German Muslims’ react to election results, rise of far-right AfD party

Germany has gone to the polls – and the results have thoroughly shaken the country’s political scene. The impression, prevailing at times in sections of the liberal international media, of Germany as a beacon of stability in a Western world marred by the rise of populism had for a long time been a faulty one. The election results of September 24th should finally dispel this myth.

A diminished Chancellor

To be sure, Mrs. Merkel will most likely remain Chancellor for a fourth term. Yet after her CDU/CSU party obtained only 32.9 per cent of the popular vote – its worst score since 1949 – many are expecting her to step down and make way for a successor before the next scheduled elections in 2021.((http://www.stuttgarter-zeitung.de/inhalt.kanzlerdaemmerung-in-berlin-wie-lange-bleibt-merkel-noch-kanzlerin.a322c77d-9fc8-4cff-9792-3569fd3cff5a.html ))

Not only the CDU/CSU took a drubbing, however – the Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel’s junior partner in the outgoing coalition government, also suffered heavy losses. In what amounted to the SPD’s fourth electoral defeat since its ousting from the chancellery in 2005, the party only took 20.5 per cent of the vote – the worst results of the post-war era.

‘Jamaica’ coalition at odds on immigration, Islam

With the SPD immediately declaring that it would not join another Merkel-led coalition government, the Chancellor is now faced with the unenviable task of having to piece together a new government made up of her CDU/CSU party, the Greens, and the Free Democrats (FDP).

Whilst this coalition is gaily referred to as the “Jamaica” option because of the black, green, and yellow colours of its composite parties, reaching an agreement between conservatives, liberals, and ecologists will be anything but easy.

Not least with respect to questions of immigration, integration, identity, and Islam the three parties espoused strongly diverging positions throughout the electoral campaign. These differences are likely to harden now: the conservative wing of the CDU/CSU is attributing the severe losses of the election night to an insufficiently conservative profile. Long-standing critics of Merkel’s centrist course announced immediately after the publication of the first exit polls that they would seek to “close the party’s right flank”.((http://www.fr.de/politik/bundestagswahl/nach-der-wahl-seehofer-will-die-rechte-flanke-schliessen-a-1357158 ))

Ending Germany’s anti-populist ‘exceptionalism’

This ‘right flank’ had fallen prey to the large-scale electoral gains of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The AfD had started as an anti-Euro movement; it centred on dissatisfaction with what it perceived as an overly concessionary stance on Mrs. Merkel’s part towards Greece and other southern European countries during the Eurozone crisis.

Yet the group quickly took on an anti-immigration line, particularly since the arrival of several hundred thousand refugees in 2015. Ever since, it has developed a staunchly Islamophobic profile and relied upon the calculated breaking of taboos in order to gain attention. Leading party functionaries have strong ties to the Pegida movement, as well as to the neo-Nazi scene.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/neue-abgeordnete-das-sind-die-radikalen-in-der-afd-fraktion/20361302.html ))

After scoring 12.6 per cent of the popular vote on September 24th, leading AfD politician Alexander Gauland announced to overjoyed supporters that this was the first step to “taking back our country and our people”. This statement built not only on the widespread populist slogan of ‘taking back control’, so widespread for instance in Brexit Britain. It also retained the völkisch-nationalistic tone of the AfD’s election campaign.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/bundestagswahl-gauland-afd-wird-die-bundesregierung-jagen.1939.de.html?drn:news_id=795978  ))

“What is wrong with this country?”

The AfD thus emerged as the biggest winner of the election night by far: in 2013, the party had failed to take the five-percent-threshold below which parties do not obtain any parliamentary seats. Whilst it had been expected that the AfD would make it into the Bundestag – and thus constitute the first far-right party to enter the national parliament since 1961 – the populists’ strong showing was nevertheless met with shock by German Muslims.

Many took to Twitter to express their incredulity: lawyer Serkan Kirli asked “What is wrong with this country?”(( https://twitter.com/RA_SerkanKirli/status/912216210045128704 )) And renowned journalist Hakan Tanrıverdi‏ felt like he “had been made a foreigner” by the millions who voted AfD.(( https://twitter.com/hatr/status/912026940986535936 ))

Religious leaders’ reactions

Religious leaders from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups have expressed their concerns over the AfD’s entrance to parliament. Many Christian leaders stressed that the party’s positions were irreconcilably opposed to the fundamentals of the Christian faith. (( https://www.domradio.de/themen/kirche-und-politik/2017-09-25/religionsvertreter-zu-den-ergebnissen-der-bundestagswahl ))

Among the initial Muslim voices, the most widespread fear has been that the established parties might adopt the AfD’s far-right positions in an attempt to regain the trust of the populists’ electorate. Burhan Kesici, leader of the Islamic Council of Germany (IRD), voiced the expectation that “not a single Islamophobic or xenophobic statement be tolerated in the Bundestag”(( http://islamrat.de/kesici-zum-wahlausgang-wir-alle-tragen-eine-historische-verantwortung/ ))

Muslim representatives demand AfD’s ostracism

The Islamic Community Milli Görüş (IGMG) stated that “we expect a clear demarcation against the AfD’s positions”(( http://islamrat.de/kesici-zum-wahlausgang-wir-alle-tragen-eine-historische-verantwortung/ )); a sentiment echoed by Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD). For even if the other parties should make the AfD’s suggestions their own, “in the end”, Mazyek asserted, “voters will not vote for the copy but the original”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/gastkommentar-des-zentralrats-der-muslime-was-wir-im-umgang-mit-der-afd-falsch-gemacht-haben/20370900.html ))

Non-denominational organisations, such as those representing ethnic Turks in society and in politics, have taken a similar stance. For the Turkish Union in Berlin and Brandenburg (TBB), “the democratic parties are now called upon not to seek any cooperation with the AfD and to refrain from making any AfD positions their own.”(( http://tbb-berlin.de/?id_presse=634 ))

Approach towards AfD and its voter base unclear

What continues to be unclear from the formal statements of German Muslim figures, as well as from the post-election utterances of the mainstream parties, however, is how democratic forces should actually engage with the AfD and its sympathisers.

To many observers – Muslim or other – the desired ‘clear demarcation’ against the AfD amounts to de facto ignoring the populists. Yet it is not only that the AfD managed to gain millions of votes: judging from the party’s behaviour so far, its spite and disregard for democratic rules will simply be difficult to ignore in the Bundestag.

In a post-election opinion piece for the Tagesspiegel newspaper, Aiman Mazyek consequently noted that merely ‘ignoring’ the party would not do: “We should precisely not ignore [the AfD] but rather take on the controversial debate and lead it in the light of the defence of freedom and human rights”. What this might mean in practice remains of course to be seen.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/gastkommentar-des-zentralrats-der-muslime-was-wir-im-umgang-mit-der-afd-falsch-gemacht-haben/20370900.html ))

Explaining the AfD’s rise

In any case, the night of the election was less dominated by a discussion of how to deal with the AfD in the future Bundestag than by the attempt to make sense of its electoral success. Scrutinising the role of the media, ZMD chairman Mazyek highlighted the ways in which populists had managed to set the political agenda through their dominance of airtime.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/gastkommentar-des-zentralrats-der-muslime-was-wir-im-umgang-mit-der-afd-falsch-gemacht-haben/20370900.html ))

In particular, he criticised the TV duel, which had focused overwhelmingly on issues of migration, integration and Islam, and in which suggestions that migrants were dangerous scum wishing to drain the German welfare state and upend the country’s social order went unchallenged.

A deeper process

Yet whilst the media circus obviously boosted the AfD’s taboo-breaking messages by giving them a disproportionate share of the broadcasting time, the roots of right-wing populism in Germany are much deeper than suggested by a  mere focus on skewed pre-election media reporting.

The arrival of the AfD in the federal parliament only renders visible what had previously remained hidden under the surface (or, perhaps more accurately, been swept under the rug). On September 24th, mainstream observers and politicians alike were finally made to take note of the fact that a non-negligible part of the country no longer shares the very basics of the political consensus.

“Why did you vote AfD?”

In a sign of its befuddlement, the socially liberal Die Zeit newspaper asked “Why did you vote AfD?” and asked readers to describe their electoral motives in the comment section. The paper received hundreds of answers. These are of course not statistically representative; they are nevertheless illustrative of the parallel universe of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and paranoia many AfD voters live in.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-09/wahlentscheidung-warum-afd-gewaehlt ))

Responding to the Zeit’s question, one women commented that “I have voted for the AfD because I have thoroughly studied the Qur’an and the hadiths; terms such as ‘abrogation’ or ‘taquiyya’ [misspelling of the Arabic term original] are more than familiar to me.”

She went on to name the most trusted sources for her supposedly authoritative understanding of Islam. Pride of place was accorded to the right-wing blogs of ‘intellectuals’ such as Henryk M. Broder and Roland Tichy, both of which regularly pedal in conspiracy theories and anti-Muslim hatred.

‘Critics of Islam’

She also mentioned a barrage of books on the ‘Islamic danger’ that have often dominated Germany’s best-seller lists over the last few years. Authors include Hamed Abdel-Samad, Abdel Hakim Ourghi, Bassam Tibi, Zana Ramadani, or internationally-known Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Authors and activists such as Seyran Ateş and Ahmad Mansour also had the dubious honour of being included on her list. This shows the unfortunate development in which politically conservative voices get co-opted into the worldview of the radical right – even if they seek to avoid it and even if they might offer an understanding of issues such as jihadism that is at least in parts more nuanced.

A parallel discursive universe

All of these seemingly legitimate voices have created a far-right universe of immense depth. AfD sympathisers can move within this segregated sphere of ‘alternative facts’ without ever being confronted with diverging statements – or with a Muslim, for that matter: once more, support for the AfD was strongest in areas with the lowest number of immigrants.(( https://twitter.com/georgrestle/status/912271976185651200 ))

Consequently, the AfD’s stronghold continues to be the territories of the former GDR, where it obtained 21.5 per cent of the popular vote. In the state of Saxony, home of the Pegida movement and the site of some of the most vitriolic anti-Muslim and anti-establishment hatred, the AfD emerged as the largest party, outdoing even the CDU in its former heartland.

In a somewhat ironical take on the election results, Green Party politician Belit Onay noted that it was therefore not Muslim immigrants who had created ‘parallel societies’ in Germany – a supposed development often presented as proof of insufficient integration. Instead, he argued, the true ‘parallel society’ existed in the AfD milieus of the East. ((https://twitter.com/BelitOnay/status/912010309031915521 ))

“Anxious citizens” and their fear of Islam

Many Muslims have also taken offence at mainstream politicians’ insistence – both before and after the election – that they would ‘take seriously’ the fears and worries of the AfD electorate. In a euphemistic turn of phrase, Pegida marchers and populist supporters have become known in Germany as ‘anxious citizens’ (besorgte Bürger).

This term connotes a predominantly but not uniquely Eastern swathe of the electorate that is in part hard-pressed by socio-economic conditions, yet whose overall fearfulness is squarely directed at cultural change associated with immigration.

According to statistics published by the ARD public broadcaster, 95 per cent of AfD voters feared “the loss of German culture and language”, and 92 per cent were afraid of “the influence of Islam in Germany”.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/afd-im-bundestag-hier-spricht-eine-besorgte-buergerin-kommentar-a-1169716.html )) This resonates with previous studies, in which 40 per cent of German respondents believed that the country was being ‘infiltrated’ by Islam.

Minorities not present during the campaign

In a piece titled “Here is an anxious citizen speaking”, journalist and activist Ferda Ataman castigated the fact that all parties rushed to embrace and legitimise the fears of the AfD electorate. Conversely, she observed, “no one spoke of the anxieties of Muslim, Jewish, or homosexual voters” in the face of the AfD’s rise.

In fact, she asserted, the voice of these minorities had been almost completely absent during the campaign, ensuring that everybody talked about them but that they were never at the table. In this way, racist, xenophobic, and sexist claims were never effectively contested in public.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/afd-im-bundestag-hier-spricht-eine-besorgte-buergerin-kommentar-a-1169716.html ))

Pushing back against populism

Some hope that such contestation will take place now, and that the arrival of the AfD in the Bundestag will reinvigorate civil society activism – especially among those groups most targeted by the AfD’s programme. Christian religious leaders have already urged their community members to step up against nationalism, xenophobia, and racism, and to become politically active.(( https://www.domradio.de/themen/kirche-und-politik/2017-09-25/religionsvertreter-zu-den-ergebnissen-der-bundestagswahl ))

The Liberal Islamic Union (LIB), a small group of self-definedly ‘progressive’ Muslims, wrote in a Facebook post that the LIB was now “confronted with an important task: to continue to work together for an open and tolerant society, in which everybody has his or her space.”(( https://www.facebook.com/liberalislamischerbund/posts/1487350311300459 ))

Many existing Muslim civil society initiatives will also take the election result as a call to action: Ozan Keskinkılıç, one of the co-founders of the Berlin-based “Salaam-Shalom” initiative for Jewish-Muslim dialogue, emphasised his willingness to take up the fight with the surging forces of populism: when asked whether he was contemplating emigration from Germany, he vowed “I stay and thereby I resist”. ((https://twitter.com/ozankeskinkilic/status/912012221026271232 ))

Limited organisational footprint

It would surely be a most welcome development if the AfD’s success at the ballot box should lead to increased Muslim engagement in society and in politics. At the same time, financial and organisational resources of many Muslim initiatives continue to be exceedingly limited, and the political climate is likely to worsen in the coming years.

Against this backdrop, some think that the best hope for Germany’s Muslim community is the potential breakup of the AfD amidst infighting between its national-conservative and quasi-fascist factions. Indeed, the party’s short history has been thoroughly marked by infighting. Although these disputes have shifted the party to the right countinously, some observers expect the party to lose popular appeal as it becomes ever more radical.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/demoskop-richard-hilmer-zu-afd-das-geht-bis-tief-in-die-mittelschicht-hinein/13318392.html ))

Waiting for the AfD’s break-up?

Indeed, on the morning after the vote, AfD leader Frauke Petry (who had just been elected to the Bundestag) announced that she would not join her party’s parliamentary group. For months, Petry had wished to take her party on a firmly ethnonationalist yet parliamentary course, with the ultimate aim of forming a coalition with the CDU/CSU.

Her party base thoroughly rejected her ‘moderate’ stance, however, opting instead for an opening to the neo-Nazi flank and a more rabble-rousing style. Following Petry’s departure from the parliamentary group, leading counter-terrorism expert Peter Neumann commented sardonically: “The AfD is radicalising itself through successive schisms. Social scientists know such processes from terrorist organisations as well.”(( https://twitter.com/PeterRNeumann/status/912270720440373249 ))

Waiting for the AfD’s self-destruction nevertheless seems a risky gamble. Not only is the implosion of the populists not a foregone conclusion; even if it did happen, they might still manage to do severe harm to German democracy in the process.

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

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

No vote at the end of an immigration-centred campaign

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

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

Disillusionment with a lack of opportunities

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

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

Continued support for Chancellor Merkel …

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

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

… but an uneasy relationship with the CDU

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

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

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

German Muslims’ stance on immigration

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

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

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

Stability and change in Muslims’ voting behaviour

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

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

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

Muslim MPs unanimously support gay marriage in Germany, Islamic associations split on the issue

On June 30, the German Parliament voted to legalise gay marriage – or, as it has become known in Germany, the “marriage for all” (Ehe für alle). The path to this decision had been a tumultuous one; and the vote in the Bundestag came only after a surprise move in which Chancellor Angela Merkel, a long-time opponent of gay marriage, relinquished her principled opposition.

Downfall of a bastion of conservatism

While the Chancellor still voted against the marriage equality bill, her own party – the Christian Democratic Union – was split, with 225 CDU-parliamentarians opposing the bill, and 75 supporting it. The other parties – Social Democrats, Greens, and Left – gave the bill their quasi-unanimous backing.

Thus, many in the CDU were not willing to give up what has been perceived as one of the last core conservative positions of their party. A number of CDU politicians also adduced religious reasons for the rejection of the bill, deeming the opening of the marriage relation to homosexual couples a contravention of the Christian principles the CDU is grounded upon.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/gleichstellung-bundestag-beschliesst-ehe-fuer-alle-15084396.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Muslim MPs support “marriage for all”

Interestingly enough, none of the Muslim members of Parliament shared the qualms of the Christian conservatives. All parliamentarians of Islamic faith supported the bill. To be sure, the extent to which these men and women felt and identified as distinctly ‘Muslim’ when they made this decision is open to question. Most Muslims in Germany’s parliament are situated on the left of the political spectrum, in a milieu that is often quite secular.

The more interesting case in this respect is perhaps Cemile Giousouf, the CDU’s only Muslim MP and a strong backer of gay marriage. Giousouf has stated that her religious convictions were a “determining factor” in her decision to join the CDU:

“The CDU gives space to religious feeling. This is important for me. It is a party that represents a value-bound politics derived from the Christian conception of man. For the CDU, religion is not a marginal phenomenon. There are more commonalities than differences between Christians and Muslims. We both feel responsible to man and to our Creator for our deeds. Thus there was no question for me that my political commitment was right only in this party.”((https://www.welt.de/regionales/duesseldorf/article114268231/So-etwas-hat-es-in-der-CDU-noch-nie-gegeben.html ))

The conundrum of organised religion

Organised religion and its representatives remain split on the issue of gay marriage. On the one hand, the German Lutheran churches have for a considerable while abandoned any past opposition to the legal and religious recognition of homosexual partnerships.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church, in line with dogma from Rome, continues to oppose the “marriage for all”. Yet ahead of the vote in the Bundestag, the voice of the Catholic Church was scarcely heard and it seemed as if the Roman clergy had resigned itself a long time ago to the fact that, in spite of its dismay, the full recognition of homosexual marriage would only be a matter of time.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2017-06/gleichgeschlechtliche-ehe-katholische-kirche-ablehnung-reformation ))

Liberal-Islamic Union backs gay marriage

Islamic religious organisations did not figure as prominently in the recent public debate as their Christian counterparts. Yet they have not been completely absent, either. Already in May, 2017, the Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB), a small socially progressive Muslim umbrella body, came out in support of gay marriage.

One of the LIB’s board members, Annika Mehmeti, highlighted that in no instance does the Quran explicitly define “marriage” as limited to a man and a woman. Nor does the holy book define the begetting of children as the sine qua non condition of the marriage relation. Instead, the Quran lays its focus on the mutual commitment of the spouses and on the duties they have towards each other, or so Mehmeti argues.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164652401/Der-Koran-erlaubt-die-Homo-Ehe.html ))

Silence of the conservative associations

The other Islamic associations, which tend to be more conservative in outlook, have been much more equivocal than the LIB. For the most part, they have simply avoided to comment on the issue of homosexual partnerships.

While some of their members will undoubtedly support gay marriage (or perhaps do not see it as such a big deal), many will also hold deep reservations. Against this backdrop, keeping silent may be a preferred option, since it allows the associations to dodge uncomfortable questions.

The mental gymnastics that the mainline conservative forces have had to undertake in this respect mirror the contortions of the Catholic Church. They are epitomised by a statement by Aiman Mazyek, media-savvy chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), in a 2016 interview:

“For my own part, and from a religious standpoint, I do not accept homosexuality. Yet at the same time I stand up against homophobia, as a Muslim.”(( http://zentralrat.de/27637.php ))

Popular Muslim attitudes

Among the German population at large, support for gay marriage had been high for a considerable number of years: in a 2013 survey, 87% of individuals unaffiliated with any religion, 78% of Protestants, 70% of Catholics, and 48% of Muslims had supported full marriage equality for homosexual couples.

Yet survey results are far from unequivocal. A 2012 study among Turks in Germany reported that 51% of respondents agreed to the statement that “homosexuality is an illness”.(( https://web.archive.org/web/20121011112234/https://d171.keyingress.de/multimedia/document/228.pdf )) Conversely, a 2015 study found that 60% of German Muslims supported gay marriage.(( https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/de/presse-startpunkt/presse/pressemitteilungen/pressemitteilung/pid/muslime-in-deutschland-mit-staat-und-gesellschaft-eng-verbunden/ ))

Pressure from abroad

To some extent, the unease and hostility with which the LGBT community is viewed from many Islamic quarters is not only – perhaps not even primarily – rooted in (putative) homophobic sensibilities among German Muslims. Rather, religious institutions and societal pressures from abroad continue to play a large role.

This dynamic has been in evidence in the context of the fierce criticisms directed at the recently opened “gender-equal” mosque in Berlin by Turkish and Egyptian authorities. In cases such as these, it is voices from Middle Eastern countries that make an opening towards ‘divergent’ paths more difficult to achieve for Islamic associations operating in Germany.

Resistance to Muslim-LGBT dialogue

This lesson was also learned in 2014 by Ender Çetin, chairman of the DİTİB-run Şehitlik mosque in Berlin at the time. He agreed to convene a discussion round between Muslim and LGBT representatives at his mosque. The resulting backlash came first of all from DİTİB’s Turkish parent organisation and from Turkish media: Turkish newspapers accused Çetin of opening the mosque to “abnormal” homosexuals.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/diskussion-in-berlin-homosexualitaet-und-islam-unvereinbar-1.2237310 ))

As a response, the meeting did not take place at the mosque, and a number of DİTİB’s theologians and clerics that had initially agreed to participate in the forum withdrew.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/diskussion-in-berlin-homosexualitaet-und-islam-unvereinbar-1.2237310 )) Since then, the purges of Turkish state organisations in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt have not stopped short of DİTİB, and the liberal-leaning governing board of the Şehitlik mosque has been at least partly removed.

Anti-terror march highlights activism as well as divisions among German Muslims

Initially, reactions on the part of German Muslim leaders to the attacks in Manchester and London had been muted, with a sense of the routinized and somewhat hapless repetition of well-worn formulas of shock and condemnation prevailing.

Fighting against complacency

This limited response has not gone unnoticed, with many criticising Islamic associations and Muslim representatives for their relative silence on recent events. The psychologist and renowned expert on jihadi radicalisation Ahmad Mansour spoke for many when he accused the country’s Islamic organisations of complacency.(( https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/zdf-morgenmagazin/zdf-morgenmagazin-clip-14-242.html ))

Now, however, Islamic scholars and activists have called for a public demonstration in Cologne on Saturday, June 17. United under the slogan #NichtMitUns (#NotWithUs), protestors gathered to reclaim their religion from what they deem to be its usurpation by extremists.(( http://www.ramadan-friedensmarsch.de/ ))

Striving for greater visibility

One of the organisers, Islamic scholar and chairwoman of the Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB), Lamya Kaddor, asserted prior to the event that she was hoping for the demonstration to send a strong and noteworthy signal to terrorists and mainstream society alike.

Kaddor observed that “every Islamic organization writes a press release after every attack, and Islamic legal opinions have been drawn up by leading theologians. Yet these things are not publicly noticed.”(( http://www.ksta.de/koeln/muslime-demonstrieren-gegen-terror–manchester-hat-das-fass-zum-ueberlaufen-gebracht–27778146 ))

Broad endorsements

The initiative started by Kaddor and others, including peace activist Tarek Mohamad, has received broad support. Fellow religious leaders, such as Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, chairman of the Lutheran Church in Germany, have tweeted their support.(( https://twitter.com/landesbischof/status/875301959284248576 ))

Politicians, such as Cemile Giousouf, the CDU’s first Muslim Member of Parliament, are equally supportive of the rally. Approving statements have also been made by Social Democratic and Green Party politicians.(( https://www.domradio.de/themen/islam-und-kirche/2017-06-16/kritik-ditib-wegen-absage-anti-terror-demo ))

Reception among Muslim representatives

The echo among other Muslim leaders has been somewhat more complex. Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), stated that his organization would take part in the march.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/aiman-mazyek-vom-zentralrat-der-muslime-zur-demo-in-koeln-aid-1.6873750 )) The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, so far the only Muslim group to obtain full legal recognition in some of Germany’s 16 states, also announced its participation.(( https://twitter.com/presseahmadiyya/status/874666652864040962 ))

Further support came from authors and activists, such as Islamic feminist Kübra Gümüsay, who called upon Muslims to “emancipate themselves” from a situation in which they are merely reactive to Islamophobic insinuations: according to her, the Cologne march offers the possibility for a Muslim voice to “become the driving force of a peace movement”.(( http://www.ndr.de/ndrkultur/sendungen/freitagsforum/Kommentar-Muslime-demonstrieren-fuer-Frieden,freitagsforum488.html ))

Critical voices

Nevertheless, even within ZMD, support for the march has not been unanimous. The association’s deputy, Mehmet Alparslan Çelebi, has voiced his suspicion that the event will merely reinforce the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims.

The chairman of the Islamic Council (IR), of which the Islamist-leaning Islamic Community Millî Görüş is the biggest member, has been even more categorical in his rejection of the demonstration. He points to the considerable number of comparable public events in the past two years; events that, according to him, have neither helped to dissipate Islamophobic prejudice (as exemplified by repeated calls for Muslims to ‘distance’ themselves anew after every attack), nor been conducive to addressing the root causes of terrorism.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/06/13/zeichen-gegen-terror-setzen/ ))

DITIB refuses to participate

Yet public attention has, once more, focused on Germany’s numerically largest Islamic association, DITIB. Although the organisation’s Chairman had initially welcomed the announcement of the rally((http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/friedensmarsch-in-berlin-tausende-muslime-wollen-gegen-terror-und-gewalt-demonstrieren-27783342 )), a DITIB press release subsequently stated that “demands for ‘Muslim’ anti-terrorism demonstrations fall short, stigmatise Muslims and unduly focus international terrorism on Muslims, their communities and mosques – this is the wrong path and the wrong signal, for this kind of assignation of blame divides society.”(( http://ditib.de/detail1.php?id=603&lang=de ))

On a practical level, DITIB asserted that – due to their commitment to fasting – Muslims could not be expected to take to the streets and demonstrate on a summery day in the month of Ramadan. (Although it might be noted that with the weather forecast predicting temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius and an overcast sky, health risks should have been manageable.)

Faultlines among Islamic associations

DITIB went on to castigate the organisers of the demonstration for what it perceived as a failure to consult with DITIB and others in order to reach a consensus prior to publicly announcing the rally. DITIB also accused Kaddor of being too eager to please and of being the instrument of ulterior and potentially Islamophobic political interests.

Kaddor herself had sought to pre-empt such criticism, by arguing that “it’s not about distancing. We have no reason to distance ourselves, because we are not close to these criminals. But what is at stake is a clear affirmation on our part to our open and pluralistic society. What is at stake is a condemnation of terrorism. For yes, it does have something to do with Islam if other people blow themselves up in its name and kill others.”

To accuse Kaddor of pandering to Islamophobic sentiments, is, however, at least questionable if not outrightly disingenuous. Kaddor herself had in the past repeatedly taken a bold stance against supposedly ‘liberal’ Islamic initiatives that may in fact only serve as a fig leaf for marginalising discourses.

Criticism from the other end of the spectrum

Given this political positioning of Kaddor’s, it is not surprising that those who have taken a much more confrontational line against Islamic conservatism in the past – and whose activism has often earned them the praise of those on the political right flirting with Islamophobic prejudice – have been almost as critical as DITIB of the protest march.

For instance, Seyran Ateş, a lawyer and activist for women’s rights who recently made headlines with her planned opening of a gender-equal mosque in Berlin, asserted that the march was in some sense too little too late and disparaged Lamya Kaddor’s statements as “sad”.(( http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/friedensmarsch-in-berlin-tausende-muslime-wollen-gegen-terror-und-gewalt-demonstrieren-27783342 ))

Ideological divergences, political differences

In these squabbles, ideological or doctrinal differences, personal enmities, and jockeying for public and political influence seem to intermingle quite freely. Ateş’ and Kaddor’s dispute is in part reflective of substantive disagreements: the two women have a different understanding of Islam, a different agenda, and a correspondingly different set of political sympathies.

Yet Ateş’ categorical rejection to participate in any of Kaddor’s events might also be linked to the fact that Ateş’ gender-equal mosque is due to open its doors on the eve of the planned peace march in Cologne and that Ateş is planning her own anti-terror demonstration in Berlin.(( http://www.berliner-zeitung.de/berlin/friedensmarsch-in-berlin-tausende-muslime-wollen-gegen-terror-und-gewalt-demonstrieren-27783342 )) Any competition over the leadership of a ‘liberal’ Islam is therefore most unwelcome.

Political momentum

Initially, the political momentum appeared to be with Kaddor: DITIB’s non-participation has been harshly criticised, with the federal government’s Commissioner for Integration, Aydan Özoguz, stating that DITIB “is positioning itself even further on the sidelines and is threatened with an altogether final loss of credibility.” (( https://www.domradio.de/themen/islam-und-kirche/2017-06-16/kritik-ditib-wegen-absage-anti-terror-demo ))

The Green Party leader Cem Özdemir echoed this criticism, asserting that “it is beyond me that DITIB does not make use of this possibility to send a clear signal of solidarity.”(( https://www.domradio.de/themen/islam-und-kirche/2017-06-16/kritik-ditib-wegen-absage-anti-terror-demo )) Even Chancellor Merkel stated her support for the rally.((https://twitter.com/RegSprecher/status/875699500043689986 ))

A disappointing turnout

Subsequently, however, the march suffered from a disappointingly low turnout. Instead of the up to 10,000 demonstrators that had been expected, only roughly 1,000 ended up congregating in Cologne.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/demonstration-in-koeln-den-islam-von-den-terroristen-zurueckerobern-1.3548979 ))

For now, further marches are planned by Kaddor in other German cities, including Berlin and Hamburg. Whether these marches will still take place, and how the politics around them will evolve, remains to be seen.

Rising numbers of Islamic burials pose challenges to German cemeteries

For a long time, German Muslims have predominantly buried their dead abroad: especially the members of the country’s large Turkish community preferred to find their final resting place ‘back home’. Many of the so-called guest workers had envisaged a return to Turkey during their lifetimes but stayed on in Germany for work or for the sake of their families. The return home was delayed until after death.

Yet for some of the children of those who moved to Germany, the ties to their ancestors’ country of origin are increasingly remote. For others, the expense of a costly transfer of the body is simply too high; although this factor is often offset by the high cost of maintaining a grave in Germany. For yet others, warfare in their countries of origin makes a return for burial impossible.

All of this has led to a strong rise in demand for burials in conformity with Islamic rites in Germany. A seemingly innocuous issue, questions and perceptions surrounding these burials are indicative of the complex processes of adaptation Muslim communities undergo in the Western European context – as well as of the challenges this processes involves.

Running afoul of German law

To begin with, a number of Muslim traditions run counter to German legal regulations.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/menschen/bestattung-von-muslimen-teilweise-problematisch-14942392.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 )) In Germany, burial heeds to be carried out by an expressly hired professional undertaker; a notion unknown in other parts of the world. At the same time, there is not just a need for familiarity with the Islamic ritual on the part of the undertaker, but also for specific facilities to wash the dead body.

Muslim tradition encourages burial within 24 hours after death. Yet the slowly grinding mills of the German bureaucracy mean that burials cannot generally be accomplished in less than 48 hours. Medical regulations ate at times also adduced against quicker burial.

When it comes to the actual burial site itself, Muslims’ graves are customarily oriented towards Mecca – a requirement that cannot be fulfilled by most regular German cemeteries since the existing lines of graves are ordered differently.

What is more, in a somewhat macabre twist, an ‘eternal resting place’ in Germany generally means a maximum of 20 or 25 years – after that, graves are reallocated. Maintaining a grave beyond that point may be either impossible or dramatically increase the price of the grave lease. According to Muslim tradition, however, the dead should be buried in untouched earth and should have a genuinely eternal last home.

To name but one more hurdle, many administrations and cemeteries across the country require bodies to be buried in a coffin; a practice forbidden in Quranic tradition.

Pragmatic solutions

In many cases, practical solutions have been found.((https://www.welt.de/regionales/hamburg/article162782576/Wie-sich-deutsche-Friedhoefe-fuer-Muslime-veraendern.html )) Specialised Islamic undertaking businesses have cropped up all over the country, offering their services to a Muslim clientele. Especially larger towns and cities have begun to create Muslim sections in their cemeteries in order to accommodate graves oriented towards Mecca.

Some municipalities have been more lenient on the rules restricting early burial, provided that no medical reasons demand that the burial be postponed. A specifically Muslim cemetery is set to open in the city of Wuppertal, offering graves with an unlimited lease.

Enduring challenges

In some cases, however, such solutions have proved elusive. Three German states – Bavaria, Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt – continue to categorically prohibit burials without a coffin while others no longer require the casket.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/menschen/bestattung-von-muslimen-teilweise-problematisch-14942392.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

For some on the political right, upholding the so-called ‘coffin obligation’ (Sargpflicht) has become a matter of principled defence of autochthon values and traditions. (It should perhaps be noted that burials in a coffin were only introduced in Germany in the 18th century, making it a tradition presumably less essential to local identity than one might think.(( http://www.brauchwiki.de/Beerdigungsriten )))

Acts of vandalism

Nor have Muslims’ graves gone unnoticed in largely (post-)Christian neighbourhoods, with some expressing anxieties about the expansion of cemeteries’ Islamic sections. Only a month ago a series of Muslim graves was vandalised and desecrated by swastika signs in the southern town of Aalen.(( http://www.swr.de/swraktuell/bw/aalen-muslimische-graeber-auf-friedhof-geschaendet/-/id=1622/did=19107694/nid=1622/1tyli8u/index.html ))

Yet apparently it is not only the far right that has been bent on destroying graves: in 2011, Islamic religious purists appear to have embarked on a purge in the Muslim section of a cemetery in Bielefeld, smashing angel figurines, terracotta sculptures and other ‘German-style’ adornments.

Since the graves themselves and a number of other Islamic symbols remained untouched, police surmised that the vandals only attacked those elements they deemed offensive to their restrictive understanding of Islam.(( http://www.nw.de/lokal/bielefeld/mitte/mitte/4902487_30-muslimische-Graeber-geschaendet.html ))

The salience of identity politics

The question of death and burial is thus surprisingly revelatory about the nature of Muslim life in Germany. The scope for pragmatic accommodation balancing German legal frameworks and Muslim traditions seem large; yet a fair amount of intransigence from various players in the system also makes this room for manoeuvre more difficult to use. Identity politics in its more toxic forms – emanating from ethnically German xenophobes and Islamist fundamentalists alike – leaves its mark.

More generally, when following this issue in the centre-right section of the mainstream media, one is struck by the whole range of contradictory emotions and expectations that German Muslims are faced with: the implicit reproach of a lack of loyalty is directed at those who choose burial abroad. Yet at the same time, the expansion of Islamic segments on German cemeteries is greeted with a certain amount of suspicion and civilizational angst.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/menschen/bestattung-von-muslimen-teilweise-problematisch-14942392.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

In this manner, all sides manage to project their political ambitions onto Muslims’ final resting places. At times, the resulting debate seems almost as eternal as the peace people from across religious divides are seeking for their dead.

New data on charitable involvement in refugee help shows German Muslims’ civil society activism

A new study by the Bertelsmann Foundation has taken a closer look at Germans’ charitable work for refugees. According to the survey, 44 per cent of German Muslims volunteered their time by helping in asylum shelters or elsewhere over the course of the year 2016.

The study’s coordinators emphasised that these numbers could refute the widespread assumption that Muslims were neither invested in refugee aid programmes nor willing to take on responsibilities in civil society more generally.

This reproach had surfaced more and more often in recent political debates. For instance, Germany’s Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, asserted that not enough German Muslims were involved in integrating the recently arrived refugees.((http://www.n-tv.de/politik/De-Maiziere-nimmt-Muslime-in-die-Pflicht-article18682541.html ))

Breakdown of the numbers

The study revealed that Muslims are considerably more active in charitable causes linked with refugees and asylum-seekers than their Christian counter-parts: of the latter, only 21 per cent became involved in these causes, compared with 17 per cent of respondents unaffiliated with any religion.

Within the heterogeneous group of German Muslims, 53 per cent of all those with roots in the Middle East were active in refugee aid efforts, compared with 42 per cent of their ethnically Turkish counterparts. This reflects the ethnic and linguistic origins of the large number of Syrian and Iraqi arrivals.((https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article163148827/Muslime-in-Deutschland-helfen-besonders-haeufig-Fluechtlingen.html ))

The study also revealed that while initially in many neighbourhoods considerable scepticism had reigned vis-à-vis the opening of large housing units for asylum-seekers, only a small fraction of neighbours (8 per cent in West Germany and 15 per cent in East Germany, respectively) subsequently felt disturbed by these housing complexes and their inhabitants.

Limited missionary zeal…

The authors of the study stressed that activists of Muslim faith did not seek to use their position in refugee aid efforts to proselytise. This had been another much-evoked fear in recent months. Yet three quarters of Muslim respondents asserted that they did not see themselves in a position to convince others of their religious convictions. This number mirrors the close to four fifths of Christian and atheist aid workers evincing the same missionary restraint.

This is not to deny the existence of smaller currents more actively engaged in missionary activity. Salafi preachers have sought to gain access to refugees’ housing projects, although the scope of the phenomenon remains unclear.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/krude-missionierung-salafisten-werben-nahe-fluechtlingsheimen-13793462.html ))

Similar—and, judging from the press echo, even more aggressive—proselytization activities have been conducted by Evangelical churches, as well as by the community of Jehovah’s Witnesses.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/bayern/fluechtlinge-wie-evangelikale-christen-fluechtlinge-bekehren-wollen-1.3022011 ))

… but also limited institutional capacities

All of this should not suggest, however, that there are no obstacles to German Muslims’ engagement for Iraqis, Syrians, and other Middle Eastern or Muslim refugees. To be sure, on a personal level they often work as the kind of invaluable “cultural mediators” the report of the Bertelsmann Foundation describes. With respect to their institutional capacities, however, German Muslims’ possibilities are more limited.

Perhaps most notably, mosques across the country are still confronted with severe spatial and monetary constraints. This is partly due to the fact that Islamic communities have so far not managed to obtain a legal status comparable to the Christian churches or a of Jewish congregations; a status that would bring not just legal recognition but also a host of financial perks.

While Turkey remains a – controversial – source of funding for the mosques affiliated to the German branch of its DİTİB organisation, other, mainly non-Turkish communities have at times turned to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia for funding.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/30/muslime-in-deutschland-moschee-glauben-staat/komplettansicht ))

As a result, these mosques have often taken an increasingly conservative stance. These tendencies have, in turn, perturbed Syrian refugees who, when looking for Arab-speaking religious spaces, were often left with Wahhabi-tinged offers only.(( https://de.qantara.de/inhalt/syrische-fluechtlinge-und-arabische-moscheen-in-deutschland-allah-hoert-zu ))

Strengthening religious institutions

Thus, considerable work remains to be done to ensure that German Muslims can effectively realise their willingness to aid their fellow Muslims in making Germany their home. Indeed, the Bertelsmann study has shown that this willingness is strong. Some charitable organisations have latched on to this, with for instance the Bosch Foundation offering special financial support for civil society projects carried out by young Muslims.(( http://www.bosch-stiftung.de/content/language1/html/49624.asp ))

The more enduring challenge is the strengthening of Muslims’ religious institutions in Germany. Studies have consistently highlighted the importance of well-functioning Islamic (religious) organisations as a springboard for broader societal participation. Involvement in the charitable work of local mosques does not, therefore, lead to increased segregation – contrary to the oft-voiced fear.(( http://www.migazin.de/2016/10/12/geheimnis-der-integrationsdebatte-muslime-engagieren-sich-mehr-als-viele-glauben-wollen/ ))

Against this backdrop, enabling German mosques to leave behind their drab backyard quarters without having to rely on funding from the Gulf that often comes with strings attached re-emerges as an all-important concern.

Defining the meaning of conservatism: German Muslims seek to organise in the CDU

Recently, German authorities commissioned an estimate of the country’s Muslim population. Unsurprisingly, the number of both Muslim residents and citizens has been growing over the past few years. The question of ‘integration’ has thus unsurprisingly remained a staple in public discussions.

Yet these debates have been led above all in culturalistic terms, focusing for instance on whether immigrants from Muslim backgrounds have to to accept a German ‘leading culture’ (Leitkultur). Little thought was given to immigrants’ integration into the country’s political life and its party system.

The voting behaviour of immigrants and their descendants

A recent study noted that “visible minorities” tend to vote left in Germany. Indeed, among the Turkish-German population, nearly 70 per cent of respondents expressed support for the Social Democratic Party (SPD).(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/migranten-und-politik-diese-parteien-waehlen-einwanderer/14851994.html ))

At the same time, these tendencies no longer appear to be set in stone. The scandal surrounding the racial theses of Thilo Sarrazin, an SPD member, apparently caused some German Turks to turn away from the Social Democrats while the CDU gradually seemed to open itself to immigrant voters.(( http://www.taz.de/!5061177/ ))

Moreover, the socioeconomic position of immigrants and their descendants has evolved: they have been credited with creating millions of jobs in diverse sectors of the economy.(( http://www.dw.com/en/study-migrant-entrepreneurs-provide-millions-of-jobs-in-germany/a-19465413 )) The Economist noted that recent – predominantly Muslim – immigrants were “bringing entrepreneurial flair to Germany”.(( http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21716053-while-native-germans-are-growing-less-eager-start-businesses-new-arrivals-are-ever-more )) The traditional pro-SPD vote of the Muslim guest worker toiling in one of the country’s factories can no longer be taken for granted.

Representing the ‘conservative majority’

Seeking to capitalise on this trend of an increasingly unmoored Muslim electorate, around 30 young Muslim members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the party of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, have joined forces to build a platform for the CDU’s Muslim partisans. Their project is dubbed “Members in the [Christian Democratcic] Union”, shortened to MidU.

According to its founding statement, MidU conceives of itself as the representative of the “conservative” majority of German Muslims, whose views are not taken into account by any other existing political platform. It vows to enrich the political debate by bringing to bear the distinctive viewpoint of these men and women on current issues.(( http://www.muslimeinderunion.de/ ))

‘A positive counter-public’

MidU founder and spokesman Cihan Sügür described this initiative as an attempt to create “a positive counter-public” that is no longer completely dominated by emotional debates surrounding ‘hot’ topics of cultural integration or jihadist radicalisation.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/interview-muslime-in-der-union-aid-1.6061461 ))

Admittedly, though, it has most often been the CDU itself (with the exception of the far-right AfD party) that has engaged most stubbornly in these debates. Only in December 2016, the CDU party conference shifted to the right on a whole range of issues touching Muslims and immigrants. They include a project particularly dear to Sügür and MidU, namely dual citizenship.

Another policy area where MidU appears far removed from the conservative mainstream is the admissibility of the hijab in public functions. While Sügür defended the right of a Muslim woman to war the headscarf when working e.g. in court of justice as a self-evident right,(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/interview-muslime-in-der-union-aid-1.6061461 )) to the delight of many conservatives, the reality in Germany is still considerably more complex than that.

A potential gain for the CDU

Nevertheless, the Muslim vote does hold out considerable promise for the CDU: with now more than four million men, women, and children of Islamic faith living in the country, Sügür points out that they can be a decisive factor at the ballot box.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/interview-muslime-in-der-union-aid-1.6061461. It is worth noting, however, that of course by 2008 only 1.8 million Muslims held Germany citizenship, thus reducing the pool of those eligible to vote.))

Conversely, many of Germany’s Muslims could indeed be attracted to a more ‘conservative’ stance on a range of questions related to social morality. Some even joined the rising Alternative for Germany from 2012 onwards, thinking that the party would stand up for traditional family values.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/migranten-in-der-afd-abgestempelt-als-tuerkischer-nazi-aid-1.4607002 ))

Against this backdrop, the CDU’s Secretary General, Peter Tauber – widely seen as a core figure behind his party’s attempts to attract a younger and more female membership – welcomed the formation of MidU by sending a note of greeting to the club’s first gathering.

MidU and the large Muslim associations

Yet as soon as MidU stepped into the open with this first meeting, political headwinds started to build up. Notably, MidU received critical scrutiny for its supposed closeness to the four large German Muslim associations (the predominantly Turkish DİTİB, IGMG, and VIKZ associations, as well as the more mixed ZMD).

To some observers, the self-consciously conservative MidU appeared as an initiative to consolidate the – somewhat tenuous – grip of these four conservative Islamic associations on the political representation of Muslims. And for many of Sügür’s fellow CDU members, the conservatism of these four associations is deeply unappealing. (( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/muslime-in-der-union-polarisieren-14873404.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

The implicit supposition that the four associations would work together and use MidU as a shared platform to influence the CDU and government policy is somewhat far-fetched: the different Islamic associations are notoriously disunited and have never managed to overcome these differences even when there were considerable political incentives in favour of doing so.

The role of DİTİB

Yet even the suspicion of being too close to these associations risks hampering MidU’s acceptability among the conservative mainstream. Especially DİTİB, for a long time the state’s preferred cooperation partner, has fallen out of favour with the authorities over recent months and years.

It has become a pastime among CDU politicians to criticise DİTİB clerics, sent by Ankara. Slightly derogatorily referred to as “imported Imams” (Importimame), they are blamed for inhibiting the integration of German Muslims. By contrast, MidU spokesman Sügür offered a defence of the workings of this system.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/interview-muslime-in-der-union-aid-1.6061461 )) The fact that a (small) number of DİTİB’s Imams is now accused of spying on suspected Gülenists in Germany will not help Sügür’s position.

MidU, Erdoğan, and the political fault-lines among ‘conservative’ Muslims

The larger issue looming behind the present debate on DİTİB and its trustworthiness is its relationship with the Turkish state led by President Erdoğan, bête noire of many CDU politicians. Some of them promptly accused the MidU founder of seeking to organise the infiltration of the CDU by Erdoğan supporters.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/muslime-in-der-cdu-uns-verbindet-nicht-erdogan-sondern-der-islam/14012648.html ))

Sügür was quick to deny this. Yet MidU’s critics saw their suspicions as confirmed by the exclusion of all those from the MidU platform who had supported the government’s resolution classifying the massacres of Armenians in 1915 as a genocide. This included the perhaps most high-profile Muslim member of the CDU, Cemile Giousouf.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/muslime-in-der-union-polarisieren-14873404.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2))

MidU subsequently pledged greater openness. Yet this episode demonstrates that the political issues haunting and also dividing the Muslim and Turkish communities in Germany resurface even among the small group of self-defined ‘conservatives’ who have decided to join the CDU.

Confusion and caution: German Muslims and politicians react to Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’

 

The widespread confusion that has reigned since Donald Trump signed the executive order temporarily barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries on January 27 has not left German Muslims untouched.

Not only were a number of Muslim travellers from these countries left stranded at German airports as they were unable to board their connecting flights to the US after the order had been signed.(( http://hessenschau.de/gesellschaft/nach-trumps-einreiseverbot-stranden-muslime-in-frankfurt,transit-100.html )) The ban also impacts Muslims residing in Germany who have retained the nationality of their ancestors, as well as dual nationals holding a passport from the countries targeted besides their German citizenship.

Impact on dual citizens

Especially the issue of dual citizens has received heightened media coverage, since it meant that around 130,000 German passport holders were initially barred from entering the United States.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/trumps-praesidentschaft/einreiseverbot-von-donald-trump-betrifft-deutsche-doppelstaatler-14797893.html ))

Among this group were a number of high-ranking public figures, including German-Iranian Green Party politician Omid Nouripour. Ironically enough, Nouripour is a fiercely atlanticist politician and the vice chairman of the German-American parliamentary cooperation committee.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/donald-trump-omid-nouripour-darf-nicht-mehr-in-die-usa-reisen-a-1131900.html ))

Other individuals affected include Hesse’s economy minister and German-Yemeni Tarek Al-Wazir, German-Iranian Navid Kermani – a public intellectual and long-considered candidate for the post of President of the Federal Republic – or Aiman Mazyek, German-Syrian chairman of the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD).

Unresolved situation of Muslim residents

As the Trump administration appeared to walk back on some of the elements of its ‘Muslim ban’, dual citizens were exempted from the entry restrictions: US authorities confirmed that holders of German passports would be eligible to travel to the United States, irrespective of their second citizenship.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/usa-unter-praesident-trump-deutsche-doppelstaatler-duerfen-wohl-doch-in-usa-einreisen-1.3358859 ))

No solution, however, appeared to be in sight for the Muslim residents of Germany, who – in spite of their often long-standing presence in the country – have not acquired German nationality. To them, the ban still applies to its fullest extent.

German Muslims’ opinion on Trump

Against this backdrop, it is all the more surprising that in a poll conducted between 27 and 30 January 2017 – and thus in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s executive decree – only 44.7 per cent of Muslim German respondents had a negative opinion of the Trump presidency. Among the overall German population, 68.4 per cent expressed such a negative view.(( http://cicero.de/berliner-republik/ciceroumfrage-klare-mehrheit-der-deutschen-gegen-trump ))

More than a third of German Muslims asserted that it was “a good thing that Donald Trump is President of the United States”. Beyond questions of statistical accuracy – with a sample size of 2,088, the share of Muslim respondents must have been small – political calculations detached from the ‘Muslim ban’ might also play a role in this assessment: many Muslim Middle Easterners were glad to see Trump triumph over Hillary Clinton, believing that the Republican would pursue a less interventionist policy vis-à-vis the region.(( https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/10/middle-east-donald-trump-president ))

Political reaction to the ‘Muslim ban’

The overall political reaction in Berlin to President Trump’s executive order has been more muted than might have been expected. Chancellor Merkel had her spokesman state that she “regretted” the ‘Muslim ban’ for its divisive implications. Yet when prodded by journalists the spokesman explicitly refrained from formally “condemning” the incoming administration’s move. Instead, the spokesman emphasised the need to analyse the situation and its implications. (( http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/DE/_ElementeStart/Sprecher_node.html ))

Merkel subsequently went on to take a more openly critical stance in front of the press, asserting that the fight against terrorism did not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain belief. She was nevertheless careful to guard her words, stopping short of openly antagonising the Trump administration.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/angela-merkel-donald-trump-muslim-ban_uk_588f8483e4b0ce6c8c2cc69b ))

While the opposition was quick to castigate the ban, another leading conservative politician, Bavarian Minister President Horst Seehofer, strove to hit a more conciliatory line towards the Trump administration.

Breaking ranks?

Seehofer, a long-standing inner-party critic of Merkel’s immigration policy, lauded the new American President for “quickly and determinedly implementing his campaign pledges step by step.” While he asserted that he did not agree with all of Trump’s policies, he invited the President to visit Bavaria and demanded that Trump’s status as the freely elected representative of the United States be respected.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/horst-seehofer-lobt-donald-trump-a-1132190.html ))

Seehofer has a long history of challenging Merkel on foreign and immigration matters through well-calculated contacts with foreign decision-makers. In October 2016, he welcomed Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán in Munich with great fanfare; a move that was widely seen as a bid to undermine Merkel’s immigration policy.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/europaeische-union/viktor-orban-besucht-horst-seehofer-im-bayerischen-landtag-14485223.html )) In 2016, he also flew to Moscow twice for talks with Vladimir Putin in what appeared to be open defiance against Merkel’s position on the Ukraine crisis and her support for sanctions against Russia.(( http://www.br.de/nachrichten/seehofer-russland-putin-100.html ))

This highlights that while in the days after the promulgation of the ‘Muslim ban’ the Anglo-Saxon media rushed to celebrate the Merkel government as the bulwark against Trumpism,(( http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/angela-merkel-donald-trump-democracy-freedom-of-press-a7556986.html )) the actual position of the Chancellor and her administration is much more complex. Rather than assume the mantle of the ‘Chancellor of the Free World’ in a determined – yet, from her point of view, ultimately suicidal – stance against Trump, Merkel may well opt for a more cautious course of action.

A political figure: The number of Muslims in Germany

The Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) has published a new study on the number of Muslims living in Germany for the first time since 2009.

After the admission of hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers by the Merkel government in summer and autumn of 2015, these numbers are eminently political: populist movements’ campaign platforms focus on the (perceived) ‘Islamisation of the West’, and 40 per cent of Germans believe that the country is being ‘infiltrated’ by Islam.

Providing a corrective to populists

These fears are also reflected in the tendency—observable in all Western countries—to overestimate the Muslim population. An Ipsos Mori poll, conducted in late 2016, revealed that German respondents estimated more than 20 per cent of the German population to be Muslim.(( https://www.theguardian.com/society/datablog/2016/dec/13/europeans-massively-overestimate-muslim-population-poll-shows ))

Against this backdrop, the numbers of the BAMF study are a welcome reality check. According to the study, by December 31, 2015, Germany was home to between 4.4 and 4.7 million men and women of Muslim faith. This translates into a Muslim share in the overall population of about 5.4 to 5.7 per cent.

Growing diversity of the Muslim population

Moreover, the study contains interesting insights about the composition of the Muslim population in the country. While in 2011 67.5 per cent of Muslims were of Turkish background, their share has dropped to about 50.6 per cent. Muslims of Middle Eastern origin now constitute the second largest group among German Muslims.

This is linked to the fact that around 27 per cent of Muslims in Germany—or 1.2 million men and women—have only recently, i.e. over the past 5 years, immigrated to the country. Consequently, the diversity of Muslim life has grown significantly in Germany over the past few years.

An inadequate religious structure

The participation of these new arrivals in the existing religious institutions and frameworks is not straightforward, however. In a large number of the country’s mosques, Turkish language, culture, and Islamicality predominate, meaning that they struggle to attract Arab Muslims.

At the same time, many Syrians have felt uneasy to visit Arabic-speaking mosques, due to their conservative nature. Syrians reported that they were often criticised for their clothing style and their (lack of) religious devotion. Most of these mosques are financed by the Gulf monarchies.(( https://de.qantara.de/inhalt/syrische-fluechtlinge-und-arabische-moscheen-in-deutschland-allah-hoert-zu ))

Some hope that the arrival of Syrians can help to break the hold of Wahhabi-Salafi orthodoxy in Arabic-speaking mosques. Yet this is not a foregone conclusion: Syrian refugee Jaber al-Bakr, who planned a bomb attack on one of Berlin’s airports, was reportedly radicalised by conservative Imams after his arrival in Germany.

Shortcomings on ample display

Yet in spite of its contribution to factualising the debate, the BAMF’s study also contains a number of distinctive shortcomings.

At the most general level, the fact that the study was conducted by the federal office responsible for migration and refugees is telling. It highlights that Islam and the presence of Muslims is still seen predominantly as a migrant phenomenon—rather than as a phenomenon that is part and parcel of ordinary German life and citizenship.

More particularly, the reliance on the databases of the BAMF means that German converts to Islam are not included in the study’s figures. The number of these converts is difficult to gauge due to lack of data. According to leading researcher Esra Özyürek, whose anthropological fieldwork has focused on German converts to Islam, estimates range from 20,000 to 100,000.(( http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/muslime-in-deutschland-konvertiten-erfahren-besonders-viel-abneigung-a-1111636.html ))

Foreigner = Muslim

At the same time, the BAMF often counts every immigrant from a Muslim-majority country as Muslim—irrespective of whether the person in question identifies with the Islamic faith. Nor, of course, is the BAMF interested in the level and the particularities of individual religious observance.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/zahl-der-muslime-in-deutschland-wie-viel-millionen-sind-es.886.de.html?dram:article_id=375505 ))

The study is thus an important contribution to a debate that all too often appears completely disconnected from factual analysis. Yet on its own, the obsession with numbers does very little to address any of the questions and problems that Germany and its Muslim community face.

Journey through an Islamic Germany: A book seeks to give diverse Muslims a voice

Providing a counterpoint to the black-and-white narrative

Karen Krüger, journalist at culture desk of the conservative weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, has released a new book in which she embarks on a journey through what she terms an ‘Islamic Germany’, portraying diverse Muslim Germans in their daily lives.

Krüger’s self-professed goal is to show the diversity of the country’s Muslim population and the multifaceted nature of their religion, against the backdrop of a public perception of Islam as a monolithic unit: “My aim was to enable those Muslims to speak up whom you otherwise don’t hear because their religion simply is not bellicose.”((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

Pre-empting potential criticism claiming that she hand-picked ‘liberal’ Muslims to portray in her book, Krüger states that “I only show liberal Muslims because the large majority of Muslims living in Germany is liberal. One just doesn’t notice them that often because they don’t appear as talk show guests, because they don’t attract attention through spectacular demonstrations.”((http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/kultur/diwan/karen-krueger-reise-durch-das-islamische-deutschland-100.html))

Krüger thus seeks to work against a news cycle focused on terrorism and security concerns: “I wanted to confront this [focus] by showing that Muslims are not this homogeneous mass they’re often presented as in the media. It is really worth to look in people’s faces, to find contacts and to start a conversation with people – and then you will see that many [allegations] are not justified.”((http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/kultur/diwan/karen-krueger-reise-durch-das-islamische-deutschland-100.html))

Deficits in incorporating Islam into society

The author also notes the toll that the ongoing barrage of media scrutiny and public suspicion is taking on German Muslims: “With most Muslims you can feel a great deal of hurt because due to the worldwide political situation many Muslims often experience rejection, even though they feel as a part of German society.” Krüger notes that among many Muslims this rejection leads to a latent yet perceptible state of grief.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

For Krüger, this state of affairs is a powerful driver of radicalisation: for young German Muslims, the starting point on the slippery slope towards jihadism is a situation in which “religion is transformed into an identitarian place of refuge” – a place particularly appealing to the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants who are neither deemed to be ‘properly German’ nor can simply claim to belong to their parents’ country of origin. Islam in general, and jihadist Islam with its transnational ideological and organisational structures in particular, appears to offer a way out of this dilemma.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

What is required, Krüger argues, are better educational efforts, in order to offer relevant and theologically sound instruction to young Muslims. This would pre-empt the need for an auto-didactic and haphazard engagement with Islam on shady online fora. More importantly, however, Krüger calls upon mainstream society to allow and enable a Muslim German identity to grow: “Surely not for everyone but at least for wide sections [of the population] it is not yet imaginable that ‘being German’ and ‘being Muslim’ do not have to exclude each other but can come together.”((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

Krüger’s call comes at a particularly sensitive moment, as a number of conservative interior ministers of Germany’s federal states are putting forward drastic national security proposals. Among other measures on their list, they demand the prohibition of dual citizenship, a burqa ban, and tighter supervision of mosque finances.((http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Union-will-Anti-Terror-Gesetze-verschaerfen-article18381011.html))

Criticism of the Turkish-dominated Islamic federations

Yet in Krüger’s view, the emergence of a Muslim German identity has not just been hampered by fears and prejudices on the part of mainstream society. She is acutely critical of the existing Islamic associations and federations in the country whom she deems unable to develop a way of thinking about Islam that resonates with the experience of ordinary German Muslims. Whatever progress has been accomplished in this regard has not been attained because of the work of the federations but rather in spite of them.

Krüger reserves her particular ire for DITIB, still the most powerful Islamic association in Germany. A subsidiary of the a Turkish government agency – the Presidency for Religious Affairs – she accuses DITIB of importing a kind of Turkish state Islam that is backward and ill-equipped to develop a constructive vision for Muslim life in Germany. Against this backdrop, the author conceives of the arrival of Syrian and other refugees as an opportunity to break the dominance of Turkish governmental Islam.((http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/kultur/diwan/karen-krueger-reise-durch-das-islamische-deutschland-100.html))

This last point is of great salience in current German political debates. Diplomatic rows with the Erdogan administration have undermined the trust in the previously convenient arrangement that had outsourced Islamic religious services to Turkish government agencies. Unfortunately, however, virtually none of the voices present in these discussions offer constructive proposals as to how the gridlocked Islamic institutional landscape ought to be reformed. Krüger’s book appears valuable not as such an institutional blueprint but as a document of the diversity of Muslim life in Germany.

Karen Krüger, “Eine Reise durch das islamische Deutschland”, 352 pages, Rowohlt Berlin, 19,95 Euro