Saudi support for religious radicalism in Germany: old questions, still unanswered

The Henry Jackson Society, a neo-conservative British think-tank, has issued a new report harshly condemning Saudi Arabia for funding religious extremism in the West.

The report, so far not accessible to the public, has been submitted to the British Prime Minister, Theresa May. The Henry Jackson Society speaks of a “clear and growing link” between jihadist terrorism and Saudi money and support.(( http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-40496778 ))

Saudi religious activism in Germany

The Society’s findings have been eagerly taken up abroad as well, including in Germany. Germany, too, has witnessed repeated public debates on the role of Gulf money in supporting Islamist extremism. In late 2016, a German intelligence report claimed that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait were supporting radical Islamists in the country.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Susanne Schröter, anthropologist and professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Frankfurt, said that she was not at all surprised by the findings ofthe Henry Jackson Society. She asserted that Saudi Wahhabism was largely similar to the ideology of the so-called “Islamic State” and that the post-1979 Saudi attempts at exporting a rigid and violent understanding of religion had been a great success.(( http://www.dw.com/en/saudi-arabia-exports-extremism-to-many-countries-including-germany-study-says/a-39618920 ))

Long-standing accusations

In and of itself, none of these allegations are new. In journalistic as well as in academic discourse, it is commonplace to assert that the oil boom (al-tafra) allowed the Saudi Wahhabi establishment to go on such a spending spree that it managed to obtain what had eluded religious reformers for more than a thousand years – namely global hegemony over the Islamic nation (umma).

To be sure, this perspective has some valuable insights to offer: it is indeed true that the Saudi clerical and political establishments have sought to rely on the exportation of religious doctrine as a way of buttressing their own agendas. Nor can it be denied that individuals socialised in Saudi or Saudi-funded institutions have been amongst the proponents and perpetrators of jihadi violence.

Saudi money, Saudi control?

 

Yet what those pointing to the “Saudi connection” often fail to make explicit are the ways in which Saudi largesse does its work. More specifically, one might wonder about the extent to which Saudi monetary transfers to various religious causes and institutions actually lead to Saudi control. And here the Saudi track record does not look particularly good.

At almost every historical juncture – starting from the 1990/91 Gulf War, through the internal Saudi unrest of the 1990s and the wave of terrorist attacks of the early to mid-2000s, to the engagement of the Saudi state in Syria – the Islamist and jihadist scene, supposedly marked by the adhesion to Saudi dogma, in fact abandoned the Kingdom and worked on the side of the Kingdom’s enemies.

Local adaptations

In some ways, this should not come as a surprise: to many outside observers (Islamists and even jihadists included), the Saudi regime appears simply too corrupt and sclerotic to be worthy of sustained loyalty. And even where such questions of political allegiance take the back seat, Salafi preachers – even those educated in a Saudi setting – have always been forced to adjust their teachings to local circumstances.

To give but one rather colourful example in this regard, in order to make to with the gender norms prevalent in the country, Germany’s most well-known Salafi Pierre Vogel – touched upon in the abovementioned interview with professor Schröter – has stated that in the German context it is licit for women to have a prominent role as public speakers at gender-mixed Salafi events.

According to Vogel, haja (‘necessity’) in this case nullifies the prohibition on gender-mixing imposed by the doctrine of sadd al-dhara’i’ (‘blocking of the means’). Needless to say, this striking doctrinal innovation would certainly be regarded with a high degree of suspicion by Saudi scholars.((See Wiedl, Nina (2014). “Geschichte des Salafismus in Deutschland”. In Hazim Fouad and Behnam T. Said (eds.), Salafismus: Auf der Suche nach dem wahren Islam. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder. ))

The attractiveness of the ‘Salafi’ creed

In her interview, Schröter discusses the proximity of various figures of the German Islamic associational scene to Saudi money and religious orthodoxy. Yet the precise workings of the stipulated causality are left unclear: how is it that generous financial backing from the Gulf leads to the radicalisation of Muslims in the West? And on which terms?

The most glaring lacuna in this respect is the failure to provide an account of the sources of the attractiveness of a Salafised religiosity: why is it that this particular religious form should be seen as appealing by a small but considerable number of European Muslims? Indeed, the Islamic tradition would offer a host of other spiritual paths, some of whom may also be deemed “radical” (though not necessarily violent).

More complex questions

This is not to deny the overwhelmingly illiberal nature of Saudi-sponsored religiosity. Nor is it to exclude that Saudi support may play a role in spreading a particularly rigid, Wahhabi-tinged religious thought and practice.  What appears necessary to scrutinise, however, are the ways in which a Wahhabi-Salafi creed resonates with the particular conditions of Muslim life in Germany and Europe.

This means going beyond pointing to Saudi funding of mosques and preachers. It means starting to ask a host of questions that may be far more difficult to answer, and the answers to which might be far more unsettling.

FBI: Flow of foreign fighters into Syria growing

WASHINGTON — The flow of foreign fighters into Syria has grown in just the last few months, with dozens of Americans joining the country’s conflict along with thousands of Europeans, FBI Director James Comey said Friday.

U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials have expressed concern about the influence of hard-line jihadists — many of them linked to al-Qaida — among the rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad. Officials say fighters from the U.S. or Europe looking to join the cause could become radicalized and import those influences and terrorist skills when they return home.

Speaking to reporters at FBI headquarters, Comey said the number of Americans who have either traveled to Syria or sought to do so was continuing to grow. He would not give a specific figure, but he said the number had grown by a few dozen since the start of the year. He said in a similar interview several months ago that dozens of Americans were trying to make their way to Syria.

The FBI also believes that there are Americans in Syria actively trying to bring other Americans over to the country, Comey said.

Comey compared the situation in Syria to that of Afghanistan, several decades ago, when thousands of Muslims worldwide who traveled to the country during the 10-year Soviet occupation returned home with the fervor of jihad and in some cases sought to overthrow their own governments.

Why European Muslims fight in Syria

March 8, 2014

 

For some westerners who follow the trail of would-be militants in Syria’s conflict, it is a gesture comparable to idealists of the late 1930s volunteering to fight General Franco in the Spanish civil war.

Others believe, in defiance of the outspoken condemnation of moderate Muslim leaders and political leaders, they act as “soldiers of Allah”. Their backgrounds may be in juvenile delinquency or promising academic study. All insist, often under the influence of figures they meet in mosques or online, that they are waging a just war against the brutality of Bashar Al Assad’s regime.

Muslim leaders are deeply concerned with the “manipulation” of impressionable people as young as 14-16, increasingly including girls. In the French Riviera town of Nice, the city council has created a crisis centre to coordinate the work of social services and community groups confronting the problem. Boubekeur Bekri, the imam of a Nice mosque and vice president of a regional Muslim council, tells of 15 local people, mostly in their teens and twenties, who have left for Syria. It is, he says, a “great tragedy causing untold anguish” to parents while also playing into the hands of France’s anti-immigration, anti-Islam far right. Young women, he adds, had been lured to Syria on the pretext of providing “support” or to care for war orphans. French media report four such cases in recent weeks, one a 15-year-old and another the mother of a baby, and a militant quoted by the French media says they are “not sent to the front line”. But Mr Bekri claims there is evidence that “support” can translate as sexual abuse, “in effect a form of slavery, nothing whatever to do with Islam”.

The Times of London reports that British women have gone to Syria to marry militants. It cites instances of two women from London and three from other locations in southern England, one a convert, who are “known to have married English-speaking rebels fighting in Syria”, with dozens more also there or are trying to go.

French president Francois Hollande has estimated the numbers heading to Syria from France as high as 700; even conservative figures suggest 200 French combatants are involved.

As reported in The National last month, the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) based at King’s College, London, believes almost 9,000 foreigners are combatants in Syria. Most are from Arab countries – especially Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon – but the number of westerners has been steadily rising.

European and North American governments claim that by siding with extremist rebel elements as opposed to more moderate groups, notably the Free Syrian Army, they are actually allowing themselves to be drawn into terrorist activity.

They worry that this makes them potential threats to domestic security if ever they return to their countries of birth. What this analysis overlooks, according to Professor Mohamed Ali Adraoui, a French political and social scientist from the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, is the single biggest spur to recruitment. “Quite simply, it’s Bashar Al Assad,” says Prof Adraoui, author of From the Gulf to the French Banlieue: Globalised Salafism, published last year. “The way his regime has acted is the main tool of propaganda, seen readily in images on the web especially social networks. When we have television and what can be found online via the jihadist network, people are well aware of what is going on in Syria.”

Francois Falletti, attorney general at the Paris appeal court, tells the news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur,“Our judicial inquiries are precisely to determine whether radicalised individuals have become involved in a terrorist organisation in Syria and, above all, whether they could pose a threat on their return to national security.”

Mr Adraoui is not so sure the authorities are right in that assessment. People willing to “fight for Islam against oppressors” and even die in that cause, he says, would not have the same motivation once back on home soil. He also points out that some western jurisdictions, supported by some French judges, accept the legitimacy of joining a foreign conflict unconnected to their own countries.

Even moderate Muslims point out that their own attempts to stop young people going astray are hindered by justified grievances about routine discrimination in their daily lives. There is ample evidence that many young sons, daughters and grandchildren of Maghreb immigrants to France, Belgium and the Netherlands, or from Asian families in the UK, feel alienated from society.

More than once, Western media has reported, French Muslims who prepare to travel overseas to engage in what they consider a common fight, explain their radicalisation in one simple phrase: “Made in France”.

 

Source: http://www.thenational.ae/world/syria/why-european-muslims-fight-in-syria#full

A Mosque in the Darsena neighborhood? Local Official Says Yes

January 8, 2014

 

GENOA, The Mayor of Genoa, Marco Doria said “yes” to the construction of the Mosque in the neighborhood of Darsena in Genoa.

The mayor explained in a letter to the president of European Muslims.

The letter came after the League of European Muslims had expressed its readiness to buy a building in Darsena, to make it a great European center of Islamic culture and a space dedicated to prayer.

The Mayor’s commitment is crucial because the Islamic Development Bank could begin financing the project with the cost of 12 million Euros.

The letter explained that the mayor and the “municipal authorities have no objection to the fact that this important initiative will be brought to the attention of the Islamic Development Bank in Saudi Arabia.”

 

Liguria Notizia: http://www.ligurianotizie.it/costruzione-moschea-darsena-doria-dice-si/2014/01/11/112997/

Study about the rise of fundamentalism among European Muslims

December 11, 2013

 

A comparative study conducted by the Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB), results that approximately 65% of interviewed Muslims prioritize religious rules above Federal laws by western States. The study was conducted on France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Germany and Sweden. About 75% of the interviewed individuals would prefer the law of the Koran as the only reference for the society.

The study compares these rates with the results of interviews conducted with Christians, where fundamentalism is also present. Only 13% of the interviewed Christians perceive religious laws more relevant than secular laws. About 17% of interviewed Christians prefer the law of the Bible as the only reference for the society.

 

Article on the study at WZB: http://www.wzb.eu/sites/default/files/u252/s21-25_koopmans.pdf

Discussion Paper at WZB: http://bibliothek.wzb.eu/pdf/2013/vi13-102.pdf

News of the study at Die Welt: http://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article122828293/Westeuropas-Muslime-werden-fundamentalistischer.html

Debate on European Islam: A Mined Terrain

November 28, 2011

The concept of European Islam has proved to be a constant source of controversy. For some it embodies the deliverance of Islam from everything that is perceived as backward looking and pre-modern. Others fear that a European Islam is a watered-down religion, a kind of government-controlled “state Islam”, prepared to fully accommodate to the wishes of the authorities. By Claudia Mende

Initial debate on European Islam was ill-fated. The German political scientist Bassam Tibi introduced the concept in the early 1990s. He linked the concept with a severe criticism of traditional Islam, which, in Tibi’s view, has experienced nothing akin to the Enlightenment. He thereby launched a head-on clash with many Muslims. Bassam Tibi proposed European Islam as an alternative model to the Islam practiced in the Arab world and to everything that appears deplorable there.

According to Tibi, Muslims should adopt the dominant European culture as their own, and many considered this to be nothing less than a call to assimilation. Since this inauspicious start, discussions on a European variety of Islam have been sharply polarized.

Varied lives of European Muslims

Of course, living in Europe influences the outlooks and beliefs of Muslims here. Yet, is it possible to reasonably speak of a European Islam? This question was the theme of an international conference recently hosted by the Catholic Academy in Stuttgart, Germany.

Some 15 million Muslims currently live in Europe. Their ways of life and identities are highly varied.

While the Muslim community in Western Europe consists mainly of immigrants who have arrived since the 1950s as well as their descendants into the fourth generation, Islam in the Balkans has a totally different face. In Bosnia, Muslims can look back upon a centuries-old history and they have long since regarded themselves as Europeans.

Even in Poland, in addition to recent immigrants, there exists a small minority of Muslim Tatars, who settled in the country 600 years ago. Islam in France has strong roots in North and West Africa, while in Britain, the vast majority of Muslims have immigrant backgrounds from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The German Islam Conference has also asserted its desire to make a contribution to European Islam, thereby giving it the air of a project imposed from above. Does the state intend to embrace the representatives of Islam for as long as it takes until some sort of secularized “Islam light” emerges? Would this be a “tamed” Islam, as its disturbing aspects will have been shed? And by disturbing, we mean here those aspects that sound “unenlightened” to European ears, such as the Sharia or the lack of a separation between church and state.

Some critics of the German Islam Conference, which was initiated by former Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, view such moves as an attempt by outsiders to interfere in an internal Islamic debate.

Parallels with Christianity

The German-Turkish sociologist Levent Tezcan from Tilburg University in the Netherlands sees Christianity as the reference point in the discussion about a European Islam. He says that European Islam may develop just like Christianity did. It would mean that Islam, as Christianity before it, eventually could overcome its conflict with modernity and reconcile itself with the modern world.

This is precisely where the critics view the danger and sense with foreboding a watering down of their religion. They see the empty pews in churches and express the fear of abandoned prayer rooms in the recently built mosques. The fear is that the forces binding the faithful to their own traditions will eventually wane. Just as Christian churches are struggling with declining membership, Muslims also dread the day when they lose their young people to a secular Europe. The prospect of such a decline arouses fear in many Muslims. As Tezcan puts it, the “landmines” are ready to explode in the debate on European Islam.

The situation is equally tense for those Muslims questioning for themselves what a European Islam really means. This question is especially pertinent for younger Muslims, those in the third and fourth generation, as they no longer feel closely bound to their “homeland.” This is particularly the case in Germany, where Turkey has traditionally claimed the right to influence the Turkish-Muslim community and its development. Ditib, the Turkish-Islamic Union, is an umbrella organization representing almost 900 mosque communities in Germany. It is closely tied to Diyanet, the Turkish religious authority in Ankara. Kerem Öktem from St. Anthony’s College at Oxford University has described Diyanet, with its close to 100,000 employees, as a kind of “Islamic mini Vatican.”

Close religious ties abroad

Through the religious authorities, the Turkish state exerts structural influence on Ditib, and thereby also on Turkish Muslims in Germany. The Turkish state pays the salaries of the hodjas, i.e. Muslim scholars, in the Ditib mosques, and the president of Ditib in Germany also serves as the embassy counsellor for religious affairs at the Turkish embassy in Berlin. Even Prime Minister Erdogan has frequently intervened in the debate on immigration in Germany and has warned his fellow countrymen against assimilation.

Such close ties to a foreign country are unimaginable for Muslims from Bosnia. They have a completely different perspective on this issue from the Islamic associations in Germany. Already back in 1882, Bosnia withdrew from the authority of Sheikh ul-Islam in Istanbul. “It was painful, but it was the right decision in the long run,” asserts Senad Kusur from the Bosnian Educational, Cultural, and Sports Association in Vienna. He asks provocatively, “Will Western European Muslims have their 1882, too?”

At the moment, this would be unthinkable for the representatives of Ditib and Milli Görüs, the Turkish diaspora organization in Europe. The question provokes fear in their hearts. In light of a growing Islamophobia in Europe, they are not at all certain whether their children will be able to enjoy equal rights as Muslims in Germany.

For many association representatives Turkey remains a lifeline, symbolically, at the very least. Mustafa Yeneroglu, Secretary General of Milli Görüs, says that the members of the association still live with one foot in Turkey. “If things don’t work out in Germany, then there is always the option of returning to Turkey,” he says. But do the subsequent generations see things the same way?

The structures of the religious organizations indicate another story. According to the sociologist Levent Tezcan, the sort of mosque associations that exist in Germany are not to be found in Turkey. The manner in which the mosque associations are organised is typically European, he claims. The more Islamic structures are created in Germany, the more an association such as Ditib would organize things in a manner specific to Germany, thereby loosening the ties to Diyanet. While the younger generation of Muslims is pushing for greater integration into German society, older Muslims fear the loss of connection to their homeland. They fear the day will come when their children no longer understand Turkish.

Critical voices sidelined

At present, significant structures for Islam in Germany are being created through the establishment of programmes in Islamic theology at German universities and the introduction of courses in Islam at schools in most German states. Rabeya Müller from the Centre for Islamic Women’s Research (ZIF) in Cologne cautions, however, that dialogue within the Muslim community leaves much to be desired and critical voices are sidelined.

Is the much-heralded European Islam merely a construct that has little to do with the daily reality of Muslims, as Taner Yüksel, head of the education department at Ditib, believes? In case of doubt, real life is one step ahead of the intellectual debates. A European Islam is already far more than what the Islamic functionaries are willing to acknowledge.

Qantara.de – http://en.qantara.de/content/debate-on-european-islam-a-mined-terrain

Amnesty International: “European Muslims are discriminated against”

April 24, 2012

 Amnesty International reports that European countries discriminate against Muslims who show their faith publically. This is especially visible in places of education and at various workplaces. The report focused on Belgium, France, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Amnesty urges those governments to do more on prevention of prejudices about Islam. The organization is particularly critical of the countries which had banned face veils (niqab) and the religious symbols in their schools.

Call for proposals for papers and discussants: Making European Muslims (Oct. 28 to 29, 2011)

*Call for proposals for papers and discussants*

*Making European Muslims:*

*Islam and the Struggle over Beliefs, Perceptions and Identities among
Children and Young People in Western Europe*

* *

*Two-day conference in Copenhagen, Denmark*

*Friday 28 to Saturday 29 October, 2011*

* *

*Organized by the Arab and Islamic Studies Unit and the Child and Youth
Unit, Aarhus University*

As states and politicians in North-Western Europe focus more and more on
the “integration” of Muslim populations, the religion of Islam becomes
ever more controversial. While the focus of attention is often
elsewhere, it is among children and young people that the struggle over
the making of Europe’s Muslim citizens is most intense. Although some
European Muslim children attend private schools catering to students of
Muslim background, most attend public schools operated by the states in
which they reside, and it is in these schools, above all, that religious
beliefs, perceptions and identities are contested and constructed. The
conference explores the processes and interests involved and their outcomes.

Previous studies have pointed out the importance of Islam as an identity
marker and as a common point of reference for schoolchildren with
minority backgrounds. Less attention, however, has been paid to ways in
which Islam is constructed in changing social, intellectual and cultural
contexts, and how boundaries between religion and culture are negotiated
and shifted. These, along with the construction of identities, are among
the focal points of the conference. For further information, see
http://teo.au.dk/en/schoolislam/mem/ .

Seminar of the European Council of Moroccan Ulema held in Barcelona

Under the title “Islam and European values”, was held in Barcelona a seminar organized by the European Council of Moroccan Ulema and the Union of Islamic Cultural Centers of Catalonia. The seminar aimed to analyze and discuss ways to promote dialogue and communication between different cultures and religions within European societies, respecting their historical, cultural and spiritual baggage. The seminar covered topics such as religious freedom and secularism, Muslims and European values, Islam and public spaces, European Muslims and their contribution to European societies and the role of the authorities in promoting inter-religious understanding.

DEBATE: “European Muslims: Model Citizens or Forever Foreign?” on Wednesday, November 10th at the British Council and European Policy Centre, Brussels

A debate organised by the British Council in collaboration with the European Policy Centre and the European Muslim Network.

10 November 2010, European Parliament, Brussels, Room A5E2, 10:00 to 12:30 (Registration and Coffee from 09:15)

Are western societies becoming too individualistic? Are we more concerned with ourselves than our communities? If good citizenship is defined by giving something back to society, are we all becoming bad citizens?

We hear no end of criticism against European Muslims for having divided loyalties; for failing to integrate and for living in closed communities with traditional values, out of tune with ‘our’ Western values.

But perhaps Muslims in Europe are actually the model of good citizenship, with stronger family ties, increasing political participation, more respect for their community and more engagement in voluntary organisations..…

In this open and frank debate, we discuss what it takes to be a good ‘European citizen’. We ask whether strong communities are a hindrance to proper integration; whether citizenship is more than just nationality; and whether hyphenated citizenship should be embraced or challenged.

Participants include

Sajjad Karim, Conservative Member of the European Parliament, Host of the Debate
Belinda Pyke, Director for Equality between Men/Women, Action against discrimination, European Commission
Saad Amrani, Police Commissioner in charge of foreign community and international issues, Brussels city
Tareq Oubrou, Imam, Mosque of Bordeaux
Sophie Heine, Research Fellow, Université Libre de Bruxelles

This debate will be moderated by Shada Islam, from the European Policy Centre.

If you would like to register, please contact us at osedebate@britishcouncil.be.

If you require a pass for the European Parliament, please RSVP before 29th October, including your full name, date of birth and place of residence.

http://www.oursharedeurope.org/model-citizens-nov-10