The ECJ’s ruling on the hijab in the workplace: Implications for Germany

On March 14, the European Court of Justice issued a widely expected and potentially consequential ruling on the right of Muslim women to wear the headscarf in their workplace. In its decision, the Luxembourg Court appeared to grant a surprisingly wide leeway to private sector employers to restrict their workers’ right of religious freedom.

The cases under scrutiny

The cases had been brought by two Muslim women from Belgium and France, respectively, who had been fired for wearing a hijab. In the case of the French plaintiff, the Court argued that her dismissal had been illegal insofar as it had seemingly been based on the complaint of a single customer who disliked the fact that she wore the Muslim head covering.

Conversely, a workplace ban on the hijab can be compliant with European directives on anti-discrimination, religious freedom, and worker’s rights, according to the Court. Preconditions for the legality of such a ban include (a) the generalised nature of the provision so that not just the hijab but all religious symbols are targeted; and (b) the existence of good reasons for such a ban.((See http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=188853&pageIndex=0&doclang=SV&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=333910 for the decision.))

German reactions to the verdict

Muslim figures and associations in Germany have reacted with dismay to the ruling. The Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) criticised that the ruling amounted to “a renunciation of guaranteed liberty rights”.

According to the ZMD, the decision risks forcing women to decide between religious convictions and employment, meaning that constitutional guarantees of anti-discrimination and religious freedom “are not worth the paper they are written on.”(( http://zentralrat.de/28546.php )) The sentiment was echoed by the chairman of the German DİTİB branch, Bekir Alboğa.(( http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/kopftuch-verbot-islam-verbaende-kritisieren-eugh-urteil-/19515956.html ))

Green party politician Volker Beck criticised that the verdict was “not a good signal for freedom and pluralism”, while the Commissioner for anti-discrimination of the federal government warned that employers should be careful and sparing in prohibiting the hijab.(( https://de.qantara.de/content/eugh-erlaubt-kopftuch-verbot-im-job-aber-mit-auflagen ))

Legal theory vs. politicised practice

The Court’s verdict does indeed raise numerous questions. The first of them is above all practical and concerns the decision’s real-life implications. To be sure, on paper the Court’s verdict displays a considerable amount of acumen: the judges highlight, for instance, that a workplace rule on religious symbols that is “apparently neutral” on paper but in fact results in discrimination of particular beliefs is illegal.((See http://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=188853&pageIndex=0&doclang=SV&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=333910, paragraph 32))

Yet it seems that here the Court simply chose to hide behind what verges on legal sophistry. As the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper pointed out, in its practical repercussions the verdict will almost exclusively target Muslim women since it is the hijab—rather than any other religious symbol—that has become the object of political debate in recent years.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/karriere/religionsfreiheit-am-arbeitsplatz-der-islam-wird-als-stoerend-betrachtet-1.3419227 )) Legal decisions do not occur in a political void.

Fundamental questions of rights in a capitalist economy

The second issue that the verdict raises is of a more principled nature. It is indeed striking that the ECJ saw no problem with allowing private sector employers to restrict the religious freedom of their workers while only providing the haziest of all guidelines as to when such restrictions are legitimate.

Some commentators have asserted that the verdict constitutes a victory of French-style laïcité over the kind of tolerance other Member States have continued to exhibit vis-à-vis religion in the public sphere.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/karriere/religionsfreiheit-am-arbeitsplatz-der-islam-wird-als-stoerend-betrachtet-1.3419227 )) Yet in contrast to laïcité, which is above all concerned with the public sphere of citizenship, the Court’s decision signals an empowerment of the private sector and a victory of capital over workers’ rights.

The German legal context

Within the particularities of the German context, the precise implications of the verdict are, however, not yet quite clear. Legal contestation over the headscarf in Germany has focused on the public sector. In recent years, Germany’s Constitutional Court has declared blanket bans of the hijab in this area to be unconstitutional.

Yet courts have also dealt with private sector cases. In 2002, the Federal Labour Court decided in favour of a Muslim shop assistant who had been fired because of her headscarf. Conversely, church-related (and hence confessional) private sector employers were given greater leeway to prohibit their staff from wearing headscarves in 2014.(( http://www.zeit.de/news/2017-03/14/eu-kopftuch-verbot-am-arbeitsplatz-diskriminierung-oder-nicht-14075603 ))

Courts of lower instance have subsequently regularly—but not always—struck a comparatively permissive line, allowing the headscarf to be worn; or at least declaring that the particular prohibitions of the hijab that Muslim claimants had challenged were not legally sound.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/07/15/german-hijab-debate-court-vetoes-current-restrictions-hijab-bavarian-justice-system-caveat/, http://www.euro-islam.info/2017/02/10/hijab-german-public-schools-new-court-case-lets-old-questions-resurface/))

Clashing legal doctrines

For now, the ECJ’s ruling raises the spectre of differential standards in public and private sectors, with the former governed by the more liberal German provisions and the latter under the influence of the more restrictive interpretation from Luxemburg.

In the longer term, the ECJ’s decision highlights the question of a possible clash between German and European law on the matter of the headscarf.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/karriere/religionsfreiheit-am-arbeitsplatz-der-islam-wird-als-stoerend-betrachtet-1.3419227))

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar supporting Salafi radicals in Germany, according to German intelligence report

Recurring scrutiny of religious activities of the Gulf States

The two main German domestic and foreign intelligence agencies (the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz and the Bundesnachrichtendienst) are accusing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar of financing Salafi missionary activities in Germany. Practices scrutinised include the construction of mosques and educational centres, as well as the sending of Imams.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

These findings are gathered in a report by the two agencies, which had been commissioned by the German government. In the context of the recent arrival of Syrian and other Arab immigrants, the authorities’ concerns about the influence of religious exports from the Gulf have been growing. A number of Salafi missioning attempts in asylum centres have been highly mediatised and led to fierce public discussions.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/krude-missionierung-salafisten-werben-nahe-fluechtlingsheimen-13793462.html ))

Earlier this year, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel had scolded Saudi Arabia for funding Wahhabi offshoots and institutions the world over. The Social Democratic politician claimed that “the time of looking away is over”.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/01/14/german-vice-chancellor-accuses-saudi-arabia-of-funding-islamic-extremism-in-the-west/ ))

Focus on Turkey

However, not much by way of official action has perspired since then. One of the most controversial Saudi-funded educational institutions in the country – the Bonn-based King Fahd Academy – was shut down and the Saudi government announced that it intended to cut back on its religious activities in Germany. Yet it was not immediately obvious that these Saudi steps had been taken due to mounting pressure by the German government.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/closure-controversial-king-fahd-academy-bonn-shifting-saudi-religious-politics-germany/ ))

Indeed, during 2016 public attention shifted back to Erdoğan’s Turkey and its control over DİTİB, Germany’s single largest Islamic association. As the diplomatic climate between Germany and Turkey worsened, authorities began to perceive DİTİB as a Trojan horse, suspending decades of close cooperation with the organisation ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/26/amidst-political-controversy-german-ditib-association-vows-greater-emancipation-turkish-state/ ))

The present intelligence report might put the Gulf back at the centre of the attention. It warns that the presence of Saudi Arabia and other wealthy religious players from the Gulf will lead to a further growth of the Germany’s 10,000-strong Salafi scene. A particular concerns it the potential for radicalisation among recently arrived refugees.

The precise linkage between missionary activities and violent jihad

While organisations such as the Kuwaiti Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), the Shaykh Eid Charity Foundation from Qatar, or the Saudi-led Muslim World League reject violence, the intelligence reports asserts that, at least in the practice of the RIHS, “no clear distinction between missionary and jihadist Salafism” can be observed.

At the same time, the report notes that evidence capable of demonstrating these organisation’s active support of jihadists in Germany remained inconclusive.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/salafisten-verfassungsschutz-101.html )) Thus, the precise linkages between missionary foundations and jihadist networks still remain somewhat murky.

The role of the governments of the Gulf States

A particularly delicate matter are the connections between these organisations and the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. While for instance Saudi Arabia has continued to insist on the ostentatious independence of the Muslim World League, the intelligence report asserts that these associations are “closely connected to state authorities in their countries of origin”.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

In other words, in spite of steps such as the closure of the King Fahd Academy, “worldwide missionary activity continues to remain raison d’état and part of foreign policy” of the Gulf States. Consequently, the report expects a further expansion of missionary activities in the future. As a response, the report demands that a European registry of Salafi missionary organisations and preachers be created, so as to prevent their entry to the Schengen zone.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

40 per cent of Germans believe that the country is being ‘infiltrated’ by Islam

Overall group prejudices on the decline

The SPD-linked Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at the University of Bielefeld have conducted a representative sociological survey of 1,896 Germans to probe how widespread right-wing populist attitudes are among the population. According to the authors, the results draw “the picture of a divided society.”((Zick, Andreas, Beate Küpper, and Daniela Krause (2016). Gespaltene Mitte, Feindselige Zustände: Rechtsextreme Einstellungen in Deutschland 2016. The entire study is available at https://www.fes.de/de/index.php?eID=dumpFile&t=f&f=11000&token=63d1583c0c01b940d67518cf250f334b87bf5fdb; an executive summary at https://www.fes.de/de/index.php?eID=dumpFile&t=f&f=10999&token=d27af43a8d36326af8cf0964a25a57f3b95f8ba4 ))

Overall, patterns of rejection social minorities has continued to decline since the first comparable study was published in 2002: negative attitudes towards people with disability, homosexuals, immigrants, and Sinti and Roma are down, as is prejudice based on sex or race.

Islamophobia and hostility against asylum-seekers bucking the trend

However, Islamophobia and rejection of asylum-seekers are on the rise, being voiced by 19 and 50 per cent of respondents, respectively. Negative views of asylum-seekers therefore overtake the stubbornly high levels of prejudice against the unemployed, shared by 49 per cent of the population, as the most widespread form of group-based stereotype.

The authors note further interesting trends: since a similar study was conducted in 2014, the polarisation of opinions has increased, with more people either categorically rejecting or absolutely upholding stereotypes. Moreover, prejudice against immigrants, Muslims, Sinti and Roma, asylum-seekers, or against the homeless are significantly more widespread in the Eastern part of the formerly divided country, and among social classes with lower income and education.

Politically, it is the partisans of the Alternative für Deutschland Party (AfD) that most often exhibit a comprehensive worldview marked by the denigration of others. They express dislike of immigrants (68 per cent), Muslims (64 per cent), Sinti and Roma (59 per cent), asylum-seekers (88 per cent), and the unemployed (68 per cent).

Views on immigration

A majority of 56 per cent of respondents nevertheless continues to support the intake of refugees. 24 per cent see negative side-effects of recent immigration but are optimistic that these can be overcome. 20 per cent explicitly denounce the fact that Germany has taken in refugees.

38 per cent unequivocally support an upper limit to the number of refugees accepted in any given year – a measure frequently proposed by Angela Merkel’s sister party, the Bavarian CSU – while 21 per cent strictly reject it.

While only single-digit percentages feel culturally or financially threatened by refugees, around a quarter of respondents fear a drop in living standards. 35 per cent believe that the German state is more concerned with helping refugees than ethnic Germans in dire socioeconomic straits, while 50 per cent reject this statement.

Right-wing extremist attitudes

The study thus asserts that – perhaps in the media frenzy surrounding the rise of populist forces – the German population’s fundamentally positive attitude towards refugees is being “underestimated”. The tolerant majority is lodged against “a not unsubstantial and loud minority” that “does not just reject refugees but also denigrates other social groups and has a penchant for right-wing extremist views.”

Overall, such right-wing extremist attitudes (captured in the study by the relativisation of National-Socialist crimes, a belief in German racial supremacy, national-chauvinist attitudes, and anti-immigrant sentiment) remain at stable and relatively low levels of 5.9 per cent in East Germany and 2.3 per cent in the West.

However, the percentage of East Germans professing such views doubled between 2014 and 2016, mainly due to rising right-wing extremism among the elderly, the uneducated, and the poor. During this time, the east of the country also witnessed an increased incidence of right-wing violence and terrorism.((For bomb attacks in Dresden shortly before the German National Day, see http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/german-national-day-celebrations-dresden-overshadowed-bomb-blasts-right-wing-agitation/))

The rise of right-wing populism

Beyond such far-right views with a neo-Nazi edge, a more diffuse set of opinions associated with “right-wing populist orientations” has slightly risen since 2014, now observable among 20 per cent of the population, as well as 80 percent of AfD voters.

The study’s authors conclude that “classical right-wing extremist attitudes are increasingly replaced by the modernised variant of new right-wing attitudes”. This outlook carries “nationalist-völkisch ideologies in more subtle form and in a more intellectual garb”.

The most widespread belief in this category (held by 40 per cent of respondents) is the conspiracy theory that German society is being “infiltrated by Islam”. Beyond that, 28 per cent accuse the ruling elites of “committing treachery of the people”, and assert that the German state today prevents dissenters from uttering their views and opinions freely. 29 per cent assert that “it is time to show more resistance” to contemporary political decision-making.

Populist suspicion towards Islam

Indeed, especially the high incidence of the belief that Islam and Muslims were subversive actors seeking to infiltrate the country is jarring. It demonstrates the extent to which suspicion against Islam as an alien force has become the cornerstone of right-wing populists’ appeal to the population.

This widespread suspicion also resonates with a wealth of other empirical findings, including a study published earlier this year that had highlighted the stark divergence in perceptions of Islam between German Turks and ethnic Germans.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/07/14/religiosity-integration-participation-new-survey-attitudes-experiences-citizens-turkish-descent-germany/))

Politically, this sentiment echoes the AfD’s assertion that Islam is “not compatible” with the German constitution.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/04/24/islam-not-compatible-with-german-constitution-says-far-right-afd-party/)) Of all the populist tropes the AfD relies upon – such as the defamation of elites, disparaging of the press, and the call for resistance – the fear of Islam is the belief most widely held in the population. This fact showcases the incentives for the party to continue to free-ride on and exacerbate these fears.

In the wake of the recent American election, the study also highlights trends in Germany that are similar to those that brought Donald Trump to power in the US. Most notably, it captures a widespread feeling of disaffection among white Germans that can be found disproportionately in some regions of the country (the former East) and that are often poorly educated as well as concentrated on the lower ladders of the income distribution.

New string of terrorism arrests in Germany include high-level IS recruiter

Planned knife attack

In recent days German police have moved against a host of terrorism suspects, highlighting the threat of attacks linked to the so-called Islamic State in the country.

In Berlin, a refugee was arrested on November 2. While the man claimed to be a Syrian national, American intelligence described him as Tunisian Islamist Ashraf al-T. The man initially denied all charges and asserted that he was the victim of a mix-up.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/karlsruhe-festgenommener-fluechtling-spricht-von-verwechslung-1.3235619 )) The investigative judge at the Federal Court of Justice, responsible for all terrorism cases, refused to take up the case due to a lack of evidence.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/festnahme-in-berlin-terrorverdaechtiger-ashraf-al-t-in-haft-wegen-urkundenfaelschung-1.3234513 ))

Subsequently, however, it emerged that the suspect had apparently planned a knife attack in Berlin, akin in nature to the axe assault in a train near Würzburg in July 2016.((http://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/terrorverdaechtiger-berlin-105.html ))  Moreover, like the train assailant, al-T. appears to have been in online contact with an IS middleman in Syria. And like in the case of the suicide bomber that targeted a festival in the Bavarian town of Ansbach in July, the investigation into Ahsraf al-T. paints a picture of a unstable individual with a history of mental health issues, including a suicide attempt. ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/karlsruhe-festgenommener-fluechtling-spricht-von-verwechslung-1.3235619 ))

Target Berlin

The arrest of Ashraf al-T. comes as the latest foiled plot targeting the German capital. In March 2016, police had arrested Syrian Shaas al-M. After his arrival in Germany as a refugee in early 2015, al-M. had collected intelligence on potential targets for an IS attack in Berlin, including the lively Alexanderplatz, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag. At the time of his arrest, al-M. was poised to return to the IS’s ‘caliphate’, having joined the group for the first time in 2013. ((http://www.morgenpost.de/berlin/article208694887/Mutmasslicher-Terrorist-zielte-auf-das-Herz-Berlins.html ))

Jaber al-Bakr, whose protracted arrest and subsequent suicide in prison sent shockwaves through the German political scene as well as the Syrian community in early October, had equally prepared an attack in Berlin: his aim appears to have been a suicide bombing at the city’s main airport. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/manhunt-arrest-suicide-attacker-keep-germany-suspense/ )) All three cases highlight the extent to which the Islamic State has made use of the migratory flows to Europe in order to place its agents in Germany and elsewhere.

High-profile arrest of Abu Walaa

These developments coincide with a more high-profile arrest on November 8: after years of surveillance by the German domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, police arrested hard-line preacher Abu Walaa and four of his associates on terrorism charges. In his sermons and on social media, the Iraqi preacher had openly supported and celebrated the IS’s project and methods and encouraged believers to participate in the Syrian jihad.

The preacher had been active in the city of Hildesheim in Lower Saxony, whence he organised the travel of fighters to the Syrian battlefields. Founded in 2012, his Islamic centre had quickly emerged as one of the major hubs of jihadism in Germany. At least 20 members of the congregation have already made their way to the IS’s territory. This led German security insiders to assert that, of all extremist players on the German scene, “he [Abu Walaa] is the worst.”((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/eil-wichtiger-anwerber-des-is-in-deutschland-verhaftet-1.3239523 ))

According to the Federal Prosecutor, Abu Walaa handpicked sympathisers ‘ready’ to join the IS and organised the basic travel arrangements, while his accomplices implemented his commands.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/islamischer-staat-festnahme-von-abu-walaa-ist-schlag-gegen-die-salafistenszene-a-1120283.html )) The Federal Prosecutor asserted that Abu Walaa functioned as the intellectual and spiritual father of a wide-ranging network of IS supporters in Germany.((http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Schlag-gegen-deutsches-IS-Netzwerk,abuwalaa104.html ))

Returnee’s testimony

After a rushed search of Abu Walaa’s Hildesheim premises in July 2016, at which time evidence was insufficient to allow for the preacher’s arrest,(( http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Polizei-durchsucht-Hotspot-der-Salafisten-Szene,salafisten340.html )) the testimony of a returnee from Syria appears to have solidified the case against Abu Walaa. The statements of 22-year-old Anil O., a former foreign jihadist fighter, were among the most important pieces of evidence to emerge.

Already in July 2016 when he met with German journalists in Turkey, Anil O. claimed that Abu Walaa was “the highest representative of the IS in Germany”. Anil O., a German national of Turkish extraction and top-grade medicine student at Aachen University, asserted that he himself had come under Abu Walaa’s influence at his Hildesheim centre.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamisten-in-deutschland-das-ist-der-schlimmste-1.3239861-2 ))

Anil O.’s case is among the growing number of judicial proceedings against foreign fighters returning from the Syrian theatre of war.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/30/german-courts-seek-move-beyond-counter-terrorism-measures-path-breaking-trials-fighters-syrian-battlefields/ )) Of the more than 750 German nationals and residents that have travelled to the Levant, 250 have already made their way back. Anil O. asserted that he had been disgusted by the IS’s atrocities he witnessed in Syria and wanted to prevent others from making the mistake of joining the group.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamisten-in-deutschland-das-ist-der-schlimmste-1.3239861-2 )) His cooperation with German authorities also constitutes a way for the former fighter to reduce his prison time.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/islamischer-staat-festnahme-von-abu-walaa-ist-schlag-gegen-die-salafistenszene-a-1120283.html ))

Strong media presence

Abu Walaa’s nimbus significantly derives from his strong online presence. On social media and on his website, he presents himself as ‘the preacher without a face’, due to the fact that in the majority of his videos he only appears as a shadow or in shots showing his head from the back. In order to spread his message, he even markets his own smartphone app.

In this respect, the arrest of Abu Walaa is an important step forward in German counter-terrorism efforts: the more than 1,000 judicial proceedings on terrorism charges that have been brought to court so far were nearly always directed against little fry. Suspects were mostly individuals who had actively joined or passively been sucked into radical networks; yet the networks themselves and their high-level organisers were hardly ever targeted.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamisten-in-deutschland-das-ist-der-schlimmste-1.3239861 ))

Reactions

The Federal Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas (SPD), consequently hailed the arrest of Abu Walaa and his associates as “an important step against the extremist scene in Germany”. Yilmaz Kilic, head of the Lower-Saxon branch of Turkish-dominated DITIB, Germany’s largest Muslim association, equally lauded the police action: “when someone abuses our religion for extremism, then the police should step in.”((http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Schlag-gegen-deutsches-IS-Netzwerk,abuwalaa104.html ))

On a slightly different note, influential radical Salafi preacher Pierre Vogel, with whom Abu Walaa had often clashed – mainly over Vogel’s rejection of the Islamic State – exhibited a good deal of schadenfreude at his rival’s arrest.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/islamischer-staat-festnahme-von-abu-walaa-ist-schlag-gegen-die-salafistenszene-a-1120283.html ))

Dismissal of prison chaplain over extremism accusations highlights growing tensions between state and Muslim associations in Germany

Model project on prevention

The Ministry of Justice in the state of Hesse has ended its cooperation with an Imam working as a prison chaplain at a correctional facility in the city of Darmstadt. Authorities reacted to advice given by the German domestic intelligence agency (the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz): the agency had classified Imam Abdassamad El-Yazidi as a security risk.

Starting point for this assessment had been El-Yazidi’s association with the organisation Deutsch-Islamischer Vereinsverband Rhein-Main (German-Islamic Associational Union, DIV), deemed since August 2016 to be ‘under extremist influence’ and consequently placed on a surveillance list. El-Yazidi had been the DIV’s chairman until three years ago; presently, he chairs the Hessian chapter of one of the country’s largest Muslim associations, the Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland (Central Council of Muslims in Germany, ZMD), of which the DIV is a member.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Complex institutional landscape

This episode highlights the complex institutional landscape of Muslim representation in Germany, with the ZMD being an umbrella body composed of further umbrella organisations. The DIV, which is now in the spotlight, for instance, brings together 46 local associations. One of them, the Europäische Institut für Humanwissenschaften (European Institute for Human Sciences, EIHW), located in the Ostend neighbourhood of Frankfurt, now triggered the intervention by the Verfassungsschutz. The Institut is perceived to be part of a transnational Muslim Brotherhood network. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Amidst this organisational diversity and fragmentation, El-Yazidi asserted, it was at times impossible for the mostly unpaid volunteers working in the ZMD to scrutinise all aspects of fellow players on the associational scene. At the same time, El-Yazidi also defended decisions to retain contacts with institutions deemed to be under extremist influence, on the grounds that only continued engagement would make it possible to prevent further radicalisation. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Criticism from Catholic representatives

In an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, El-Yazidi noted that he had only received a call from the Hessian Ministry of Justice informing him that he had to end his work as a prison chaplain without being given more concrete information about the suspicions directed against him.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Joachim Valentin, responsible for Christian-Muslim understanding at the Catholic bishopric of Limburg and chairman of a Catholic cultural centre in Frankfurt, decried the measure as disrespectful and counter-productive. He criticised the Verfassungsschutz for “failing to differentiate between orthodox Islam, radicalism, extremism, and terror threats.” Blanket accusations and criminalisation would only serve to “drive meritorious Muslims into inner exile.” ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/rhein-main/so-treibt-man-verdienstvolle-muslime-ins-innere-exil-14478785.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

The ZMD itself reacted with a press release deeming the exclusion of its representative from prevention programmes against radicalisation “incomprehensible”, stressing that so far Hessian authorities and participants had appreciated the collaboration and its effects. ((http://zentralrat.de/28081.php ))

Signs of strain between state and Muslim associations

The affair surrounding chaplain El-Yazidi is only the latest episode in a gradual worsening of the relationship between German authorities and the country’s Muslim associations. In recent months, much of the political discussion has centred on DITIB and the influence of the Erdogan government over this association and its mosques.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/freiburg-declaration-secular-muslims-starkly-reveals-fault-lines-among-german-muslim-associations/ ))

Yet it is questions of foreign financing and control more generally have taken centre stage, amidst a renewed debate about the (lack of) loyalty Muslim citizens exhibit vis-à-vis the German state. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/old-question-loyalty-german-turks-relationship-erdogan/ )). This prompted the ZMD in its reaction to the El-Yazidi affair to stress its determination to “reject any influencing from abroad, no matter from which country.” ((http://zentralrat.de/28081.php )) Yet recent developments surrounding the EIHW have rekindled voices accusing the ZMD itself to be an apologist of the Muslim Brotherhood. ((http://www.allgemeine-zeitung.de/politik/hessen/im-schatten-der-muslimbrueder_17372765.htm ))

The old question of loyalty: German Turks and their relationship to Erdogan

 

A charged political atmosphere

On July 31st, 2016, up to 40,000 people, most of them German Turks, congregated on the banks of the river Rhine in Cologne to show their support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of the country’s failed coup. German media and politicians presented the rally in an overwhelmingly negative light. This is perhaps not surprising, given the fact that the came at the highpoint of months of diplomatic rows between Berlin and Ankara – including, but not limited to, renewed dispute surrounding the German government’s position on the Armenian genocide, the Turkish government’s refusal to let German parliamentarians visit German soldiers fighting ISIS from Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase, President Erdogan’s defamation lawsuits against a German comedian, as well as the lukewarm German reaction to July’s putsch attempt.

Whilst the scenes of rioting and violence conjured up prior to the rally did not materialise in the end, the spectre of large crowds waving Turkish flags nevertheless sent shockwaves throughout the German political scene. Subsequent weeks witnessed growing calls that German Turks be more active in displaying their loyalty to Germany. Conservative Die Welt newspaper chastised them for remaining silent in the face of Islamist terrorism while loudly supporting Erdogan. This, the paper argued, “raises questions about the attachment of large swathes of the Turkish community to our federal republican democracy.” ((https://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article157395025/Tuerken-in-Deutschland-muessen-ihre-Loyalitaet-klaeren.html ))

Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to pick up on this view when she asserted in mid-August that “we expect from all those with Turkish origins who have been living for a long time in Germany to develop a high degree of loyalty to our country.” ((http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-08/angela-merkel-deutsch-tuerken-loyalitaet-deutschland )) Concomitantly, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced his support for the abolition of legal provisions allowing dual citizenship. ((http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-08/innere-sicherheit-thomas-de-maiziere-doppelte-staatsbuergerschaft-abschaffung )). On a more polemical note, young CDU hopeful Jens Spahn encouraged all those with too much of an interest in Turkish domestic politics to return to their country of origin. ((https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article157406464/CDU-verurteilt-tuerkische-Aufmaersche-Erdogan-empoert.html ))

Sources of support for Erdogan

Amidst all this furore, the question why large numbers of German Turks remain extremely supportive of Erdogan – the AKP received close to 60 per cent of the Turkish German vote in last November’s elections ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerken-in-deutschland-waehlten-erdogan-partei-akp-a-1060661.html )) – has been less explored by politicians and the media.

Yet when interviewed by the Forum am Freitag TV magazine ((http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz?setTime=83.633#/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz )), Seyran Ateş, Turkish-born publicist and outspoken critic of the Erdogan administration, deemed the continued support for Erdogan among German Turks to be eminently comprehensible: after Turkish emigrants had for a long time been viewed as convenient suppliers of migrants’ remittances at best and as national traitors at worst, Erdogan has been the first Turkish leader openly welcoming German Turks as full-fledged citizens and members of the Turkish nation. At the same time, economic growth and rehabilitation of religiosity have enabled Erdogan’s mostly lower and middle class supporters in Germany to look upon their country of origin with pride.

Long-standing issues of social acceptance

These feelings were echoed by Bilgili Üretmen, a blogger and fervent Erdogan supporter born and raised in Germany. ((http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz?setTime=83.633#/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz )) He cited economic and social development, greater stability, and the ability to be more open in one’s religious practices as Erdogan’s main achievements. Commenting on Merkel’s call that Turkish citizens be more outspoken in their allegiance to Germany, he asserted that “loyalty is not a one way street” and that Merkel’s demand was “absurd”.

Üretmen stressed that in his view German Turks had contributed a lot to German society for decades; yet that German politics towards Turks and Turkey had remained antagonistic. Moreover, he bemoaned a lack of social acceptance, noting that in Germany “everything that is foreign is seen as a problem”, as well as the fact that German Turks are still predominantly perceived as “toilet-cleaning headscarf-wearing women” rather than as a diverse and successful community.

As Euro-Islam has reported in the past, Üretmen’s comments are illustrative of broader trends and perceptions among Germany’s Turkish population, with shortcomings in terms of social inclusion and of thorny questions of religious acceptance being frequently-cited concerns. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/07/14/religiosity-integration-participation-new-survey-attitudes-experiences-citizens-turkish-descent-germany/ ))

The search for the moral high ground

A little more than a month after the pro-Erdogan demonstration, Cologne came full circle when 30,000 Kurds used the same spot by the Rhine to criticise the AKP government and demand the liberation of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Although the PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the EU and forbidden in Germany, the rally elicited only scant public and political attention. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-09/koeln-kurden-abdullah-oecalan-demonstration-kundgebung ))

The fact that such a degree of toleration was extended quite nonchalantly to the pro-PKK rally was promptly picked up upon by AKP supporters. Perhaps not unreasonably, they interpreted this as a sign of German double standards. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/ )) Yet their claim to be recognised as the pristine defenders of democracy loses its moral clarity when taking into account not just the course of events in post-putsch Turkey but also developments in Germany: Turkish German partisans of Erdogan have themselves engaged in aggressive and at times violent actions against Kurdish and Gülenist dissident individuals and institutions; actions that appear to have been condoned or perhaps even coordinated by the Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD) – the very same organisation that also organised the pro-Erdogan rally in late July. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/ ))

German Turks as well as German politicians thus gradually come to realise that in the complex struggle between rival Turkish political forces and factions, it is increasingly difficult to maintain neutrality. At the same time, siding with any single one of these forces – be they the AKP, the Gülen movement, or the Kurds – comes with enormous strings attached, since no single player ticks all the boxes of democratic accountability and openness.

Taking sides thus involves a high price – a price that German politicians have not been willing to pay. Instead, they have been flip-flopping between condemning and courting Erdogan: while depicting him as a neo-Ottoman dictator, they have nevertheless signed the EU-Turkey deal on refugees; while lambasting the AKP government for its lacklustre response to ISIS, they have nevertheless refrained from pulling out German soldiers from Incirlik; and while they passed a parliamentary resolution determining that the killing of Armenians amounted to genocide, the Merkel government promptly distanced itself from this position. After so much vacillating of their own, German politicians should perhaps refrain from asking for declarations of unconditional loyalty from their Turkish German citizens.

Closure of the controversial King-Fahd-Academy in Bonn: Shifting Saudi religious politics in Germany

Past controversies

Saudi diplomats in Germany have confirmed that the King-Fahd-Academy, a Saudi-financed educational institution in Bonn, will be closed by the end of the school year 2016/2017. The construction of a second academy in Berlin will reportedly also be abandoned.(( http://www.dw.com/en/controversial-saudi-school-in-bonn-to-close/a-19511109 ))

The King-Fahd Academy, opened in 1994, had long been criticised as a hotbed of Islamist radicalism. In the early 2000s, the school came under suspicion for alleged ties to Al-Qaeda. In a Friday sermon at the school mosque, a former teacher encouraged pupils to wage holy war and die in the name of God. At the same time, the Wahhabi-inspired curriculum sought to impart to students a strongly anti-Jewish and anti-Western outlook.(( http://daserste.ndr.de/panorama/media/islamistenschule100.html ))

After attempts to have the school closed did not come to fruition, local authorities used their administrative prerogatives and no longer granted children with German citizenship the permission to attend the school. As a consequence, the King-Fahd-Academy, an vast building complex, today only provides schooling to about 150 pupils.(( http://www.general-anzeiger-bonn.de/bonn/bad-godesberg/Godesberger-Schule-schlie%C3%9Ft-zum-Schuljahresende-article3344239.html ))

A shift in the Saudi approach?

Over the past decade, the King-Fahd Academy had striven to dissociate itself from the extremist image of the early 2000s. German language classes became obligatory, curricula were altered, and the school sought to open itself to the outside academically (by adopting the standards of the International Baccalaureate programme) as well as socially (by hosting open houses and a range of cultural activities).(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/umstrittene-saudische-fahd-akademie-in-bonn-schliesst-14411622-p3.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_3 ))

Yet the school never quite managed to leave its past behind. Henner Fürtig of the German Institute for Global Area Studies (GIGA) thus sees the closure of the school as indicative of a Saudi attempt to ameliorate the Kingdom’s image in Europe: closing the King-Fahd-Academy could enable the Saudi rulers to leave behind one of the most painful controversies of the past few years.(( http://www.dw.com/de/saudi-arabien-strebt-imagewechsel-an/a-19511727 ))

Saudi sources describe the abandonment of the old educational agenda as a consequence of a shifting political approach in Riyadh. Allegedly, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman himself decreed the closure of the King-Fahd-Academy.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/islam-in-deutschland-saudi-arabien-gibt-koenig-fahd-akademien-auf/14464982.html )) The ambitious crown prince recently promulgated his ‘Vision 2030’, seeking to modernise Saudi society, infrastructure, industry, and education. According to Saudi diplomats, instead of remaining in a Saudi bubble, Saudi students ought to be taught in German schools in order to benefit from “one of the world’s best educational systems”.(( https://beta.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article157887884/Der-saudische-Rueckzug-sollte-Schule-machen.html?wtrid=crossdevice.welt.desktop.vwo.google-referrer.home-spliturl&betaredirect=true ))

Reactions of relief

German politicians have generally reacted with relief to these announcements. While complimenting the school’s opening since the early 2000s, Bonn’s mayor Ashok Sridharan nevertheless welcomed the Academy’s closure. (( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/umstrittene-saudische-fahd-akademie-in-bonn-schliesst-14411622-p3.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_3 ))

The Saudi decision to shut down this one-time signature educational institution, does indeed come at a particular political moment. Over the past few months there had been renewed criticism of Saudi practices of religious financing abroad, with for instance Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) accusing Saudi Arabia openly of financing Islamic extremism in the West.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/01/14/german-vice-chancellor-accuses-saudi-arabia-of-funding-islamic-extremism-in-the-west/ ))

More generally, as Euro-Islam reported, winning over the ‘hearts and minds’ of Germany’s growing Muslim minority has been a persistent theme in recent political debates.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/26/amidst-political-controversy-german-ditib-association-vows-greater-emancipation-turkish-state/ )) The role of Turkey and of Saudi Arabia has come under particular scrutiny in this regard. Politicians of all parties have voiced fears of foreign financing and control that could turn German Muslims into a Trojan horse destabilising the country from within. The closure of the King-Fahd-Academy will be welcome news to them.

Turkish Community Associations join German pride festivals

Signalling solidarity and allying against discrimination

Turkish community associations have joined gay pride marches in Stuttgart and Hamburg, in a bid to broach questions surrounding sexuality and to demonstrate their openness to diversity. The Federal Chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), Gökay Sofuoglu, noted with regard to ongoing difficulties faced by the LGBT+ community that “as an association taking a stand against discrimination of any kind, we cannot close our eyes to this”.((http://www.swr.de/landesschau-aktuell/bw/csd-in-stuttgart-tuerkische-gemeinde-bricht-mit-tabu/-/id=1622/did=17791268/nid=1622/tvsne5/))

Sofuoglu, speaking in the context of the Stuttgart gay pride, noted that there had been some resistance to the decision to participate. Such resistance had also been felt by the chairwoman of the Hamburg Turkish Community association, Nebahat Güçlü: In previous years, Güçlü had failed to overcome her fellow board members’ reservations about joining the local pride march.((https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/hamburg/CSD-Veranstalter-Parade-wird-politischer,csd640.html))

This year, however, the Hamburg community released a statement on its website arguing that “the vindication of equal rights for minorities is a concern for all of us. This includes the equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. We are conscious of the fact that as a managing committee in our community we are taking an important but also provocative step that could also trigger negative reactions. Nevertheless, we deem it important and right to stand against all kinds of discriminations in our society and we also face up to the discussion within our organisations”.((http://www.tghamburg.de/news/?nid=149))

That the Turkish community’s participation in local pride festivals is more forthcoming this year must perhaps also be seen in relation to the spate recent attacks more or less straightforwardly motivated by Islamic radicalism, including Omar Mateen’s shooting at the LGBT Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016. After this event, Muslim organisations elsewhere have also taken a conscious decision to join pride marches in order to demonstrate their solidarity and open-mindedness.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/06/28/muslim-community-joins-regina-pride-parade-1st-time/))

The ambivalence of Islamic associations

As Euro-Islam reported at the time, the initial reaction of explicitly Islamic associations in Germany remained muted.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/06/20/muted-reaction-of-german-muslim-leaders-to-orlando-touches-upon-uncomfortable-issues-of-homophobia-and-media-discourses/)) Since then, Ayman Mazyek, prolific chairman of one of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), has stated in a public speech that when any person irrespective of race, religion, or sexual orientation were attacked, the Muslim community would “rally to their protection”, “defend freedom” and “protect the dignity of the human being and therefore our own dignity”.((http://zentralrat.de/27631.php))

Yet the difficult contortions that underlie Mazyek’s view were on ample display in an interview published ten days before the shooting at Pulse: when stating his view on homosexuality, Mazyek asserted that “I am a citizen of this country and the chairman of a German religious community. For me the Basic Law is decisive. I don’t accept homosexuality personally and religiously. But at the same time I stand up against homophobia, as a Muslim.”((http://www.volksstimme.de/sachsen-anhalt/islam-mazyek-abschottung-weg-der-angsthasen))

To be sure, such a statement is not substantially different from the disconnect between, for instance, contemporary Catholic teachings on homosexuality on the one hand and the Church’s stance on the worth of the dignity of the human individual on the other hand. It does elucidate, however, why participation in a gay pride march might still be one step to far for many explicitly Islamic associations.

Study About Islam on The Internet

13.09.2011

According to preliminary results of a study currently conducted at the University of Münster, young Muslims in Germany increasingly use online forums to discuss issues related to religion, with questions of how to be an obedient Muslim in Western society taking centre-stage. The study relies on material gathered in more than 1,000 online debates on social networking sites such as facebook over the last three years; approximately 2,500 young Muslims in Germany contributed to debates about, for instance, “national identity and Islam”, “Euro-Islam”, or “Theocracy vs. Laicism”. Extremist and anti-constitutional tendencies were rare and also stopped by the networking sites. The final results of the study are expected to be released towards the end of 2011.

Shelby Condray

Shelby Condray is the current webmaster for Euro-Islam.info

His work history in technology includes Harvard University Center for Government and International Studies, Boston University School of Management, Yale School of Music, and numerous other organizations both inside and outside of academia.

He has an MDIV from Boston University School of Theology, a MM from Yale University School of Music, and two undergraduate degrees from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

His current interests are the Corporatization of the Media, Human Rights (especially GLBT rights), and late 20th century developments in American Protestantism.