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.

Ex-honor student gets 5 years in terrorism case

April 17, 2014

 

An immigrant teen who had earned a scholarship to an elite U.S. college but helped solicit support for Jihadists he met online was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison.

Mohammad Hassan Khalid had earned a full scholarship to Johns Hopkins University after just a few years in the United States, where his family was building a new life after leaving Pakistan.

As his parents and siblings worked to achieve the American dream, he retreated to his bedroom in the family’s cramped apartment near Baltimore, and joined radical Islamist chat rooms by the time he was 15. He was soon conversing with Coleen LaRose, a troubled Pennsylvania woman who called herself “Jihad Jane,” and other extremists.

“The upheavals of my life were distorted into a force of hate so strong that it wrapped me in its claws,” Khalid, now 21, told U.S. Judge Petrese B. Tucker. He said he had trouble speaking without being misunderstood.

Defense lawyers argued that Khalid was isolated and vulnerable because he was young, an immigrant and had Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder diagnosed since his arrest.

Federal prosecutors say Khalid used his “brilliance and eloquence,” along with his computer and video skills, to help them translate documents and try to recruit westerners. That got the attention of the FBI, which visited Khalid repeatedly.

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/ex-honors-students-terror-sentencing-scheduled/2014/04/17/14cd9ab8-c5f7-11e3-b708-471bae3cb10c_story.html

Muslims Blacklisted For U.S. Citizenship Under Secret Government Program, Says ACLU

August 21, 2013

By Amy Taxin

 

LOS ANGELES — A government program to screen immigrants for national security concerns has blacklisted some Muslims and put their U.S. citizenship applications on hold for years, civil liberties advocates said Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a report that the previously undisclosed program instructs federal immigration officers to find ways to deny applications that have been deemed a national security concern. For example, they flag discrepancies in a petition or claim they didn’t receive sufficient information from the immigrant.

The criteria used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to blacklist immigrants are overly broad and include traveling through regions where there is terrorist activity, the report said. The criteria disproportionately target Muslim immigrants, who often wait years to get a response on their citizenship applications and in some cases are denied, advocates said.

The ACLU learned about the program through records requests after detecting a pattern in cases of Muslim immigrants whose applications to become American citizens had languished.

“It is essentially creating this secret criteria for obtaining naturalization and immigration benefits that has never been disclosed to the public and Congress hasn’t approved,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU staff attorney and the author of the report.

“I feel like ultimately this is just about politics. They don’t want to be seen as having granted citizenship to somebody who’s going to be the next Boston bomber,” she said.

It was not immediately clear how many immigrants have been reviewed under the program, which began in 2008 and is formally known as the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program.

Christopher Bentley, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the agency routinely checks the background of immigrants applying for benefits and prioritizes the country’s safety and the integrity of the immigration system.

“We are vigilant in executing these responsibilities, and will not sacrifice national security or public safety in the interest of expediting the review of benefit applications,” Bentley said in a statement.

Under the program, immigration officers determine whether a case poses a national security concern and confer with the appropriate law enforcement agency that has information about the immigrant. Officers then conduct additional research and put many cases on hold for long periods of time. Most applications are eventually denied, as the program states that officers are not allowed to approve such cases without additional review, the report said.

Ahmad Muhanna, a 53-year-old Palestinian engineer, said he and his wife applied to become Americans as soon as they were eligible six years ago. They waited nearly four years for a response and were rejected because immigration officers said they failed to note on their application form an association with a Muslim charity to which they had donated money that U.S. authorities later declared a terrorist organization, he said.

Muhanna said the couple has appealed, but the wait has taken its toll. The couple, who lives in a Dallas suburb, missed their eldest daughter’s engagement in Gaza because they feared traveling abroad might jeopardize their green cards. And they haven’t been able to vote, something they’ve wanted to do for some time.

“You can’t just assume every Muslim is a guilty person, and every Muslim is a terrorist,” said Muhanna, adding that he agreed to be interviewed by the FBI with a lawyer present and has lived in the same house, with the same phone number for 15 years, making him easily traceable. “I have chosen this country to be my home and I want to be a citizen.”

 

Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/21/muslims-blacklisted-us-citizenship_n_3791799.html

Ailing Midwestern Cities Extend a Welcoming Hand to Immigrants

DAYTON, Ohio — Fighting back from the ravages of industrial decline, this city adopted a novel plan two years ago to revive its economy and its spirits: become a magnet for immigrants.

The Dayton City Commission voted to make the city “immigrant friendly,” with programs to attract newcomers and encourage those already here, as a way to help stem job losses and a drop in population.

In north Dayton — until recently a post-apocalyptic landscape of vacant, gutted houses — 400 Turkish families have moved in, many coming from other American cities. Now white picket fences, new roofs and freshly painted porches are signs of a brisk urban renewal led by the immigrants, one clapboard house at a time.

The momentum for change in Dayton came from the immigrants. In 2010, Mr. Shakhbandarov told the newly elected mayor, Gary Leitzell, that he was thinking of asking Turkish immigrants across the United States to settle here. Most of the Turks in Dayton are refugees who fled persecution in Russia and other former Soviet bloc countries.

Officials quickly realized that this city of 141,000 already had a small but fast-growing foreign-born population: more than 10,000 Muslims from different countries; refugees from Burundi and Somalia; college students from China, India and Saudi Arabia; Filipinos in health care jobs; and laborers from Latin America, many here illegally.

Turks chose Dayton, Mr. Shakhbandarov said, because the cost of living was low and there were universities nearby for their children. The newcomers have started restaurants and shops, as well as trucking companies to ferry equipment for a nearby Air Force base. And they have used their savings to refurbish houses in north Dayton, where Turkish leaders estimated that they had invested $30 million so far, including real estate, materials purchases and the value of their labor.

Mr. Shakhbandarov stood proudly at the entrance of the Turkish community center that recently opened downtown, gesturing to the lobby’s beige floor tiles, imported from Turkey to make visitors “feel warm” when they arrive. Turks bought the center, empty and dilapidated, from the city with a favorable loan. Now it houses a neighborhood preschool and martial arts classes, joined enthusiastically by girls in head scarves.

 

A Muslim organization, the Islamic Center of Peace, bought a blocklong shopping center, not far from downtown, that was so decayed the city had started to demolish it. The center’s president, Ismail Gula, envisions a bustling international shopping, recreational and religious center that will serve anyone in the city.

“I want my community to prove we are part of the community at large,” said Mr. Gula, a longtime Dayton resident who was born in Libya.

Recent research suggests that Dayton’s experience is not accidental. In a national study published last month, Jacob L. Vigdor, an economics professor at Duke University, found that over the last four decades, immigrants helped preserve and in some cases add manufacturing jobs in cities where they settled, sustaining employment for Americans. They also added to local housing values. For every thousand immigrants who moved into a county, 270 Americans moved in after them, Mr. Vigdor found.

Dayton’s immigrant experiment is particularly close to home for one lawmaker who will most likely have a major impact on the debate in Washington: the Republican speaker of the House, John A. Boehner. His district wraps around the city on three sides.

ACLU: Report exposes a covert U.S. Govt immigration program that unlawfully prevents many Muslim applicants from becoming citizens and lawful immigrants

LOS ANGELES AND SAN FRANCISCO – The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), and the law firm of Mayer Brown today released a 70-page report exposing a covert government program called the “Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program” (CARRP), which was created in 2008 to make it all but impossible for many Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian individuals to become American citizens, or otherwise obtain legal residency or asylum status.

The government program was meant to screen immigrants for national security concerns has blacklisted some Muslims and put their U.S. citizenship applications on hold for years, civil liberties advocates said Wednesday.

 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a report that the previously undisclosed program instructs federal immigration officers to find ways to deny applications that have been deemed a national security concern. For example, they flag discrepancies in a petition or claim they didn’t receive sufficient information from the immigrant.

The criteria used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to blacklist immigrants are overly broad and include traveling through regions where there is terrorist activity, the report said.

The ACLU learned about the program through records requests after detecting a pattern in cases of Muslim immigrants whose applications to become American citizens had languished.

“It is essentially creating this secret criteria for obtaining naturalization and immigration benefits that has never been disclosed to the public and Congress hasn’t approved,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU staff attorney and the author of the report.

Under the program, immigration officers determine whether a case poses a national security concern and confer with the appropriate law enforcement agency that has information about the immigrant. Officers then conduct additional research and put many cases on hold for long periods of time. Most applications are eventually denied, as the program states that officers are not allowed to approve such cases without additional review, the report said.

Muslims-Need-Not-Apply-Aclu-Socal-Report

Reza Aslan: A Jesus scholar who’s often a moving target

Reza Aslan can’t help but chuckle when he looks back on the 1980s, for he says he spent much of the decade pretending to be Mexican.

 

The Iranian-born immigrant mastered break dancing and embraced the nickname “El Pinguino,” (The Penguin) a nod to his bowlegs. Assuming an alternate ethnic identity suited a singular purpose for the young Aslan, who came to the United States in 1979 at the age of 7.

 

“I was scrubbing myself clean of any hint of my ethnicity or my religion,” says Aslan, whose mother was a less than enthusiastic Muslim and whose father was a more than enthusiastic atheist. “It was not the best time to be Iranian in America.”

 

Two decades later, Aslan — author of the bestseller “Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth” — still seems to be calibrating his identity in small but telling ways. Even as he has achieved phenomenal success as the author of well-crafted religious history books that appeal to a mass audience, he’s eager — perhaps overeager — to present himself as a formidable academic with special bona fides in religion and history.

Muslim Campaigners for Gay Rights Join Minister for Amsterdam Parade

30 July 2013

 

Campaigners for gay rights within Muslim groups will join Amsterdam’s Emancipation Minister in the city’s Gay Parade. Invited passengers on Bussemaker’s boat include representatives of Turkish, Moroccan, Surinamese, Antillean and Hindustani consultative bodies and partnerships and support points for homosexual immigrant youths. Additionally, the Turkish Dutch homosexual activist Done Fil will be on board.

 

Moroccan Woman with Dutch Children to be Deported from Netherlands

June 20 2013

 

Parool reports that a Moroccan woman living in Amsterdam faces deportation as an illegal immigrant, though her four children have Dutch nationality.

Aicha el Maher was picked up by officials carrying out a spot check on the take-away café where they say she was working illegally. El Maher denies this. She has been held since in a deportation center in Rotterdam.

El Maher’s four children aged 8, 6, 3, and almost 2, are being cared for by a friend while immigration lawyers argue her case.

A spokesman for the deportation service said earlier this week that El Maher can opt to take her children back to Morocco with her. Her husband is 20 years older than her and is unable to care for them.

International Islamic Terrorism: a statement by Forza Nuova

June 14, 2013

 

Following the arrest of a 21-year old Moroccan in Vobarno accused of international Islamic terrorism, a section of Forza Nuova Brescia decided to give an or rather, post it, and have decided to include it on different banners in protest on the main streets of the town in Sabbia Valley.

They used the slogan “Islam Out of Italy” and “Stop terrorism, no Islam.” But beyond the individual, which can take this as a gratuitous racial slur, we hear what reasons lie behind this gesture: “We decided to use strong words and phrases” says the press note released by Forza Nuova  “why not is to focus on Islam and not create an opportunity for Muslims to become protagonists.”

“The same area of Vobarno” continues the statement “has experienced in the past negative events related to Muslim immigration. Recall, just to name one, the murder of a bartender in 2001, again by an immigrant of Moroccan origin.”

“We therefore call on citizens not to tolerate this type of continuous violence and widespread damage to the Italians, and we make ourselves available for future demonstrations.”

Evidence does not support fears of Islam in the West

jocelyne_cesariWashington, DC – While scholarly work has debunked the idea of incompatibility of Islam with Western values, it has not really changed this dominant perception pervading political discourse and policy making. This notion of incompatibility between Islam and the West has actually intensified in the last 15 years, as the perception of Islam as the external enemy has combined with the fear of Islam within liberal Western democracies. The consequence is that Muslims are now seen by many as an internal and external enemy both in Europe and in the United States.

The persistence of the Islam versus West dichotomy has nothing to do with the quality of academic work, but rather the fact that this work is seldom utilised by political and cultural actors, not to mention media.

Yet hope may lie in better understanding the social and cultural reality of Muslims that starkly contradicts the perceived divide – namely that Muslims in the West are supportive of Western values and civic integration. In this regard, efforts could be made to familiarise citizens with this reality through different educational and cultural means.

My book Why the West Fears Islam: Exploration of Islam in Western Liberal Democracies (June 2013 by Palgrave McMillan) indicates a persistent predisposition in the West to link Islam to un-civic behaviour and to see assertive Muslims as internal enemies threatening national values and identities as well as external enemies at war with Western civilisation.

Intriguingly, there is no empirical evidence based on behaviours of Muslims in European countries or the United States that supports this fear. Actually, Muslim political practices are not different from their average fellow citizens. My investigation shows that in Europe and in the United States, Muslims express a greater trust in national institutions and democracy than their fellow citizens and that mosque attendance actually facilitates social and political integration.

Still, the construction of Muslims as the enemy within liberal democracies takes place in a preexisting environment influenced by history, adding the dimension of an internal enemy to the enduring feature of the external enemy.

Muslims have been seen as “others” to the West since medieval times. More specifically, Western self-definition based on the concepts of progress, nation, rational individual and secularisation was built in opposition to Muslim empires. Europe’s relationship with the Ottoman Empire gradually established the East-West binary that had a decisive impact on world politics since the 19th Century.

In the United States, during the 20th and 21st Centuries, the perception of Islam as the external enemy traces back to the Iranian Hostage Crisis (1979 to 1981) and became more acute after 9/11 when Muslims came to be seen as internal enemies due to the fear of home grown terrorism.

Many Muslims in post-WWII Europe have an immigrant background, and are currently estimated to constitute approximately five per cent of the European Union’s 425 million inhabitants. As immigrants, generations came with very low labour skills, unlike most Muslims in the United States who generally possess a high level of education and marketable skills.

Low levels of education and few job opportunities explain poor economic performance of Muslims in Europe. Muslim immigrant populations across Europe are often concentrated in segregated, urban areas, which are plagued by delinquency, crime and deteriorated living conditions.

There is a need across the Atlantic to rebuild national narratives to include Muslims and Islam as part of the memory and culture of the national communities they belong to.

This can likely be done if Islam is disconnected from partisan interests and becomes a national cause for political, social and religious actors across the ideological spectrum.

The educational and political efforts of the last five decades to include African Americans into the US national narrative are a good illustration of such a collective effort. In the case of Islam, it will require a coalition among religious actors from all faiths who can play a decisive role in promoting similarities between Islam and other monotheistic religions.

This is a noble political task for the decades to come.

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* Dr Jocelyne Cesari is Director of the Islam in the West program at Harvard University and a Senior Research Fellow at the Berkley Centre for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University. This article, the fourth in a series on contemporary Muslim-Western relations, was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 21 May 2013, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.