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.

German Muslim leaders react to Barcelona attacks

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.

30 Frenchmen injured in terror attacks

According to recent figures, the number of Frenchmen injured in the August 17 terror attacks has risen to 30. “We visited several hospitals in the city, notably those that are treating French victims. I spoke for several minutes with a father who had just arrived in Barcelona when the attacks occurred,” said journalist Véronique Gaglione.

According to the father, he had gathered with his family: his cousin, his brother and his brother’s wife, and their two daughters, who were uninjured. “But his son was in critical condition. He is hospitalized in a separate building and has not been able to see him since the accident. There are 30 injured Frenchmen, 14 of whom remain hospitalized. Among those injured are 6 children, 5 of whom have life threatening injuries. There are no immediate plans to evacuate them to France,” the journalist concluded.

Grand Mosque of Lyon condemns attacks in Barcelona

The Grand Mosque of Lyon’s rector Kamel Kabtane was one of the first figures to issue a statement on the recent terror attacks in Spain. In a communiqué published to the mosque’s Facebook page, Kabtane writes:

“Hatred and violence have once again touched innocent lives. Barcelona has been struck by a declining terrorist force on its last legs. The Grand Mosque of Paris firmly denounces this barbaric act that targeted innocent people. It expresses its compassion and solidarity with those touched by recent events. It extends its condolences to the families affected by this barbaric act and wishes to express its support in these difficult moments.”

Kamel also published a brief statement to his Twitter account: “After Nice. We must be united in solidarity against those who sow seeds of hate and violence.”

 

 

 

 

London hate crime raises questions about media coverage

Guardian correspondent, Masuma Rahim, writes that the limited media coverage of acid attacks against South Asians is a symptom of larger media biases and the absence of minority representation in the news industry.

Rahim is, in particular, responding to a hate crime by a white man, John Tomlin, against two South Asian, Muslim relatives. Resham Kahn, who was celebrating her 21st birthday, was sitting in traffic with her cousin, Jameel Mukhtar, when Tomlin attacked. Both cousins have survived but suffered severe, life-changing injuries and disfigurement.

Mukhtar expressed frustration at low media and investigative police response. He claims these institutions would have labelled this attack as a terrorist attack if the religion/ethnicity of the victims and attacker were reversed.

Rahim writes that this attack and other similar ones should be taken more seriously as an issue that affects the whole of society and not just a minority.

Local Community shares concerns about delay in labeling the Finsbury Park Attack as Terrorism

Finsbury Park area residents were frustrated that the police and media took several hours to start calling the Finsbury Park attack a terrorist attack. One person died in the attack and 10 people were injured.

Emma Salem, a 15-year-old resident, said, “I feel like if it was a Muslim man, whether or not they know who it is or whatever, it’s straight away classed as a terrorist attack. But because this was a white man I feel like the media especially try and cover it up. ”

Some of the anger was based on misleading information, as viral social media comparisons between headlines between Finsbury Park and certain Muslim-perpetrated terrorist attacks did not take the timing of headlines into account.

The media also focused on an alleged history of Islamist extremism in Finsbury Park. This also angered residents, as any such past problem is largely seen to have been actively and successfully resolved.

Muslims question whether girl’s killing in Virginia was road rage, not hate crime

Islamic leaders are questioning Virginia detectives’ insistence that the beating death of a teenage Muslim girl appears to have been a case of road rage, saying the attack looks all too much like a hate crime.

Nabra Hassanen, 17, was bludgeoned with a baseball bat early Sunday by a motorist who drove up to about 15 Muslim teenagers as they walked or bicycled along a road, Fairfax County police said. A Hassanen family spokesman said all the girls in the group were wearing Muslim headscarves and robes.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there is a strong possibility the crime wouldn’t have happened if the teenagers weren’t Muslim.  CAIR called on Muslim communities to increase security during the holy month of Ramadan in light of the young woman’s murder and a string of other attacks in America and in Britain.

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.”

 

 

Macron proposes extension of counterterrorism powers

President Macron’s government proposed an expansion of authorities’ powers to fight terrorism, alarming civil liberties advocates even as defenders said the plans would help keep French citizens safe.

The draft law was introduced after a series of attempted terrorist strikes in Paris and Brussels in recent weeks and several bloody attacks in Britain that were claimed by Islamic State-inspired militants.

The changes proposed Thursday seek to wind down a state of emergency that gave French security officials broad powers and was imposed after the November 2015 Paris attacks, which claimed 130 lives. Some of those powers would be made permanent, including the ability to temporarily shutter places of worship that promote extremism and conduct searches with fewer restrictions. The draft also strips some oversight powers from judges and gives security officials more latitude to act without judicial review.

 “I think we have achieved a good balance,” Interior Minister Gérard Collomb told reporters after a meeting of the French cabinet Thursday during which he proposed the law. “The aim is to put an end to the state of emergency.”

 

Macron and his predecessor, François Hollande, have sought to end the state of emergency, which has been extended several times since the 2015 attacks. It is slated to expire July 15, although Macron has asked for it to be prolonged until November.

The proposal “tries to preserve the balance between controlling terrorism and respecting liberties,” French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said Wednesday on France’s TF1 television station. “We cannot give up what we are.” 

He acknowledged that the law was a work in progress, saying that consultation with parliament, where Macron has a majority, would “enrich the text.” Macron last month announced the formation of a terrorism task force that would streamline communication among branches of intelligence and law enforcement, an idea praised by terrorism experts.

 

Since November 2015, French police have conducted over 4,000 searches and raids using emergency powers and placed about 400 people under house arrest, according to statistics collected by Amnesty International.

 

European Muslim organisations react to terrorist attacks in Manchester

Condemnations coming from Muslim individuals and groups in the UK and in Europe have multiplied after the attacks in Manchester. Like their national counterparts, European Muslim organisations have expressed their firm condemnation of terrorism. 

On May 23, reacting to the terrorist attack in Manchester, the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe, based in Brussels, released a press statement. The Federation insists on the need for concerted efforts in the face of terrorist attacks which target the entire society :

Similarly, the European Muslim Union, based in Strasbourg, has also expressed its dismay and called for European Muslim communities to contribute to the prevention of radicalism in their midst :

“With dismay and shock, the European Muslim Union received the horrible news of another attack on the public in an European country. This latest attack, on a concert venue in the English city of Manchester, took the lives of more than 20 people and injured several others. EMU expresses their deepest condolences to the family of the killed persons and hopes for a speedy recovery of the injured.

Notwithstanding the identity of the perpetrators and their possible ideological and organisational background, this and earlier acts of nihilistic violence in European cities are the hallmarks of the latest and yet worst bread of terrorism which is even devoid of any kind of discernible goal or content. As such its only aim seems to be the stirring up of hate and resentment in the European societies and their respective components.

EMU states unequivocally: the European Muslims reject in their overwhelming majority any kind of criminal acts and their underlying ideologies. Furthermore, the protection and wellbeing of a peaceful public sphere and equal access for everyone to it is in their best interest. Therefore, EMU calls the European Muslims and their communities to remain vigilant against extremist groups, their actions and to maintain their absolute refusal to give them any support – even if only by not taking their danger seriously.

EMU calls on the Muslim communities in Europes and their most capable leadership to invest more energy, knowledge and resources in the prevention of any kind of radicalism in their midst. (…)”. (May,23)

These condemnations, made through press statements or via social networks, are expressed with the strongest terms and leave no doubt on the strong rejection of the terrorist attacks.

 

Sources :

http://www.emunion.eu/jupgrade/