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.

Macron and Le Pen debate burkini

The burkini controversy that began in summer 2016 reappeared in the televised presidential debate. As the candidates were discussing laïcité (secularism), Marine Le Pen attacked Macron, saying: “Several years ago there were no burkinis on beaches, I know you support them Mr. Macron.” He responded: “Please…Ms. Le Pen…but I don’t speak for you, I don’t need a ventriloquist. I assure you, all is well. When I have something to say, I say it.”

“So what do you have to say about the burkini?” Le Pen asked. “That has nothing to do with secularism because it’s not religious,” Macron responded, “It’s an issue of public order. So, regarding the burkini, I intend to avoid the trap set by those who want to divide society–to create a big debate…The trap in which you are in the midst of falling, by your provocations, is to divide society.”

“The burkini is a problem,” he added. “There are certain mayors, however, who issued orders that were occasionally justified because it was an issue of public order…It’s not a big theoretical problem. Don’t divide society because of it! Be pragmatic and responsible,” he concluded.

Le Pen responded, “I hear a lot of talk about freedom, I would like us to think of these young women, who, today, cannot wear what they want. The veil is imposed on them precisely because we [didn’t pay attention to] Islamist fundamentalists.”

 

Amidst political controversy, German DITIB association vows greater emancipation from Turkish state

 

DITIB: a pawn of the Turkish government?

Recent weeks and months have witnessed growing pressure on Germany’s largest Islamic association, DITIB. As a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), DITIB has been charged with being a pawn of the Turkish government and with seeking to render German Turks loyal to President Erdoğan. As Euro-Islam reported, these accusation have become ever louder since July’s failed coup in Turkey, in the aftermath of which DITIB appeared to participate in anti-Gülenist agitation.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/))

These developments now jeopardise the slow progress DITIB has made in its quest to be recognised as a ‘religious community’ or even as a ‘public law corporation’, legal statuses provided by the German constitution. The bestowal of such a status would enable DITIB to have a greater say in the organisation of religious education in public schools, and would eventually also open up new financial possibilities – e.g. through the granting of state subsidies or even through the power to tax Muslim community members via the Muslim equivalent to the Christian ‘church tax’.

Current political turmoil threatens DITIB’s institutional and political gains

In recent years, DITIB had made some headway in this regard in several of Germany’s 16 federal states: in Lower Saxony as well as in Rhineland-Palatinate, DITIB is negotiating state treaties with the regional governments that seek to open new areas of cooperation in education, social services, and ritual matters. In North Rhine-Westphalia, DITIB is even attempting to become a ‘public law corporation’.

Recent events, however, have rendered the success of these initiatives doubtful. The Lower Saxon oppositional Christian Democratic Party (CDU) has withdrawn from the state treaty negotiations with DITIB, arguing that an association controlled by the Turkish government is no legitimate discussion partner.((https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/CDU-Fraktion-steigt-aus-Scheitert-Islamvertrag,islamvertrag106.html)) In a similar move, the Social Democratic government of Rhineland-Palatinate halted treaty negotiations, asserting that it was necessary to await further developments in Turkey and DITIB’s reaction to them.((http://www.swr.de/landesschau-aktuell/rp/dreyer-aeussert-sich-zu-umstrittenem-islamverband-die-tuerkei-krise-folgen-fuer-rheinland-pfalz/-/id=1682/did=17903846/nid=1682/5yt4qj/index.html))

Finally, the minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft (SPD), noted that it was increasingly unlikely that DITIB would meet the necessary criteria in order to be recognised as a ‘religious community’ or ‘public law corporation’ in the constitutionally relevant sense.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/hannelore-kraft-geht-auf-distanz-zu-tuerkischem-islamverband-ditib-a-1107293.html)) This comes after her government had been relatively well-disposed towards DITIB’s quest for legal recognition in the past.

Emancipation from Turkish state and government?

These events have apparently prompted the DITIB leadership to publicly distance their organisation from events in Turkey and from the Turkish government. In the past, DITIB had repeatedly emphasised its claim to political neutrality.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/)) Going beyond this, the organisation’s spokesman Zekeriya Altug now broached the sensitive issue of DITIB’s financial ties to the Turkish state apparatus: in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Altug asserted that “the question is how long Turkey will still give support to DITIB-Imams. We need to look for alternative sources of funding in the long run.”((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html))

Altug added that in the future DITIB’s Imams “shall and will” no longer be Turkish citizens sent by the Turkish government; instead, Imams would be from Germany and be native German speakers.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html))

DITIB’s dilemma between Germany and Turkey

This move is a strong indicator of the pressure DITIB is under in the current political situation. While the organisation usually simply denies that any control is exercised by Ankara, its spokesman now apparently felt compelled to declare that DITIB would seek to emancipate itself from Turkish governmental influence. It is not yet clear whether DITIB will act upon this announcement and progressively eliminate the financial links to Turkey. Nor is it clear, for that matter, how the resulting shortage in funds could be replaced: as long as the legal status of the association is in limbo in Germany, DITIB would most likely struggle to attain adequate funding – a fact that is generally not mentioned by all those criticising DITIB for its continuing ties to the Turkish state.

Altug’s statements do reveal, however, DITIB’s predicament: on the one hand, DITIB is deeply embedded in Turkish institutions and politics. It cannot simply extricate itself from these ties to Turkish state and government. On the other hand, however, DITIB wishes to remain an influential player on the German political scene, also in order to retain its position in the large Turkish immigrant community in the country.

Amidst the current turmoil, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile these two objectives. For German Islamic associations, this is not an unheard-of situation: in the past, the Islamic Community Milli Görüş in Germany (IGMG) gradually chose to loosen the ties to its Turkish parent, because too close an affiliation with the Turkish Milli Görüş movement proved too detrimental to IGMG’s attempts to gain a foothold on the German political and institutional scene. What is new is that DITIB, for a long time the preferred partner of successive German governments, should be faced with this dilemma.

Dutch children apologize for terrorism [VIDEO]

Still from film depicting Dutch children apologizing for terrorism. (YouTube)
Still from film depicting Dutch children apologizing for terrorism. (YouTube)

Journalist and filmmaker Abdelkarim El-Fassi directed a Dutch commercial in which various children are seen renouncing and apologizing for terrorism. A Moroccan kid, for example, is asked to apologize for the gruesome deeds in Syria and the attack in Paris “because that where also Muslims and Moroccans.” The director hopes that the commercial, that has sparked quite some controversy in the Netherlands, will lead to new insights and discussion.

El-Fassi said “I have never felt this uncomfortable with directing a video.” I find it extremely painful if it is asked of a certain group, or rather demanded, to distance oneself from horrible events. While they have absolutely nothing to do with these events.” “Please understand me correctly,” the directer said, “There is nothing wrong with distancing oneself from these horrible acts but it has to be one’s own choice, and must not be imposed by politicians, media, or fellow human beings.”

Critics of the video suggest that the director would have misused the children for his goal. El-Fassi disagrees. “Yes, the video is pedagogically irresponsible. Off course it is unethical. But we have explained to the kids that this was not real. That we would never ask such a thing from them. Sometimes a means such as this one is necessary to convey a message.”

[Watch the video here.]

Imam of major Michigan mosque threatens to resign over ethnic controversy and claims of financial mismanagement

Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini, the leader of one of Michigan’s biggest mosques and one of the most popular in the Detroit metro area threatened to resign on Friday. During Friday services at the Islamic Center of America, Al-Qazwini cited ongoing differences with the mosque’s board of directors. He stated that he is the victim of anti-Iraqi racism by the majority-Lebanese board of directors. The majority of the mosque’s members are of Lebanese descent.

Over a two month period last Fall, between October and December, anonymous letters were distributed to members in the mosque parking lot accusing Al-Qazwini of funneling mosque funds to his father’s company in Iraq and of having extra-marital relationships through the Shi’a concept of mut’a or “temporary marriage.” In part, the letters read: “Qazwini is the main obstacle which prevent the payment of all the debt… (he) takes the … contributions and revenues” and gives them to his father, a Shi’a religious leader in Iraq. The letters also criticized Al-Qazwini’s support of the board’s chair who, the author of the missives claimed, was not an observant or good Muslim.

One member of the mosque who supports Al-Qazwini said, “They want to turn the Islamic Center of America into the Islamic Center of Lebanon.”

The Islamic Center of America has long been heralded as one of the most “American” of mosques. Al-Qazwini has done much to establish good interfaith relationships with local church leaders and national politicians.

The Washington Post: “After controversy, Muslim call to prayer sounds from front of Duke University Chapel”

Susan Svrluga, Sari Horwitz, and Michelle Boorstein for The Washington Post: “The Muslim call to prayer echoed across Duke University’s quad Friday, the day after university officials canceled plans to have weekly services begin with an amplified call to prayer from atop the chapel’s bell tower.

That initiative had sparked such intense debate, even threats, according to university officials, that they reversed the decision. But Friday’s call to prayer, held at the base of the chapel rather than at its pinnacle, was a peaceful gathering.” (The Washington Post)

‘Deport 5 million Muslims’: Bernard Cazeneuve denounces Eric Zemmour’s remarks

“I know, it’s unrealistic, but history is surprising. Who would have said in 1940 that a million pieds-noirs, twenty years later, would leave Algeria to come to France?” - French Author Eric Zemmour's stirs controversy with remarks about France's Muslim community.
“I know, it’s unrealistic, but history is surprising. Who would have said in 1940 that a million pieds-noirs, twenty years later, would leave Algeria to come to France?” – French Author Eric Zemmour’s stirs controversy with remarks about France’s Muslim community.

Eric Zemmour has previously been referred to as racist, sexist and xenophobic and his October interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra has again created controversy.

The interview was published October 30 in the Italian newspaper and was brought to the French public’s attention by Jean-Luc Mélenchon who stated that Muslims “live together in the banlieues,” that “the French were forced to leave [the area] because of them,” and that “this situation of a people in a people, Muslims within the French people, will lead to chaos and war.” When asked: “Well what do you suggest: deport 5 million French Muslims?,” Zemmour responded: “I know, it’s unrealistic, but history is surprising. Who would have said in 1940 that a million pieds-noirs, twenty years later, would leave Algeria to come to France?”

On his blog, Mélenchon wrote: “Zemmour confuses foreigners and immigrants. This mix-up contains a logic that it could lead to civil war, and it’s why his suggestion is so dangerous.” Mélenchon also notes that Zemmour’s immigration statistics combine foreigners and naturalized citizens. “For him, those are ‘Français de papier,’ an expression used by the far-right said before the war and in current discourse. For him, one cannot ‘become French.’ When the time comes, it will be necessary to pick out and take away ID cards. Which is what Philippe Pétain’s government did.”

Near completion of new mega mosque “De Westermoskee” in Amsterdam

The building of the Netherland’s largest mega mosque (800 square meter and room for 1700 worshippers) has sparked some controversy over the last two decennia of its establishment. For years the building process was frustrated by several conflicts between the initiating Islamic foundation and the municipality of Amsterdam and housing cooperatives. Despite these obstacles the mega mosque is planned to be ready for interior design and decoration by the end of November.
The mosque board is already in communication with artists from Turkey for the realization of classical Islamic calligraphy in the mosque’s interior. A salient feature of the mosque will be the incorporation of indigenous influences from the artistic style and local culture of Amsterdam on ceilings and walls as well as in the tapestry. According to the mosque board the “Westermoskee” was build with the intention of opening up to not just practicing Muslims but also for the general public. The mosque intents to organize guided tours, expositions, and seminars on Islam. It also intends to involve neighborhood inhabitants in the development of social activity programs.

Dutch rapper Hozny punished for threatening Islam critic Wilders in video clip

The Dutch rapper Hozny was sentenced to 80 hours of community service a conditional sentence of two years of prison for a hiphop video in which Islam critic Geert Wilders is allegedly portrayed in a threatening manner. The video (watched more than 580.000 times on Youtube) showed a Wilders look-alike that is put at gunpoint. At the end of the video gunshots are heard while the look-alike is not in sight. The video has stirred wide controversy and condemnation.

 

Rapper Hozny has justified the video as an artistic expression and critique of Wilders’ plea for less Moroccans in the Netherlands during the Dutch municipal campaign last year. During a gathering Wilders asked a crowd of it wanted more or less Moroccans in the Netherlands where upon the crowd chanted “less, less.” The incident had exploded into a controversy in and of itself resulting in more that 5000 reports against the Dutch member of parliament.
Hozny explained he wanted to chock with his video but not to threaten. The court nevertheless decided against the rapper and argued that the freedom of expression should not be used as a refuge for someone who makes dead threats to another, even if it it done in a more or less artistic manner. It further argued that the usage of dead threats is detrimental to the public debate on the freedom of expression and its limits.

Music Mix: Spirituality and Protest: ‘Rebel Music,’ by Hisham D. Aidi

The subject matter of “Rebel Music: Race, Empire and the New Muslim Youth Culture” could not be more far-reaching unless its author, Hisham D. Aidi, had unearthed data about youth culture and musical influences on other planets. As far as Earth goes, his highly original and ambitious book has got it covered.

“Rebel Music” exhibits a breathtaking familiarity with different forms of radicalizing music and the widely different ways it is understood in different cultures, with a special emphasis on Islamic youth. Mr. Aidi starts his book simply in the South Bronx, an epicenter of young Muslims’ hip-hop obsession.

Mr. Aidi goes there, in part, because he hopes to talk to the French rap crew 3ème Oeil (Third Eye) from Marseille. They are equally glad to meet him when he tells them he’s from Columbia, mistaking the university (where he is a lecturer) with the record company. No matter. He has the illuminating experience of finding a French D.J. who says he has dreamed of visiting the Bronx his whole life, because his role model is the Bronx D.J. Afrika Bambaataa. Mr. Aidi meets others there who are simply searching for a Muslim-friendly environment. If this book has a unifying theme, it is the eagerness of young Muslims in every culture to find musical expression that feels honest and a safe haven in an endlessly combative world.

“Rebel Music” has no chance of ending on a note of peaceful resolution. But it does lay out an array of fascinating conflicts, taking on a subject that has rarely been addressed in book form. Its most tender chapter describes Judeo-Arabic music, which flowered in Algeria in the 1960s but later became a lightning rod for controversy. Like every topic brought up by Mr. Aidi’s jampacked compendium, it deserves a closer look.