German Converts to Islam Are an Asset, Not a Threat

By Esra _zy_rek In a guest editorial, anthropologist Esra _zy_rek from the University of California, San Diego argues that German converts to Islam are not the threat they are claimed to be, and explains how converts make a valuable contribution to German society. Recently the German press has been filled with stories about how German Muslims are a hidden threat to German society. As an anthropologist who has conducted a year-long ethnographic research project among German Muslims, I observed a very different picture. Rather than being a theat, ethnic German converts to Islam are in fact a very valuable asset to Germany. They serve as a bridge between immigrant Muslims and non-Muslim Germany, and by doing so they help to create a well-integrated German society.

German Muslim associations form umbrella organization

On April 10, the German Muslim leaders announced the creation of a new umbrella organization: the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany (KRM). The KRM will unite the leadership of the four central German Muslim authorities: the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), the Islamic Council (IR), the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD) and the Association of Islamic Culture Centers (VIKZ). This decision came after ongoing discussion with German authorities on how to bring Muslims into a social contract with German society; this unified leadership has been undertaken with the hope of elevating Muslims to the position of respect and tolerance enjoyed by German Catholics and Protestants. The hope is that one unified voice will provide German Muslims with better leverage against the government on issues such as representation of Muslims in religious education curriculum, visibility in radio and television media, availability of halal meat, and the headscarf. Critics warn, however, against believing KRM’s claims to German Muslim sentiment. Only an estimated 10-15% of Muslims are affiliated with a mosque. Independent, secular, and feminist Muslims are likely to fall outside the breadth of the new umbrella organization. In spite of the leadership’s insistence that the KRM is welcome to all Muslims, it will undoubtedly have a conservative bent.

Islam Summit Promises Diverse Representation of German Muslims

The Center for Turkish Studies in Essen sees an upcoming Islam Summit as an opportunity to improve the religion’s standing in Germany. Director Faruk Sen shared his thoughts with Deutsche Welle. The discussion on Islamic terrorism in the past several years has raised interest in Islam, said Faruk Sen, director of the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen, but attention has been limited to security matters, even though the overwhelming majority of Germany’s 3.5 million Muslims have nothing to do with terrorism.

German Muslims Feel Sidelined

By Stefan Nicola Muslim organizations in Germany say they feel sidelined after last week’s terrorist attacks on London’s mass transit system amid calls from lawmakers for greater integration by the community and more vocal criticism of Islamic militancy. “There is no strategy for the integration of Muslims in Germany,” Ali Kizilkaya, head of the Islamrat (Islam Council), which with 140,000 members is Germany’s largest Muslim group, said Friday in a telephone interview with United Press International. For integration to succeed, Kizilkaya said, German politicians should foster an increased dialogue with the estimated 3.5 million Muslims living in the country. He criticized German politicians for “ignoring the German Muslims.” Kizilkaya’s remarks come eight days after British-born Muslims detonated bombs in several subway trains and one bus in London. Fifty-four people were killed and several hundred injured in the worst terrorist attacks on European soil since the Madrid train bombings last year. The situation in Germany immediately turned tense. On the day of the attacks, security in Berlin was tightened. After the explosions, several lawmakers, security experts and police organizations demanded tougher anti-terror laws. Calls for countrywide video surveillance, as already implemented in Britain, were put forward by interest groups but show down by major parties. Several lawmakers, among them Bavaria’s Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein, called on the Muslim community to distance itself from the attacks. Cardinal Karl Lehmann, head of the German Catholic church, Thursday told a German radio station Muslims living in Germany should “actively acknowledge” the values embodied in the German constitution. That’s a one-sided and ineffective approach to integration, Muslim leaders say. “You can’t impose integration,” Kizilkaya said. “It’s a process that needs to come from both sides: the German society and the Muslims. There needs to be more dialogue.” Beckstein also said he would like to see intelligence personnel in German mosques. “We have to know what happens in each and every mosque,” the politician of the Christian Socialist Union (the conservative version of the Christian Democrats in Bavaria) is quoted in Thursday’s edition of the Berliner Zeitung. “Wherever extremist ideas are preached, we have to be present with our intelligence,” he said. Kizilkaya called the current political discussion in Germany “hysterical” and criticized Beckstein’s proposals. “Comments like the ones from Mr. Beckstein don’t help,” he told UPI. “They lead to increased mistrust against the Muslim community, which is poison for the integration process.” Kizilkaya, born in the Turkish city of Kayseri, emigrated to Germany with his family more than 34 years ago. At the time, Germany’s economy was thriving and thousands of so-called “Gastarbeiter” (“guest workers”) were asked to enter the country and fill the many available jobs. After the German economic miracle slowed down, the Gastarbeiter stayed. They had married, raised their children in Germany and often had blended into German culture in a way that — in some cases — alienated them from their home country. Kizilkaya, who entered the country without knowing a single word of German, is an example of successful integration. But there is the other extreme. Large secluded Turkish communities have formed in recent years in Berlin and Hamburg, where German remains the second language. The children of the second and third generation — though born in Germany — are hardly integrated into society and are only slowly able to learn German, reports MDR, a public broadcaster based in Berlin, the nation’s capital. Social tensions and unemployment (according to MDR, more than 40 percent of Turks in Berlin are jobless) are because of ethnic ghettos. So far, German politicians have not done enough to tackle the problem, observers say. And attacks like the one in London hurt the already troubled integration process, experts say. Oguz Uecuencue, head of the Muslim organization Milli Goerues, known by its acronym IGMG, told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung “every shameful attack in the name of Islam reduces the trust in our community.” Uecuencue told the newspaper German politicians avoid talking about concrete measures to integrate Muslims because these topics are “unpopular” with most voters. But Muslim imams who preach hate and encourage terrorism remain an obstacle. Dieter Wiefelspuetz, the interior spokesman for the Social Democrats, told UPI in an interview Thursday that the SPD will use “every possibility our constitutional state gives us to expel these people.” Lehman and Beckstein both called on Muslims to work with authorities to eradicate extremist elements in the German Muslim communities. They said Muslims need to do more to distance themselves from hate preachers and acts of terror. Nadeem Elyas, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told the FAZ his organization had repeatedly condemned acts of violence, as they are contrary to the teachings of Islam. The council furthermore organized imam seminars where Muslim preachers were sensitized to peaceful preaching, he said. Kizilkaya said there is no room for hate preachers in German mosques. “Preaching that disturbs the peaceful living of Muslims in Germany is not tolerated,” he said. But by repeatedly asking the Muslim community to distance itself from acts of terror, officials communicate that Muslims have not done so in the past, which is wrong, Kizilkaya said. “How many times will we have to apologize,” Kizilkaya asked. “It’s very hard to overcome that kind of mistrust.” Kizilkaya told UPI that German society has “cooled off” to Muslims since the London attacks. “It’s not explicit, but you can sense it,” he said. The integration process is not in its best state, but it is far from dead, Kizilkaya said. “We shouldn’t forget that Muslims have lived here for nearly half a century now,” he said. “We are open to integration, but we would like to see more help from the other side.” There is no reason why German politicians shouldn’t come forward and push for an increased dialogue with the Muslim community, he said. “Our mosque is not in Istanbul or Saudi-Arabia,” he said. “It’s here, right around the corner.”

Greater Surveillance Of German Muslims? Some Want More Spot Checks Of German Mosques

Conservative German politicians Thursday called for increased surveillance of Germany’s Muslim community following the revelations that the London terrorist attacks last week were likely carried out by British Muslims. “We have to know what’s going on in every mosque,” Bavaria’s interior minister, G_nter Beckstein, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. “We have to have an intelligence presence there where extremist ideas are being preached.” Beckstein, who is tipped as a potential federal interior minister if the conservative opposition wins this fall’s possible early election, said greater efforts were needed to watch Germany’s Muslims amid the unsettling realization that the bombing attacks in London were the work of British citizens of Pakistani origin. “Accordingly we have increase surveillance of religious fanatics,” he said, calling on the German Muslim community to increase their cooperation with the authorities. “We need the help of tolerant Muslims.” Beckstein’s sentiment was echoed by other conservative politicians. Wolfgang Bosbach, the Christian Democrats’ parliamentary spokesman for interior issues, said suicide attackers could not be scared off by heightened security, making it more important to recruit informants from the local Muslim community for the intelligence services. Uwe Sch_nemann, the conservative interior minister of Lower Saxony, even called for increasing the frequency of random control checks at German mosques. “We need this instrument and we must make greater use of it,” he said. Sch_nemann also called for a special sitting of parliament during the summer recess to pass measure creating a proposed national terror suspect index. “This has to be done quickly since we’ll need it before the World Cup,” he told the paper. Boosting Video Surveillance Beckstein also said more closed-circuit cameras to help secure soccer’s largest sporting spectacle, which Germany will host next summer. Officials in Berlin have already decided to boost security on public transport in Berlin and the surrounding state of Brandenburg with the installation of more video surveillance. “Following the attacks on the British capital, we don’t want to be accused of not doing everything we can,” the head of the company responsible for the public transport in Berlin (BVG), Thomas Necker, told the Berliner Zeitung. The BVG will also keep all video footage recorded for three days instead of the current 24 hours. Brandenburg’s interior minister, J_rg Sch_nbohm, has also outlined plans to install closed-circuit cameras in various public areas including train stations and airports. “The swift success of Britain’s police investigations just goes to show how important closed-circuit cameras are,” Sch_nbohm told the tabloid Bild. In London, video footage of the four suspected bombers was able to be retrieved just five days after the attacks took place.