German Islamic organisations publish an “electoral compass” for Muslim voters

In preparation for the upcoming federal elections on September 24th, three German Muslim institutions have joined hands in order to provide an electoral guidance on topics of particularly high relevance to the country’s Muslim population.

The Islamische Zeitung newspaper (IZ), the German Muslim League (DML), and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) have published the “German-Muslim Electoral Compass”. The Compass is based on a questionnaire sent to Germany’s major parties. All of them – bar the openly Islamophobic AfD – replied, allowing a broad comparison of different parties’ approaches.

An alliance bypassing the Turkish associations

IZ, DML, and ZMD had already published the Electoral Compass ahead of the last two federal elections. Yet the fact that these particular three players have joined hands again reflects not only their established patterns of cooperation. It is also indicative of ongoing schisms within Germany’s Muslim community.

In fact, both the IZ and the DML have their roots among German converts to Islam. Traditionally, they are politically and ideologically sceptical of the large traditionalist Turkish-dominated Islamic umbrella organisations (such as DİTİB, VIKZ, and IRD/IGMG).((For an academic study of the difficult relationship between ethnically German converts to Islam and the majority of Germany’s ethnically Turkish and Kurdish Muslims, see Esra Özyürek (2015), Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion and Conversion in the New Europe, Princeton: Princeton University Press. ))

Vying for political influence

This makes IZ and DML excellent allies of the ZMD, a predominantly non-Turkish Islamic association whose ambitious chairman Aiman Mazyek has striven for a long time to dethrone the Turkish organisations as the leading representatives of Islam in Germany.

With President Erdoğan having called upon German Turks to boycott the established parties,((https://dtj-online.de/erdogan-zu-deutsch-tuerken-waehlt-nicht-die-tuerkeifeindliche-cdu-spd-oder-die-gruenen-872222 )) Islamic associations with strong ties to the Turkish state are in no position to engage in a political dialogue ahead of the election. The ZMD with Aiman Mazyek has gladly used the opportunity and mounted a flashy advert campaign calling upon Muslims to vote on September 24th.(( http://islam.de/29128 ))

Broad-ranging questionnaire

Topics covered in the “Electoral Compass” include general questions on Islam and religious freedom, racism and Islamophobia, hijab bans, dual citizenship, as well as foreign policy issues (notably arms exports, relations with Turkey, and the German army’s deployment in Afghanistan).(( The questionnaire and parties’ responses are available at http://deutsch-muslimischer-wahlkompass.de/. ))

Overall, the differences between the parties’ responses are gradual yet noteworthy, if not too surprising in their content. Commenting on the results of the “Compass”, Stefan Sulaiman Wilms, editor in chief of the IZ, noted that parties had shown different positions on Islam and Muslim life, ranging from “liberal” to “conservative”.

Yet Wilms was contented to observe that no party had “shown a fundamental resentment against our way of living” and that all had declared their wish to “protect and respect our civic rights.”(( https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/irgendwo-zwischen-konkretem-und-allgemeinem/ ))

Does Islam belong to Germany?

Particularly striking about Chancellor Merkel’s CDU/CSU was its continuous stress on the need for an Islamic practice in line with “our fundamental liberal-democratic order”. The CDU/CSU also implicitly refused to endorse the statement that ‘Islam belongs to Germany’, although Muslims do.

This touches upon a long-standing debate, in which Conservatives have regularly emphasised the notion that while Muslims may belong to German society, ‘Islam’ cannot be part of a country that is exclusively defined by its ‘Judeo-Christian’ traditions.

State “neutrality” and the headscarf

Other potential conflicts revolve around the notion of ‘state neutrality’ emphasised by the economically liberal FDP: ‘neutrality’ clauses have often been interpreted as necessitating a ban on hijabs in public functions or at the workplace.

The CDU/CSU, as well as the Greens stressed their commitment to anti-discrimination but also greeted the ECHR’s recent ruling that allows employers to prohibit employees from wearing hijabs at work. By contrast, The Left – perhaps surprisingly for a staunchly socialist and hence atheist party – was most clear-cut in its rejection of hijab bans.

Disagreements on dual citizenship

Another dividing line opened up on the issue of dual citizenship. The Social Democrats renewed their commitment to the status quo of the nationality law enacted under the red-green coalition in 2000. This reform had eased the acquisition of German citizenship and had also created some possibilities to hold two passports.

In the “Electoral Compass”, the Greens and The Left advocated a more far-reaching liberalisation of citizenship provisions, further facilitating the acquisition of a second nationality. By contrast, CDU/CSU and FDP restated their willingness to introduce a “generational cut” – i.e. provisions that would force children to choose one passport over the other after the second generation (in the case of the CDU/CSU proposals) or the fourth generation (in the case of the plan put forward by the FDP).

Lack of questions on jihadism, counter-terrorism

A noteworthy omission from the survey were any questions dealing with the phenomenon of jihadism. Perhaps IZ, DML, and ZMD did not want to entrench the linkage between ‘Islam’ and ‘terrorism’ by touching upon the subject; perhaps they were of the opinion that the issue is already overrepresented in the media or that the current jihadist violence is inherently ‘un-Islamic’.

Yet it is surely a question of great interest to Muslim voters how different parties think about this issues. It might allow an interested electorate to gauge the stance different parties might take in the face of future attacks – for instance with respect to potentially discriminatory anti-terrorism legislation.

Equally, it would have been welcome to see the parties forced to take a clear-cut position on their willingness to enhance inter-religious dialogue and to foster existing de-radicalisation strategies. These are, after all, initiatives that would also benefit Muslims and their position in society.

No Muslim “pressure group”

On a critical note, the IZ’s chief editor Stefan Sulaiman Wilms noted that especially CDU/CSU, SPD, and Greens had remained relatively general in their answers to the “Compass”. Only The Left, he observed, had given more concrete indications on how it wished to support German Muslims in practical, everyday matters ranging from anti-discrimination to halal slaughtering.

For Wilms, the vagueness of parties’ responses is also due to a failure of German Muslims to organise and to constitute themselves as an effective lobbying group. He asserted that

“for some years, the activist discourse of some Muslims has focused a lot on empowerment. Yet so far this does not amount to anything more than the financing or funding of isolated projects. Unfortunately, we are not perceived by politicians as noteworthy addressees whose concerns could be electorally relevant.”(( https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/irgendwo-zwischen-konkretem-und-allgemeinem/ ))

Call for more civil society activism

Wilms thus called upon his brothers and sisters in faith to step up their civic and societal engagement. German Muslims could only make themselves an incontrovertible political player by become organised and more socially involved. Their disproportionately strong charitable activism in the domain of refugee and asylum aid showed German Muslims’ potential, or so Wilms argued.(( https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/irgendwo-zwischen-konkretem-und-allgemeinem/ ))

Indeed, German Muslims’ socio-political activism as well as their religious organisations are in urgent need of professionalisation. Both social involvement and the provision of religious goods are still overwhelmingly done on a voluntary basis. With central organisational capacities underfunded and understaffed, Muslims’ public voice and political impact continue to be limited.

Need for political engagement

Against the backdrop of these limitations, Cemile Giousouf argues that German Muslims should not devote all their energies to civil society activism only. In an interview with the JUMA network – with JUMA standing for Young, Muslim, Active – Giousouf urged Muslims to help influence the political process by joining political parties.

Giousouf, who is the CDU/CSU’s first Muslim member of the Bundestag, asserted that Muslims would have to engage more directly with the intricacies of policymaking in order to effectuate more durable change: “It is decisive that your [i.e. young Muslims’] concerns become part of everyday political work and are not only formulated in Muslim civil society initiatives”, Giousouf observed. (( http://www.juma-ev.de/2017/09/ich-finde-es-schade-wenn-religion-als-uncool-bewertet-wird-cemile-giousouf-integrationsbeauftragte-der-cducsu/ ))

As of now, roughly 1,000 Muslims have become members of the CDU/CSU.((https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/muslime-und-die-wahl-es-fehlt-an-daten/ )) It remains to be seen whether Cemile Giousouf’s party as well as other political players will gradually become the home of a more distinctly Muslim voice.

German TV debate between Merkel and Schulz focuses on migration and Islam, catering to populists

German voters will choose a new chancellor on September 24 in an electoral contest pitting incumbent Christian Democrat Angela Merkel against Social Democrat Martin Schulz. After a brief surge in the polls earlier this year, Schulz’ SPD now looks set to lose the election to Merkel, trailing her CDU by about 15 percentage points in recent polls.

Four journalists steering the debate

Against this backdrop, the campaign’s only TV debate took place on September 03. Seen as the highlight of a previously rather lukewarm electoral contest, the debate was supposed to discuss four main topics in equal measure: migration, foreign policy, social justice, and internal security. Yet it was the first item on the list that took up nearly 60 of the debate’s 90 minutes.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

The four TV journalists hosting the programme – and particularly Claus Strunz of the Sat. 1 TV network – honed in on questions of immigration and integration, giving the discussion distinctly populist overtones.

It was above all the hosts who presented refugees and migrants as a threat to internal security and as a drain on Germany’s resources; who insinuated that Islam was inherently irreconcilable with German constitutional principles; and who claimed that Muslims were unwilling and unable to participate in German society – in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Populist demeanour

In order to pressure the two candidates into conceding that politicians were unable to take effective control of migration and to ensure migrants’ integration, the hosts (again with Strunz in the lead) resorted to all available means. Shortly after the onset of the broadcast, Strunz appeared to deliberately falsify a quote by Martin Schulz, in which the SPD politician had stated that refugees were “more valuable than gold” – a fact that Schulz managed to call out.

Other misrepresentations went unquestioned, however – such as the claim that Germany was home to 226,000 people who had no legal right to stay and remained in the country only due to politicians’ failure to expulse them.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/claus-strunz-internetnutzer-empoert-ueber-tv-duell-moderator-a-1165932.html ))

One-sided discussion of migration

Summing up the TV event, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper noted that it was as if the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) had been a prominent guest in the studio. It also castigated the complete failure to discuss the issue of migration from any other but the most myopic of all perspectives.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

For instance, not one of the hosts’ questions dealt with the deplorable conditions faced by migrants in Libyan camps or with the deaths of thousands of men and women in the Mediterranean. Neither did anyone inquire about the hundreds of attacks on refugee shelters or the resurgence of right-wing terrorism plots in Germany.

Negative Muslim reactions

The reactions of the targeted ‘foreigners’ and ‘Muslims’ were, predictably, negative. Author and activist Imran Ayata summed up their sentiment when he asserted that the “clear winner” of the debate had been the AfD.(( https://twitter.com/ImranAyata/status/904416160086716417 ))

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, noted that the hosts had fallen for the own “populist trap”. While moderator Claus Strunz had recently claimed that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing democracy”, Mazyek asserted that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing and ever more shallow media coverage”.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/aiman-mazyek/merkel-schulz-muslime-_b_17907854.html ))

Luay Mudhoon, renowned commentator on Islamic affairs, deemed the TV duel a “black day for German TV journalism” and bemoaned the “AfD-leaning leading questions”.(( https://twitter.com/Loay_Mudhoon/status/904426758325366785 )).

“Islam is a part of Germany”

Yet some Muslim observers chose to concentrate on the – rare – positive elements in the debate. The German-Turkish Journal welcomed the fact that both Chancellor Merkel and her challenger Martin Schulz had stressed the positive contributions of many Muslims to German society and that they had agreed to the statement that “Islam is a part of Germany”, albeit in a somewhat roundabout manner.(( https://dtj-online.de/angela-merkel-bekraeftigt-der-islam-gehoert-zu-deutschland-tv-duell-87597 ))

This question – “Is Islam a part of Germany” or “Does Islam belong to Germany” (“Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland?”) – has been a staple of public controversy since a 2010 speech by then-President Christian Wulff. Wulff asserted that Islam was indeed part of Germany’s social fabric.

A question of belonging

Ever since, commentators have argued about whether ‘Islam’ can belong to Germany or whether only ‘Muslims’ can (but not ‘Islam’). The same discussion regularly resurfaces and never yields any conclusion, in part because the question is itself a non-starter and any answer to it always seems to degenerate into nothing more than semantic sophistries.(( An entire academic literature has focused on this debate. For an overview see Spenlen, Klaus (ed.) (2013), Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland? Fakten und Analysen zu einem Meinungsstreit. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press. ))

Many have nevertheless rejected the notion of allowing either Islam or Muslims any part in German identity, citing the country’s inherent and primordial ‘Judeo-Christian’ make-up. (There is always something slightly odd about this claim, given that not too long ago Germany thoroughly erased Judaism from European lands by killing six million of its adherents.)

The Muslim ‘other’

Responding to these pressures, some Muslim voices seek to highlight that they are ‘more German’ than others, also in order to advance their own agendas. Ercan Karakoyun, leader of the Gülen movement in Germany, tweeted during the debate: “A form of Islam that can be reconciled with the Basic Law? There is one! #Gülen movement.”(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun/status/904417326442962944 ))

Ultimately, however, the enduring lesson of an evening spent in front of the television remains that people of Muslim faith are still seen as ‘other’ in significant parts of German society: ‘they’ really do not belong to ‘us’. The TV debate between Merkel and Schulz did nothing to challenge this perception and almost everything to reinforce it.

Tariq Ramadan: Stigmatising Muslims is a counterproductive response to terror attacks

Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim thinker and a professor at the University of Oxford, first argues that “it is important for us to be consistent in our condemnation of these criminal acts, and to maintain our support for all the victims, whoever they are, wherever they live.”

He argues for bringing all people together against senseless violence in the UK and globally. He warns that “to portray criminal acts as part of an ideological battle between extremist, anti-western Muslims and western people and values” alienates Muslims and ignores Muslim victims.

In his opinion, the demonisation of Islam contributes to radicalisation. More security is not the answer to the problem of terrorism. Rather, domestic policy needs to be meaningfully pluralistic and foreign policy should be based in economic and social justice. This includes recognising the British role in promoting  oppression abroad, including the effects of the Balfour Declaration on Palestinians and the effects of the invasion of Iraq on both Iraqis and Syrians.

Marine Le Pen says Assad solution to Syria crisis

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Monday called Syrian President Bashar Assad “the most reassuring solution for France,” a major divergence with her nation’s official policy.

Le Pen, head of the National Front, spoke after meetings with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. They were among numerous officials, including the Christian Maronite patriarch, that Le Pen was meeting on her two-day visit to Lebanon, a former French protectorate.

The trip represented the first major foray into foreign policy for Le Pen, a leading candidate in France’s April 23 and May 7 election.

She said she told Hariri that there is “no viable and workable solution” to the Syrian civil war beyond choosing between Assad and the Islamic State group.

“I clearly explained that in the political picture the least bad option is the politically realistic. It appears that Bashar al Assad is evidently today the most reassuring solution for France.”

Le Pen has made known her preference for Assad in the past — a position that runs counter to the French government’s strong anti-Assad approach — but it carries extra weight being stated while on a foreign visit with a Syrian neighbor, and during unusual meetings with the nation’s top officials. The trip is Le Pen’s first real public foray into foreign policy.

Before meeting with the prime minister, Le Pen had a visit with Aoun, the leader of a Christian party allied with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia fighting on the side of Assad.

Le Pen said she and Hariri, who has longstanding ties to France, agreed on “the absolute necessity” for nations wanting to fight the Islamic State group tearing Syria and Iraq apart to come “to the table,” an apparent reference to formal talks. She noted the threat to France of the Islamic State group which has claimed deadly attacks in Paris, Nice and elsewhere, and has lured hundreds of French youths to the war zones in Syria and Iraq.

Le Pen was also using her two-day visit to the former French protectorate — and her unusual encounter with a foreign president — to appeal to the thousands of French voters in Lebanon.

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 ))

How One Policy Change Could Wipe Out Muslim Civil Liberties

Designating Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization could lead to major fallout for American Muslims.

Members of the hardline anti-Islam lobby are eagerly anticipating the possibility of the Trump administration designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, which is increasingly likely if conspiracy theorists like Frank Gaffney play a prominent role in Trump’s transition team. Gaffney believes the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the US government at every level and has even questioned whether Barack Obama was “America’s first Muslim president” implementing the Brotherhood’s plans.

While a terrorist designation would have several foreign policy implications, experts say the measure is being pushed primarily by stateside anti-Islam extremists like Gaffney who believe it would empower the Trump administration to target a number of major Muslim American nonprofits.

“Let me be extremely clear,” said J.M. Berger, a counterterrorism analyst at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. “This initiative is concerned with controlling American Muslims, not with any issue pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood in any practical or realistic sense.”

Nathan Lean, author of The Islamophobia Industry, said such a designation could have chilling implications for Muslim civil society in the United States. Based on unfounded yet oft-repeated claims that American Muslim groups have ties to — or are outright fronts for — the Muslim Brotherhood, Lean said, the designation would provide cover for the administration to shut down nonprofits, maliciously prosecute individuals, and pursue other acts that would, in turn, leave ordinary American Muslims more vulnerable to marginalization and repression.

“I believe that Muslim civil liberties could potentially, with this policy move, be wiped off the map,” Lean said. “It sounds like hyperbole, but I mean that very seriously.”

Arab American group urges boycott of White House Iftar dinner

July 14, 2014

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) urged all Arab and Muslims in the United States to boycott the Obama administration’s celebration of the holy month of Ramadan on Monday, arguing the president has condoned the killing of Palestinians in Gaza and the spying on some Americans based on their Muslim identities.

Like George W. Bush before him, Obama has hosted an Iftar dinner — the meal after sunset that breaks the day of fasting — each year he’s been in office. Other federal agencies, including the State Department, also hold iftar dinners to commemorate the holiday.

The ADC, the nation’s largest Arab American group, issued a statement citing both the administration’s support for Israel’s bombing campaign in response to airstrikes by the militant group Hamas as reasons not to participate in the administration’s celebrations.

Obama remains overwhelmingly popular with Muslims, although he has recently come under fire since Glenn Greewald and Murtza Hussain reported former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden had documents indicating the NSA had conducted surveillance on five American Muslim leaders.

The custom of celebrating Ramadan in the White House dates back at least to 1996, when then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted a dinner during Eid-al-Fitr, the three-day festival marking the end of Ramadan. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan noted in an e-mail Monday that the tradition may go back two centuries, according to accounts from the nation’s early days.

“Some consider President Thomas Jefferson to have hosted the first Iftar by a U.S. president, as he hosted a sunset dinner with an envoy from Tunisia over 200 years ago,” Meehan wrote. “The invited guests tonight include elected officials, members of the diplomatic corps, religious and grassroots leaders in the Muslim American community, and leaders of diverse faiths.”

The State Department’s Arabic outreach team spoofed an al-Qaeda video

In the war for Middle Eastern hearts and minds, the U.S. Digital Outreach Team is on the virtual front lines: debating America’s critics on Twitter, commenting on Arabic message boards and generally engaging with anyone they can reach. But that outreach appears to have crossed a new line: spoofing al-Qaeda propaganda videos on an official State Department YouTube channel.

The Digital Outreach Team is fairly transparent about its activities — as evidenced by that closing credit. According to an Associated Press article from April, a month before the Zawahiri spoof went online, the team consists of roughly 50 native Arabic, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu speakers. It’s grown considerably since January 2009, when a State Department bulletin listed only 10 team members; it’s been around, per the bulletin, since November 2006.

The team runs Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels, and it tangles with commenters on popular Arab news and discussion sites, always identifying themselves as State Department employees and using their real names. In 2012, they had 7,000 online engagements, reports the AP, up from 2,000 in 2009. The idea is to “explain U.S. foreign policy and to counter misinformation” through the power of Diplomacy 2.0, says the State Department bulletin.

The program’s success is difficult to gauge. A 2012 study of the program, published in The Middle East Journal, concluded that engagement did little to change the tone of anti-American conversations. In a sample of several hundred forum posts, users were more likely to ridicule or refute the Outreach Team than engage with it. Only 4 percent of posts expressed positive views of the team, and a sliver more — 4.8 percent — expressed positive views toward U.S. foreign policy.

Interview with Matenia Sirseloudi: What Drives Young People to Jihad?

What is behind the Islamicisation and radicalisation of young people in Europe? To what extent do European foreign policies and military interventions abroad play a role in this? Albrecht Metzger spoke to sociologist Dr Matenia Sirseloudi about politically motivated violence and radicalisation processes

Why are jihadists attacking the West? Do they hate us for what we are or for what we do?

Matenia Sirseloudi: There is, of course, a part of the jihadist ideology that wants to attack us for what we are. On the other hand, the impetus to take action and attack us comes from a declaration of defensive jihad against us. This relates to our actions and in particular to our foreign policy actions. The jihadists consider these actions to be an attack on the Muslim world.

You are conducting research into something known as “spill-over effects”, in other words the extent to which western intervention in Muslim countries could contribute to the radicalisation of Muslims in Europe. What led you to this subject?

Sirseloudi: After the attacks in Madrid and London, the European Commission decided to invest more in prevention and to focus on radicalisation processes in the Islamist environment that could lead to terrorist acts in Europe. Within this context, I conducted an initial study of the impact of external conflicts on Islamist radicalisation processes in Europe.

In our project, which is supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), we are now researching the effect that these external factors – including Germany’s foreign and security policy behaviour – have on the jihadist discourse and on three different radicalised environments: the jihadists, the Islamists, and vulnerable youths.

As you know, the argument used by the jihadist-inspired perpetrators to justify the attacks on the commuter trains in Madrid in 2004 was that they wanted to force Spain out of the alliance of countries that had been involved in the military intervention in Iraq. Similarly, the French gunman Mohammed Merah used external conflicts – in his case the Middle East and Afghanistan – to justify his targeted murders.

 

Fewest Numbers of Americans Concerned about Terrorism since 9/11

Findings from the 2012 Chicago Council Survey of American Public Opinion

September 10, 2012 WASHINGTON, D.C. – Fewer Americans are concerned about international terrorism as a “critical” threat to the United States than at any point since September 11, 2001, according to the 2012 Chicago Council Survey released today. While a majority is still worried, the intensity of concern about terrorism has steadily declined. At the same time, most Americans do not credit the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan with reducing the threat.

The survey report, Foreign Policy in the New Millennium, from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, will be discussed by a panel of experts hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and NPR as part of The National Conversation series. For more information, download the reportwatch a live webcast of the event starting at 12:30 p.m. EST, and follow @ChicagoCouncil and @TheWilsonCenter for live updates.

While Americans consider the Middle East as the greatest source of future threats, they are gradually shifting their foreign policy focus towards Asia and a rising China, viewed as important more for their economic dynamism than as a potential threat. For the first time since the Council first asked the question in 1994, a majority of Americans (52%) see Asia as more important to the United States than Europe (47%).

The 2012 Chicago Council Survey finds that the views of “Millennials”—those between the ages of 18 and 29—are shifting in a more pronounced way than those of older Americans. They see the world as less threatening, and show less concern than other age groups about international terrorism (see figure), Islamic fundamentalism, and the development of China as a world power. Millennials also favor a less activist approach to foreign policy, with a slight majority (52%) saying the United States should “stay out” of world affairs, compared to just 35 percent among older age groups.

When looking at partisan differences, the 2012 Chicago Council Survey finds that political polarization on many aspects of U.S. foreign policy is overstated. Opinions in “red” and “blue” districts overall are similar. While the parties often differ in degree, there is generally consensus among the majorities. Independents, however, distance themselves from both Republicans and Democrats. They are less likely than both to support an active U.S. role in global affairs and less likely to view U.S. leadership as “very” desirable.

Other key findings of the 2012 Chicago Council Survey include:

•         Just over half (54%) support an attack by U.S. ground troops against terrorist training camps and facilities, down from 82 percent in 2002.

•         Majorities oppose the UN authorizing a strike on Iran (51% opposed), oppose a unilateral U.S. strike on Iran (70% opposed), and do not want to get involved in a potential Iran-Israel war (59% opposed).

•         To deal with the crisis in Syria, majorities of Americans support diplomatic and economic sanctions (63%) as well as a no-fly zone in Syria (58%).

More than 1,800 Americans were surveyed for the 2012 Chicago Council Survey.  The 2012 Chicago Council Survey was made possible by generous support from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the United States-Japan Foundation.

###

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, founded in 1922, is a prominent, independent and nonpartisan organization committed to influencing the discourse on global issues through contributions to opinion and policy formation, leadership dialogue, and public learning.  The Chicago Council has been conducting nationwide public opinion surveys on American views on foreign policy since 1974.  These surveys provide insights into the current and long-term foreign policy attitudes of the American public on a wide range of global topics.