Interior Minister ignites debate on Islamic public holiday in Germany

Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, member of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, has sparked controversy by asserting that local authorities might be allowed to introduce a public holiday to commemorate an Islamic religious occasion.

A regional Muslim holiday?

De Maizière did not suggest a day off work at the national level but rather a regional one, limited to areas with a large Muslim population. Such area-specific divergences in matters of religious festivities and the corresponding public holidays are widespread in Germany, due to the country’s historical split between Protestant and Catholic areas.

His declarations, which came at a campaign rally in the Lower Saxon town of Wolfenbüttel, were met with considerable surprise. In the preceding months, de Maizière had often struck a very different tone.

Most notably, he had revived Germany’s long-standing debate about a ‘leading’ or ‘guiding’ culture (Leitkultur) in a populist tabloid article. The notion of a ‘leading culture’ stresses Germany’s supposedly Judeo-Christian essence and thus implicitly defines German identity in opposition to Islam.

Backlash against the proposal

The overall reception of de Maizière’s unexpected suggestion was negative. In a poll, slightly more than 70 per cent of Germans rejected the idea that Islamic occasions could become a public holiday. Only 7,8 per cent of respondents declared themselves in favour of the Interior Minister’s proposal.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/videos/70-prozent-dagegen-nach-de-maiziere-vorstoss-mehrheit-der-deutschen-lehnt-islamische-feiertag-ab_id_7724392.html ))

De Maizière’s fellow Christian Democrats expressed anger and outrage at his statements. Bernd Althusmann, the CDU’s front-runner for the state elections in Lower Saxony (which he has since lost), criticised the timing of de Maizière’s advance during the late stages of the electoral campaign.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/aussage-zu-muslimischen-feiertagen-thomas-de-maiziere-erntet-heftige-kritik_id_7708486.html ))

Alexander Dobrindt, Minister of Transport and member of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, accused de Maizière of jeopardising Germany’s Christian heritage. “To introduce Islam-holidays in Germany is out of the question for us.” Other CDU figures also stressed the need to protect the “Judeo-Christian” heritage of the country.(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/thomas-de-maiziere/brauchen-wir-wirklich-einen-muslimischen-feiertag-53525894.bild.html ))

Discrimination of Christians abroad

In a somewhat incongruous move, many commentators also dismissed the notion that Germany might introduce an Islamic holiday by pointing to the religious discrimination and persecution suffered by Christians in Muslim-majority countries.

The Catholic bishop of Fulda asked: “How would Islamic states react, if Catholic Christians attempted to celebrate for instance the festival of Corpus Christi with a [public] procession?”(( http://www.die-tagespost.de/politik/Islam-Feiertagsdebatte-geht-weiter;art315,182532 )) He was seconded by leading CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach, who argued that the religious liberty of Christians in Islamic countries ought to be the priority.

The two men did not elucidate, however, how the highly objectionable suppression of the rights of Christians in other parts of the world could legitimise religious discrimination at home.

Catholic laymen more receptive to an Islamic holiday

Other Christian religious figures and institutions were, however, at least initially less hostile to de Maizière’s suggestions. The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the largest Catholic laymen’s association, welcomed the debate on the potential introduction of an Islamic public holiday in certain localities.

He asserted that “in a multi-religious society, an Islamic holiday can be added in areas with a large share of pious Muslims – without betraying the Christian tradition of our country. That [the betrayal of Christian roots] happens much rather through the transformation of Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus.” CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer has since expressed his “shock” and “bewilderment” atthe ZdK-President’s statements.(( http://www.die-tagespost.de/politik/Islam-Feiertagsdebatte-geht-weiter;art315,182532 ))

Positive reaction of the ZMD

Muslim figures have also taken part in the raging debate. Aiman Mazyek, Chairman of the ZMD – one of Germany’s Islamic umbrella associations – welcomed the statements by Thomas de Maizière.

At the same time, Mazyek – perhaps mindful of the backlash – asserted that he did not demand a public Islamic holiday mandated by law. Instead, Mazyek presented his position as merely wanting to raise awareness of Islamic religious occasions so that they be ‘put on the map’.

On this basis, Muslim employees might be able to reach practicable solutions at their workplace that would allow them to celebrate Islamic holidays. Mazyek gave the example of a Muslim policeman having a day off for Eid while stepping in for his Christian counterpart on Christmas Day.(( http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/politik/inland/muslimischer-feiertag-deutschland-100.html ))

Critical Muslim voices

Other voices were more critical. Ahmad Mansour, a highly vocal counter-radicalisation activist, called de Maizière’s proposition of an Islamic public holiday “a well-meant gesture” but deemed it impractical. Instead, Mansour suggested that all Germans be given two additional days off work, to be used for whichever religious festival people feel attached to.(( https://www.facebook.com/OfficialAhmadMansour/posts/529328327414627 ))

Lamya Kaddor, Islamic scholar and Chairwoman of the Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB) also dismissed calls for an Islamic holiday. For Kaddor, the Muslim community in Germany is too small to warrant a public holiday; like Mansour, she stressed that more practical, hands-on solutions to the needs of Muslim employees could be found at the individual workplace.

Kaddor criticised de Maizière’s statements as a mere exercise in symbolism out of touch with the genuine wishes of Muslim Germans. Kaddor suspected that the Interior Minister’s remarks were merely clumsy advances seeking to attract Muslim voters to the CDU.(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Muslimischer-Feiertag-waere-Symbolpolitik-article20083722.html ))

Individualisation of the religious sphere

The underlying question remains, however, how religious minorities can reconcile their faith with a calendar – and hence a working schedule as well as with a societal sense of time – still based on fundamentally Christian notions.

Many who might consider themselves socially liberal ‘progressives’ appear to be drawn to a particular default answer to this question – namely to the flexibilisation of public holidays: they assert that adherents of different religious traditions ought to be able to take leave from work on different days, depending on their individual faith-based commitments.

Unifying potential of a public holiday

Yet the outcome of such flexibility would be the further segregation of religious traditions. Murat Kayman, a former official of the Turkish-dominated DİTİB Islamic association who was chased from his post in the context of personnel purges after Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt, highlighted the potential of a universal and mandatory Islamic public holiday for inter-religious dialogue:

“It would be a nice thought if on this day Ronny from Dresden or Thilo from Berlin could have time for their families, hobbies, and leisure – only because there are Muslims in Germany. By the same token, there should be a nationwide Jewish holiday. So that Jens from Frankfurt and Mehmet from Duisburg realise that they can only spend a pleasurable, work-free day because of their fellow Jewish citizens.”(( http://murat-kayman.de/2017/10/16/deutschland-muss-deutschland-bleiben/ ))

Lamya Kaddor in fact struck a similar note while steering clear of religious connotations:

“It might be nice to introduce a holiday that represents what constitutes and unites our society. Maybe a ‘Day of Immigration’. There is a centuries-old tradition of immigration into this country, from Huguenots to Syrians. This could be a signal to look towards the future for once, instead of back into the past. Christian values would not be infringed upon by this – and neither would Muslim or any other ones.”(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Muslimischer-Feiertag-waere-Symbolpolitik-article20083722.html ))

De Maizière “misunderstood”

For now, however, such a communal new holiday seems far off. After the fierce criticism directed at his remarks, Thomas de Maizière backtracked quickly, asserting that he had been misunderstood.

On his website, he stated: “There is no suggestion on my part to introduce a Muslim holiday. I will also not make such a suggestion.”(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/muslimischer-feiertag-de-maiziere-fuehlt-sich-missverstanden-15250862.html ))

 

Man claiming allegiance to ISIS stabs policemen and wife to death

Source: http://www.liberation.fr/planete/2016/06/14/policier-et-sa-compagne-tues-en-plein-euro-la-france-a-nouveau-frappee-par-un-acte-jihadiste_1459272

 

June 14, 2016

 

A radicalized killer has stabbed a top cop and his wife to death in their Paris home.

 

Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, 42, a police commander, suffered nine stomach wounds in the ‘terror attack’ at his suburban house in the Yvelines department, north of Paris, shortly after 8.30pm. His wife’s body was found in the property after elite RAID commandos stormed the building and killed the attacker.

 

The only survivor was the couple’s three-year-old son.

 

The Islamic State’s terror group’s Amaq news agency said the attacker was an “Islamic State fighter.”

 

There were also unconfirmed claims that the attacker had discussed his “affiliation to ISIS” during negotiations with the police. A source close to the case said: “It’s said that he shouted Allahu Akhbar (Arabic for God is the Greatest) during the attack, and spoke about his membership of ISIS.”

 

Neighbors also said the man had served with the French Army, in the Foreign Legion

 

Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s Interior Minister, said “every line of enquiry” including terrorism was being investigated”.

 

Cazeneuve said the “immediate priority” was the wellbeing of the couple’s orphaned son.

 

Salvaing was an assistant chief with the judicial police at nearby Mureaux, while the dead killer was also from Magnanville.

 

“It is believed the attacker is a neighbor,” said a witness at the scene of the siege.

 

“The street has now been shut off, and the electricity and gas has been cut.”

 

An Interior Ministry spokesman in Paris said a police negotiator started talking to the neighbor, before he began tweeting threatening messages. It is then that the order was given for the commandos to move in.

 

Salvaing was known as a ‘friendly police officer with a very good reputation,’ said a former colleague.

 

France is currently under a State of Emergency following last year’s Islamic State terrorist attacks, in which almost 150 people were murdered, including two police officers.

 

In November 2015 it was RAID who took part in operations at the Bataclan theatre in Paris, where 90 people were killed during a series of bombings, shootings and hostage taking by ISIS extremists.

Son of a pied-noir rallies under the banner ‘Muslims of France’

He confirms being “heavily influenced by the philosophy of the General,” and “converted to Islam around the age of seven.” Bruno Perez, 52 years old, is the UDMF candidate in Marseille for the upcoming local elections. “I am a Gaullist who never drifted,” he affirmed.

On February 12 the UDMF, founded in 2012, announced its presence by running eight candidates in the upcoming elections but a week later decided to only run two in Marseille, Bruno Perez and Houria Medjbar. “I was contacted three weeks ago by the UDMF,” Perez recalls, “I didn’t know this party or its leaders. It’s a friend who put me in contact. He is also my substitute for the election.” He states that now “we are in a hurry,” and that his political stance “has nothing to do with promoting sharia!”

Son of a pied-noir who moved to France in 1962, Perez was stunned by the reaction provoked by his candidature: “In the Muslim Democratic Union of France, we are all Muslims, but that’s not what is most important. Before anything else we are democrats, republicans, and we respect secularism…but we are there to repeat that Muslims of France, is not the Islamic State.”

Perez has a history in politics. In 1995 he campaigned for the RPR. “It’s there that I met Houria Medjbar,” he explained, “who’s now been my friend for twenty years.” A Charles Pasqua supporter, he then followed the former Interior Minister of the Gathering of the French People and presented himself under the label in the 2001 local elections, gaining 3% of the votes.

Spanish authorities dismantle terror cell in Ceuta

Spanish authorities arrested four suspected members of a terror cell Saturday morning in that country’s North African territory of Ceuta, a quartet that Spain’s Interior Minister claimed were well-trained and well-prepared to attack.

What is especially noteworthy with the breakup of this cell are the many parallels with the attacks in Paris recently carried out against the Charlie Hebdo magazine,” Fernandez said, referring to the January 7 massacre that ended with 12 dead.

The suspects, who are Spanish citizens and are of Moroccan origin, are “strongly radicalized” and had psychological and physical training, as well as training in the use of weapons, said the minister while addressing reporters at an event of his ruling conservative party.

“(They were) willing to carry out an attack,” Fernandez said. “And, according to the police, to blow themselves up.”

In Germany, dealing with potential Jihad fighters

After a conference the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, announced that radical Islamists should be hindered to travel to war zones in order to join Jihad. This should be achieved by substituting the original ID card with a document which does not allow for exit. Indirectly, the ministry is also addressing the issue of Jihad fighters returning from Iraq/Syria and becoming a potential threat for the German society in general. Rolf Jäger, chairperson of the Interior Minister’s Conference, emphasized on the double strategy of repression and prevention needed in order to stop radicalization. In relation to this Heiko Maaß, Federal Minister of Justice, suggested to tighten law regulations concerning two significant points: Firstly, people should be held accountable when funding terrorism and secondly, people should be held accountable for already leaving Germany in the attempt to pursue an act of violence as well as receive any training in this regard (there is no legal punishment for both within the given legal framework). Members of the Christian Democratic Union criticized this proposal as one not going far enough and thereby inadequate. The Union argued that the proposal should also include the mere promotion of a terrorist organization such as ISIS/ISIL. Meanwhile, the interior ministry of Bavaria has deported the Salafist Erhan A. to Turkey, after his endorsement of ISIS/ISIL, its ideological framework as well as the beheadings.

Interview with Naika Foroutan on Germany’s Islam Conference

February 24, 2014

 

Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has announced that the German Islam Conference will no longer concern itself with security issues. For sociologist Naika Foroutan of Berlin’s Humboldt University, this is a positive sign. At last, the conference will be able to concentrate on ensuring religious equality for Muslims in Germany.

 

Qantara: http://en.qantara.de/content/interview-with-naika-foroutan-on-germanys-islam-conference-encouraging-developments

The management of security and religious affairs: the disappointing results of Interior Minister Manuel Valls in 2013

February 5, 2014

 

According to the recently released 2013 report by the National Observatory of Delinquency and Penal Action, France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls has not brought down crime nor been active on the regulation of religious committees, contrary to popular perception.

Enjoying successful poll ratings, Manuel Valls has been portrayed as the ‘strong man’ of the socialist government. But according to the report on delinquency and public security, the number of burglaries and homicides has increased despite a government plan to counter crime.

In addition to calling for redefining the mission of the judiciary police and integrating new technologies into the police force, the Interior Minister called for a tighter legal measures on internet and social media networks to stop hate messages. ‘The degree of latent hate expressed on social media is of an incompatible intensity with our national ambitions’, said Valls.

Valls is also in charge of maintaining France’s religious bodies, and the 2013 assessment is particularly weak on his management of Islam in France. At the start of his position in 2012, Valls had expressed ambitious plans in this domain. But up to now, nothing new has been implemented: the ‘Islam question’ may have been deemed too risky and hazardous for an Interior Minister who came across as a hardline supporter of secularism.

Valls had initially said he planned to create another national representative body for Muslims, the CFCM (Conseil Francais du Culte Musulman) deemed too close to foreign agendas. Another project was to implement a ‘Foundation of French Islam’ intended for collecting funds transparently for the construction of places of worship. Valls let believe he wanted to reopen this project, but French Muslims have yet to see any steps forwards from the Interior Minister on this central question.

 

Source: http://www.zamanfrance.fr/article/politique-securitaire-gestion-cultes-bilan-mitige-manuel-valls-7687.html

French ministers refuse to attend conference with Islamic scholar who teaches at Oxford University

Tariq Ramadan is an Islamic scholar who teaches at Oxford University and a former member of a working group on extremism set up by Tony Blair. Time magazine once described him as the “leading thinker” among Europe’s second and third-generation Muslim immigrants. Yet two French ministers have suddenly announced that they will not attend a conference in Florence tomorrow on the future of the European Union because of the presence of the scholar, Tariq Ramadan. He is due to be a panellist at the conference, entitled The State of the Union, speaking about “migration, identity and integration”. The French Interior Minister Manuel Valls and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the Women’s Rights Minister who is also a government spokeswoman, informed organisers that they were pulling out, saying they had “not been informed” of Professor Ramadan’s attendance. The philosopher is a controversial figure who has been accused of advocating violence and for some years was banned from entering France.

Two people arrested in Spain for presumed connection to Al-Qaeda

Two men have been arrested this morning in Zaragoza and Murcia for being allegedly linked to Al Qaeda, as part of an operation ordered by the National Court.
The two suspected terrorists detained are Nou Mediouni, of Algerian origin, and held in Zaragoza, and Hassan El Jaaouani, of Moroccan origin, and arrested in Murcia. They are “supposedly radical members of a cell related to the terrorist organization AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb),” said a statement issued by the National Police.
However, Interior Minister, Jorge Fernandez, has not confirmed that the two men were related among them. Sources of the National Court also notes that it cannot be said yet that they belong to a jihadist cell, although both of them have visited radical Islamic websites. The profile of those detained, according to the police statement, correspond to the two people who recently committed the attack in the Boston Marathon.
The Interior Ministry said in a second press release that Nou Mediouni was a”regular user of a known radical Islamist platform based in Mali from which AQIM is responsible, and that recruits candidates presenting more radical profiles “. Mediouni, according to police, was recruited by the forum “for its high degree of radicalization” and was instructed to travel to a “jihadist training camp located in northern Mali and directed by AQIM.”However, the note explains, “strong international police pressure on the ground” prevented him to contact those responsible for the field and was forced to return to Spain.

French Islamic school teaches imams

News Agencies – November 6, 2012

Deep in the wooded hills of Burgundy in central France, an unusual institute is training unusual students: aspiring French imams who hope to minister to the country’s large Muslim population. After seven intensive years of study, only 10 or so graduates each year to lead prayers or preach at mosques following graduation from the European Institute of Human Sciences de Saint-Leger-de-Fougeret Over the past nine years, various governments have encouraged the professional training of local religious leaders. Interior Minister Manuel Valls recently backed the practice, even if the job of imam is badly paid, if at all, and enjoys no official recognition.

The initiative goes back 20 years when the Union of Islamic Organisations in France, which has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, converted a former children’s holiday centre into the institute. Its stated aim is to train imams equipped “with a solid knowledge of Islam and the socio-cultural realities of Europe.” The idea was to provide an alternative to the recruitment of foreign imams, who often spoke no French and had little or no knowledge of French lifestyles.