How to deal with extremist voices: Inclusion of hard-line Salafi in TV debate causes uproar in Germany

‘My life for Allah’

Recent reports indicate that the flow of German recruits to the jihadist groups on the Syrian battlefields is declining.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/jihad-reisen-101.html )) Nevertheless, among all European countries, Germany comes second in terms of the number of its citizens that have joined ISIS, al-Nusra Front, or related groups. Against this backdrop, the German public broadcaster ARD used its flagship political talk show Anne Will to discuss the reasons behind the foreign fighter phenomenon.((The full show is available at http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Anne-Will/Mein-Leben-f%C3%BCr-Allah-Warum-radikalisie/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=328454&documentId=38785504 ))

Debating under the title “My life for Allah – why do more and more youth radicalise themselves?”, guests included Ahmad Mansour, a Muslim sociologist and anti-radicalisation activist; Mohamed Taha Sabri, a Berlin-based Imam; Sascha Mané, father of a girl who has joined ISIS in Syria; and conservative CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach.((For a portrait of Ahmad Mansour and some of his work, see http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/02/20/ahmad-mansour-on-generation-allah-radicalisation-of-young-muslims-in-germany/ ))

Ties to the Syrian jihad

Yet the most controversial guest proved to be Nora Illi, converted Swiss Muslim woman serving as women’s affairs commissioner at the ‘Islamic Central Council of Switzerland’ (IZRS). In spite of this seemingly inclusive name, the hard-line Salafi IZRS represents only 0.5 per cent of Swiss Muslims.((https://www.welt.de/vermischtes/article159313844/Nikab-Nora-liebt-die-Provokation.html ))

The organisation is the target of a criminal investigation in Switzerland for facilitating the travel of foreign fighters to Syria.((http://www.nzz.ch/schweiz/strafverfahren-gegen-izrs-vorstandmitglied-eroeffnet-1.18665759 )) The IZRS has also publicly screened a movie shot by one of its board members while in Syria during the war. Ostentatiously presented as a travel documentary, the movie in fact contains a host of interviews with Syrian jihadists.((http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/schweiz/standard/islamischer-zentralrat-setzt-sich-provokativ-in-szene/story/30538028 ))

Calculated provocation

Against this backdrop, the talk master Anne Will undoubtedly expected Illi to play a certain provocative role during her show; a role which she fulfilled splendidly. Wearing a niqab, she appeared to defend the jihadist fighters joining the Syrian conflict: Illi asserted that breaking free from the constraints of European life was “not at all objectionable from an Islamic perspective”, and that doing so even “needed to be highly lauded as an example of moral courage.”((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/warum-lud-anne-will-die-islamistin-nora-illi-ins-studio-14517143.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Illi went on to assert that wearing the niqab was liberating her as a woman. She claimed that Western societies were consistently oppressing Muslims and preventing them from living in accordance with the fundamental tenets of their faith.

Reacting to the radical challenge

Subsequently, the entire rest of the round rallied against Illi. All other Muslim participants denounced her as propagating a hateful ideology and of condoning or actively fostering the atrocities in Syria. The father of the ‘jihadi bride’ provided an insight into what he believed were his daughter’s thought processes when travelling to Syria – most notably her fervent belief to contribute to the making of a better world by joining the Islamic State.((For an excerpt on this, see http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Anne-Will/Die-Jugendlichen-m%C3%B6chten-gern-die-Welt-/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=328454&documentId=38785454 ))

However, among Muslim discussants further fault-lines opened up quite quickly. Most notably, Ahmad Mansour criticised Imam Sabri for his defensive attitude and for his somewhat hapless attempts to dissociate Islam from the Islamic State by simply asserting that ISIS and its actions are ‘un-Islamic’. Mansour accused the mainstream Sunni Muslim clergy of having failed to “offer youth an understanding of Islam that is reconcilable with democracy and human rights without ifs and buts”. This failure, according to Mansour, coupled with the conservatism of much of established theology, provides fertile soil for subsequent radicalisation.((http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/fernsehen/anne-will-tv-kritik-welcher-islam-passt-zu-deutschland-aid-1.6379034 ))

Islamists and populists

Beyond demonstrating the very strained nature of the entente between different Muslim voices standing against radicalisation, however, the discussion round also cast into sharp relief the difficulty of reining in hateful fringe discourses. Critics noted that without the concerted help of her other guests, host Anne Will not have been able to deconstruct Illi’s blunt yet powerful rhetoric. At times, the crude logic of Illi’s argument threatened to overwhelm the host.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/tv-kritik/tv-kritik-anne-will-nora-illi-macht-offen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-14516141.html ))

This highlights the fact that offering a public forum to voices like Nora Illi is challenging, because she is not willing to abide by the rules upon which discussion in such a forum is based – notably a willingness to build an argument based on hard facts, or a minimum requirement of civility. Unfazed by facts and conventions, Illi proceeded to offer her own concoction of theological rigidity, conspiracy theories, and distorted truths.

In this respect, the predicament faced by Anne Will in relation to the Swiss radical propagandist is not altogether different from the challenges encountered by media across Western democracies in their dealings with ‘populists’. Donald Trump’s victory has been widely hailed as signifying the triumph of anti-establishment post-truth politics. Similarly, in Germany the established parties struggle to unravel the elaborate edifice of anxieties, fears, and half-truths exploited by the rising Alternative für Deutschland party.((Another recent TV debate provides a perfect instantiation of this point: In the episode of Maischberger broadcast on September 22, AfD leader Frauke Petry gleefully manipulated the discussion. Exasperated by the populists’ ability to blur the line between facts and fictions, SPD Secretary General Katharina Barley at some point noted with bewilderment that the AfD had managed to make the burka ban a central topic of the electoral contest in regional elections in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, in spite of the fact that no burka-wearing women had been spotted on the state’s streets. http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Maischberger/Das-schwarz-rote-Debakel-Volksparteien-/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=311210&documentId=37887778 ))

Enlarging the discussion or providing a forum for hate speech

Consequently, like in the case of populists, the media are faced with the difficult question of whether to engage with voices like Nora Illi. Anne Will’s decision to invite Illi was heavily criticised, with some accusing Will of unnecessarily providing a platform for the spread of hateful propaganda. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asked whether Anne Will wanted to invite neo-Nazis to her next debate.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/warum-lud-anne-will-die-islamistin-nora-illi-ins-studio-14517143.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Will herself reacted by asserting that “the editorial team has carefully considered the invitation of Mrs. Illi”, especially given Illi’s “controversial position” regarding foreign fighters travelling to Syria. Will argued that by including Illi “the discussion offered many insights […] in the field of the tension between religion and liberal pluralistic values that preoccupies our society.”((http://www.zeit.de/2016/47/anne-will-ard-talkshow-islamismus-verschleierung-frauenrechte/komplettansicht ))

Forcing extremist views to justify themselves

Irrespective of whether the host’s intentions were as noble as that – or whether she was more concerned with increasing the market share of her show – simply blanking out positions like Illi’s does not appear to be a viable option. It is only when they are forced out into the open that such views can be engaged with. It is also only in such a public context that we can hope to demystify them and showcase their flaws.

By the end of Anne Will’s show, the participants had been more or less successful in this regard. Yet wrestling down Illi and her blunt argumentation had proved to be a formidable undertaking; an undertaking that on multiple occasions teetered on the verge of failure.

Three Lessons from Switzerland’s Immigration Referendum

February 24, 2014

 

BERLIN—On February 9, a small majority of Swiss voters approved a proposal by the right-wing populist Swiss People’s Party (SVP) to significantly limit migration inflows from other European countries. The Swiss vote garnered attention across Europe because it now requires the renegotiation of certain agreements between the European Union and Switzerland — a non-member — which had thus far been ensured by bilateral treaties. The issues at stake are the free movement of goods, capital, services, and, most importantly, people — the EU’s “Four Freedoms.” Based on the referendum, the number of Germans, French, or Polish citizens allowed to migrate to Switzerland will be contingent on a quota system.

http://blog.gmfus.org/2014/02/23/three-lessons-from-switzerlands-immigration-referendum/

Swiss referendum on immigration

February 12, 2014

 

According to Robert Misik, Xenophobia was just one of the reasons why 50.3% of those who voted in Switzerland’s recent referendum on immigration back strict quotas for immigration from European Union countries; a provincial mentality and anti-EU sentiment also played a role.

 

Read more: http://en.qantara.de/content/swiss-referendum-on-immigration-the-swiss-against-the-world

SWITZERLAND: No Muslims in the Cemetery

On Monday, The City Council of Schlieren, a town of 13,000 inhabitants on the outskirts of Zurich, rejected a proposal to create a space for Muslims within the town’s cemetery.

Many religious organizations have reacted branding the decision as a “regrettable setback in integration policy.” This is a particular travesty because 16.5% of the population of the town are Muslim.

Muslims pose no ‘threat’ to Switzerland

Following the controversial debate on integration and assimilation of Islam in Switzerland, which led to the legal passing of a right-wing initiative of the populist SVP party against the construction of minarets in the country in 2009, three postulates requested to urgently obtain further information upon the state of affair of the Muslim community in Switzerland.

The Swiss Federal Council subsequently charged the Ministry of Federal Justice and Police to write a report on the community, which was released last week Wednesday. The report qualifies the diverse Swiss Muslim community as posing no ‘threat’ to the country, whose integration is slowed down rather by ‘linguistic and sociocultural barriers than questions of religious order’. No ‘specific measures’ are to be taken to ‘better integrate’ the Muslim communities of the country, the Ministry concluded.

The report indicates that the Muslim population of the country has remained demographically stable in the last 10 years. Whereas in 2000 3.6% of the Swiss population identified as Muslim, in 2010 it was 4.5.%. These numbers contradict the SVP parties fear mongering rhetoric and campaign which predicted the demographic doubling of the Muslim community in Switzerland on the basis of vague estimations made between 1970 and 2000 and led to their successful 2009 anti-minaret campaign.

The Ministry’s report underlines the heterogeneity of the Muslim community, which is neither monolithic nor static, but made up by communities of different ethnic, linguistic, national and cultural backgrounds as well as sectarian differences. Amongst the Swiss Muslim population, those who are practicing are numbered as a small minority (only 15%). Only half of the population is part of an organised Muslim group and the other half practices their religion privately and in an ‘individual manner’.

The report also lists a number of specific public domains, such as the army, education or health, where Islam doesn’t pose any obvious problems. Areas of conflict arise, according to the report, in the fields of funerals, forced marriages, djihadism or discrimination at workplace.

Accordingly, the Federal Council underlines that ‘severe problems’ of the religious groups and its members only occur in exceptional circumstances and are often dependant on the individual rather than the group or a Muslim organisation. In only few rare cases imams have attempted to impose extremist ideas in mosques, whereas only a dozen of mosques in the country are believed to be subject to extremist interpretations of Islam. The majority of Swiss mosques adhere to a moderate teaching and practice of Islam.

What the government report, however, also reveals is the existence and prevalence of an intersection of discrimination faced by the country’s Muslim population. Being both ‘foreign’ and Muslim puts members of the 350.000-400.000 strong community in positions of increased vulnerability to discrimination, harassment and hate crimes on the basis of racism and xenophobia.

Switzerland report

Report from Switzerland explains Muslims are well-integrated, but more information is needed

5/8/2013

 

According to a report published earlier this week, the vast majority of Muslims living in Switzerland are well integrated into society. The report found that Muslim religious affiliation does not pose a problem to Muslims’ everyday lives and rarely generates conflicts. The report focused on the situation of Muslims in Switzerland, and was developed by several federal agencies. Experts estimate that 350,000 to 400,000 Muslims live in Switzerland, of which about a third have Swiss nationality. Many are descendants of immigrants. The vast majority of Muslim immigrants come from the Western Balkans and Turkey.

No Islamic community is homogeneous: In Switzerland, there is not a homogenous Islamic community, but rather many different communities, which are distinguished mainly by the ethnic, national and linguistic diversity. Typically, these individual communities are not connected to each other.

For many Muslims, religious affiliation is not the main feature of their identity. Only small portion of them (between 12 and 15%) practice their faith, for example by attending a mosque regularly. Muslims from the Western Balkans, in particular, often incorporate Islam into their daily lives. At the same time, the report said the people of Islamic faith feel doubly discriminated against, both as foreign nationals and as Muslims.

New study: Swedish Muslim Congregation

Islam is the fastest growing religion in Western Europe today. As a consequence, the emergence and growth of Muslim religious congregations is one of the most important changes that have taken place within the European third (or voluntary) sector in the last 20 years. However, more often than not, these congregations are described as “enclaves” or “integration traps” isolating new citizens from the rest of society, a picture that has remained largely uncontested due to a lack of more extensive research. 

The intention of the Swedish Muslim Congregation project is to present – for the first time in Europe – nationally representative data about the activities and roles of local Muslim congregations. We have concentrated primarily on three problem areas:

Our aim, first, has been to map the congregations’ demography and activities (especially the extent of voluntary social work). Second, we have investigated Muslim experiences of the reactions of others in their surrounding environments, as reported by congregation representatives. To what extent do Muslim congregations encounter local opposition and support? Third is our focus on Muslim congregation collaboration with other organizations and public institutions. The Scandinavian welfare model boasts a long established emphasis on collaboration between third sector, municipal and state organizations. Are the Muslim congregations able – and willing – to connect to the established forms of cooperation that already exist in Sweden between the public and third sectors?

An essential part of the project is the nationwide questionnaire sent to the 147 local Swedish Muslim congregations that we identified, to which we received 105 replies (a 71 percent response rate). Non-response analysis showed no

statistically significant differences in response propensity that could be connected with the different existing schools of Islam, nor with the type of municipality (metropolitan, small town, rural district, etc.)

Islamist Army Lieutenant Declared a Security Risk

A Swiss army lieutenant has been declared a security risk by the Swiss federal constitutional court and has decided that he should be kept away from all confidential information. Gibril Muhammad Zwicker converted to Islam three years ago and has since become a member of the controversial Central Islamic Council of Switzerland (IZRS).
Zwicker has made a number of comments which have raised eyebrows in the top ranks of the military, ranging from supposed acceptable forms of corporal punishment for women to Islam’s being the only true religion. A conviction for the purchase and consumption of cannabis, for which he was fined 300 Swiss francs, contributed to the decision of department for the oversight of personal security in the field of information and material security (IOS) to recommend that he be suspended from all access to confidential information.
In his defense, Zwicker states that he has done nothing contrary to the military or anything that might put anyone in danger. Moreover, he feels betrayed by the army and his superiors, given that he had always correctly accomplished his duties and followed orders.

Swiss Youth and their Faith(s)

A recent study by Christopher Morgenthaler of Bern University on the relationship between Swiss youth and religion has shown that religion remains an important part of their lives: 40% characterize themselves as a “religious person,” somewhat higher than in France (35%), the UK (32%), or Germany (32%), though far behind Italy (84%). More surprisingly, the study seems to show that highly-religious youth are in fact more accepting of religious plurality than other groups.
The relationship between youth and religion in Switzerland has also been studied by other experts, such as Janine Dahinden from the University of Neuenburg, who speaks of a new “do-it-yourself-faith,” highlighting the eclectic belief system of the youth. On the other hand, Andreas Tunger-Zanetti of the University of Lucerne prefers to highlight the aspect of “religious illiteracy” that is to be found among Swiss youth today.
The study showed that youth with a migratory background belonging to non-Christian groups (Muslims or Hindus) were in general more religious than others. However, even they are not as anchored in their beliefs as certain Christian groups, and often the “homeland” in general plays a greater role for their identity than their religion.

Still a Long Road towards Recognition for Islam

The Federation of Swiss Islamic Organizations (FIDS) and the Coordination of Islamic Organizations in Switzerland (KIOS) announced recently their intention to merge and create a “religious parliament” in order to represent the Muslims of Switzerland and receive official recognition from the state.
Andreas Tunger-Zanetti, specialist of Islam and coordinator of the Center for Religious Studies at the University of Lucerne, believes however that there are still too many obstacles in the way before recognition on the state level would be possible. He highlights especially the low degree of institutional organization in Islam, while also pointing out that the issue concerns perhaps only 15% of “Muslims” in Switzerland, i.e. those who practice their faith. Moreover, given the ethnic cleavages among Muslim immigrant groups which still persist, he states that it is still too early to begin speaking of a unified movement.