German Turks split on referendum, Erdoğan’s critique of Europe

In Turkey, voting for the country’s crucial constitutional referendum will take place on April 16, 2017. President Erdoğan is hoping for a resounding Evet (Yes) vote in order to transform Turkey into a presidential republic and to enhance the powers of his office. In Germany, 1.4 million German Turks holding a Turkish passport were already able to vote between March 27 and April 9 in consulates and 13 polling stations around the country.

German Turks as a critical constituency

As opinion polls in Turkey have tightened, German Turks have become a crucial factor in the election, potentially able to tip the scales either way. Consequently, AKP politicians have spent considerable energy on trying to mobilise Turkish voters in Germany in favour of the presidential system.

The German government and local administrations proceeded to prohibit several campaign speeches by Turkish ministers. None of these events had diplomatic consequences as severe as the Netherlands’ expulsion of the Turkish Minister for Family Affairs shortly before the Dutch election.(( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/11/erdogan-brands-dutch-nazi-remnants-for-barring-turkish-mp )) Nevertheless, the Turkish leadership has not openly accused German authorities of fascist practices and of seeking to weaken Turkey by preventing a Yes-vote in the referendum.

Belated organisation of the No campaign

Compared to the Evet camp, their Hayır (No) opponents, have tended to organise late in Germany. Fears of potential repercussions of an open anti-Erdoğan stance appear to have played a role in this.

In recent weeks, German media have reported on extensive intelligence and spying operations of the Turkish secret service, MİT. The agency has a strong presence in Germany with reportedly 400 full-time employees. Observers noted MİT’s attempt to spread a “climate of fear” among Turkish dissidents in Germany – Kurds, Gülenists, Kemalists, and leftists alike.(( http://www.dw.com/de/geheimdienstexperte-t%C3%BCrkei-sch%C3%BCrt-ein-klima-der-angst/a-38158666?maca=de-domschule-de-pol-we-eur-1200-rdf ))

At first sight, the German Turkish vote appears Erdoğan’s vote to lose: In 2015’s parliamentary elections, 60 per cent of German Turks opted for the AKP. However, less than 50 per cent of those eligible to vote actually cast a ballot, leaving a considerable marge of uncertainty over the actual allegiances of the community.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschtuerken-gegen-erdogans-referendum-14928470-p2.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

A loyalty questioned

Against the backdrop of this uncertainty, the outcome of the referendum among German Turks seems just as unforeseeable as the overall referendum result. What is certain, however, is that the Turks and people of Turkish heritage living in Germany have been placed in a real bind. As relations between Berlin and Ankara have soured, their loyalty to Germany has been questioned time and again.

What is more, on the conservative side of the political spectrum there have been repeated attempts to roll back dual citizenship provisions, with the aim of forcing German Turks to choose between their allegiance to Turkey or to Germany.

Europe and Germany as the villain

With the Turkish President – the strongman and thus the very embodiment of the Turkish nation to many of his supporters – receiving unprecedented opprobrium in much of mainstream German political and media discourses, some German Turks have shifted to a more pro-Erdoğan position.

Many young attendees at a loyalist rally led by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu evoked feelings of indignation at what they perceived to be a humiliation of Turkey in the German press. More generally, many of them asserted that the restrictions placed on Turkish politicians’ speeches showed that Germany was not a true democracy and that freedom of speech was systematically limited to their detriment.(( http://www.jetzt.de/politik/deutschtuerken-wie-denken-sie-ueber-erdogan-und-die-deutsche-politik ))

This line is also held by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), a pro-AKP lobbying organisation active in Turkish communities across Europe. Its chairman Zafer Sırakaya asserted that “at the moment in Germany freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly only apply to the opponents of the constitutional reform”.(( http://uetd.org/meinungs-und-versammlungsfreiheit-haben-nur-gegner-der-tuerkischen-verfassungsreform/?lang=de ))

Taking a stand against dictatorship in Turkey

Conversely, the largest ethnically Turkish association in Germany, Türkische Gemeinde in Deutschland (TGD), has become a vocal critic of Erdoğan since 2013 and openly supports the No campaign.(( http://www.tgd.de/2017/03/22/referendum-in-der-tuerkei-worum-geht-es-eigentlich/ )). The association, together with a number of German Turkish politicians, also published a manifesto calling for a No vote and declaring solidarity with oppressed groups in Turkey.(( https://www.mehr-demokratie.de/tuerkei-aufruf.html ))

These sentiments are echoed in the statements of many of those German Turks willing to speak about their objections to the presidential system and Erdoğan’s quest for power to the media (although some only do so on condition of anonymity).(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/gelsenkirchen-was-deutsch-tuerken-ueber-erdogan-denken-a-1107002.html ))

Feridun Zaimoğlu, writer and public intellectual captured an oft-voiced argument when he stated that “as a Turk or German Turk one cannot benefit from freedom in Germany and then vote for the unfreedom of Turkey. Whoever does that is a coward. And sick.”(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/15/deutschtuerken-referendum-wahlkampf-tuerkei/komplettansicht ))

A community divided

Yet the sentiment perhaps most widely expressed by German Turks is a sentiment of regret. They perceive the diplomatic rows as a threat to their position in Germany. The stance on President Erdoğan and his constitutional referendum has become to many a choice between Turkey and Germany.

This choice also divides friends and family, with close family members breaking off contact or insulting each other as ‘traitors’.(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/15/deutschtuerken-referendum-wahlkampf-tuerkei/komplettansicht )) How these divisions could be healed in the future is anybody’s guess.

Macron and Le Pen debate burkini

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Islam does have a problem with homosexuality. But so do western conservatives

Omar Mateen – who shot dead 50 people in an Orlando gay club – was both an

Islamist terrorist and a violent homophobe.

These things are not mutually exclusive. They are concomitant. Mateen attacked

the West in general but targeted gay people in particular. Inevitably some people

say Islam is incompatible with Western life because it is incompatible with our

attitudes towards sexuality.

Are they right? Well, it’s complicated. And on a matter as sensitive as this, there

is nothing wrong with admitting that it’s complicated.

Liberals, say the Right, must find themselves in a terrible quandary. As

supporters of both gay liberation and multiculturalism, how do they process the

fact that many Muslims believe homosexuality is a crime?

Conservatives insist that their confident defence of Western history and

philosophy is more gay-friendly than liberal multiculturalism.

Liberals listening to Trump and Spahn might choke on their tofu. When, they

would counter, did Western conservatives suddenly become fans of sexual

freedom? Haven’t they spent decades fighting gay rights?

Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, was one of the first Republicans to say that

Orlando was an attack on gay people – and good for him. But Left-wing critics

argued that his outspoken opposition to gay marriage was part of the cultural

environment in which Mateen’s bigotry grew.

Islam wasn’t the only religious authority that Mateen would have encountered in

Florida telling him that gay people are going to Hell. He could have tuned in to

any evangelical radio show to hear that.

When we ask Muslims to interrogate attitudes towards sexuality in their

community, we do so assuming that our own culture is 100 per cent gay friendly.

It is not.

Polls suggest that around a third of Americans still believe that homosexuality

should be discouraged. Homosexual acts have only been legal in the West since

the 1960s. Gay marriage has only been on the agenda for a decade and is still

bitterly resented by social conservatives.

The conservatives are right: Islam does have a problem with homosexuality. Yet

so do many conservatives. And it would be an inversion of Western values to

insist that any individual suddenly rethink their religious beliefs if they want to

be accepted into society.

But Muslims, I’m sure, would welcome a social contract requiring everyone to

obey the law and respect the distinction between church and state. And, most of

all, live and let live.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/13/islam-does- have-a- problem-

with-homosexuality- but-so- do-western- c/

Lawsuit claims Muslims including a 4-year-old are unfairly on terrorist watch list

A lawsuit filed last week claims that thousands of Muslim Americans, among them a 4-year old, have been unfairly put on a federal watch list designed to screen potential terrorists.

The class-action complaint criticizes the Terrorist Screening Database, a list of about 1.5 million people overseen by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. It’s one of several lawsuits that have been filed in recent years challenging the list, saying that it’s unconstitutional in how it’s compiled and used.

The lawsuit was filed by the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic two Michigan lawyers and an attorney in Washington against the FBI center and other federal agencies. More than half the 18 plaintiffs listed in the complaint live in southeastern Michigan.

“Our federal government is imposing an injustice of historic proportions upon … thousands,” says the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia, which is where the list is compiled. “Through extra-judicial and secret means, the federal government is ensnaring individuals. … The secret federal watch list is the product of bigotry and misguided, counterproductive zeal.”

In addition to being unable to fly in some cases, Muslims are being jailed, interrogated and threatened by federal agents, the lawsuit alleges. In other cases, FBI agents pressure people on the list to become informants if they want to get off the list, the complaint says. Another problem is the lack of redress, with many Muslims unable to get off the list and unsure how they got on it, plaintiffs said.

The Terrorist Screening Center was established in 2003 by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Since then, the “watch list has swelled,” with more than 1.5 million nominations to the watch list submitted by federal agencies since 2009, 99 percent of which have been approved, said the lawsuit.

The lawsuit said such a list is too broad, targeting Muslims because of their faith, and ends up being ineffective in protecting the U.S.

“The federal watch list diminishes, rather than enhances, our national security because the number of innocent Americans on the list is becoming so voluminous that the purpose of having a list is significantly undermined as all are being treated as the same,” says the complaint.

A spokesman for the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, Dave Joly, said it couldn’t comment on pending litigation, and can’t comment on who’s on the list. On its website, the FBI defended the list, saying it doesn’t target people solely because of their religion or ethnicity.

“Generally, individuals are included in the Terrorist Screening Database when there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a known or suspected terrorist,” says the Terrorist Screening Center. “Individuals must not be watch-listed based solely on race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, or First Amendment-protected activities such as free speech, the exercise or religion, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and petitioning the government for redress of grievances.”

Plaintiffs said they often see a “SSSS” designation on their boarding passes, which signifies to the airlines and federal officials they are suspected terrorists. The designation is shared with state and local agencies, making it difficult for the plaintiffs in other areas of life, such as interactions with local police, said the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says many are either placed on what’s called a Selectee List, which subjects them to extra scrutiny, or the more stringent No-Fly List, which prevents the traveler from flying.

One of the plaintiffs is a 4-year-old boy from California, listed in the lawsuit as “Baby Doe.”

“He was 7 months old when his boarding pass was first stamped with the ‘SSSS’ designation, indicating that he had been designated as a ‘known or suspected terrorist,'” said the lawsuit. “While passing through airport security, he was subjected to extensive searches, pat-downs and chemical testing.”

“Every item in his mother’s baby bag was searched, including every one of his diapers.”

Another plaintiff, Anas Elhady, 22, of Dearborn, Mich., said he “is routinely referred to secondary inspection, handcuffed and detained by CBP (Customs and Border Protection) at land border crossings when he attempts to re-enter the United States from Canada.”

“CBP officers routinely subject him to a prolonged detention and questioning for approximately four to twelve hours each time. Moreover, he is routinely asked questions about his religious beliefs and practices, what sect of Islam he belongs to, what mosque he prays in, among other things.”

Elhady said he filed a request with the agency to get off the list, but the problems persisted.

In 2015, as he was trying to cross back into Detroit over the Ambassador Bridge after a vacation in Canada, he was thrown into a “small, freezing cold holding cell with bright lights” without his jacket and shoes, said the lawsuit.

“After several hours, Mr. Elhady knocked on the door repeatedly and begged for someone to help him. His pleas for help were ignored. Afterward, his body began shaking uncontrollably and he fell unconscious.”

Elhady said he was then taken to a hospital. Later, on Dec. 2, an FBI agent contacted “Elhady and informed him that his phone was being tapped and that all his calls were being listened to by the FBI,” reads the complaint.

“Elhady’s boarding pass continues to be stamped with the ‘SSSS’ designation when (he) travels by air, indicating that he has been designated as a ‘known or suspected terrorist.'”

Akeel, the Troy attorney helped file the lawsuit, said: “Americans young and old are being placed on the list without proper accountability. There is a swelling group of second-class American citizens being formed here at an alarming rate.”

More American than apple pie, Muslims have been migrating to the US for centuries

Muslims have been coming to the US for centuries, but you wouldn’t know it by the intense debates that continue to surround the movement of Muslims across international borders.

Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have called for the US to effectively ban Syrian refugees from entering the country. The South Carolina Senate passed a bill that would require all refugees to register with the state, subjecting themselves to surveillance. On social media, the hashtag #StopIslam trended internationally in the hours after the Mar. 22 terrorist attack in Brussels.

Together, these reactions contribute to the idea that Muslim migration to the US is somehow distinct from America’s history as a “nation of immigrants.” Columnist Mark Nuckols summarized the sentiment when he wrote in Townhall about “problematic immigrants” to the US.

The “most problematic,” he writes, are Muslims from the Middle East and Africa. “This most recent wave of immigrants are often more resistant to easy assimilation and more reluctant to accept this country as truly their own,” he says.

In truth, Muslims have been part of this country since before the thirteen original colonies even declared their independence and became a nation. The examples below offer a glimpse of the long history of their migration and contributions to the US.

Muslims were among the first to explore the “New World”

A circular map in black and white lines

In his book Meadows of Gold, published around 950 CE, Muslim geographer Al-Musudi described the experiences of Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad, a Muslim explorer who he claims sailed across the Atlantic in 889 CE. This reconstruction of a world map from Meadows of Gold depicts a world before Europeans arrived in the Americas.

Individuals like Christopher Columbus are often recognized as among the first to “discover” the Americas (despite, of course, the long presence of the indigenous).

But those explorations would not have been possible without Muslims.

Historian Leslie Brout Jr. notes in his book The African Experience in Spanish America: 1502 to the Present Day that many Muslim men accompanied European travelers clamoring to “discover” the Americas in the 1500s. Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Hernán Cortés, Pánfilo de Narváez, Pedro de Alvarado, Francisco de Montejo, and other conquistadors all brought Muslims with them to aid in their early expeditions in the Western Hemisphere.

For example, a Muslim man named Estevanico was sold into slavery in the 1520s and brought to the Americas to aid Spain’s exploration of present-day Florida. Although he was a slave until his death, Brout writes that Estevanico became famous for completing an eight-year journey on foot from Florida to Mexico City.

The labor of enslaved Muslims helped build the United States

As historian Sylviane A. Diouf writes in her book Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, Muslim men, women, and children were among the first people taken by force from their homes in West Africa in the Atlantic slave trade.

It’s estimated that between 10 and 15 percent of all Africans forced into bondage in the United States were Muslims. These individuals, many of whom were among the most educated and renowned in their homelands, were forced to work as slaves in the Americas. Several of them published narratives about their time in captivity.

A framed portrait of an elderly man on one side; a stately oil painting on the other

Left: Omar Ibn Sayyid, a Muslim slave in the United States, published his autobiography in 1831. Right: The first known portrait of an African man by a British portraitist was completed shortly after Job Ben Solomon’s arrival in London in 1733.

Omar Ibn Sayyid, for example, was taken from his home in present day Senegal and forced into slavery in South Carolina around the year 1770. In 1831 he published his autobiography in Arabic, which was later translated into English.

Sayyid’s autobiography reveals in his own words his experiences being taken from his home, his life under slavery in the United States and his devotion to Islam. Today, a mosque in Fayetteville, North Carolina is named in his honor.

In his book Muslims in America, historian Edward Curtis describes the experience of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, who became known as Job Ben Solomon after he was taken from West Africa in 1731 and sold into slavery to a tobacco farmer in Annapolis, Maryland.

Solomon was able to escape slavery after less than three years of bondage. He could read and write in Arabic, so he wrote a letter to his father with the hopes that he might send money to ransom his freedom. His father never received the letter. However, the letter did finds its way to the hands of James Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia, who had it translated into English.

Oglethorpe was so impressed with Solomon that he purchased the freedom bond himself.

Slavery ends, Muslim influence continues

Historian Edward Curtis writes in his book Muslims in America that Alexander Russell Webb used Islam in America to “promote Islam as a religion that expressed some of America’s most deeply held values, especially those of rationality, human equality, broadmindedness, and acceptance of religious diversity.”

Muslims played important roles in securing a Northern victory in the United States Civil War and bringing about the end of slavery. Curtis’s Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History explains that nearly 300 people with Muslim last names fought in the Civil War.

Several became officers, including Moses Osman, a captain in the 104th Illinois Infantry. After being subjected to slavery in Turkey, Russia, and the US when he was forced to serve a European traveler who crossed the Atlantic, Mohammed Ali ben Said fought in the Civil War from 1863 to 1865 and earned the rank of sergeant in the Union Army. After his emancipation, Said went on to travel the world before settling in Alabama. He  published his autobiography in 1873 before passing away in 1882.

While emancipation allowed former Muslim slaves to practice their religion more freely, they were not the only ones who practiced Islam in the US after the Civil War.

Alexander Russell Webb, born in 1846, was a middle class white Protestant who converted to Islam in 1887 after traveling the world in his capacity as the US Consul to the Philippines. When he returned to the US in 1893, he started a newspaper called “The Moslem World,” published a book called Islam in America and was selected to be a representative of Islam at the Chicago World Fair.

Nativism and exclusionary immigration laws took hold in the early 1900s, but Muslims lived all over the country

Mother Mosque in Iowa, white building with green roof

By the 1930s, Muslims established mosques in Maine, North Dakota, Michigan, Indiana and Iowa. The Mother Mosque of America, built in 1934 by Lebanese and Syrian immigrants and their ancestors in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, remains the oldest surviving mosque in the US.

Credit: RifeIdeas/CC BY-SA 3.0

With the turn of the 20th century came the rise of anti-immigrant feelings among Americans. Nevertheless, Muslim American communities continued to grow. In North Dakota, for example, Syrian and Lebanese Muslim immigrants worked as farmers in the Great Plains.

As part of the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration interviewed Mike Abdullah, a Syrian native, about life in North Dakota. Abdullah and his fellow community members in North Dakota were practicing Muslims whose experiences mirrored those of many farmers who worked the land in the American heartland from the 1900s through the middle of the century.

The Dillingham Commission formed in 1907 out of growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the US. The “Dictionary of Races or Peoples,” included in the 41-volume report that the Commission published in 1911, tried to legitimize ideas about racial difference, which were often intertwined with religion. The Commission’s report helped create laws that curtailed immigration from countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southern and Eastern Europe.

Credit: University of California Libraries via archive.org

Muslims lived and worked across the US. Historian Vivek Bald writes in Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian Americans that Muslims labored not only as farmers but also as industrial and service workers. They immersed themselves in Creole, African American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods in New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore and New York City. The growth of these diverse communities continued despite the passing of laws that didn’t bode well for Muslims hoping to come to the US.

The Immigration Act of 1917 barred immigration from Asia, and the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 introduced numerical quotas that restricted the entry of immigrants according to their country of origin. Many countries with sizeable Muslim populations received low quotas and Muslims from Asian countries were excluded outright.

The Hart-Cellar Act of 1965 eventually eliminated national origins quotas and made it easier for Muslims — at least those who were skilled and professional workers — to migrate to the US. This landmark legislation was just part of the continuation of Muslim migration to the US — not the beginning.

The Islam debate: The dual consciousness of Muslims

Muslims today can no longer think, or ultimately exist, outside the widespread lore about Islam, which links them to discussions about terror, violence and the separation of religion and society. They can never be free of the neverending stream of projections about Islam. An essay by Farid Hafez

Has anything changed for Muslims, since the latest in a long line of so-called jihadist terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 130 people on 13 November 2015? As in the aftermath of any terrorist act, there have been debates on Islam as a religion and on ″its″ role in the attacks. Europe has responded not only with tighter security measures, including calling a state of emergency in France, but also by declaring war.

The attack in Paris was probably not the last: European societies must now face the kind of day-to-day life that has long since become normal elsewhere, complete with attacks and dead civilians. In future, European societies in general and their Muslims in particular will have to deal with issues such as trade-offs between security and freedom. Muslims will continue to discuss what reaction is the most sensible and expedient. Distancing themselves from the attacks? Or condemning them? Do we need the umpteenth fatwa against terrorism in general and Daesh in particular? And if so, who actually needs it?

The European citizens who ascribe to Islam a fundamental affinity for violence? Or the young Muslims who are seeking religious orientation in the face of racial exclusion and the piecemeal return to their Islam? Presumably we will be revisiting these questions again and again in the near future.

What’s the impact on Muslims?

In this article, though, I would like to touch on something else that is in reality ubiquitous but scarcely ever addressed explicitly. Namely: what impact does such debate have on Muslims? What traces does it leave behind, what scars are inflicted on the Muslim self-image as a result of this discussion about Islam and terrorism? To illustrate, let′s start with a Facebook post. Recently, a well-educated, politically active adult Muslim woman posted on the occasion of the birth of her child:

“I gave birth to a boy in the Christian hospital XY, with nuns as nurses and a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf at the reception desk; I named him for the most beautiful person and prophet XY, with the most beautiful character and an exemplary life story. Above my bed hung a cross and a picture of the Virgin Mary and her son, the prophet Jesus. Religious symbols? For me, it was the perfect accompaniment for a wonderful new life!”

Farid Hafez accepts the Bruno Kreisky Recognition Prize 2010 (photo: cc-by/Fatih Ozturk)

Farid Hafez is a doctor of political science and currently does research at the University of Salzburg. He is the editor of the Yearbook for Islamophobia Research and of the European Islamophobia Report, which will be published for the first time in 2016

The post was probably prompted by the announcement by the editor-in-chief of an Austrian newspaper just a few days before that he was considering reviving the headscarf ban debate, at the suggestion of a representative of the Christian Democratic Party.

The post raises many questions: what causes a woman who is giving birth to new life for the first time and is likely to feel emotions of indescribable happiness to cast this unique experience in a political context? What is happening in the mind of this person? The answer to this question may lead us to one of the biggest challenges faced by Muslims today all over the world and especially in the West: Muslims are trapped in the discursive spider web of a pervasive discourse on Islam.

By this, I mean that it is no longer conceivable for Muslims today to think, or ultimately to exist, outside the widespread lore about Islam, which links them to discussions about terror, violence and the separation of religion and society. Simply to exist. To be a human being. To experience a birth without having to interpret the cross, the nuns and Muslim nurses apart from their humanity. To experience and live through a birth. To be free of everything that is constantly projected onto them.

Dual consciousness

In ″The Souls of Black Folk″, the pre-eminent African-American thinker W.E.B. DuBois (1868–1963) describes a condition he dubs “double consciousness”, by which blacks are only able to see themselves through the eyes of others (whites). They can thus never regard themselves as fully fledged human beings because they are always caught up in a dichotomy, wanting to be human – i.e. normal – but being black – and thus outside the norm.

Many passed down this inferiority complex to their children, encouraging them to make life easier for themselves by becoming invisible, as Jean-Paul Sartre shows in his preface to Fanon’s ″The Wretched of the Earth″. Today there are many Muslims who try to make themselves invisible because they want to be humans, in other words, normal.

And then there are those who publicly avow Islam and thus take on all the challenges and discursive conflicts that this entails. In their effort to counter the hegemonic discourse, they overlook how trapped they are in exactly this discursive web. They have to take a stand. They cannot remain silent. Because silence could be taken as tacit consent to this or that terrorist attack.

Trend towards self-discipline

Recently, a former class representative wrote on the Facebook wall of a Muslim girl who used to be a pupil of his: “To remain silent on the terror in Paris (and elsewhere) means to accept or even to endorse it”. If Muslims avow their faith, they are then compelled to answer for it. If they make themselves invisible, they escape that pressure.

In a second stage, this discursive pressure leads to Muslims beginning to discipline themselves. Parents avoid giving their children toy guns in order not to be perceived as radical. Mothers and in particular fathers do not allow their young daughters to wear a headscarf on the way to the mosque, so as not to attract disparaging glances from those who regard this as a sign of subjugation.

Parents begin to bring up their children according to standards that attempt to counter the negative stereotypes, conspiracy theories and horrific imaginings that are part of the discourse.

Caught in the discursive web, it would seem difficult to breathe the air of freedom, to be human, to live a life apart from all the allegations, innuendo and suspicion. And yet it is this very freedom that is the first and most fundamental condition for thinking and living as a human being. In dignity.

Farid Hafez

© Qantara.de 2015

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

The submissive subject tries to evade this discursive pressure by making himself invisible. Psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon spoke in relation to Algeria of the desire of the formerly colonised subjects to be white.

Al-Azhar condemns anti-Islam cartoons on Dutch television

© epa
© epa

Al-Azhar, one of the most prominent sunni Islamic institutes of higher learning, has condemned a broadcast on Dutch television that showed cartoons about the Islamic prophet Muhammed. According to the institute located in Egypt the caricatures conceal a “sick fantasy”.

The video was produced by the anti-Islam political party PVV (Partij voor de Vrijheid) of Geert Wilders and was showed during the Dutch Broadcasting Time for Political Parties. In a declaration Al-Azhar calls upon Muslims to “ignore this act of terror.” “The stature of the prophet of mercy and humanity is too high and honorable to be damaged by drawings that do not respect moral or decent norms.”

The PVV leader Geert Wilders preceded the video with the words: “The best way to show terrorists that they will never win is by doing that which they are trying to prevent us to do. The cartoons were not shown to provoke but to show that we defend freedom of speech and will never bow to violence. Freedom of speech should always win vis-a-vis violence and terror.”

Linda Sarsour: Why this has been the worst year for American Muslims since 9/11

The number of hate crimes against members of the Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities has dramatically increased. There is a growing disconnect between freedom of speech and the freedom to practice religion without fear or intimidation: Increasingly, irresponsible and rhetorical bullying is leading to violent acts against a vulnerable minority.
Recent articles have questioned the shady practices of FBI counterterrorism strategies: Informants have been sought out and coerced through torture; fictitious entrapment scenarios have been created; and in the midst of this there are still many unanswered questions about the shooting of a black Muslim man under surveillance by a joint terrorism task force in Boston. Where was law enforcement when a white man from Georgia plantedProtesters a bomb in a city park in order to sow fear against Muslims?

Half of Muslims sees no place for democracy in Islam

Wednesday February 25th there was a public hearing on radicalization and jihadism in the Dutch parliament. There, Paul Scheffer, specialized in integration issues, stated that according to a big minority and perhaps a majority of Dutch Muslims democracy and Islam do not fit together. Scheffer is basing himself on a research conducted by Ruud Koopmans. On the other side, ‘native’ Dutch people see no place for Islam in their democracy.

Thus a question arises: “How does one from an islamic standpoint relates to democracy and how relates democracy itself towards new religions?”

According to Scheffer authorities and educational institutions lack the promotion of freedom for everyone. “If the Muslim community states: you should be accepting towards us, I say: Yes, but are you also accepting towards the Dutch society? This is a fair question. Are you then also accepting the equality between man and woman and do you accept homosexuals in our community?”
He also thinks that part of radicalization can be explained because of inconsistence when it comes to the norms of freedom. The Netherlands is preaching freedom, but has at the same time Saudi Arabia as its ally.

Representatives from the Muslim community disagreed during the hearing on their responsibility against radicalization and jihadism in the Netherlands. According to Ibrahim Wijbenga (youth worker) the Muslim community should speak out more clearly against jihadism and radicalization. Politician Selcuk Őztürk disagrees with him. Said Idbid, board member of the Ibn Khattab mosque in the city of Almere says he is already trying for years to keep youth from radicalizing. He thinks that youth becomes radicalized because of ideological and theological convictions, but according to Latifa Bakrimi from the Hague municipality a lack of perspectives also play a role. Habib El Kaddouri from the Collaboration Dutch Moroccans says what is needed is to invest in prevention.