German Islamic associations and their mosques between political demands and institutional deadlock

The role for mosques after recent attacks

The German government’s Commissioner for Migration, Aydan Özoğuz (SPD), has called on the country’s mosques to be more proactive in preventing radicalisation among young Muslims. Mosques could make an important contribution to signalling the presence of extremist, or so Özoğuz argued.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/oezuguz-moscheevereine-101.html))

Her intervention comes after Germany has been shaken by two ISIS-linked attacks – the first ones on its territory – in late July: first, a 17-year old Afghan refugee injured several people by assaulting them on a train with a knife and an axe; subsequently, a Syrian man killed himself without injuring others in a suicide-style attack outside a music festival. In both cases, video material and pledges of allegiance were released by the Islamic State’s Amaq news agency.

The political debate surrounding DITIB and its mosques

Even prior to these attacks, however, the political debate surrounding German mosques and their position in de-radicalisation efforts had become more and more heated. For decades, national politicians and local authorities had been happy to delegate responsibility for the religious needs of the large and predominantly Turkish Muslim population to DITIB, an offshoot of the Turkish Presidency for Religious Affairs (Diyanet).

With recent diplomatic and political woes between Germany and Turkey on the rise, however, the old reliance on DITIB now appears problematic, with DITIB seen as a potential Trojan horse under the command of President Erdoğan. Numerous German politicians have voiced fears that the Turkish government could use DITIB’s close to 1000 imams to advance its own agenda and thereby influence Turkish-German Muslims, inducing them not only to favour Erdoğan’s authoritarian policies but also what his increasingly conservative stance on religious matters.

Leading Green Party politician Cem Özdemir, for instance, has lauded the social and welfare activism of individual members of DITIB mosques but denounced DITIB and its Imams as “a prolonged arm of the Turkish state”. The Social Democratic mayor the Neukölln district in Berlin, an area often in the spotlight in public debates on issues of integration has voiced her unease about “foreign-directed mosque associations” and criticised Imams who “are not formed according to the German understanding of fundamental values and have not grown up here”.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islam-in-deutschland-predigen-aus-der-tuerkei-entsandte-imame-1.2963893))

Unresolved questions about the institutional position of Islam

These issues touch upon a raw nerve in ongoing debates about the institutionalisation of Islam in the German constitutional-legal framework. While the German Basic Law allows religious communities to exercise wide ranging prerogatives (including the right to oversee religious instruction in state schools, as well as the right to control the training of religious practitioners), in the case of the Muslim communities in the country, this institutionalisation process has been dogged by numerous political and procedural difficulties. Consequently, the (Sunni) Muslim religious infrastructure in the country is still comparatively weak, in spite of the progress of recent years.

Yet in the current political and security climate, a growing number of demands is placed on this underdeveloped infrastructure: Muslim associations are asked to develop a ‘liberal Islam’ or a ‘state Islam’, compatible with the Basic Law and German values.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/03/01/a-peoples-islam-volksislam-as-an-enrichment-breaking-linguistic-taboos-in-the-german-political-debate/)) They are, in Özoğuz’s words, tasked with detecting and combating radicalisation. And they are, ultimately, supposed to become fora in which a positive, meaningful and theologically sophisticated Muslim spirituality is elaborated and allowed to grow.((http://dtj-online.de/islam-versus-dschihadismus-wir-machen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-77574))

Vicious cycle of mistrust and underdevelopment

These abstract exhortations do not, however, necessarily translate into real progress. To be sure, at the local level, especially where conditions are favourable and financing available, there are many initiatives that bring together administrations, civil society broadly conceived, and Muslim communities.

However, at the national level and in larger political discourse, no viable path forward has been offered: On the one hand, large Muslim associations and their mosques have been treated with ongoing suspicion and thus remained shut out of existing political, fiscal, and legal frameworks. On the other hand, the fact that that they remain outside of these frameworks reinforces their ‘otherness’, which justifies their continued marginalisation: Because they are not ‘insiders’ of the German scene, they continue to depend e.g. on foreign financing (for instance from the Turkish state).

Thus, mistrust invites marginalisation, and marginalisation invites mistrust. If Aydan Özoğuz’s demand that mosques and Muslim communities play a greater role in the prevention of radicalisation is to be taken seriously, then this vicious cycle needs to be broken. Calling upon mosques and communities to develop answers to pressing questions is right and important, yet they must also be structurally enabled to deliver these answers.

Sadiq Khan: British dream now a reality for London’s first Muslim mayor

In Pakistan, the chances that the son of a bus or rickshaw driver could secure a high-ranking political position in the country’s capital city are minuscule. But now, the people of London have elected Sadiq Khan – the son of an immigrant Pakistani bus driver – to be their first Muslim mayor.

While unable to influence the nation’s foreign or economic policy, Khan will have responsibility for key areas in London, such as transport, housing, policing and the environment. And being directly elected gives the London mayor a personal mandate which no other parliamentarian in Westminster – including those in the cabinet – enjoy.

Now, at the age of 45, he is mayor of London: the economic and cultural heart of the UK, the largest city in western Europe and one of the most important cities in the world. He is the immigrant success story – for him, the British dream has become a reality.

Khan’s Islamic faith catapulted the city’s mayoral contest into the international limelight, at a time when Muslims are facing growing hostility in the West. In the US, presidential hopeful Donald Trump has said that he will ban Muslims from entering the country; while in Europe, the far right is gaining traction by campaigning on explicitly anti-Muslim platforms.

During the mayoral campaign, Khan’s “Muslimness” was viewed as a liability by some – including members of his own party. His Conservative rival, Zac Goldsmith, accused Khan of sharing platforms with Islamic extremists – the implication was clear: that the public should be wary of his “radical” views. Goldsmith’s highly controversial campaign has been heavily criticised – notably by senior Conservative Andrew Boff – for its divisive “dog-whistle” politics.

Khan’s victory supports what a number of Muslim commentators have argued all along: that having a Muslim mayor could help defeat Islamist ideology, by showing that the West is not anti-Islam – and that Muslims can “make it” there. Khan himself has spoken about the symbolic value of becoming the first Muslim mayor of a city which experienced terrorist attacks in 2005, perpetrated in the name of Islam.

But Khan’s victory says as much about social mobility as it does about race and religion. Had Khan’s father stayed in Pakistan, it is inconceivable that his son would have succeeded in that country’s political system, where privilege and connections win elections. By contrast, many Pakistanis who migrated to the UK in the post-war era were subsistence farmers and manual labourers. In many cases, they were illiterate in their own mother tongue. They took up positions in the service industries of the south, the factories and foundries of the Midlands and the mills of northern England. And while some succeeded in pulling themselves out of poverty, the UK’s Pakistani community still has some of the highest levels of unemployment and underachievement in the UK. Many British Pakistanis live in some of the UK’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

And of course, British politics is also now dominated by an “old boys’ network”: the cliques of Etonions and Bullingdon club members, personified by the prime minister, David Cameron, the chancellor, George Osborne – and indeed London’s outgoing mayor, Boris Johnson. Yet the working-class Khan managed to win out against a Conservative rival with family pedigree, wealth and friends in powerful political, media and business circles.

For many, this is a triumph of meritocracy over privilege – a sign that the political establishment is becoming more inclusive and representative of the ethnic, religious and socioeconomic diversity of the wider population.

And Khan is not the only second-generation Pakistani to have entered high political office in the UK. Sajid Javid, the current secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills, is the son of a Pakistani immigrant who worked in the mills of the north before becoming a bus driver. So too did the father of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who rose to become a member of David Cameron’s cabinet, and was the first Muslim woman to sit at the highest table in the land. In the 2015 general election alone, ten individuals of Pakistani heritage were elected to the British parliament.

And now, in London, the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver is in charge. He has become Europe’s most powerful Muslim politician. Khan’s victory has shown us that the British dream can become a reality.

European Islamophobia Report for 2015 now published

The Annual European Islamophobia Report for 2015, sponsored and published by the leading think-thank in Turkey, SETA, has been released online. The report comprises of lengthy country reports with qualitative data from 25 European countries and aims to address the vast problem Islamophobia that poses a threat to the foundations of European constitutions. 37 scholars and Islamophobia experts from all over Europe worked together with SETA staff and the editors Farid Hafez and Enes Bayrakli for the project. As also countries from Eastern Europe are included, the report contributes significantly to the distribution of knowledge on Islamophobia in different European societies and thus presents a valuable reference for policy makers.

The country report on Finland covers several sectors of society in which generally Islamophobic discourse and behavior can be observed; education, politics, employment, media, Internet, the justice system and networks. The report findings show that Islamophobia has become evident in the public discourse, meaning diverse discussion forums of online newspapers and several social media channels. It also notes the role of the politics in spreading misunderstood information on Islam and Muslims and how especially in the right-wing-populistic discourse the threat of an Islamization of Finland is used to push forward agendas.

The report can be found in full length and in English language under

http://www.islamophobiaeurope.com/reports/2015/en/EIR_2015_FINLAND.pdf

For the project website and other country reports, see

www.islamophobiaeurope.com

Islam not Compatible with German Constitution, says far-right AfD party

April 18, 2016

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) said on Sunday Islam is not compatible with the German constitution and vowed to press for bans on minarets and burqas at its party congress in two weeks’ time.

The AfD punished Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats in three regional elections last month, profiting from popular angst about how Germany can cope with an influx of migrants, over a million of whom arrived last year.

“Islam is in itself a political ideology that is not compatible with the constitution,” AfD deputy leader Beatrix von Storch told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

“We are in favor of a ban on minarets, on muezzins and a ban on full veils,” added Storch, who is a member of the European Parliament.

Merkel’s conservatives have also called for an effective ban on the burqa, saying the full body covering worn by some Muslim women should not be worn in public. But they have not said Islam is incompatible with Germany’s constitution.

The AfD’s rise, which has coincided with strong gains by other European anti-immigrant parties including the National Front in France, has punctured the centrist consensus around which the mainstream parties have formed alliances in Germany.

Last month, the party grabbed 24 percent of the vote in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, surpassing even the Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel’s coalition partner in Berlin. The AfD, founded in 2013, also performed strongly in two other states.

The party’s rise has been controversial. Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, a Social Democrat, has said Germany’s far-right, led by the AfD party, is using language similar to that of Hitler’s Nazis.

Such accusations have not swayed the party from its anti-immigration course.

“Islam is not a religion like Catholic or Protestant Christianity, but rather intellectually always associated with the takeover of the state,” said Alexander Gauland, who leads the AfD in Brandenburg.

“That is why the Islamization of Germany is a danger,” he told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

French PM calls for ban on Islamic headscarves at universities

The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, has sparked controversy by suggesting the Muslim headscarf should be banned in universities and that a majority of French people think Islam is incompatible with the values of the Republic.

The Socialist, under pressure over contested labour reforms and growing street protest movements, reopened the divisive question of whether students could be banned from wearing headscarves at French universities.

In a long interview with the daily Libération, he was asked whether headscarves should be banned by law from universities and replied: “It should be done,” conceding that the constitution made it difficult.

But other Socialist ministers immediately contradicted him. “There is no need for a law on the headscarf at university,” said Thierry Mandon, the higher education minister. He said students were adults, and as such they “have every right to wear a headscarf. The headscarf is not banned in French society.”

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the education minister, said she did not support banning headscarves from universities, adding that students were young adults with “freedom of conscience and religious liberty” to do as they please. “Our universities also have a lot of foreign students. Are we going to ban them access because in their culture there’s a certain type of clothing?” she said.

In the past, figures on the right, including the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, have suggested headscarves should be banned from higher education.

But university leaders have consistently expressed strong opposition to any ban, saying students should be able to do as they please and that discriminating against students in headscarves is illegal.

The issue of Islamic head coverings has long been a highly contentious political issue in France, which has some of the hardest-hitting legislation on headscarves in Europe. In 2004 it banned girls from wearing headscarves in state schools, along with other religious symbols such as crosses or turbans. In 2011, Sarkozycontroversially banned the niqab (a full-face Muslim veil) from all public places. State workers in the public service must by law be impartial and neutral, and so cannot show their religious belief with an outward symbol such as a headscarf.

In December last year, the French national consulting body, the Observatory of Secularism, found it would be “neither useful, nor appropriate” to legislate on the wearing of religious symbols – including headscarves – at universities.

Valls also came under fire for telling Libération: “I would like us to be able to demonstrate that Islam, a great world religion and the second religion of France, is fundamentally compatible with the Republic, democracy, our values and equality between men and women.”

Asked if he was therefore implying that Islam had so far not shown itself to be compatible with French society and values, he said: “Certain people don’t want to believe it, a majority of French citizens doubt it, but I’m convinced that it’s possible.”

Abdallah Zekri, head of the Observatory on Islamophobia and a member of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, expressed exasperation that the prime minister was suggesting Muslims in France had not already demonstrated that their religion was totally compatible with life in France.

“We’re fed up of being stigmatised … [and] of this populist discourse which is worse than the far-right,” he told BFM TV.

Patrick Mennuci, a Socialist MP in the Bouches-du-Rhone, tweeted of Valls’s comments on the headscarf in universities: “Why open a debate that doesn’t exist? Let’s concentrate on real problems.”

A Twitter hashtag sprung up called #VraisProblemesUniversite (real problems at University) in which people suggested issues that were more important to debate.

With only a year to go until the 2017 French presidential election, François Hollande’s Socialist government, headed by Valls, is under increasing criticism from both the right and the left. Opposition to labour reforms has led to the government to back-track in order to attempt to appease young people after students and high-school unions took to the streets to protest.

Hollande’s poll ratings have dropped dramatically and he is now the least popular French president on record, with some on the broader left raising doubts over whether he can successively run again for another presidential term next year. The tough-talking Valls, once a popular interior minister, has also seen his popularity drop to its lowest levels, with an approval rating of 22% in a recent Elabe poll for LesEchos.

Since the Paris attacks in November, the Socialist government has led a hard line on security, surveillance and justice issues. Valls, a former mayor of the town of Evry outside Paris, recently warned that radical Salfists were“winning the ideological and cultural battle” in France. He said Salafists represented one percent of Muslims in France but their “message” was the only one that ended up being heard.

Immigrants feel more German than Germans think: a new survey on the perceptions of immigrants’ lives in Germany

21 March 2016

The newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has published a survey in which both Germans and long-settled immigrants in Germany were asked to assess the situation of immigrants in the country. In this survey, the non-immigrant respondents painted a somewhat sceptical picture of what, according to their perception, being an immigrant in the country would feel like: 52 per cent were convinced that immigrants were faced with growing levels of distrust, and 45 per cent believed that immigrants were seen as foreign strangers by Germans; 35 per cent were of the opinion that immigrants would sometimes feel Germans treated them in a condescending manner. 41 per cent believed that immigrants liked being in Germany, while only 36 per cent thought that people with foreign roots conceived of Germany as their home country. Moreover, only 23 per cent of non-immigrants surmised that immigrants were able to lead ‘a fully normal life’ in Germany in which their life choices were unhampered by their immigrant background.

Interestingly, however, immigrants themselves rated their situation in the country quite differently: only 7 per cent of them asserted that they felt higher levels of distrust, and only 6 per cent had the feeling that Germans saw immigrants as foreign strangers. Only 8 per cent observed that Germans behaved in a condescending manner towards immigrants. Conversely, 69 per cent were of the opinion that immigrants liked being in Germany, and 65 per cent saw immigrants as conceiving of Germany as their home country. 55 per cent asserted that foreign roots did not play a role in their lives.

The same juxtaposition holds with respect to the answers given to the question ‘Do most foreigners who have been living in Germany for a longer time identify as Germans or as foreigners?’: while the non-immigrant German population estimated that 13 per cent of immigrants identified as Germans and 45 per cent of immigrants did not, 58 per cent of immigrants asserted that they conceived of themselves as Germans, and only 24 per cent claimed that they saw themselves as members of their country of origin. In terms of political preferences, the party-political predilections of immigrants closely track those of the non-immigrant population: when asked ‘Which party do you find most likeable?’, hardly any divergences between the two groups could be observed. Similarly, among both immigrant and non-immigrant respondents, 39 per cent were optimistic rather than pessimistic or agnostic about the future.

It must be made clear that a number caveats must be attached to the survey’s findings. The researchers note that the survey’s representativeness might suffer from a certain sampling bias, insofar as responses were voluntary and people self-selected into answering. This might be relevant especially with respect to the immigrant respondents, since good language skills and also a willingness to engage with questions on political life in Germany are a prerequisite that might exclude that some sectors of the immigrant population from the survey. Perhaps more importantly, while the number of Muslim respondents is too small to make solid statistical claims about this group, we do catch a glimpse of potential challenges for the Muslim community from their answers to the survey questions: while Muslims on average share the relatively positive assessment of the situation of immigrants in the country, only two fifths assert that their immigrant origins do not prevent them from leading a normal life (as opposed to 55 per cent among immigrant respondents generally). Similarly, a third of Muslims assert that they have already been insulted because of their roots (as opposed to 9 per cent of immigrants considered as a group); and a third sometimes feel treated condescendingly by Germans (in contrast to only 8 per cent of all immigrants). A fifth of Muslims also report increased levels of distrust directed against them while only 7 per cent of immigrants overall have this feeling.

All things considered, however, the survey offers a very interesting snapshot of immigrant and non-immigrant perceptions of the lives of individuals and communities with a non-German roots. Apparently, immigrants feel considerably more ‘German’ than their compatriots think. This might be reflective of the long-standing inability of mainstream German society to come to terms with the role of their country as an important migration destination. In fact, the article and the survey are telling in this regard: they often display a propensity to label describe immigrants as ‘foreigners’, thereby emphasising their non-German nature.

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

05 March 2016

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

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

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

Accessing the Quran: Interview with Ahmad Milad Karimi

February 10, 2016

In an interview with Qantara.de, Ahmad Milad Karimi, professor for kalam in the Faculty for Islamic Studies at Münster University, offered a survey of the state of Islamic thought and theology in Germany. Karimi, who published a German translation of the Quran in 2009 that sought to capture the book’s poetic spirit and make it accessible to a German-speaking public, identified the need to “break through the foreignness of the Koran and the Islamic tradition” as the most important objective facing Muslim intellectuals in Western Europe. According to him, “[t]he greatest challenge is that Islam is not currently communicated well enough.” In this respect, the task of Muslim scholars must not primarily be to distance themselves and their religion from atrocities committed in its name; what is needed instead is a bold vision of the religion and the richness of its tradition: “We gain nothing by continuing to distance ourselves. We can only gain if we succeed in formulating debates ourselves, launching discourse and practising responsibility.”

‘What if your daughter married a Muslim?’ new poll shocks France

January 31, 2016

A survey gauging racist sentiment polled the French on how they would react if their children married Muslims and whether they think that there are too many Jews in France. The results have turned out to be shocking.

It was conducted over the course of 18 months by Ipsos which asked 1,000 random people questions. Furthermore the pollsters sourced additional respondents from the Jewish and Muslim communities to allegedly level the bias. Many regarded the questions to be inflammatory. One of the questions to respondents was about their likely reaction should their children marry a person from another ethnic group or a person of the same sex. More than half of French respondents said they would not like it if their daughter-in law or son-in-law were Muslim.

The respondents were also asked whether they personally have “had issues” with people from ethnic and religious minorities. Twenty-nine percent said they had been harassed by migrants from the Maghreb countries, a slightly smaller percentage said the same about Roma and Muslims.

Almost a third of the people polled said that the racist reaction can be justified and 66 percent believe that they cannot trust most people.

The poll focused on two particular minority groups: Muslims and Jews.

Almost a third of those polled believed that Muslims are poorly integrated into French society. More than half of respondents said they would be annoyed to see a woman covering her face with a veil. Fifty-four percent believe that immigrants are not a source of enrichment for France.

The study also tried to reveal whether the French are prone to some anti-Semitic sentiments. More than 50 percent seemed to think that Jews are richer than the French, have a lot of power, and have more connection with Israel than with France. Ninety-one percent of respondents said that Jews in France are “very insular” and 13 percent even said that there are too many of them.

Ariel Goldmann, the president of the Jewish organization which backed the study called the results of the poll alarming saying that it proved a growing intolerance in French society.

“This study is neither accusatory or generalist. It is more of a measure of the ills that plague us as French people,” he said.

The problem of tolerance in French society became more urgent after the eruption of the refugee crisis last year, in addition to a heightened fear of terror attacks committed by Islamists after their incidence rate rose.

Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, the number of hate crimes has tripled against Muslims and doubled against Jews, the Telegraph reported citing official figures.

“Racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of Muslims, of foreigners, homophobia are increasing in an intolerable manner,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said last April when the French government decided to take urgent steps aimed at eradicating “intolerable” racism in society.

Link to PDF: [Ipsos]