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.

Muslim MPs unanimously support gay marriage in Germany, Islamic associations split on the issue

On June 30, the German Parliament voted to legalise gay marriage – or, as it has become known in Germany, the “marriage for all” (Ehe für alle). The path to this decision had been a tumultuous one; and the vote in the Bundestag came only after a surprise move in which Chancellor Angela Merkel, a long-time opponent of gay marriage, relinquished her principled opposition.

Downfall of a bastion of conservatism

While the Chancellor still voted against the marriage equality bill, her own party – the Christian Democratic Union – was split, with 225 CDU-parliamentarians opposing the bill, and 75 supporting it. The other parties – Social Democrats, Greens, and Left – gave the bill their quasi-unanimous backing.

Thus, many in the CDU were not willing to give up what has been perceived as one of the last core conservative positions of their party. A number of CDU politicians also adduced religious reasons for the rejection of the bill, deeming the opening of the marriage relation to homosexual couples a contravention of the Christian principles the CDU is grounded upon.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/gleichstellung-bundestag-beschliesst-ehe-fuer-alle-15084396.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Muslim MPs support “marriage for all”

Interestingly enough, none of the Muslim members of Parliament shared the qualms of the Christian conservatives. All parliamentarians of Islamic faith supported the bill. To be sure, the extent to which these men and women felt and identified as distinctly ‘Muslim’ when they made this decision is open to question. Most Muslims in Germany’s parliament are situated on the left of the political spectrum, in a milieu that is often quite secular.

The more interesting case in this respect is perhaps Cemile Giousouf, the CDU’s only Muslim MP and a strong backer of gay marriage. Giousouf has stated that her religious convictions were a “determining factor” in her decision to join the CDU:

“The CDU gives space to religious feeling. This is important for me. It is a party that represents a value-bound politics derived from the Christian conception of man. For the CDU, religion is not a marginal phenomenon. There are more commonalities than differences between Christians and Muslims. We both feel responsible to man and to our Creator for our deeds. Thus there was no question for me that my political commitment was right only in this party.”((https://www.welt.de/regionales/duesseldorf/article114268231/So-etwas-hat-es-in-der-CDU-noch-nie-gegeben.html ))

The conundrum of organised religion

Organised religion and its representatives remain split on the issue of gay marriage. On the one hand, the German Lutheran churches have for a considerable while abandoned any past opposition to the legal and religious recognition of homosexual partnerships.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church, in line with dogma from Rome, continues to oppose the “marriage for all”. Yet ahead of the vote in the Bundestag, the voice of the Catholic Church was scarcely heard and it seemed as if the Roman clergy had resigned itself a long time ago to the fact that, in spite of its dismay, the full recognition of homosexual marriage would only be a matter of time.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2017-06/gleichgeschlechtliche-ehe-katholische-kirche-ablehnung-reformation ))

Liberal-Islamic Union backs gay marriage

Islamic religious organisations did not figure as prominently in the recent public debate as their Christian counterparts. Yet they have not been completely absent, either. Already in May, 2017, the Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB), a small socially progressive Muslim umbrella body, came out in support of gay marriage.

One of the LIB’s board members, Annika Mehmeti, highlighted that in no instance does the Quran explicitly define “marriage” as limited to a man and a woman. Nor does the holy book define the begetting of children as the sine qua non condition of the marriage relation. Instead, the Quran lays its focus on the mutual commitment of the spouses and on the duties they have towards each other, or so Mehmeti argues.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164652401/Der-Koran-erlaubt-die-Homo-Ehe.html ))

Silence of the conservative associations

The other Islamic associations, which tend to be more conservative in outlook, have been much more equivocal than the LIB. For the most part, they have simply avoided to comment on the issue of homosexual partnerships.

While some of their members will undoubtedly support gay marriage (or perhaps do not see it as such a big deal), many will also hold deep reservations. Against this backdrop, keeping silent may be a preferred option, since it allows the associations to dodge uncomfortable questions.

The mental gymnastics that the mainline conservative forces have had to undertake in this respect mirror the contortions of the Catholic Church. They are epitomised by a statement by Aiman Mazyek, media-savvy chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), in a 2016 interview:

“For my own part, and from a religious standpoint, I do not accept homosexuality. Yet at the same time I stand up against homophobia, as a Muslim.”(( http://zentralrat.de/27637.php ))

Popular Muslim attitudes

Among the German population at large, support for gay marriage had been high for a considerable number of years: in a 2013 survey, 87% of individuals unaffiliated with any religion, 78% of Protestants, 70% of Catholics, and 48% of Muslims had supported full marriage equality for homosexual couples.

Yet survey results are far from unequivocal. A 2012 study among Turks in Germany reported that 51% of respondents agreed to the statement that “homosexuality is an illness”.(( https://web.archive.org/web/20121011112234/https://d171.keyingress.de/multimedia/document/228.pdf )) Conversely, a 2015 study found that 60% of German Muslims supported gay marriage.(( https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/de/presse-startpunkt/presse/pressemitteilungen/pressemitteilung/pid/muslime-in-deutschland-mit-staat-und-gesellschaft-eng-verbunden/ ))

Pressure from abroad

To some extent, the unease and hostility with which the LGBT community is viewed from many Islamic quarters is not only – perhaps not even primarily – rooted in (putative) homophobic sensibilities among German Muslims. Rather, religious institutions and societal pressures from abroad continue to play a large role.

This dynamic has been in evidence in the context of the fierce criticisms directed at the recently opened “gender-equal” mosque in Berlin by Turkish and Egyptian authorities. In cases such as these, it is voices from Middle Eastern countries that make an opening towards ‘divergent’ paths more difficult to achieve for Islamic associations operating in Germany.

Resistance to Muslim-LGBT dialogue

This lesson was also learned in 2014 by Ender Çetin, chairman of the DİTİB-run Şehitlik mosque in Berlin at the time. He agreed to convene a discussion round between Muslim and LGBT representatives at his mosque. The resulting backlash came first of all from DİTİB’s Turkish parent organisation and from Turkish media: Turkish newspapers accused Çetin of opening the mosque to “abnormal” homosexuals.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/diskussion-in-berlin-homosexualitaet-und-islam-unvereinbar-1.2237310 ))

As a response, the meeting did not take place at the mosque, and a number of DİTİB’s theologians and clerics that had initially agreed to participate in the forum withdrew.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/diskussion-in-berlin-homosexualitaet-und-islam-unvereinbar-1.2237310 )) Since then, the purges of Turkish state organisations in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt have not stopped short of DİTİB, and the liberal-leaning governing board of the Şehitlik mosque has been at least partly removed.

‘Anti-Sharia’ Marchers Met With Counter-Protests Around The Country

Protesters who gathered on Saturday, June 10th, to denounce Islamic law were met across the country with equally sized or larger counter-protests.  The rallies were organized by the conservative group ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls the “largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America, claiming 280,000 members and over 1,000 chapters.” The organization describes itself as “the NRA of national security.”

The rallies were held in about two dozen cities and about 20 states.

Organizers called the “March Against Sharia” rallies to protest what they say is the threat to U.S. society posed by the set of traditional Muslim practices, which they say includes oppression of women, honor killings, homophobic violence, female genital mutilation and other abuses.

 

German Interior Minister revives the debate on a ‘guiding culture’ to which Muslims must assimilate

 

Periodically, the German discourse on immigration is marked by the resurgence of a distinctly German notion – the idea of a ‘guiding culture’ (Leitkultur), supposed to connote an essence of Germanness that needs to be safeguarded amidst what appear to be accelerating migratory flows.

Leitkultur – history of a debate

The term was first coined in 1996 by political scientist Bassam Tibi, who asserted that, in the face of Muslim immigration, Europeans needed to develop and uphold a “European guiding culture”. For Tibi, central elements included the dominance of reason over religious revelation, democracy and the separation of religion and politics, pluralism, and tolerance.

Tibi’s critique of what he saw as cultural relativism and as unlimited immigration was subsequently taken up in political circles – most notably by the CDU politician Friedrich Merz, at the time one of his party’s leading young faces. In the process, it assumed a more narrowly German meaning.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/leitkultur-merz-geht-in-die-offensive-a-99435.html ))

Ever since, calls for an official recognition and – in one way or another – an enforcement of a ‘guiding culture’ are regularly voiced on the conservative side of the political spectrum.

De Maizière’s comments

The latest – and particularly crude – attempt to do so was recently kick-started by the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière. In an op-ed for the Sunday edition of the country’s best-selling tabloid, Bild, de Maizière wrote that “I like the term ‘guiding culture’ and want to stick with it.” The piece was titled: “We are not burka (Wir sind nicht Burka)”.(( http://www.bild.de/bild-plus/politik/inland/thomas-de-maiziere/leitkultur-fuer-deutschland-51509022,view=conversionToLogin.bild.html ))

The remainder of the relatively long text includes somewhat repetitive musings on the notion of a ‘guiding culture’, followed by a platitudinous as well as random ten-point checklist supposedly summarising its core elements. Essentials of Germanness mentioned range from giving a handshake by way of greeting to Germany’s embedding in the NATO security architecture.

To paper over the cracks of the rather flimsy content of the article, Bild underlaid the entire text with the black-red-gold of the German flag, further enhancing its nationalistic overtones.

Buttressing Germanness against Muslim immigration

As the title intimates, Muslim immigration lies at the heart of de Maizière’s intervention. The first of the ten theses starts by highlighting the need to shake hands and to show one’s face in order to participate in the democratic community.

The fourth section asserts that “religion is a glue rather than a wedge in our country”. This also means upholding the Christian heritage of Germany through Christian festivals and buildings. The seventh point then takes a swipe at notions of “honour” that many immigrants may – illegitimately – connect with “violence”.

Other elements of de Maizière’s declaration stray much further afield, making a good level of “general knowledge (Allgemeinbildung)” constitutive of Germanness (thesis 2), as well as defining Germany via its capitalist ‘social market economy’ (thesis 3). Particularly tortuous manoeuvring is reserved for the issue of patriotism, which – in view of 20th-century German history – de Maizière strives hard to separate from nationalism by asserting that “we are enlightened patriots” (thesis 8).

Political praise and criticism

Reactions to de Maizière’s statements were mixed. While he drew considerable applause from the CDU party, others pointed out that his ’10 points on guiding culture’ were indicative above all of an attempt to fend off conservative challengers from within his own party.

Notably, the Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann is mooted as a replacement for de Maizière should Angela Merkel return to the chancellery after the upcoming German federal election.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/leitkultur-thomas-de-maiziere-und-seine-thesen-sorgen-fuer-aufregung-a-1145587.html ))

Politicians from the Social Democrats, Greens, and the Left remained critical of the discourse on Leitkultur, dismissing it as a political ploy.

Talking about Muslims

As usual, however, the voices of those being ‘talked about’ in this debate were much less likely to be heard. Immigrants, and more particularly Muslim immigrants (as well as their descendants), were not party to the debate being led in the country’s main media outlets and on the political stage.

This state of affairs was criticised by Armina Omerika, Bosnian-born professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Frankfurt((https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-12-mai-2017-100.html )): she noted that the ostentatious targets of the Leitkultur debate were never reached by and included in these discussions; a fact which, since Friedrich Merz’s comments in 2000, had made all talk about a ‘guiding culture’ a rather sterile and inane exercise.

More broadly, Omerika questioned the attempt to legalise and commit to paper inherently changeable and shifting social conventions. Giving examples from the university context, Omerika noted that social life in Germany was totally different today when compared to even the recent past of only 50 years ago.

Refugees stress the need for respect

When interviewed about the Interior Minister’s ideas on Leitkultur, a group of Syrian refugees from the town of Rüsselsheim had very little to say about it.((https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-12-mai-2017-100.html )) The common consensus appeared to be that it did not really matter what de Maizière said but that it was important to interact with others respectfully in everyday life and respect the ‘ways of the German people’ (whatever that might mean), even if that did not necessitate giving up all one’s own cultural particularities.

A social worker underscored the point that most new arrivals would not even be able to read de Maizière’s article due to the language barrier, making his text a purely ‘domestic’ exercise catering mainly to the established population and to political rivals.

“Germany is my country, too”

More self-consciously Muslim voices were dismayed by what they perceived to be de Maizière’s exclusivism: Malika Laabdallaoui, Moroccan-born psychologist and chairwoman of the Central Council of Muslims in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, stressed somewhat defiantly that not only church spires, handshakes, and carnival belonged to Germany, as insinuated by the Interior Minister.((https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-12-mai-2017-100.html ))

“Germany is my country, too”, she asserted. “I belong here with all my values, my religion, my mindset, my engagement for society, my German as well as my Christian and my Muslim friends, with my family.” Addressing de Maizière, she added: “How can it be that you just think me away out of this society?”

Defining the meaning of conservatism: German Muslims seek to organise in the CDU

Recently, German authorities commissioned an estimate of the country’s Muslim population. Unsurprisingly, the number of both Muslim residents and citizens has been growing over the past few years. The question of ‘integration’ has thus unsurprisingly remained a staple in public discussions.

Yet these debates have been led above all in culturalistic terms, focusing for instance on whether immigrants from Muslim backgrounds have to to accept a German ‘leading culture’ (Leitkultur). Little thought was given to immigrants’ integration into the country’s political life and its party system.

The voting behaviour of immigrants and their descendants

A recent study noted that “visible minorities” tend to vote left in Germany. Indeed, among the Turkish-German population, nearly 70 per cent of respondents expressed support for the Social Democratic Party (SPD).(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/migranten-und-politik-diese-parteien-waehlen-einwanderer/14851994.html ))

At the same time, these tendencies no longer appear to be set in stone. The scandal surrounding the racial theses of Thilo Sarrazin, an SPD member, apparently caused some German Turks to turn away from the Social Democrats while the CDU gradually seemed to open itself to immigrant voters.(( http://www.taz.de/!5061177/ ))

Moreover, the socioeconomic position of immigrants and their descendants has evolved: they have been credited with creating millions of jobs in diverse sectors of the economy.(( http://www.dw.com/en/study-migrant-entrepreneurs-provide-millions-of-jobs-in-germany/a-19465413 )) The Economist noted that recent – predominantly Muslim – immigrants were “bringing entrepreneurial flair to Germany”.(( http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21716053-while-native-germans-are-growing-less-eager-start-businesses-new-arrivals-are-ever-more )) The traditional pro-SPD vote of the Muslim guest worker toiling in one of the country’s factories can no longer be taken for granted.

Representing the ‘conservative majority’

Seeking to capitalise on this trend of an increasingly unmoored Muslim electorate, around 30 young Muslim members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, have joined forces to build a platform for the CDU’s Muslim partisans. Their project is dubbed “Members in the [Christian Democratcic] Union”, shortened to MidU.

According to its founding statement, MidU conceives of itself as the representative of the “conservative” majority of German Muslims, whose views are not taken into account by any other existing political platform. It vows to enrich the political debate by bringing to bear the distinctive viewpoint of these men and women on current issues.(( http://www.muslimeinderunion.de/ ))

‘A positive counter-public’

MidU founder and spokesman Cihan Sügür described this initiative as an attempt to create “a positive counter-public” that is no longer completely dominated by emotional debates surrounding ‘hot’ topics of cultural integration or jihadist radicalisation.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/interview-muslime-in-der-union-aid-1.6061461 ))

Admittedly, though, it has most often been the CDU itself (with the exception of the far-right AfD party) that has engaged most stubbornly in these debates. Only in December 2016, the CDU party conference shifted to the right on a whole range of issues touching Muslims and immigrants. They include a project particularly dear to Sügür and MidU, namely dual citizenship.

Another policy area where MidU appears far removed from the conservative mainstream is the admissibility of the hijab in public functions. While Sügür defended the right of a Muslim woman to war the headscarf when working e.g. in court of justice as a self-evident right,(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/interview-muslime-in-der-union-aid-1.6061461 )) to the delight of many conservatives, the reality in Germany is still considerably more complex than that.

A potential gain for the CDU

Nevertheless, the Muslim vote does hold out considerable promise for the CDU: with now more than four million men, women, and children of Islamic faith living in the country, Sügür points out that they can be a decisive factor at the ballot box.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/interview-muslime-in-der-union-aid-1.6061461. It is worth noting, however, that of course by 2008 only 1.8 million Muslims held Germany citizenship, thus reducing the pool of those eligible to vote.))

Conversely, many of Germany’s Muslims could indeed be attracted to a more ‘conservative’ stance on a range of questions related to social morality. Some even joined the rising Alternative for Germany from 2012 onwards, thinking that the party would stand up for traditional family values.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/migranten-in-der-afd-abgestempelt-als-tuerkischer-nazi-aid-1.4607002 ))

Against this backdrop, the CDU’s Secretary General, Peter Tauber – widely seen as a core figure behind his party’s attempts to attract a younger and more female membership – welcomed the formation of MidU by sending a note of greeting to the club’s first gathering.

MidU and the large Muslim associations

Yet as soon as MidU stepped into the open with this first meeting, political headwinds started to build up. Notably, MidU received critical scrutiny for its supposed closeness to the four large German Muslim associations (the predominantly Turkish DİTİB, IGMG, and VIKZ associations, as well as the more mixed ZMD).

To some observers, the self-consciously conservative MidU appeared as an initiative to consolidate the – somewhat tenuous – grip of these four conservative Islamic associations on the political representation of Muslims. And for many of Sügür’s fellow CDU members, the conservatism of these four associations is deeply unappealing. (( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/muslime-in-der-union-polarisieren-14873404.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

The implicit supposition that the four associations would work together and use MidU as a shared platform to influence the CDU and government policy is somewhat far-fetched: the different Islamic associations are notoriously disunited and have never managed to overcome these differences even when there were considerable political incentives in favour of doing so.

The role of DİTİB

Yet even the suspicion of being too close to these associations risks hampering MidU’s acceptability among the conservative mainstream. Especially DİTİB, for a long time the state’s preferred cooperation partner, has fallen out of favour with the authorities over recent months and years.

It has become a pastime among CDU politicians to criticise DİTİB clerics, sent by Ankara. Slightly derogatorily referred to as “imported Imams” (Importimame), they are blamed for inhibiting the integration of German Muslims. By contrast, MidU spokesman Sügür offered a defence of the workings of this system.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/interview-muslime-in-der-union-aid-1.6061461 )) The fact that a (small) number of DİTİB’s Imams is now accused of spying on suspected Gülenists in Germany will not help Sügür’s position.

MidU, Erdoğan, and the political fault-lines among ‘conservative’ Muslims

The larger issue looming behind the present debate on DİTİB and its trustworthiness is its relationship with the Turkish state led by President Erdoğan, bête noire of many CDU politicians. Some of them promptly accused the MidU founder of seeking to organise the infiltration of the CDU by Erdoğan supporters.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/muslime-in-der-cdu-uns-verbindet-nicht-erdogan-sondern-der-islam/14012648.html ))

Sügür was quick to deny this. Yet MidU’s critics saw their suspicions as confirmed by the exclusion of all those from the MidU platform who had supported the government’s resolution classifying the massacres of Armenians in 1915 as a genocide. This included the perhaps most high-profile Muslim member of the CDU, Cemile Giousouf.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/muslime-in-der-union-polarisieren-14873404.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2))

MidU subsequently pledged greater openness. Yet this episode demonstrates that the political issues haunting and also dividing the Muslim and Turkish communities in Germany resurface even among the small group of self-defined ‘conservatives’ who have decided to join the CDU.

CDU party congress shifts to the right on immigration, burqa, and dual citizenship

Pacifying internal critics

On December 6 and 7, 2016, Germany’s centre-right CDU congregated in Essen for its party convention to endorse Angela Merkel for another term as CDU chairwoman as well as for a fourth run for Chancellor in the September 2017 federal elections.

Merkel had announced her decision to stand again for both offices shortly before the convention. Manifestly, shee deemed the moment to be an opportune one: her popularity ratings had steadily improved over the past weeks as she shifted to a more restrictive position on immigration that sought to reassure a fearful electorate and – after a series of defeats at the polls – to pacify her internal detractors.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/regional-elections-germany-deliver-gains-afd-weakening-merkel/ ))

At the party convention, Merkel continued her attempts to win over her critics on the right by asserting that the open-door approach to immigration that she had taken in summer 2015 “cannot, should not, and must not repeat itself.” She defined a harsher line on immigration as “our and my declared political goal.” ((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/cdu-parteitag-zwischen-merkel-und-morgen.724.de.html?dram:article_id=373394 ))

A set of restrictive measures on immigration and identity

The party convention endorsed the creation of “transit zones” for newly arriving migrants at German borders. These are to function as centres for reception, shelter, and detention where immigrants’ demands for asylum are processed on the spot. Moreover, the CDU aims to quicken the deportation of asylum-seekers who have had their demands rejected. (( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article160057151/CDU-Innenexperten-setzen-auf-noch-rigidere-Asylpolitik.html ))

Islam and immigration loomed large behind some of the other proposals adopted at the convention, too. Merkel herself demanded that the burqa be banned “wherever this is legally possible.” As a piece of clothing making face-to-face communication in a democratic society impossible, Merkel defined the burqa as alien to German culture and values.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/cdu-parteitag-zwischen-merkel-und-morgen.724.de.html?dram:article_id=373394 ))

Moreover, the convention demanded that marriages involving an underage bride or groom concluded abroad be no longer legally recognised and valid in Germany. On this issue, the run-up to the convention had witnessed repeated public polemics.(( http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/kinderehen-in-deutschland-integrationsbeauftragte-aydan-oezoguz-gegen-pauschales-verbot-a-1119480.html )) Finally, in another measure of identity politics, German is to be inscribed in the constitution as the country’s official language.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article160076321/CDU-verschaerft-innenpolitischen-Kurs.html ))

Conservative revolt on dual citizenship

However, these concessions did not satisfy the CDU’s conservative wing. While Merkel was re-elected to the chairmanship, she only received 89.5 per cent of the votes – a weak showing given the traditionally consensus-based and largely ceremonial nature of personnel choices at CDU party conventions. It represented Merkel’s second-worst result in her sixteen years at the head of the party.

Moreover, the CDU’s youth wing pushed through a resolution proposing a tightening of citizenship laws. Since late 2014, children of non-EU immigrants (above all from Turkey) who have been born and raised in Germany are allowed to retain both the German nationality and the nationality of their parents. The convention adopted a motion that seeks to scrap this option for dual citizenship and to force children to choose between a German passport and the passport of their parents’ country of origin by the age of 23.

This proposition targets over half a million children and young adults born between 1990 and 2012. Conservative politicians such as Jens Spahn, young CDU hopeful and self-stylised ‘burqaphobe’((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/26/muslim-womens-dress-takes-centre-stage-german-debate/ )) have long lambasted rules allowing dual citizenship as diluting immigrants’ loyalty to Germany.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-12/doppelte-staatsbuergerschaft-cdu-optionspflicht-faq ))

The CDU’s strategic choices

Merkel and the CDU leadership subsequently stated that they would not consider themselves bound by the convention’s decision on dual citizenship. Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière asserted that while he remained sceptical of dual citizenship per se, retracting the more liberal regulations would needlessly hurt and antagonise the young people targeted. In any case, none of the CDU’s potential coalition partners for a post-2017 government is willing to accept a crackdown on dual nationality.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-12/staatsbuergerschaft-cdu-parteitag-integration ))

Thus, while the arduous discussions on citizenship provisions will remain largely inconsequential for the foreseeable future, they nevertheless show the dissatisfaction of the conservative base: the CDU party convention – occasionally ridiculed by political opponents as a powerless body rubberstamping the leadership’s decisions (Kanzlerwahlverein) – rose up in open revolt against a party elite deemed too liberal and out of touch with a disgruntled population.

Merkel herself has warned that the 2017 electoral campaign will be difficult and marked by increasingly loud assaults from the rising populist right. It remains to be seen whether her own party will prove immune to the temptations of populist slogans.

Journey through an Islamic Germany: A book seeks to give diverse Muslims a voice

Providing a counterpoint to the black-and-white narrative

Karen Krüger, journalist at culture desk of the conservative weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, has released a new book in which she embarks on a journey through what she terms an ‘Islamic Germany’, portraying diverse Muslim Germans in their daily lives.

Krüger’s self-professed goal is to show the diversity of the country’s Muslim population and the multifaceted nature of their religion, against the backdrop of a public perception of Islam as a monolithic unit: “My aim was to enable those Muslims to speak up whom you otherwise don’t hear because their religion simply is not bellicose.”((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

Pre-empting potential criticism claiming that she hand-picked ‘liberal’ Muslims to portray in her book, Krüger states that “I only show liberal Muslims because the large majority of Muslims living in Germany is liberal. One just doesn’t notice them that often because they don’t appear as talk show guests, because they don’t attract attention through spectacular demonstrations.”((http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/kultur/diwan/karen-krueger-reise-durch-das-islamische-deutschland-100.html))

Krüger thus seeks to work against a news cycle focused on terrorism and security concerns: “I wanted to confront this [focus] by showing that Muslims are not this homogeneous mass they’re often presented as in the media. It is really worth to look in people’s faces, to find contacts and to start a conversation with people – and then you will see that many [allegations] are not justified.”((http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/kultur/diwan/karen-krueger-reise-durch-das-islamische-deutschland-100.html))

Deficits in incorporating Islam into society

The author also notes the toll that the ongoing barrage of media scrutiny and public suspicion is taking on German Muslims: “With most Muslims you can feel a great deal of hurt because due to the worldwide political situation many Muslims often experience rejection, even though they feel as a part of German society.” Krüger notes that among many Muslims this rejection leads to a latent yet perceptible state of grief.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

For Krüger, this state of affairs is a powerful driver of radicalisation: for young German Muslims, the starting point on the slippery slope towards jihadism is a situation in which “religion is transformed into an identitarian place of refuge” – a place particularly appealing to the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants who are neither deemed to be ‘properly German’ nor can simply claim to belong to their parents’ country of origin. Islam in general, and jihadist Islam with its transnational ideological and organisational structures in particular, appears to offer a way out of this dilemma.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

What is required, Krüger argues, are better educational efforts, in order to offer relevant and theologically sound instruction to young Muslims. This would pre-empt the need for an auto-didactic and haphazard engagement with Islam on shady online fora. More importantly, however, Krüger calls upon mainstream society to allow and enable a Muslim German identity to grow: “Surely not for everyone but at least for wide sections [of the population] it is not yet imaginable that ‘being German’ and ‘being Muslim’ do not have to exclude each other but can come together.”((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

Krüger’s call comes at a particularly sensitive moment, as a number of conservative interior ministers of Germany’s federal states are putting forward drastic national security proposals. Among other measures on their list, they demand the prohibition of dual citizenship, a burqa ban, and tighter supervision of mosque finances.((http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Union-will-Anti-Terror-Gesetze-verschaerfen-article18381011.html))

Criticism of the Turkish-dominated Islamic federations

Yet in Krüger’s view, the emergence of a Muslim German identity has not just been hampered by fears and prejudices on the part of mainstream society. She is acutely critical of the existing Islamic associations and federations in the country whom she deems unable to develop a way of thinking about Islam that resonates with the experience of ordinary German Muslims. Whatever progress has been accomplished in this regard has not been attained because of the work of the federations but rather in spite of them.

Krüger reserves her particular ire for DITIB, still the most powerful Islamic association in Germany. A subsidiary of the a Turkish government agency – the Presidency for Religious Affairs – she accuses DITIB of importing a kind of Turkish state Islam that is backward and ill-equipped to develop a constructive vision for Muslim life in Germany. Against this backdrop, the author conceives of the arrival of Syrian and other refugees as an opportunity to break the dominance of Turkish governmental Islam.((http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/kultur/diwan/karen-krueger-reise-durch-das-islamische-deutschland-100.html))

This last point is of great salience in current German political debates. Diplomatic rows with the Erdogan administration have undermined the trust in the previously convenient arrangement that had outsourced Islamic religious services to Turkish government agencies. Unfortunately, however, virtually none of the voices present in these discussions offer constructive proposals as to how the gridlocked Islamic institutional landscape ought to be reformed. Krüger’s book appears valuable not as such an institutional blueprint but as a document of the diversity of Muslim life in Germany.

Karen Krüger, “Eine Reise durch das islamische Deutschland”, 352 pages, Rowohlt Berlin, 19,95 Euro

‘Freiburg Declaration’ by ‘secular Muslims’ starkly reveals fault-lines among German Muslim associations

A ‘secular’ and ‘European’ Islam

“We are dreaming of an Islamic reform”: this is the opening phrase of the ‘Freiburg Declaration’, a manifesto launched by a group of self-declared ‘secular Muslims’ from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.(( http://saekulare-muslime.org/freiburger-deklaration/ )) The leading initiator of the Declaration is Abdel-Hakim Ourghi,  Head of the Islamic Theology department at Freiburg University of Education.

Over the course of the Declaration’s paragraphs, writers and signatories develop their thoughts on an “enlightened” and “European” Islam that cherishes religious freedom as well as human diversity in all its forms. Their stated ideal is “a Muslim community that conceives of religious faith as a personal affair between God and the individual and that is not afraid of questioning its own religion critically” in view of evolving circumstances and realities.((http://saekulare-muslime.org/freiburger-deklaration/ ))

Subsequently, the text lays out a charter of “values” that include rejection of all forms of discrimination, equality of men and women, and an endorsement of “religious-ideological neutrality” in public service, which, according to the Declaration, necessitates that Muslim women do not wear a headscarf when fulfilling public functions. ((http://saekulare-muslime.org/freiburger-deklaration/ ))

The text closes with a series of “goals” the signatories seek to reach, including a “historical-critical analysis” of the Quran, the “propagation of liberal-Islamic ideas and concepts”, the schooling of female imams, and the extension of “humanistically-oriented Islamic religious education” in public schools. The signatories also seek a reconfiguration of the discussion panels bringing together state and Muslim representatives so that “members of a reformed liberal Islam” are represented next to “members of conservative federations”. ((http://saekulare-muslime.org/freiburger-deklaration/ ))

Liberals vs. conservatives

The last point – the composition of state-convened panels and councils – touches on a particularly raw nerve. Many such fora exist at local, regional, and national level in Germany. Their remit includes debate on a range of issues, including the official recognition of Muslim associations (and the consequent conferral of legal, fiscal, and political privileges), as well as the introduction of Islamic religious education at public schools. The creation of these councils has picked up pace since the founding of the German Islam Conference (DIK) in 2006.

While the signatories of the Freiburg Declaration evidently estimate that “a reformed liberal Islam” has been underrepresented in these contexts, other observers have come to the opposite conclusion, arguing that the state staffed especially the DIK with handpicked – and consequently compliant – ‘liberal’ or ostentatiously ‘critical’ Muslim representatives. ((http://www.islamiq.de/2016/09/18/dik-staatliche-steuerung-durch-kooperation/ )) The Freiburg intervention is thus only the latest salvo in a protracted political battle over who can claim to speak for German Muslims.

Unsurprisingly, the Turkish DITIB federation and the other large established associations have maintained an icy silence after the Declaration’s publication, which they must view as another assault on their legitimacy. By contrast, the text was approvingly reprinted on the website of the Kurdish Community in Germany (KGD), whose chairman Ali Ertan Toprak is one of the main signatories. ((https://kurdische-gemeinde.de/freiburger-deklaration-wir-traeumen-von-einer-reform-des-islam/ ))

That a Kurdish representative should take such a position against the ‘Islamic establishment’ is hardly surprising after the altercations of the past weeks and months, in which DITIB was often castigated for being a pawn in the hands of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and complicit in the post-coup crackdown of the Turkish President. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/26/amidst-political-controversy-german-ditib-association-vows-greater-emancipation-turkish-state/ )) The politics of religious organisation and institutionalisation in Germany are thus not just a purely domestic political game; rather, they also reflect the geopolitical turn of events elsewhere, especially in Turkey.

Fault-lines among ‘liberals’

However, Ourghi’s initiative also received harsh criticism from the fellow ‘liberal Muslims’ he claims to represent. The Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB) swiftly issued a statement clarifying that it did not support the Freiburg Declaration. In its communiqué, the LIB’s board accuses Ourghi explicitly and personally of “having become the accomplice of racist and Islamophobic discourses”. “A ‘liberal Islam’ stops being liberal where it unreflectingly falls into line with marginalising discourses of mainstream society”, or so the LIB asserted. ((http://lib-ev.jimdo.com/ ))

Indeed, Ourghi has a history of having fall-outs with other liberals: a few years ago, he accused Mouhanad Khorchide, Chair of Islamic Theology at Münster, of having plagiarised one of his books. However, while Ourghi’s claims were published in the large Austrian Der Standard newspaper, he was subsequently unable to substantiate his accusations with evidence. Somewhat paradoxically, Ourghi’s intervention against Khorchide was celebrated by the ‘conservative associations’ that Ourghi regularly criticises: given the fact that these federations have their own axe to grind with Khorchide – whose theses they regard as too freewheeling – they gladly used Ourghi’s attack as ammunition in their own fight with the Münster theologian. ((http://www.zeit.de/studium/hochschule/2014-01/khorchide-muenster-islamische-theologie-kritik ))

More recently, Ourghi has increasingly positioned himself publicly as a ‘critic of Islam’. When controversial writer Hamed Abdel-Samad published his latest popular science book on the life of Prophet Muhammad, Ourghi was one of the very few voices defending Abdel-Samad’s stark theses, which were widely disparaged in the scientific community as overly crude and even Islamophobic. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2015-12/hamed-abdel-samad-islamkritik-buch ))

The publication of the Freiburg Declaration is thus a further episode in the long-standing struggle for power and public recognition between various Muslim factions in Germany. In these struggles, theological differences, personal enmities, and jockeying for political influence intermingle freely. What arguably none of the various actors in this game foster is the much-needed further development of political dialogue and institutional structures that would benefit German Muslims. It almost appears that the further development of such frameworks – including the extension of religious education, or the progressive realisation of social, fiscal, and other privileges that the German constitution grants to all religious communities – need to be obtained not because of but in spite of the public interventions of those who claim to represent German Muslims.

Mosque in the middle

The Rotterdam department of political parties Christenunie (Christian Union) and SGP (Reformed Political Party) organized a debate on integration in the Essalam mosque in the city, the biggest mosque in the Netherlands. One of the invitees was conservative and former PVV (Party for Freedom – known for its harsh criticism on Islam) Bart Jan Spruyt.

Adjunct-director Jacob van der Blom received a lot of angry messages. How could he allow this in a mosque?

But he believes that connection can only occur from within people themselves. When you work with organizations and politicians subsidies play a big role and they make achieving the purpose (almost) impossible. Van der Blom wants to facilitate conversations, without telling people how they should do this exactly.

He thinks he is the right person to facilitate this conversations. As a convert to Islam he knows both the Islamic as the Rotterdam community very well. After the attacks in Paris he opened the mosques doors for these conversations. But besides that, he wants to contribute with the mosque to the neighbourhoods well-being. However according to him religion is not the way to connect people: “Muslims pray with Muslims and Christians pray with Christians”. This is why, for example, he wants Muslims to help in retirements houses and that people will eat together in the mosque.
He doesn’t want to ‘create’ perfect Muslims, but decent human beings.

SCP-research: Low Rate of Acceptance Homosexuality Among Conservative Believers [PDF Download]

A recent research executed by the Social and Cultural Planning Bureau (SCP) among conservative muslims and protestants shows that a majority disapproves of homosexuality. 53 percent of Muslims and 58 percent of Protestants (outside of the mainstream Dutch Protestant Church) believes homosexuality is wrong.

Both groups show little difference in views among youth and elders. The research also shows that seventy 5 percent of conservative muslims and protestants would find it problematic if their children would have a partner of the same gender.

The Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science Jet Bussemaker has expressed the need for more investment into the acceptance of homosexuality. In the Dutch parliament the Labour Party (PvdA) – the party of which Bussemaker is a member – wants to organize a public hearing of experts and consequently hold a debate with the Dutch cabinet.

The research furthermore shows that Dutch natives are more acceptive of homosexuality than Dutch citizens with an immigrant background. 10 percent of Dutch natives see homosexuality as something thats wrong while 50 percent of Dutch citizens with Turkish or Moroccan backgrounds think this is the case.

COC – an interest group for gay rights – believes that change should come from within migrant communities. Gays with a Moroccan or Turkish background could play an important role the organization thinks. The COC did express their opinion that the government should support relevant initiatives from these groups more frequently.

[Click Here to Download Full Report]