Who would refugees vote for? Recent immigrants to Germany observe the election

As Germany prepares to go to the polls, there are many inside the country who will not be able to cast a ballot on September 24th: roughly 10 million of Germany’s 82 million inhabitants do not hold German citizenship. Of these, 5.7 million residents have a non-EU nationality. (( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2017-06/auslaenderzentralregister-deutschland-auslaender-zuwanderung-gestiegen ))

No vote at the end of an immigration-centred campaign

Roughly 1.3 million men and women from outside the EU have arrived since 2014 – most of them refugees from Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East. Whilst they will not be able to vote themselves, they have nevertheless figured prominently in political debates running up to the election, which displayed an ample (if often ill-informed) focus on immigration, crime and terrorism, as well as Islam.

In spite of their outsized presence in the electoral campaign, refugees’ own political leanings have remained by and large unexplored. In the last days prior to the vote, some of their voices are, however, being heard.

Disillusionment with a lack of opportunities

Two years after Chancellor Merkel’s momentous decision in early September 2015 to open Germany’s borders to refugees stuck on the Western Balkans route, the initial beneficiaries of this policy are by no means uniform in their view of the election.

For some, the journey through Germany’s immigration system and bureaucracy has been a thoroughly disillusioning experience. Speaking to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, Iraqi artist Akil expressed this dissatisfaction: “We are stuck in Germany”, he said. Whilst Merkel had opened the door to people fleeing war and misery, Germany’s rigid legal framework continued to prevent him gaining a foothold and starting a new life.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundestagswahl-2017-wenn-fluechtlinge-waehlen-wuerden/20359154.html ))

Continued support for Chancellor Merkel …

Disenchantment might also lead refugees to remain aloof from politics altogether, since different parties are perceived to be mirror images of each other. For some, politics is also a bête noire for other reasons: having lost friends and family to the ongoing conflict in his home country, Syrian Mohammed al-Naid asserted that “politics only brings trouble”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundestagswahl-2017-wenn-fluechtlinge-waehlen-wuerden/20359154.html ))

Yet for a large number of those who have come to Germany in recent years, Angela Merkel continues to be a much-respected and even revered persona. They stress the Chancellor’s willingness to take them in at a time when neighbouring states and Muslim-majority countries refused to step up in solidarity((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundestagswahl-2017-wenn-fluechtlinge-waehlen-wuerden/20359154.html )) – a sentiment shared among many in the Arab world.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2017-09/bundeskanzlerin-angela-merkel-araber-fluechtlingsdebatte-wahl ))

… but an uneasy relationship with the CDU

Whether this could eventually translate into a higher level of support for the CDU among Germany’s Muslims remains to be seen. Not only will it take a long time for the recently immigrated refugees to acquire German citizenship (provided that they choose to do so); refugees’ loyalty is also oriented more towards Mrs. Merkel than her party.

Over her twelve years in office as Chancellor (and 17 years as chairwoman of the CDU), Mrs. Merkel has steered her party sharply to the political centre on a number of social issues, including immigration. Whilst she is expected to win a fourth term at the Chancellery this Sunday, her tenure will not last forever, raising the spectre of a return to a more conservative profile under a potential successor.

Particularly since Mrs. Merkel’s decision to allow the arrival several hundred thousand refugees, she has faced pressures from the party base. At the CDU’s last party congress at which Mrs. Merkel announced her intention to run for another term as Chancellor, the party forced her against her will to shift to the right on immigration, burqa ban, and dual citizenship.

German Muslims’ stance on immigration

Socially conservative Muslim immigrants and their offspring have long been touted as a potential electoral reservoir for the CDU. Yet at the ballot box many German Muslims may continue to feel that the Christian Democrats (and CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, even more so), do not govern in their interests.

This does not mean, however, that German Muslims are automatically supportive of a permissive immigration policy. Among the country’s Muslim population, fears about immigration seem almost as widespread as among members of mainstream society.

To be sure, German Muslims have been active volunteers in charitable efforts to help refugees. Yet many established Muslim voters also view new immigrants as potential rivals on already tight labour and housing markets. Others fear that immigrants from war-torn Middle Eastern countries might bring social unrest or even jihadist violence to Germany.((For such opinions, see http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/umfrage-stimmen-zur-deutsch-tuerkischen-beziehung-a-1137631.html or http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-01/michel-abdollahi-angst-migranten-koeln ))

Stability and change in Muslims’ voting behaviour

In sum, even without the votes of refugees who could express their gratitude to Mrs. Merkel, electoral analysts expect a slight uptick of the Muslim vote benefiting the Chancellor’s Christian Democrats. A recent poll suggested that 12 per cent of German Turks now support the CDU, compared to 9 per cent in 2013.(( http://taz.de/Wahlverhalten-der-Deutschtuerken/!5449200/ ))

This comes against the backdrop of a dynamic in which the traditional bond of Germany’s Turkish Muslims with the Social Democrats appears to be weakening. The scale of Germany’s Turkish, immigrant, and Muslim communities distancing from the SPD remains to be seen, however.

Recently, a rapper, enormously popular also among young refugees for his rags-to-riches story – his family had come to Germany in the 1990s as asylum-seekers from Iraqi Kurdistan – posted a photograph of his ballot paper on a social networking site. He had ticked the SPD’s boxes.(( http://hiphop.de/node/307308#.WcUBh7JJbBU ))

Germany debates counter-terrorism legislation after the Berlin attack

In the aftermath of the December 19 truck rampage committed by jihadist Anis Amri at a Berlin Christmas market, the German public debate has shifted to the policy and security lessons to be drawn from the attack. Given the Tunisian nationality of the attacker, discussions have focused on immigration law and on administrative counter-terrorism measures.

New security prerogatives proposed

Politicians from the conservative CSU party have been at the forefront of demands for increased competencies for the security services. In a policy paper, the CSU leadership most notably called for an expansion of administrative detention.

For the CSU, being identified by the intelligence services as an individual likely to threaten public safety because of suspected terrorist intentions (i.e. being identified as a Gefährder or ‘endangerer’ in German politico-legal parlance) is to be sufficient for an individual to be placed in administrative detention. Moreover, in the case of foreigners awaiting deportation, the period of custody prior to expulsion is to be prolonged from four days to four weeks.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/sicherheitsgesetze-bericht-ueber-umfassenden.1947.de.html?drn:news_id=692879 ))

Finally, the CSU proposes to curb the usage of the more lenient juvenile penal law for terrorist offenders under the age of 21, to allow counter-terrorism intelligence operations against suspects as young as the age of 14, and to monitor the movements of convicted extremists even after their release from prison through electronic ankle bracelets.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/sicherheitsgesetze-bericht-ueber-umfassenden.1947.de.html?drn:news_id=692879 ))

Effectiveness of policy initiatives

The moment for the CSU’s initiative is opportune: not only has the attack on the Christmas market shaken the German public; the effectiveness of expansive surveillance also appeared to be on ample display when a group of young men from Syria and Libya were caught on camera while trying to set on fire a homeless man sleeping in a Berlin metro station.

The men turned themselves in when crystal-clear CCTV images showing their faces were released to the public. Citing this example as an ostentatious success story, the CSU has demanded a drastic expansion of video surveillance of public spaces in the aftermath of the Christmas market attack.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-12/berlin-polizei-fahndet-ubahn-obdachloser-angezuendet ))

A spokesman of the German lawyer’s association, Swen Walentowski observed, however, that “video surveillance does not lead to greater security. There are completely false and exaggerated expectations of video surveillance. […] [A] terrorist would never be deterred by a video camera mounted on some lamp post.”(( http://www.heute.de/csu-papier-fuer-schaerfere-sicherheitsgesetze-partei-setzt-auf-gunst-der-stunde-46201116.html ))

Investigative blunders in the run-up to the attack

Walentowski’s comments highlight the fact that the effectiveness of a number of the currently flouted counter-terrorism proposals is questionable. Indeed, in retrospect Anis Amri’s journey through Europe was hardly a smooth one, and the Tunisian did little to conceal his jihadist ambitions. European security services failed to use existing legal provisions that would have allowed them to curb the terrorist threat posed by Amri.

Having left Tunisia after the country’s revolution, Amri lived in Italy for years and had repeated brushes with the law in the country, spending time in Italian jails. Yet although mandatory on paper, the exchange of information between German and Italian security services appears to have been highly deficient, meaning that Amri could start a new life after his arrival in Germany in summer 2015.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anis-amri-und-der-anschlag-in-berlin-versaeumnisse-im-anti-terror-kampf-a-1127376.html ))

Subsequently, Amri established contacts to the hardline preacher Abu Walaa, dubbed the informal leader of the Islamic State organisation (ISIL) in Germany. The Abu Walaa network attempted to help Amri to travel to Syria. Amri also repeatedly discussed plans for a potential attack with leading figures in the preacher’s group.(( http://www.dw.com/de/anis-amri-abu-walaa-und-die-salafisten/a-36879648 ))

Slipping under the radar

Authorities had collected extensive material on Amri’s activities. Amri’s file at the domestic intelligence agency was updated only a few days before the December 19 attack, and included his aliases, his contact persons and addresses, details of his arrest in Italy, and his activities as a courier in the Abu Walaa network. It noted, too, Amri’s willingness to work as a suicide operator and his interest in building a bomb.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/anschlag-berlin-amri-101.html ))

Abu Walaa himself, as well as some of his most important associates, were arrested in early November 2016. Yet intelligence services ceased their efforts to monitor Amri in summer 2016. Shortly before, an attempt to deport Amri back to Tunisia had failed: although his demand for asylum had been rejected, Tunisia refused to issue travel documents and to readmit Amri.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anis-amri-und-der-anschlag-in-berlin-versaeumnisse-im-anti-terror-kampf-a-1127376.html ))

To be sure, with numbers of suspected ISIL sympathisers being relatively large, German and European intelligence services will not be able to effectively monitor every single potential attacker. Rule of law and high standards of accountability can also be encumber investigations against terror suspects. The Amri case nevertheless appears to show a series of mishaps on the part of authorities. Tough questions must be asked as to why Amri was allowed to slip under the radar.

Failures to make use of existing legal provisions

When dealing with Amri, intelligence and security services had a range of tools at their disposal which they only used haphazardly. These include cooperation and information exchange with other agencies in the European abroad, as well as a number of domestic measures.

Perhaps most notably, Amri’s freedom of movement could have been restricted, thereby hampering his ability to integrate into the German jihadist network in Hanover and to commit an attack in Berlin – both places far from his home in North-Rhine Westphalia. The German Residence Act enables local authorities to require suspect or dangerous asylum-seekers who have had their demands for refugee status rejected to remain within a certain area and to report to the local police.

If the individual violates these requirements, he or she is placed in detention. Significantly, Amri did run into police controls when he was travelling through the country several hundreds of kilometres away from his home. At this point, he could have been arrested and detained had such a residence requirement been in force.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/anis-amri-und-der-anschlag-in-berlin-versaeumnisse-im-anti-terror-kampf-a-1127376.html ))

Legislative fever

Yet none of these measures were taken – in spite of authorities’ awareness of Amri’s jihadist activities. Instead, the young man travelled frequently and freely across Germany, keeping in touch with his contacts from the radical scene and scouting potential places for attacks. The failure to stop Amri is thus less due to inadequate legal provisions than to a faulty assessment of the threat Amri posed.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/anschlag-berlin-amri-101.html ))

Consequently, the Green Party security spokesman, Konstantin von Notz, accused the governing parties of voicing expansive demands for new laws in order to detract from their failings in implementing existing legal provisions.(( http://www.heute.de/csu-papier-fuer-schaerfere-sicherheitsgesetze-partei-setzt-auf-gunst-der-stunde-46201116.html ))

Following the events of December 19, Germany is currently undergoing the familiar legislative fever that appears to be the inevitable consequence of a terrorist attack. While it may be necessary to amend or alter selected legal provisions, the rushed introduction of sweeping new counter-terrorism laws does not respond to the genuine shortcomings in the German and European counter-terrorism framework that the Christmas market attack has revealed.

German conservatives call for Islam Law

Leading members of the CSU party, Bavarian sister organisation to Angela Merkel’s CDU, have called for an ‘Islam Law’ that would curb foreign influence on German mosques. CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer asserted that “German has to become the language of the mosques”, with Imams being trained in Germany and being steeped in German “basic values”. In order to curb what Scheuer described as imported extremism, mosques, Islamic cultural centres and Muslim institutions should also no longer be allowed to receive money from abroad. These proposals follow the lead set by Austria, who adopted similar measures in 2015.

While Scheuer explicitly mentioned Saudi Arabia’s practice of funding Wahhabi and Salafist organisations as dangers to domestic German stability, in the context of recent diplomatic rows between Germany and Turkey, the Turkish connection of many of Germany’s Islamic institutions has now also come into the focus of the political debate. Up to 1000 Imams in Germany are trained in Turkey, and are sent to Germany by the Turkish presidency of religious affairs, Diyanet. They work in mosques administered by DITIB, Diyanet’s German affiliate, and continue to be paid by the Turkish state.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, DITIB has been extremely critical of the CSU proposals, arguing that they violate the German constitution and the right for religious self-determination anchored therein. The DITIB Secretary General dismissed the proposal for an Islam Law as “discriminatory”, “populist”, and as playing into the hands of the far-right AfD party. Other, more Islamist-tinged functionaries of the German Islam Council (IRD) and the Millî Gorüs community (IGMG) equally castigated the proposals as an attempt by the CSU to gain undue state influence over Muslim religious life.

Other commentators have noted the with approval that the CSU – in contrast to its past positions – now appears willing to recognise the existence of Muslim communities in Germany and the need to provide some sort of institutional infrastructure for the exercise of their religiosity. However, in an opinion piece for the newspaper Die Zeit, Parvin Sadigh notes that many mosque communities in the country are already using German as their primarily language, due to the diversity of origins of the attendees, as well as due to the fact that the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants often no longer speak the language of their parents and grandparents well enough to be able to follow religious instruction in Turkish or Arabic. Conversely, most Salafi and jihadi preachers are fluent in the German language and extremely well-versed in the sociocultural features of young Muslims’ lives. Ostentatious ‘integration’ in the mainstream of German society is thus not synonymous with theological liberalism.

Sadigh notes that degree programmes for Islamic Theology at German universities have only been in existence for 6 years, meaning that for the foreseeable future there will remain an acute shortage of German-educated Imams for mosques and of religious education teachers for public schools. Moreover, Sadigh notes that German mosques often do not have the necessary financial resources to offer adequate salaries to their Imams: without the constitutionally recognised status as a ‘religious corporation’, they have been unable to construct a durable financial infrastructure and thus continue to depend on charitable offerings from their members and on large-scale funding from abroad in order to be able to offer religious and social services.

Another CSU politician, Alexander Radwan, reacted to these criticism and proposed to enable Muslim associations in Germany to levy a church tax, analogous to the practice of the Catholic and Protestant churches. This, according to Radwan, would remedy the need of mosque communities to rely on foreign funding. What Radwan did not mention, however, is that the attainment of the requisite status of a ‘religious corporation’ that would enable Muslim associations to levy such a tax has remained elusive for most of the deeply divided Islamic organisations operating in the country.

Dual citizenship and reactions from Muslim groups

December 5, 2013

 

The new coalition of the German government led by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Christian Democratic (CDU) and the Christian Socialist Party (CSU) is planning to reform the citizenship law, enabling immigrants to obtain dual citizenship. The citizenship decree of the year 2000 obliged every German-born child to choose between German citizenship and the citizenship of its parents’ origins by the age of 23. If they refused to choose, they would automatically become foreign citizens.

While the issue was discussed controversially in German media, the Turkish Islamic Union Institute for Religion (DITIB) criticized the rhetoric of German politicians such as Minister of Interior Friedrich (CSU). He had raised his concerns about the loss of German identity when permitting a significant number of immigrants to become Germans. According to DITIB, Turkish immigrants would be an integral part of German society and there would be no need to question their loyalty and efforts for integration.

 

DITIB: http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=383&lang=de

MIGAZIN: http://www.migazin.de/2013/11/28/integrationspolitik-zwischen-reformen-stillstand/

Police raid against Salafi network

June 28

 

The German police has searched 15 apartment and one mosque in the States of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. Salafist adherents and members of the banned association “Millatu Ibrahim” have been suspected to go hiding and shifting activities underground.

 

Furthermore, the police believes some of the Salafi activists planning “violent acts against the State”. On June 14th 2012, Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) banned the Salafi  association Millatu Ibrahim. According to the annual report of the “Office for the Protection of the Constitution” 2012, more than 50 persons have travelled to Egypt. They are said to be Salafi adherents.

 

report (PDF)

German Ministry of Interior aims to facilitate deportation of “religious Extremists”

May 29

 

The Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) aims to facilitate the expulsion and deportation of religious extremists living in Germany. Salafists and fundamental Muslims would threaten the peaceful coexistence.

 

The Minister proposes to expand the the law of expulsion, deporting foreigners who have been using “violence to achieve their religious goals”, or have “called for violence or threatened to use it”. So far, this law legitimizes the expulsion and deportation of foreigner with the ambition to use violence for “political goals”.

 

Also, the Minister proposed to to tighten the law in deporting foreigners who have been convicted and sentenced for one year imprisonment. The law of expulsion legitimizes the deportation of foreigners in case of three years imprisonment.

 

The proposals are not expected to be implemented as they do not apply to EU immigrants, unless they construct a “imminent threat for society”, and foreigners living in Germany over five years. However the proposals are interpreted to be tactically motivated. This September, the German Federal parliamentary elections will take place and the Minister is expected to motivate the conservative voter base.

 

Germany’s Disputed Dual Citizenship Law ”Everyone Must Be Able to Participate”

The German government’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Markus Löning (FDP), is critical of citizenship laws that force young Turks to choose between German and Turkish nationalities. His view breaks with government policy to date. Daniel Brössler spoke to him

It was a compromise that now forces thousands of young descendants of immigrants in Germany to make a tough decision. Since the year 2000, a regulation has been in force granting immigrants’ children born in Germany since 1990 the right to a German passport. They are temporarily allowed to retain the passport of their parents’ homeland alongside the German one. But by the time they have turned 23 at the latest, they must give up one citizenship, as long as their parents do not come from an EU country, for example.

This has led to quite a number of Germans becoming foreigners again since the beginning of the year. The CDU and CSU, which pushed the compromise through against proposals to fine-tune the legislation by the SPD and the Greens, are keen to maintain the option obligation. But the SPD says if it wins the election it will do away with the ruling – an approach now supported by the government’s Commissioner for Human Rights, FDP politician Markus Löning.

 

Minister Of Interior calls for strict laws against Terrorism

Jan 28

 

Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) has asked for stricter laws against Terrorism. The recent international incidents in North Africa and Mali would motivate Salafi Islamists to act in Germany, Europe and North Africa. The Minister expects radical Islamists to radicalize when leaving Germany for Egypt.

 

The Minister claimed for more observation, data collection of bank and mail correspondence of suspected subjects. Also, he demanded easier conditions for the deportation of Islamist extremists. The Minister of Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (FDP) criticized the proposals of Minister Friedrich as well as the current anti-terror legislations as interventions in civil rights.

Chancellor Merkel and the Debate on integration

May 14

 

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has publicly expressed support for the view that Islam is integral part of German society. Doing so, she openly disagreed with opinions voiced in the last months by the Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) and the head of political Union parties CDU/CSU in the parliament, Volker Kauder (CDU). In front of the pupils of a Berlin school, chancellor Merkel talked about the significant presence of Muslims in German society and their belonging to it. Muslims are part of today’s environment, and many of them are German citizens, Merkel declared. Thus, Islam becomes a part of society, too. Many things known today in Germany have been transported through Islam.

 

This is the first time after the pro Islam speech of former German president Christian Wulff (CDU) in 2010, that chancellor Merkel speaks in favor of Islam as an integral part of Germany. Minister of Interior Friedrich had repeatedly disagreed with recognizing Islam as a part of Germany, emphasizing the Christian-Jewish occidental culture of Germany.

German Islam Conference avoid issue on Salafism

April 18

 

The Federal Ministry of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) has rejected the proposal of the Interior Minister of Lower Saxony Uwe Schünemann (CDU) to include the issue of Koran distribution by Salafist activists in the agenda for the upcoming Islam Conference.

Since the beginning of April, Salafist groups have been distributing free copies of the Koran in several German cities. Mr. Schünemann has called for an agreement against Salafism and proposed a strategic approach plan including anti-radicalization and prevention against Islamist Extremism and Terrorism. In his letter to the Federal Minister of Interior, he declares to expect Muslim associations to stand up united against what he calls an “instrumentalization of Islam”. Since the initiative of the former Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in 2006, domestic Security has become one of the main issues within other in the German Islam Conference.