s Commissioner for Integration.

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Since 2013
Özcan Mutlu

Mutlu studied electrical engineering and joined the Green Party in 1990. He was elected to the state parliament of Berlin in 1999 before joining the Bundestag in 2013, serving as his party’s spokesman for education and sport. In 2013, he received negative media attention for his attendance of an event organized by the Islamic Community Milli Görüş.

Bündnis 90/ The Greens Since 2013
Omid Nouripour

He is the Green Party spokesman for Foreign Affairs in the German Parliament. Despite being the chairman of the German-American parliamentary cooperation group, Nouripour was initially targeted by the first instantiation of President Trump’s executive order on immigration due to his German-Iranian dual citizenship.

Bündnis 90/ The Greens Since 2006
Cem Özdemir

A member of the centrist wing of the Green Party, Özdemir became the first Muslim MP in the country upon his election in 1994. After a stint in the European Parliament, he returned to the Bundestag in 2013. He has been one of the co-chairs of the Green Party since 2008 and is part of the leadership duo spearheading the Green effort for the 2017 federal elections. He has been a vocal commentator on German-Turkish relations and on the role of the Turkish-dominated Islamic associations.

Bündnis 90/The Greens Since 1994
Mahmut Özdemir

Born in 1987, Özdemir interrupted his law studies to take up his parliamentary seat. He represents the northern parts of Duisburg, an area of high poverty and neglect often presented in media discourses as an epitome of ‘failed immigration’.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) Since 2013
Aydan Özoğuz

An MP since 2009, Özoğuz became one of the SPD’s six vice-chairs in 2011. She is her party’s spokesperson on issues of migration and diversity. Since 2013, she serves as the Federal Government’s Commissioner for Migration, Refugees, and Integration.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) Since 2009

 

European Parliament

Ismail Ertug

While working in the healthcare sector, Ertug joined the SPD in 1999. After a stint in the city council of Amberg, Ertug was elected to the European Parliament in 2009. He has since worked on issues of infrastructure and tourism, as well as on environmental issues and on EU-Turkey relations.

Social Democratic Party (SPD Since 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Diversity’ and its pitfalls: The role of Muslim representatives in German parliaments

Ahead of this year’s federal election in Germany, it is worth taking stock of the current assembly and its composition. More particularly, given the particular focus on issues of immigration and integration in the election campaign, the number of Muslim representatives it is worth scrutinising. To what extent do German Muslims actually have the possibility to contribute politically to debates and legislative reforms on issues that their own community will be most affected by?

A growing number of MPs of ‘migration background’

When it was elected in September 2013, the 18th Bundestag, as it is referred to in official nomenclature, was the most diverse in the Parliament’s recent history: of its 630 members, 5.6 per cent or 35 MPs had a ‘migration background’. In German parlance, this refers to an individual that is either an immigrant or has a at least one parent born outside of the Federal Republic.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/09/24/bundestag-abgeordnete-mit-migrationshintergrund/ ))

This represents a marked increase over the previous legislative period, in which only 3.4 per cent of representatives had such a background. At the same time, these numbers remain a far cry from the 19 per cent of the overall German population who have at least one parent born abroad.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/09/24/bundestag-abgeordnete-mit-migrationshintergrund/ ))

A higher number of Muslim representatives

A similar picture obtains with respect to Muslim representatives. The number of Muslims living in Germany is an unclear – and, by now, politically contested – figure; yet some estimates put the number of Muslims living in Germany at the moment of the 2013 federal election at roughly 4 million, equivalent to 5 per cent of the country’s population.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/umfrage-zahl-der-muslime-in-deutschland-wird-deutlich-ueberschaetzt/10975728.html ))

At the same time, only roughly half of Muslims living in the contry also held German citizenship in 2013. A fair share of these two million Muslim citizens will, furthermore, be underage and thus not hold the right to participate at the polls. The Federal Office of Statistics thus estimated in 2009 that only 750,000 German Muslims were eligible to vote.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/yasin-bas/parteien-islam-muslime_b_9819518.html ))

In spite of this, the Muslim share of the German population is still underrepresented in parliament: a mere eight of the current Bundestag’s members are of Muslim faith, making for slightly less 1.3 per cent of parliamentarians. At the same time it is worth noting that the number of Muslim MPs more than doubled in comparison to the previous session of parliament (2009-2013), which included only three Muslims.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/abgeordnete-im-neuen-bundestag-fieser-freiherr-trifft-film-kommissar-1.1798554-4 ))

Split along party lines

With four of their 63 lawmakers adhering to Islam, the Greens supply the largest number of Muslim parliamentarians. One of the party’s leadership figures, Cem Özdemir, had, in 1994, become the country’s first Muslim MP.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/abgeordnete-im-neuen-bundestag-fieser-freiherr-trifft-film-kommissar-1.1798554-4 ))

A very vocal presence has been the first ever Muslim member of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Cemile Giousouf. Nevertheless, in terms of their voting behaviour and political affiliation, German Muslims have traditionally been closer to the Social Democrats than to the Conservatives; a fact potentially influenced by the working-class background of many of the so-called ‘guest workers’.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/migranten-und-politik-diese-parteien-waehlen-einwanderer/14851994.html ))

As Euro-Islam reported, a group of Turkish Muslim politicians is currently seeking to challenge this status quo, by building a Muslim platform within the CDU. Whilst offering potential electoral gains by increasing the Conservatives’ share of the Muslim vote, their initiative has been viewed with some suspicion by the party leadership.

Divergences at state level

Data is much harder to come by for Germany’s 16 state parliaments, let alone for local administrations. Browsing through the lists of state representatives published by the respective assemblies, however, confirms the broad trends observable at the national level.

Policy-makers of an immigrant and/ or Muslim background tend to fall on the left of the political spectrum. Often the roots of their political activism lie in the labour movement. What is more, a glance at the list of elected decision-makers from the urban city-states of Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen – all traditional strongholds of the left – consistently (and perhaps unsurprisingly) show higher levels of MP diversity.

Conversely, the parliaments of the traditionally conservative, territorially larger and more rural states of the German south such as Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria scarcely contain members whose names do not strike the voter as immediately ethnically German.

Interestingly enough, this pattern is replicated in the capitals of these two states, Stuttgart and Munich, in spite of the fact that these two cities are among the most ethnically diverse in the country. Low degrees of representativeness of immigrants and Muslims cannot, therefore, be simply a function of an lower share of immigrants and Muslims in the population at large.

Going beyond mere numbers

The number of Muslims and persons of different ethnic backgrounds in state and federal parliaments is, undoubtedly, important. These figures do offer important insights into the dynamics that allow or disallow all sectors of the population to participate in political life. In this respect, obvious deficiencies are apparent: Germany’s parliaments are clearly do not ‘represent’ – in a very basic sense of the word – the diversity of the country’s population.

Beyond that, however, we may also ask what the Muslim members of parliament actually do. In this respect, it is striking – even though again not necessarily surprising – that many of them fill the offices of ‘commissioners for immigration’ or ‘integration ombudsman’ or other ostentatiously ‘diversity’-oriented positions.

To be sure, this is nothing to object to in principle: it seems logical to entrust for instance issues of migration to people who, perhaps because of their own biography, might have an affinity and a passion for the issue at hand. In a political climate in which voices from all sides of the spectrum talk of ‘integration of Muslims’, it is key that a Muslim voice is also heard in the relevant governmental departments; otherwise, the conversation becomes one that is always about Muslims but never involves them as actors.

Poster children of ‘diversity’

Yet this lopsided participation of Muslim and immigrant representatives in governmental functions also seems indicative of a dynamic in which all those whose names and physiognomy indicate ‘diversity’ are first and foremost shunted into departments and positions in which they deal with ‘people of their own kind’.

On this somewhat unkind but arguably realistic appreciation of Muslim representatives positioning on the political scene, mere numbers are not necessarily indicative of equal participation. Surely many of Germany’s aspiring Muslim politicians or even politically interested youth would be interested in pursing other political offices not oriented towards ‘diversity’.

No hijabs to be seen

Finally, in none of Germany’s parliaments there are female members wearing the hijab. In part, this is undoubtedly due to the abovementioned fact that leftist parties are more likely to include Muslims (or women, for that matter). Conceivably, the secularist views of left-wing parties’ female Muslim members mean that they are simply less likely to wear the headcovering.

At the same time, the saga of judicial wrangling about issues of ‘state neutrality’ has been long and is ongoing. Consequently, prohibitions on the display of religious symbols in some domains of the public sector are in force in some of Germany’s federal states. Against this backdrop, a hijab-wearing MP would be a major challenge to the status quo.

In 2014, Muslim associations reported with contentment that a female Muslim student wearing a headscarf had completed an internship in the Bundestag office of her local Conservative member of parliament.(( http://islam.de/24212.php )) Whether she and other young Muslim women will be able rise to the position of MP in the future remains to be seen.

Surveys allow new insights into Europeans’ rejection of Muslim immigration

Official condemnation of the ban

In the aftermath of President Trump’s executive order temporarily halting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, the liberal media has often looked for European moral leadership in an age of Trumpism.

Many of the continent’s politicians struck a similar tone, arguing for the need to uphold European values in the face of xenophobia and racism. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, as well as the leaders of the largest factions in the European Parliament, emphasised the EU’s willingness to stand up for “European legal culture and fundamental values”.(( http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20170131IPR60380/meps-firmly-condemn-us-travel-ban-in-debate-with-federica-mogherini ))

Similarly, the Bloc’s national leaders seemed to develop a common position against the Trump administration and its ‘Muslim ban’. At the gathering of the Union’s 28 heads of government in Malta earlier this month, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was rebuffed for what the continent’s leaders deemed her too concessionary stance vis-à-vis the incoming US administration.(( http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/eu-malta-summit-european-leaders-rebuff-theresa-may-bridge-donald-trump-us-angela-merkel-francois-a7561106.html ))

Sobering survey results

Against this backdrop, the results of a survey commissioned by Chatham House are sobering. Carried out between December 12, 2016, and January 11, 2017, the survey interviewed 10,195 participants from 10 EU countries, asking them about their preferences regarding Muslim immigration.

Across the continent, an absolute majority of 54.6 per cent agreed to the statement that “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped”. The strongest rejection of Muslim migration came from Poland (71 per cent), as well as Austria, Hungary, Belgium, and France (all above 60 per cent).

Only in Spain and the United Kingdom does the share of those supporting drastic immigration restrictions fall below the 50 per cent threshold. And in no country does the proportion of those actively disagreeing with the statement that “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped” rise above 32 per cent.

(Moderate) cleavages according to gender, age, and rural/urban divide

The survey results highlight that men are slightly more likely than women to favour shutting the door to Muslim immigrants (57 to 52 per cent). Among the 18 to 29 year-olds, the share of those supportive of a restrictive policy is lowest (at 44 per cent), while it is highest among senior citizens above the age of 60 (63 per cent).

Higher education levels correlate with decreased anxiety about Muslims: 59 per cent of respondents with only secondary education or less supported preventing further Muslim immigration, compared to 48 per cent of respondents holding a university degree. Finally, the rural population is slightly more critical of Muslim immigration than its urban counterpart.

While these factors are of interest, they nevertheless do little to change the overall picture. Across all groups and cleavages, there are solid majorities favouring a restrictive attitude to the immigration of Muslims, with only few categories falling below the 50 per cent threshold.

Comparison with the US

At first sight, these figures strongly mirror the opinions of the American public. In a Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted on 30 and 31 of January – i.e. shortly after the executive order was signed – 48 per cent of Americans asserted that they ‘agreed’ with the Executive order blocking refugees and banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.(( https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/02/polls-widespread-backing-trump-travel-ban ))

It is worth noting, however, that the Chatham House poll was conducted prior to President Trump’s inauguration and thus did not explicitly reference a ‘Muslim ban’. Rather, it spoke of curbing Muslim immigration in more general terms.

European support for the Muslim ban?

These differences in timing and in the question asked might have important repercussions for the interpretation of the survey data. Most notably, a position generally supportive of curbs on Muslim immigration does not necessarily translate into support for the US administration’s Muslim ban.

In Germany, for instance, 53 per cent of respondents expressed desire for a stop to the arrival of Muslims when questioned for the Chatham House survey. In an Ipsos poll conducted in early February, 2017, however, only 26.2 per cent of German respondents supported strict rules governing Muslim immigration on the model of President Trump’s executive order.(( http://www.wiwo.de/politik/deutschland/umfrage-deutsche-wuenschen-sich-mehr-trump-politik-in-berlin/19239790.html ))

This striking discrepancy might point to the fact that it is easier for some respondents to advocate for a blanket restriction on Muslim immigration as long as this remains a somewhat abstract policy. The concretisation of such restrictions in the form of the presidential executive order might drive home the starkness and injustice involved in such a ban. The recent events in the United States also provided powerful images of demonstrators and of families torn apart at American airports that might have swayed German public opinion.

Outsourcing the dirty work

Does this mean that the claim to moral superiority voiced by European leaders criticising the new American administration is justified, after all? Are Europeans and their governments true to their self-styled image of the upholders of ‘Western values’? – Arguably not.

Instead of stopping immigration at European airports – and thereby creating a media stir comparable to the aftermath of the US President’s executive order – the EU has relied upon agreements that outsource the ‘dirty work’ to third states removed from European shores and out of the sight of European citizens.

This is the substance of the EU-Turkey deal that closed the Balkans route; an approach that the EU now seeks to replicate with a second agreement involving Libya. Although the officially recognised government controls only a small sliver of the Republic of Libya, it has been identified as a suitable partner by the Europeans.

Nor have European leaders been deterred by the conditions reigning in the migrant camps in Libya, which a leaked report by German diplomats described as comparable to “concentration camps” in which daily executions are used “to make room for new arrivals”.(( http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/eu-malta-summit-leaders-warn-strand-thousands-refugees-libya-deal-concentration-camps-crisis-a7560956.html )) The European anti-immigration policies might be less eye-catching than Donald Trump’s showmanship; yet this does not make them any less deadly.