German Turks gear up for upcoming election

As Germany prepares to go to the polls on September 24th, the public debate has zoned in on questions of immigration, integration, and Islam. Consequently, German Muslims are under particular scrutiny in the run-up to an election that will most definitely hand a good number of parliamentary seats to the openly Islamophobic AfD party.

German Turks: the largest part of the Muslim voter bloc

German Turks continue to be the largest group of predominantly Muslim voters. To be sure, their share in Germany’s overall Muslim population has been falling – not least because of the arrival of several hundred thousand refugees from the war-torn Middle East.

Yet by virtue of having lived in Germany for many decades, Muslims from a Turkish background are much more likely to hold German citizenship and thus to be allowed to vote: of the three million German Turks, 1.3 million will be able to go to the ballot box in nine days’ time.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/doppelte-loyalitaet-die-deutsch-tuerken-und-die.724.de.html?dram:article_id=388019 ))

A ‘Muslim vote’?

Scientists observing electoral behaviour of Muslims in Germany nevertheless warn of a simplistic conceptualisation of a ‘Muslim vote’. Muslims are not only in themselves a heterogeneous group; they also tend to focus on a whole set of diverse issues that other German voters are also concerned about – ranging from education and employment to security, healthcare, or taxation.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/09/05/wahlverhalten-von-muslimen-in-deutschland/ ))

Beyond that, many Muslim voters traditionally voice strong demands when it comes to equality of opportunity and anti-discrimination. This concern does not arise out of their Islamic religiosity per se but rather out of their experiences in the German context: recent studies have highlighted the continued impact of discriminatory practices to the disadvantage of individuals with ‘foreign-sounding’ names on the housing market,(( https://www.hanna-und-ismail.de/ )) in job applications,(( http://www.spiegel.de/lebenundlernen/schule/auslaendische-vornamen-migranten-diskriminierung-durch-firmen-bestaetigt-a-960855.html )) and even when dealing with the state bureaucracy.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/video168461476/Mitarbeiter-von-Jobcentern-neigen-zur-Diskriminierung.html ))

Traditional affiliation with the political left

In the past, these particular concerns meant that German Turks’ political affiliations were clear: at the last elections in 2013, 64 per cent of voters with Turkish roots supported the Social Democrats (SPD). Undoubtedly, an additional factor playing in favour of the SPD was the blue-collar identity of a large share of German Turks – a socioeconomic position that many of the former Gastarbeiter have passed down to their children.

In 2013, another 24 per cent of German Turkish voters chose two other left-wing parties, with 12 percent supporting The Left – a conglomerate of political factions to the left of the SPD – and another 12 per cent coming out in favour of The Greens.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/10/30/bundestagswahl-2013-so-haben-deutsch-tuerken-gewaehlt/ ))

While the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) obtained 41.5 per cent of the overall vote in 2013, only 7 per cent of German Turks put their trust in Chancellor Merkel’s party. And although Muslims have sought to organise in the CDU, the Conservatives count far fewer men and women of Muslim faith or of immigrant extraction among their representatives than other parties.

Diverging electoral preferences in Germany and in Turkey

By contrast, those members of the German Turkish community who are still eligible to vote in Turkish elections regularly deliver resounding victories to conservative and Islamically-oriented President Erdoğan – rather than to the leftist opposition.

This might be due to the fact that political and ideological preferences diverge fundamentally between those German Turks who still hold Turkish citizenship and those who have acquired a German passport.

Yet it is perhaps more likely that, in the past, German Turks were perfectly capable of balancing an emotionally-driven support for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s agenda in Turkey with a rational cost-benefit analysis of the political game in Germany.(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/bundestagswahl2017/tuerken-wollen-nicht-waehlen-52799904.bild.html ))

Ending EU accession talks with Turkey

After years of degrading relations, however, German Turks are finding this balancing act harder to accomplish. More particularly, there are indications that they are feeling less and less represented by the SPD and their traditional, leftist political home in Germany.

Although SPD Foreign Minister Gabriel sought to reassure German Turks of their continued importance to the German government and to his party, the SPD’s relationship to its formerly staunchly loyal clientele is increasingly fraught.

This trend culminated in the TV debate between incumbent chancellor Merkel and her SPD Challenger Martin Schulz on September 3rd: Schulz – somewhat surprisingly and perhaps ill-advisedly – sought to be ‘tough’ on Turkey and announced that, if elected to the Chancellery, he would immediately end EU accession talks with Turkey.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/tv-duell-martin-schulz-ueberrascht-spd-mit-hartem-tuerkei-kurs-15182702.html ))

Detachment from the SPD

Schulz’s statements may resonate with dominant public opinion in Germany, which is increasingly sceptical of Turkey and its authoritarian President. Yet his brash and somewhat populist stance may also turn out to be politically unwise: Chancellor Merkel noted that talks over EU membership could only be ended if there was agreement among the 27 member states to do so, and that they constituted an important political lever to influence developments in Turkey.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/tv-duell-martin-schulz-ueberrascht-spd-mit-hartem-tuerkei-kurs-15182702.html ))

In any case, Schulz’s outburst during the TV debate may have done considerable harm to his party’s standing among German Turks. Interviewed by news magazine Tagesschau, a Cologne resident of Turkish extraction who had previously supported the Social Democrats stated that he would not go to the polls on September 24th. Voicing his disillusionment with the SPD, who had always claimed to be the voice of German Turks, he said:

I prefer to have someone who tells me openly and honestly that he doesn’t like me – instead of someone who pretends to like me and at the end of the day does nothing that is in accordance with my wishes and interests.(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9prj-3VZ44 ))

Mainstream parties “hostile to Turkey”

In this way, Schulz’s announcement, which was ostentatiously aiming to curtail President Erdoğan’s standing in Europe, may actually end up fostering the loyalty German Turks feel towards ‘their’ President.

Erdoğan himself has already called upon his countrymen in Germany not to cast a ballot in favour of parties who are “hostile to Turkey” – a list which, according to him, includes CDU, SPD, and Greens.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/erdogan-und-die-bundestagswahl-wie-stimmen-die-deutsch-tuerken-ab/20294522.html ))

The Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), an affiliate of the AK Party in Europe, has echoed this statement: in a press release, it condemned (albeit in somewhat broken English) not only the AfD for stoking populist hatred but also The Greens and The Left for supporting “known […] terrorist organizations”. This swipe aims not only at Gülenists but also the PKK, whose secularist struggle for independence is indeed seen in a positive light in some quarters.(( https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DJds1nUWAAImIKd.jpg ))

Pro-Erdoğan splinter parties

The political home of German Turks thus appears to be in considerable flux. As a response, a new Erdoğanist splinter party has been set up in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), home to the largest number of German Turks.

The Alliance of German Democrats (ADD) uses the portrait of President Erdoğan on its election posters calling for solidarity with the friends of Turkey. Yet the party only managed to obtain 0,1 per cent of the vote at recent state elections and thus has no political significance beyond the purely symbolic.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article168473921/Mit-diesem-Erdogan-Plakat-wirbt-eine-Partei-im-Bundestagswahlkampf.html ))

Another pro-Erdoğan faction, the Union for Innovation and Justice (BIG), recently announced its decision to boycott the elections. BIG seeks to unify the German Turkish vote; a quest that has so far remained elusive: in most of its electoral attempts, the party did not manage to attain as much as one per cent of the popular vote – even in constituencies with large numbers of German Turkish voters.(( https://dtj-online.de/big-boykott-bei-den-bundestagswahlen-87268 ))

A more limited influence?

The failure of these attempts to constitute a quasi-AKP as a viable political force in Germany also points to the limitations of President Erdoğan’s appeal. Some of Germany’s largest ethnically Turkish immigrant organisations continue to be opposed to Turkey’s authoritarian turn.

The Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), as well as the Federation of Democratic Workers’ Unions (DIDF), called upon German Turks to vote in the elections and to defy President Erdoğan’s demand to reject the established political system. This statement was echoed by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), a predominantly non-Turkish Islamic umbrella association.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/erdogan-und-die-bundestagswahl-wie-stimmen-die-deutsch-tuerken-ab/20294522.html ))

Ultimately, how German Turks will decide to deal with these competing pressures will only become clear after polls close on the evening of September 24th. One respondent on the street stressed the need to retain a modicum of calm: Mustafa Karadeniz, entrepreneur from Berlin, asserted that

We should do neither Erdoğan nor German politicians the favour that the Turkish President becomes the main topic of the electoral campaign. There are really bigger Problems in Germany: the climate, the automotive industry, the old-age pension system.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundestagswahl-wie-viel-einfluss-hat-recep-tayyip-erdogan-a-1165992.html ))

French Green municipal councillor wishes constituents happy Islamic new year

Dozens of posters were hung recently in the Paris suburb of Grigny, in which Christian Le Bras, Greens municipal councilor, wished a New Year to the residents on behalf of his party: “Europe Ecologie Grigny’s best wishes for this new year 1432-2011”. The Muslim Year 1432 started December 6th.

His party was very upset by the posters and has considered suing Christian Le Bras for fraudulent use of the party name. Christian Le Bras, for his part, says the posters were simply a nod to the many Muslim residents of the city. Le Bras says he got threats and protests and was treated as a collaborator, which was very shocking, since he’s the son of a Resistance member. The signs have since been removed.

“The new minister will notice she is not with the Greens”: Interview with Cem Özdemir

In an interview, Cem Özdemir calls for an international Islam conference in Germany. The leader of the Green Party, who currently participates in a similar conference in Washington, calls for an intensive exchange of Europe with civil representatives from the Islamic world. On the topic of the new Turkish-German minister, Özdemir welcomes that more migrants are becoming involved in shaping German politics, but claims that the conservative CDU is far from taking over the Green Party’s strength of integration politics, as long as the party continues to have politicians like Roland Koch. Koch, the prime minister of the state of Hesse, has stood out with his campaign against dual citizenship and repeated quasi-racist remarks.

Council broods over funds for “Islam seminars”

The Grants Council of the Party Academies has not yet reached a definitive conclusion with respect to the controversial “Anti-Islam Seminars” of the FPÖ Educational Institute. The members of the council decided first to consult more information concerning the debated seminars, while a motion by the Greens demanding the return payment of funds used for the seminars was not passed. Klaus Nittmann, director of the FPÖ Educational Institute stated “that the debate in the council has not been objective. Of course we represent a critical perspective with regard to Islam, but the Greens are solely interested in making us repay these funds.”

Muslims and the German elections

Until recently, the political rhetoric was the giveaway of real opinions of German political actors in Germany’s Muslim minority. While proclaiming openness, they found it sufficient to mention Islamic customs when referring to a case of honor killing in a Kurdish family or forced marriage among immigrants from Anatolia. German politicians too long equated Islam with what they saw as retrograde or dangerous characteristics of a whole group. Rare were those — mostly the Greens, partly the Socialists — who showed no unease about the immigrants’ difference.

The upcoming elections mark a shift in Germany’s policies toward German Muslims. Until the last elections, a clear cleavage existed between the conservative Christian Democrats suspicious of Muslims, on one hand, and the Social Democrats and the Greens advocating more openness and political solutions, on the other. The Conservatives’ comeback in 2005 led nevertheless to the most active policy the German state has ever held in integration matters. The rhetoric itself has changed direction consequently.

Ethnic Turk wins political prominence in Germany

Cem Ozdemir tells public audiences how he was wrapped in a towel in a Turkish bath when a German woman walked in naked. So he dropped his towel “to show that I was well integrated at home in Germany.” The story is Ozdemir’s way of showing that even though he’s an ethnic Turk, he is comfortable with German ways. The message is all the more important now that he will be named co-leader of the influential Green Party this weekend. The appointment will make him the highest-ranking ethnic Turkish politician in a country that still tends to keep its Turkish minority at arm’s length.

On a continent that has struggled to produce leaders from minority communities even as it celebrates the triumph of Barack Obama in the United States, Ozdemir stands out as a rare politician who has broken racial barriers to win national prominence. Born to Turkish Muslim parents in Swabia, a culturally proud region in a heavily Roman Catholic state, Ozdemir, 42, often finds himself straining to prove that Germany’s 2.7 million ethnic Turks are invested in society. He also takes pains to quell Turkish suspicions that Germans are conspiring to keep them out of power. “Sometimes I feel like I’m the one who translates and explains how the others behave, think, dream,” he says.

Relations between Germans and Turks are generally civil, but not warm. Germans fret over the divide between their secular values and Islamic culture, while Turks struggle for access to quality schools and positions of power. Five Germans of Turkish origin serve in parliament but none has joined their party’s leadership or Cabinet. And while Turks have found success in independent businesses and the arts, they have little presence in the management of major German companies. Ozdemir’s new title will put him in a position to win a Cabinet post if the Greens make it into the ruling coalition in the next election.

Full text article continues here. (Some news sites may require registration)

Swiss reject SVP citizenship plan

In a referendum Swiss voters have voted by 64 percent to reject a proposal by the far-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that would have made it even harder for resident foreigners to gain citizenship. Only one of Switzerland’s 26 cantons backed the plan. At present, naturalisation is decided by a commission, usually at regional level. The far-right had wanted to overturn a supreme court ruling so that applications could be decided by popular vote among local communities. More than a fifth of Switzerland’s 7.5 million residents are of foreign origin. To gain citizenship candidates must have lived in the alpine state for 12 years and pass tests on Swiss culture and language. The SVP’s campaign was challenged by Switzerland’s left parties, trade unions and Greens who described it as racist.

On the right, the supporters of the Front National are more tolerant than those of the UMP with regards to the veil

In an opinion poll of 1,011 people representative of the French population, 44% reported that they favored a prohibition of the Islamic veil in streets and public buildings. 17% were “very favorable” and 27% “rather favorable”. 21% were “very opposed,” and the rest (35%) were “rather opposed.” The question, however, has two parts: whether the veil should be prohibited in public buildings (post offices, universities, etc.), and whether the veil should be prohibited in the street. If these two questions were separated, the response to the poll might have been different. Breakdown of the poll results by party: On the right: Movement for France (MPF): 59% in favor of the prohibition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP): 53% in favor Front National (FN): 40% in favor This relatively low level of support among the conserviatve FN can be interpreted in a number of ways. It could be a way of saying that the veil is not the problem – foreigners should return home, not integrate into French society. On the left: Communist Party: 48% in favor of the prohibition Greens: 39% in favor Socialists: 36% in favor Notably, not one of the individuals polled refused to answer the question.

Red-Greens Part with Multi-Kulti

BERLIN – In a fundamental break with the “multi-kulti” policy of integration, the SPD and Green coalition began experimenting with the language of sanctions and obligations. Universally mandatory biology and sport lessons in school and German-language instruction in Islam were brought up. As is customary, the government’s position paper was discussed with a wide range of social representatives, but many believe that some important Islamic organisations were left without a voice.