German Muslim leaders react to Barcelona attacks

Following the recent attacks in Barcelona and the Catalan town of Cambrils that left 15 dead, Muslim figures in Germany have expressed their condemnation of the events and their solidarity with the victims.

Germany’s main Islamic associations condemn the attacks

DİTİB, the country’s largest Islamic association, issued a press release rejecting all forms of terrorism. Fellow organisations VIKZ and IGMG made similar moves. ZMD chairman Aiman Mazyek also denounced the attacks and called for unity in the face of the common terrorist threat.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/08/19/religionsvertreter-bestuerzt-nach-anschlaegen/ )) Other Islamic movements, such as the German Ahmadiyya community, followed suit.(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Die-Welt-trauert-mit-Barcelona-article19989536.html ))

These routine condemnations did little, however, to conceal the enduring divisions among Islamic organisations and leaders that continue to preclude a fresh and concerted approach against violent Islamism.

A superficial show of unity

A tweet under the #Barcelona hashtag by Ercan Karakoyun, chairman of the Foundation Dialogue and Education, central institution of the Gülenist movement in Germany, puts this division into dramatic relief.

Taking aim at the current repression of his movement in Turkey, Karakoyun pugnaciously asserted that “as long as many a state can designate an educational movement a terrorist organisation no common fight against terror is possible!”(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun/status/898239034169974784 ))

Against this backdrop, calls to withstand the attackers’ attempt to play off Muslims against non-Muslims ring somewhat hollow: the Muslim figures making these statements have so far failed even to mend the rifts among their own associations. How they could meaningfully contribute to healing the divisions within European societies is therefore anyone’s guess.

Grassroots activism vs. stagnation at the top

To be sure, there are many Muslim grassroots movements in Germany that seek to stand in the way of violent ideologies: they range from Jewish-Muslim educational projects and neighbourhood initiatives to important de-radicalisation schemes aiming to offer an exit perspective from the Salafi scene. Overall, German Muslims’ civil society activism is high.

Yet at the level of the country’s Islamic associations, the picture is one of stasis. Unfortunately for German Muslims, those most likely to be heard as their representatives in the aftermath of any attack have little by way of a constructive response to offer.

Three of Germany’s Islamic associations forge an “Islamokemalist” front

Amidst escalating political tensions between Germany and Turkey, three of Germany’s Turkish-dominated Islamic associations have made clear their perspective on the causes of the current diplomatic spat.

Joint press release

On the anniversary of last year’s military coup attempt in Turkey, the DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB organisations issued a joint press release, calling for a “about-face in German-Turkish relations”.(( http://ditib.de/detail1.php?id=610&lang=de ))

In this document, the three signing associations bemoan that “Europe’s highly reserved reaction” to the attempted putsch had “deeply unsettled the people of Turkish descent. It is more necessary than ever to lift German-Turkish relations to the usual, cordial level.”

“Lack of solidarity”

The core message of the statement centres on Europe’s failure to “recognise the great trauma of July 15 [2016]”. DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB criticise what to them appears to be “widespread disappointment at the failure of the coup”. They castigate the “lack of solidarity with the Turkish people, considering 249 dead and thousands injured”.

The three organisations greeted the conciliatory signals made by Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Sigmar Gabriel, who had in the past repeatedly stressed the need to be supportive of Turkish democracy against the coup plotters.

The Gülenist foe

Overall, the statement paints a picture of Turkey as beleaguered by internal and external enemies, ranging from a PKK terror campaign to instable neighbouring states. It is against this backdrop that DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB see the coup attempt as having been committed by “a sect-like parallel state, which has infiltrated nearly the entire state apparatus through illegitimate networks and unlawful means” – i.e. the Gülenists.

Implied in this argument is always the suspicion that Germany is either too soft on Gülenists or that it even actively endorses the movement. In fact, a Turkish tabloid recently claimed that the Gülen organization was “Germany’s long arm”.(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun?lang=de ))

Bridging old divides between DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB

Yet it is not only the statement itself that is of interest but also the entente of the three organisations responsible for its drafting. DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB joining hands represents the convergence of previously disparate groups under the shared commitment to a strong Turkey led by an increasingly authoritarian President.

DİTİB, the subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and thus an indirect organ of the Turkish statem has always pursued a line broadly sympathetic to current Turkish governments. Recently it has come under increasingly tight control of the AKP administration.

Islamists and nationalists

IGMG – in its full name “Islamic Community Millî Görüş” – is an offshoot of Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamist movement. As such, it did not use to be on good terms with DİTİB, as long as the old Kemalist elites were in charge of the organisation. This changed after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s arrival in power: Erdoğan’s own AK Party is a spin-off of Erbakan’s movement.

Finally, ATİB – the “Union of Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations in Europe” – represents a stridently nationalistic version of Turkish Islam. Whilst some of the Union’s funding is derived from the Turkish state and Diyanet, it also has long-standing ties with hardline Turkish nationalism as incarnated by the “Grey Wolves.”

The rise of “Islamokemalism”

As such, ATİB’s co-signing of the press release with DİTİB and IGMG mirrors the rallying of Turkey’s far-right MHP party to Erdoğan’s persona and his authoritarian leadership style. In this respect, the agenda of the three associations is not as much Islamic as it is concerned with projecting a strikingly nationalistic picture of Turkish greatness.

Şahin Alpay, one of Turkey’s leading intellectuals arrested since the coup attempt, has referred to this marriage of authoritarian nationalism with Islamist references as “Islamokemalism”.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-10/sahin-alpay-journalist-gefaengnis-silivri-tuerkei-putsch )) This term perhaps better than any other captures current developments in Turkey.

Muslim associations call Muslims to participate at German elections

Sep 19th

 

The major Muslims associations have called Muslims to participate at the upcoming election for the German Bundestag. Associations such as the Turkish Community in Berlin (TGB), Islamic Community Milli Görüs (IGMG), the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ), the Turkish Islamic Union Institute for Religion (DITIB) and the European Turkish Union have organized information meetings in mosques and Islamic centers across Germany to inform Muslims about the relevance of the upcoming elections.

 

Muslim immigrants have the opportunity to access information about the parties and their programs. Issues such as the dual citizenship are popular among immigrants. Albeit Muslims associations inform citizens about the political system, the parties and the political issues, they remain neutral in terms of any  recommendation.

 

Plans for a new mosque centre near Munich put on hold after allegations of Islamism

Munich was to get a “Centre for Islam in Europe – Munich” (ZIEM), which proposed an open, European and German-speaking Islam (see http://www.euro-islam.info/2010/03/19/munich-will-get-a-new-mosque-center). But now the plans by Imam Benjamin Idriz had to be put on hold after allegations that he has close relations to Islamists. A court has ruled that the Islamic community of Imam Idriz was rightly named in a 2007 report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The Office has monitored Idriz’s phone calls with leaders of the Islamist organizations Milli Görüs (IGMG) and the Islamic Community in Germany (IGD), who are believed to hold close ties with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The group and their lawyer have announced to take this dispute to the next level of jurisdiction and to fight for their reputation.