Following the recent attacks in Barcelona and the Catalan town of Cambrils that left 15 dead, Muslim figures in Germany have expressed their condemnation of the events and their solidarity with the victims.
Germany’s main Islamic associations condemn the attacks
DİTİB, the country’s largest Islamic association, issued a press release rejecting all forms of terrorism. Fellow organisations VIKZ and IGMG made similar moves. ZMD chairman Aiman Mazyek also denounced the attacks and called for unity in the face of the common terrorist threat.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/08/19/religionsvertreter-bestuerzt-nach-anschlaegen/ )) Other Islamic movements, such as the German Ahmadiyya community, followed suit.(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Die-Welt-trauert-mit-Barcelona-article19989536.html ))
These routine condemnations did little, however, to conceal the enduring divisions among Islamic organisations and leaders that continue to preclude a fresh and concerted approach against violent Islamism.
A superficial show of unity
A tweet under the #Barcelona hashtag by Ercan Karakoyun, chairman of the Foundation Dialogue and Education, central institution of the Gülenist movement in Germany, puts this division into dramatic relief.
Taking aim at the current repression of his movement in Turkey, Karakoyun pugnaciously asserted that “as long as many a state can designate an educational movement a terrorist organisation no common fight against terror is possible!”(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun/status/898239034169974784 ))
Against this backdrop, calls to withstand the attackers’ attempt to play off Muslims against non-Muslims ring somewhat hollow: the Muslim figures making these statements have so far failed even to mend the rifts among their own associations. How they could meaningfully contribute to healing the divisions within European societies is therefore anyone’s guess.
Grassroots activism vs. stagnation at the top
To be sure, there are many Muslim grassroots movements in Germany that seek to stand in the way of violent ideologies: they range from Jewish-Muslim educational projects and neighbourhood initiatives to important de-radicalisation schemes aiming to offer an exit perspective from the Salafi scene. Overall, German Muslims’ civil society activism is high.
Yet at the level of the country’s Islamic associations, the picture is one of stasis. Unfortunately for German Muslims, those most likely to be heard as their representatives in the aftermath of any attack have little by way of a constructive response to offer.
The response of German Muslim leaders and organisations to the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando has generally been relatively muted. Whilst the main federations – DITIB, ZMD, VIKZ, and IGMG – had been quick to denounce recent attacks in Brussels and Paris in official press releases on their websites, these organisations have remained comparatively silent after Orlando. In two tweets from his personal account, ZMD chairman Aiman Mazyek denounced the “mad deed” and expressed his solidarity with the perpetrator’s victims and their families. Mazyek then went on to criticise the media for pouncing on the supposed religious motivations of shooter Omar Mateen and refrained from further substantive comments on the events of Orlando. An article on the IGMG-leaning website Islamiq.de took the same line: instead of seeking the rationale for Mateen’s actions in his Muslim faith, the shooting ought to be seen as a non-religious hate crime, or so the article’s author argued. Only the small Liberal-Islamic Federation (LIB) released a statement explicitly condemning the attack and the religious references employed by Mateen. The LIB also vowed to fight homophobic prejudice.
The mainstream associations’ limited response might be due in part to the confusion that still reigns about the nature of attacker’s motives. As Yassin Musharbash notes in a piece for Die Zeit titled ‘But he did say IS though!’, Mateen’s ostentatious pledge of allegiance to the so-called Islamic State must be counterbalanced by an appreciation of his personal history of psychological instability and potentially suppressed homosexual tendencies. As Musharbash points out, the Orlando attack was not connected to the IS in a direct operational manner, nor does it seem to have been backed up by a clear politico-ideological outlook on the part of Mateen himself. Rather than being due to recognisably ‘religious’ factors, then, Musharbash sees Mateen’s reference to Islam and to the IS as a testimony to the power of the IS’s iconography and to its capability to establish itself and its vision as a countercultural force. On this view, the silence of Muslim associations is understandable and reasonable, since from an Islamic religious perspective there is comparatively little about the attacker that is worth commenting on.
However, the limited nature of German Muslim organisations’ reactions has also been criticised. In the Tagesspiegel newspaper, psychologist and anti-radicalisation activist Ahmad Mansour denounces Muslim leaders for giving in to the initial reflex-like claim that the attack ‘has nothing to do with Islam’. Mansour argues that Mateen’s jihadist leanings need to be taken seriously, and that the Muslim organisations and their leading personnel are averse to fighting the homophobic prejudice that has taken hold in their communities. Whilst many commentators in the German media – including renowned academic scholar Thomas Bauer – have pointed out that attitudes towards homosexuality have been historically more relaxed in Muslim societies than in the West, Mansour replies that this historically accurate observation must not detract from the fact that today homophobic discriminations and attacks are justified in recognisably ‘Islamic’ terms. The failure of the main Muslim associations to react to the Orlando shooting is thus seen as indicative of the unwillingness to recognise homosexuality as legitimate and to unquestioningly denounce homophobia.
The Minister of Integration in the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Guntram Schneider (SPD) has announced the constitution of the dfi “dialogue forum Islam”. It will be represented by members of Muslim associations and the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia. The dfi will consult the State dealing with issues such as Muslim life in Germany.
The program will last three years until 2016. Issues will emphasize “pluralism of Islam” and “security for Muslims”. Furthermore the dfi will be involved in issues such as Islamic funeral ceremonies, prevention of extremism, Islamophobia, welfare and care of the elderly for Muslims.
According to the Minister Schneider, the State will be discussing the recognition of Islamic associations as corporations under public law.
Aiman Mazyek, chair of the central council of Muslims in Germany and speaker of the cooperation council of Muslims underlined the determination to support every attempt for the institutional equalization of Islamic associations and communities. Yilmaz Karahan representative of the Alawites in Germany expressed the hopes of his community for more cooperation and dialogue through the forum.
The dfi will be represented by two, constantly represented groups of parties. The first group includes all members of the coordination council of Muslims: The Turkish-Islamic Union Institute of Religion (DITIB), the Islam Council of Germany, the association of Islamic centers of culture (VIKZ), the central council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) and the Alawite community of Germany. The second group is represented by the Ministries of North Rhine-Westphalia and policy experts. Criteria for membership in the dfi is the ability to present a comprehensive coverage of community structure across the State.
The German State of North Rhine-Westphalia counts a Muslim population of 1.5 Millions. The total population of Muslims in Germany is about 4.3 Millions. Thus the headquarters of the biggest Islamic associations are based in North Rhine-Westphalia.
The president of the Federal Republic of Germany Joachim Gauck congratulated Muslims for the end of the Ramadan Month and the celebration of (Id-al Fitr). He stressed the need for constructive cooperation and trust building between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Also Nicolaus Schneider, the chair of the Evangelical church in Germany and archbishop Dr. Robert Zollitsch, chair of German bishops emphasized the need for religious dialogue.
The chair of the coordination council for Muslims Aiman Mazyek, congratulated all Muslims to the Id-al Fitr. He called Muslims to remember fellow Muslims who suffer in Syria, Egypt and Myanmar, praying for peace and justice.
The council for Muslims participated at the commemoration ceremony for the Egyptian Marwa El-Sherbini, who was murdered four years ago in the court of the city of Dresden. The pregnant woman was murdered in front of her husband and her son. The murder had planned the action and was motivated by his hatred against Muslims. The court sentenced him to lifelong imprisonment.
Aiman Mazyek, head of the council for Muslims is also the speaker of the coordination council of Muslims in Germany. He described El-Sherbini as an idol for civil courage, who has paid with her life for the freedom of religion and tolerance.
An assault on Sunday morning against a mosque of the DITIB association “Turkish Islamic Union for the Institution of Religion” in Bullay a town in the State of Rhineland-Palatinate has shocked the Muslim community. The perpetrators had greased the slogan: “the NSU will live forever and you will be the next” on the walls of the mosque. Bekir Alboga, General Secretary of DITIB condemned the attacks as further evidence for violence against foreigners.
The coordination council of Muslims published further assaults targeting mosques in the month of May. Mosques in the cities of Mainz, Lengerich and Düren were attacked and their walls had been greased with anti-Muslim slogans. The police is still investigating the cases. The coordination council expects a correlation between the assaults and the NSU trial. Aiman Mazyek, speaker of the coordination council condemned the assaults and warned State authorities and media not to underestimate the threat of anti-Muslim hatred in Germany.
The Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR) has published a study appraising the views of more than 9,200 people in the summer of 2011. According to the study, 74 per cent of interviewees with a migrant background and almost 71 per cent of interviewees without a migrant background described the portrayal of Muslims in the German media as either “negative” or “much too negative”. More than 82 per cent of the Muslims polled share this view.
The survey outlines that although the integration of second generation Muslims in Germany has been successful, the political and media would narrow the debate to “failed integration of Muslims”. In the past, German public focused at the ethnic background of immigrants debating about the “failed integration of foreigners”. The policy brief describes the negative connection of Islam with terrorism and extremism.
Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council for Muslims in Germany (ZMD), pointed out the increasing number of news linked to Islam. With regard to the lack of differentiation Mazyek says: “The prejudiced view that immediately associates extremism with Islam – and therefore also with Muslims – is still far too prevalent in the German media”.
Margreth Lünenborg, professor of journalism and director of the International Journalists’ College at Berlin’s Free University (FU), expressed her concern about the increasingly stereotyped portrayal of Muslims in the German media.
The Bertelsmann Foundation has published a study monitoring the attitudes of Germans towards religions. The international study involved thirteen countries including Germany: totally, 14,000 people have been interviewed about their attitudes towards Islam and other religions. More than half of the interviewees in Germany do not see Islam as an integral part of Germany. However, 85 per cent of the interviewees claim to be tolerant and open minded towards all religions. Albeit 60 per cent perceive religious plurality as enrichment, 64 per cent of the interviewed describe religion as the source of conflict.
The study investigated also perceptions about politics and showed that there is a high acceptance for democracy: 79 per cent of the Muslim interviewees and 88 per cent of the Christian interviewees agree strongly with the democratic political system of Germany.
Erol Pürlü, speaker of the coordination council of Muslims, thanked the German commission of inquiry for its efforts to shed light to unsolved questions related to the right-wing terror series. He criticized the distorted picture of Islam in the public, which would enhance the stigmatization of Muslims.
Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, demanded consequences after the terror series of the NSU (National Socialist Underground). The right-wing motivated terrorist attacks against Muslims would be the “German September 11th”. Mazyek raised concerns about the belittlement of society toward right-wing extremism and ignorance toward daily racism against Muslims.
Joachim Gauck was elected as the new head of state of the Federal Republic of Germany last week. The Mulsim organisations in Germany congratulated the new president to his election. The Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany, for instance, is hoping for a cooperative partnership between the Germany’s Muslim communities and associations and the new head of the state. The Council’s representatives were particularly optimistic about Gauck’s statement about the central importance of integration policy. Gauck said he wanted to follow on the path of his successor, Christian Wulff. Aiman Mazyek, Head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, also wished Gauck mall the best for his new position. He assured Gauck that the Muslims in Germany will make their contribution to the freedom and welfare of our state – but he also said they were hoping to become an integral part of German society.
Others are more sceptical about the election of Gauck. Mehmet Kilic, for instance, Turkish-born spokesman on integration for the Green Party group in the German parliament, considers Gauck to be the wrong choice fort he position. More specifically, he objects toGauck’s evident understanding for the views of Thilo Sarrazin, who published a highly controversial book (Germany does away with itself) in 2010 (as reported). Similarly, Kenan Kolat, head oft he Turkish Community in Germany, is still disappointed about Wulff’s designation, who had particularly lobbied for a stronger acceptance of Islam as part of Germany.
Following the shootings at a Jewish school in Toulouse last Monday and the subsequent killing of the Muslim gunman, an al-Qaeda sympathiser, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany expressed their sympathy for the victims’ families and friends. At the same time, the Head of the Council, Aiman Mazyek, compared the attacks to the right-wing extremist group NSU in Germany and expressed his concern that the events may encourage copycats. He called on the police to increase the surveillance of Islamic centres and institutions.