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 ))

The roles of Muslims and ethnic minorities in the Grenfell Tower tragedy

The fire at Grenfell Tower killed more than 80 people. Many Muslims lived in and nearby the tower. Muslims residents and neighbours were instrumental in saving lives. The fire occurred after midnight. While many in the area were asleep, Muslims were often awake for the observances of Ramadan. Muslim residents awoke people in other flats and Muslim neighbours were among the first on the scene to assist. Muslim organisations, such as Muslim Aid, continued to be active in relief efforts.

The next evening volunteers held an iftar to allow Muslim victims and volunteers to break their fast. Many were working hard to support each other despite their fast.

Racial and economic discrimination may have contributed to the causes of the fire, as “it’s difficult to imagine this disaster–caused by a huge dereliction of duty and refusal to listen to residents’ concerns–befalling a community of white Britons.” Grenfell Tower was social housing provided by the government for people who require housing assistance.

Black and South Asian survivors felt that the government did not act as though they had a right to complain about the terrible safety conditions of the building prior to the fire.

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.

Muslims in a Bible Belt town hold their breath

Murfreesboro is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and an increasingly diverse one. Muslim and Christian students go to school and play sports together; their families patronize the same restaurants and stores.

Residents variously describe the town as a proud example of Southern hospitality, a growing “melting pot,” a suburb of “little blue dot” Nashville and the “buckle on the Bible Belt.” Its downtown with the old courthouse and Confederate-soldiers memorial yields to strip malls and chain stores, new housing developments and old cotton fields, and the university, with its 20,000 undergraduates.

Among the town’s couple hundred places of worship are 59 Baptist churches, including an Arabic Baptist church as well as Grace Baptist, whose deacon in 2010 greeted the construction of the new mosque next door by erecting 23 huge white crosses on the road.

Murfreesboro doesn’t need “to have a lot of Muslims,” Sally Wall said. “I think they can stay where they are and we stay where we are.”

But there’s more tolerance because of the public acrimony over the mosque, said City Council member Bill Shacklett.

“I wish some of the things hadn’t happened. But the one thing it has done is compel people to open their hearts and minds to be drawn toward each other . . . get out and flesh out your faith with different people,” Shacklett said, adding that Muslims and Christians have started to do that.

 

 

New statistics show enduringly high level of xenophobic hate crimes in Germany

According to figures released by the German Federal Criminal Police Office, 877 crimes against asylum shelters and housing units of refugees were recorded from January until late November 2016. This compares to 1031 cases in 2015 and 199 in 2014.

Offences comprised a large number of property damage cases, propaganda delicts—which include the defacing of walls with xenophobic or racial slurs—as well as 151 acts of violence. Among these, there were 64 cases of arson and five bomb attacks.(( http://www.news38.de/welt/article208868749/Dieses-Jahr-schon-877-Angriffe-gegen-Fluechtlingsheime.html ))

A spokesperson for the criminal police remained cautious as to whether the slightly lower number of attacks in 2016 meant that the peak of xenophobic violence had passed. She also noted that numbers for both 2015 and 2016 were not final and could still increase.(( http://www.schwaebische.de/panorama/aus-aller-welt_artikel,-Laut-BKA-877-Angriffe-gegen-Fluechtlingsunterkuenfte-bis-Ende-November-_arid,10574729.html ))

A potential pool of undetected cases

It is worth noting that the number of politically motivated anti-immigrant crimes overall – i.e. attacks directed not just against housing units specifically – is still substantially higher.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/fremdenfeindlichkeit-rechtsextremisten-werden-immer-haeufiger-gewalttaetig/14595458.html ))

Moreover, human rights organisations have long criticised the inability or unwillingness of Germany’s 16 federal states to comprehensively list far-right crime, repeatedly noting that official figures are far too low.((http://www.br.de/nachrichten/rechtsaussen/rechtsextremismus-extremismus-opfer-rechter-gewalt-100.html ))

In 2015, for instance, the Amadeu Antonio Foundation published findings that the number of right-wing homicides since reunification in 1990 was more than twice as high as officially recorded.((https://www.mut-gegen-rechte-gewalt.de/news/chronik-der-gewalt/todesopfer-rechtsextremer-und-rassistischer-gewalt-seit-1990 )) In the same vein, Amnesty International recently castigated the German state of systematically failing to identify and address racist violence.((https://www.amnesty.de/files/Amnesty-Bericht-Rassistische-Gewalt-in-Deutschland-Juni2016.pdf ))

An increasingly radicalised core

Even if the overall numbers of xenophobic and racist crimes might be stagnating in 2016, there are indications that the hard core of the anti-immigrant movement is increasingly prone to using more drastic means.

Officially recorded acts of attempted homicides are up, for instance, with authorities aware of 11 cases during the first three quarters of 2016. ((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/rechtsextremismus-zahl-der-versuchten-toetungsdelikte-durch-neonazis-steigt-stark/14703844.html )) In another high-profile case, the far-right militant group ‘Freital’ is currently on trial on charges of terrorism and attempted murder.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/gruppe-freital-anklage-101.html ))

On the one hand, this court case is a success, in the sense that a high-profile disaster comparable to the case of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) was avoided: the NSU’s string of murders had not uncovered for years due to a multiplicity of highly suspect investigatory mishaps. On the other hand, the Freital group reportedly received constant tip-offs and help from a member of the local police((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-11/gruppe-freital-sachsen-polizei-leck-ermittlungsverfahren )) – a fact that once more raises questions about the capacity of German security forces to deal with the right-wing threat.

Halal supermarket ordered to sell pork and alcohol

A halal supermarket in a Paris suburb has been told by local authorities it must start selling alcohol and pork or else it will be shut down.

Good Price discount mini-market in Colombes has been told by the local housing authority, from which it rents its premises, that it has not followed the conditions on the lease that stipulate that the shop must act as a “general food store.”

The authority argues that all members of the local community are not being served properly if there are no alcohol or pork products in the Good Price store, which is run as a franchise and which last year replaced another small supermarket.

“The mayor of Colombes, Nicole Goueta, went there herself and asked the owner to diversify the range of products by adding alcohol and non-halal meats,” the mayor’s chief of staff, Jérôme Besnard, said.

He said locals, particularly older residents, had complained that they could no longer get the full range of products at Good Price, which replaced a regular supermarket, and had to travel some distance now to do their shopping.

“We want a social mix. We don’t want any area that is only Muslim or any area where there are no Muslims,” Mr Besnard said, adding that the town’s reaction would have been the same had a kosher shop opened on that spot.

The Colombes housing authority argues that the store breaches French republican principles by prioritising a certain group within society rather than catering to all categories.

It has taken legal action to bring an end to the lease which would normally run until 2019. The case goes to court in October.

Soulemane Yalcin, who runs the shop under franchise, said he was merely catering to the demands of his customers in this area of large public housing estates.

“It’s business,” said Mr Yalcin.

“I look around me and I target what I see. The lease states ‘general food store and related activities’ – but it all depends on how you interpret ‘related activities’,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

He has hired a lawyer to fight the housing authority’s bid to get him evicted.

Near completion of new mega mosque “De Westermoskee” in Amsterdam

The building of the Netherland’s largest mega mosque (800 square meter and room for 1700 worshippers) has sparked some controversy over the last two decennia of its establishment. For years the building process was frustrated by several conflicts between the initiating Islamic foundation and the municipality of Amsterdam and housing cooperatives. Despite these obstacles the mega mosque is planned to be ready for interior design and decoration by the end of November.
The mosque board is already in communication with artists from Turkey for the realization of classical Islamic calligraphy in the mosque’s interior. A salient feature of the mosque will be the incorporation of indigenous influences from the artistic style and local culture of Amsterdam on ceilings and walls as well as in the tapestry. According to the mosque board the “Westermoskee” was build with the intention of opening up to not just practicing Muslims but also for the general public. The mosque intents to organize guided tours, expositions, and seminars on Islam. It also intends to involve neighborhood inhabitants in the development of social activity programs.

Islamic Gatehouse Bank to aid UK housing crisis

November 28, 2013

 

Britain’s mainstream banks may be reluctant to lend these days, but a Kuwait-backed Islamic bank is to become one of Britain’s biggest residential landlords with a plan to build 6,600 rental homes and gain from the shortage in decent housing stock. It promises to be one of the biggest privately run home building projects ever. Shariah-compliant Gatehouse Bank hopes to gain from the big shift in the country’s housing market away from buying to renting, as mortgages have become more scarce and unaffordable and prices have risen out of the grasp of many families. Gatehouse already has a £1bn property portfolio across the UK and US.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/islamic-gatehouse-bank-to-aid-uk-housing-crisis-8971137.html

Judge gives prison housing Lindh 30 days to allow Muslims to hold group prayers outside cells

INDIANAPOLIS — A federal judge on Friday gave the government 30 days to start allowing American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and other Muslim inmates to hold group prayers outside their cells in a high-security prison in Indiana.

In a seven-page order, Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson said the Bureau of Prisons might have misconstrued her ruling seven months ago that granted Lindh’s request to hold group prayers in the Terre Haute federal prison’s Communications Management Unit, so she made her intent clear.

“The warden is to allow group prayer during every Muslim prayer time for which the inmates are not confined to their cells,” she wrote in bold print.

“Put simply, just as inmates are free to assemble, socialize and engage in other group activities in common, recreational areas during times they are released from their cells, so too must they be allowed to engage in group prayer in common, out-of-cell areas,” Magnus-Stinson said.

U.S. troops captured Lindh in Afghanistan in 2001. Lindh, who grew up in California and was raised Catholic, was accused of fighting for the Taliban to help them build a pure Islamic state. In 2002, he pleaded guilty to supplying services to the now-defunct Taliban government and carrying explosives for them. He is eligible for release from prison in 2019.

The group prayer lawsuit originally was filed in 2009 by two Muslim inmates. The case drew far more attention after Lindh joined it in 2010. The other plaintiffs dropped out as they were released from prison or transferred to other units.

Alleged Mosque Boarding School Revealed in Rotterdam

May 16 2013

 

A civil servant in Rotterdam has provided information revealing that there are allegedly Turkish mosque-related boarding schools operating in the city. According to his information the Faith mosque has housed girls as a residence, against the fire regulations which would not allow for the mosque to have a housing license.  The NRC Handelsblad reports that there are “boarding schools” of the sort in Arnhem, Utrecht, Breda and Amsterdam as well as Rotterdam.

The media attained the information about the mosque from the civil servant, who first gave the information to the city. The Rotterdam city council has sent a letter to the “whistle blower” stating that his job will be terminated with immediate effect because of his dereliction of duty in sharing information considered secret.