German Islamic organisations publish an “electoral compass” for Muslim voters

In preparation for the upcoming federal elections on September 24th, three German Muslim institutions have joined hands in order to provide an electoral guidance on topics of particularly high relevance to the country’s Muslim population.

The Islamische Zeitung newspaper (IZ), the German Muslim League (DML), and the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) have published the “German-Muslim Electoral Compass”. The Compass is based on a questionnaire sent to Germany’s major parties. All of them – bar the openly Islamophobic AfD – replied, allowing a broad comparison of different parties’ approaches.

An alliance bypassing the Turkish associations

IZ, DML, and ZMD had already published the Electoral Compass ahead of the last two federal elections. Yet the fact that these particular three players have joined hands again reflects not only their established patterns of cooperation. It is also indicative of ongoing schisms within Germany’s Muslim community.

In fact, both the IZ and the DML have their roots among German converts to Islam. Traditionally, they are politically and ideologically sceptical of the large traditionalist Turkish-dominated Islamic umbrella organisations (such as DİTİB, VIKZ, and IRD/IGMG).((For an academic study of the difficult relationship between ethnically German converts to Islam and the majority of Germany’s ethnically Turkish and Kurdish Muslims, see Esra Özyürek (2015), Being German, Becoming Muslim: Race, Religion and Conversion in the New Europe, Princeton: Princeton University Press. ))

Vying for political influence

This makes IZ and DML excellent allies of the ZMD, a predominantly non-Turkish Islamic association whose ambitious chairman Aiman Mazyek has striven for a long time to dethrone the Turkish organisations as the leading representatives of Islam in Germany.

With President Erdoğan having called upon German Turks to boycott the established parties,((https://dtj-online.de/erdogan-zu-deutsch-tuerken-waehlt-nicht-die-tuerkeifeindliche-cdu-spd-oder-die-gruenen-872222 )) Islamic associations with strong ties to the Turkish state are in no position to engage in a political dialogue ahead of the election. The ZMD with Aiman Mazyek has gladly used the opportunity and mounted a flashy advert campaign calling upon Muslims to vote on September 24th.(( http://islam.de/29128 ))

Broad-ranging questionnaire

Topics covered in the “Electoral Compass” include general questions on Islam and religious freedom, racism and Islamophobia, hijab bans, dual citizenship, as well as foreign policy issues (notably arms exports, relations with Turkey, and the German army’s deployment in Afghanistan).(( The questionnaire and parties’ responses are available at http://deutsch-muslimischer-wahlkompass.de/. ))

Overall, the differences between the parties’ responses are gradual yet noteworthy, if not too surprising in their content. Commenting on the results of the “Compass”, Stefan Sulaiman Wilms, editor in chief of the IZ, noted that parties had shown different positions on Islam and Muslim life, ranging from “liberal” to “conservative”.

Yet Wilms was contented to observe that no party had “shown a fundamental resentment against our way of living” and that all had declared their wish to “protect and respect our civic rights.”(( https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/irgendwo-zwischen-konkretem-und-allgemeinem/ ))

Does Islam belong to Germany?

Particularly striking about Chancellor Merkel’s CDU/CSU was its continuous stress on the need for an Islamic practice in line with “our fundamental liberal-democratic order”. The CDU/CSU also implicitly refused to endorse the statement that ‘Islam belongs to Germany’, although Muslims do.

This touches upon a long-standing debate, in which Conservatives have regularly emphasised the notion that while Muslims may belong to German society, ‘Islam’ cannot be part of a country that is exclusively defined by its ‘Judeo-Christian’ traditions.

State “neutrality” and the headscarf

Other potential conflicts revolve around the notion of ‘state neutrality’ emphasised by the economically liberal FDP: ‘neutrality’ clauses have often been interpreted as necessitating a ban on hijabs in public functions or at the workplace.

The CDU/CSU, as well as the Greens stressed their commitment to anti-discrimination but also greeted the ECHR’s recent ruling that allows employers to prohibit employees from wearing hijabs at work. By contrast, The Left – perhaps surprisingly for a staunchly socialist and hence atheist party – was most clear-cut in its rejection of hijab bans.

Disagreements on dual citizenship

Another dividing line opened up on the issue of dual citizenship. The Social Democrats renewed their commitment to the status quo of the nationality law enacted under the red-green coalition in 2000. This reform had eased the acquisition of German citizenship and had also created some possibilities to hold two passports.

In the “Electoral Compass”, the Greens and The Left advocated a more far-reaching liberalisation of citizenship provisions, further facilitating the acquisition of a second nationality. By contrast, CDU/CSU and FDP restated their willingness to introduce a “generational cut” – i.e. provisions that would force children to choose one passport over the other after the second generation (in the case of the CDU/CSU proposals) or the fourth generation (in the case of the plan put forward by the FDP).

Lack of questions on jihadism, counter-terrorism

A noteworthy omission from the survey were any questions dealing with the phenomenon of jihadism. Perhaps IZ, DML, and ZMD did not want to entrench the linkage between ‘Islam’ and ‘terrorism’ by touching upon the subject; perhaps they were of the opinion that the issue is already overrepresented in the media or that the current jihadist violence is inherently ‘un-Islamic’.

Yet it is surely a question of great interest to Muslim voters how different parties think about this issues. It might allow an interested electorate to gauge the stance different parties might take in the face of future attacks – for instance with respect to potentially discriminatory anti-terrorism legislation.

Equally, it would have been welcome to see the parties forced to take a clear-cut position on their willingness to enhance inter-religious dialogue and to foster existing de-radicalisation strategies. These are, after all, initiatives that would also benefit Muslims and their position in society.

No Muslim “pressure group”

On a critical note, the IZ’s chief editor Stefan Sulaiman Wilms noted that especially CDU/CSU, SPD, and Greens had remained relatively general in their answers to the “Compass”. Only The Left, he observed, had given more concrete indications on how it wished to support German Muslims in practical, everyday matters ranging from anti-discrimination to halal slaughtering.

For Wilms, the vagueness of parties’ responses is also due to a failure of German Muslims to organise and to constitute themselves as an effective lobbying group. He asserted that

“for some years, the activist discourse of some Muslims has focused a lot on empowerment. Yet so far this does not amount to anything more than the financing or funding of isolated projects. Unfortunately, we are not perceived by politicians as noteworthy addressees whose concerns could be electorally relevant.”(( https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/irgendwo-zwischen-konkretem-und-allgemeinem/ ))

Call for more civil society activism

Wilms thus called upon his brothers and sisters in faith to step up their civic and societal engagement. German Muslims could only make themselves an incontrovertible political player by become organised and more socially involved. Their disproportionately strong charitable activism in the domain of refugee and asylum aid showed German Muslims’ potential, or so Wilms argued.(( https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/irgendwo-zwischen-konkretem-und-allgemeinem/ ))

Indeed, German Muslims’ socio-political activism as well as their religious organisations are in urgent need of professionalisation. Both social involvement and the provision of religious goods are still overwhelmingly done on a voluntary basis. With central organisational capacities underfunded and understaffed, Muslims’ public voice and political impact continue to be limited.

Need for political engagement

Against the backdrop of these limitations, Cemile Giousouf argues that German Muslims should not devote all their energies to civil society activism only. In an interview with the JUMA network – with JUMA standing for Young, Muslim, Active – Giousouf urged Muslims to help influence the political process by joining political parties.

Giousouf, who is the CDU/CSU’s first Muslim member of the Bundestag, asserted that Muslims would have to engage more directly with the intricacies of policymaking in order to effectuate more durable change: “It is decisive that your [i.e. young Muslims’] concerns become part of everyday political work and are not only formulated in Muslim civil society initiatives”, Giousouf observed. (( http://www.juma-ev.de/2017/09/ich-finde-es-schade-wenn-religion-als-uncool-bewertet-wird-cemile-giousouf-integrationsbeauftragte-der-cducsu/ ))

As of now, roughly 1,000 Muslims have become members of the CDU/CSU.((https://www.islamische-zeitung.de/muslime-und-die-wahl-es-fehlt-an-daten/ )) It remains to be seen whether Cemile Giousouf’s party as well as other political players will gradually become the home of a more distinctly Muslim voice.

A debate on the Quran between Mouhanad Khorchide and Hamad Abdel-Samad

Two controversial contributors

In a new book – Zur Freiheit gehört, den Koran zu kritisieren: Ein Streitgespräch (It is a part of freedom to criticise the Qur’an: A disputation) – two of the most prominent voices on Islam in Germany, Hamed Abdel-Samad and Mouhanad Khorchide, debate the nature of the Quran and of the Islamic faith. The publication has sparked considerable public interest, also because its two authors have been at loggerheads on many issues of theological and political significance.

In recent years, Abdel-Samad has emerged as a reformed former Muslim Brother and a self-styled critic of Islam, publishing a salvo of controversial popular books imputing a fascist predisposition to Islam and presenting the Prophet Muhammad as a maniacal proto-terrorist. While these books have earned Abdel-Samad public notoriety, journalistic and especially scholarly observers have widely dismissed his theses as exceedingly crude.

In contrast to that Mouhanad Khorchide, Professor for Islamic Theology at Münster University, has published widely on his understanding of Islam as a religion of mercy. His reliance on theological positions and historical-critical methodology have been ostracised by a range of Muslim associations in Germany; and after receiving death threats from conservative radicals, Khorchide has been under police protection.

Attempting a serious debate

In a discussion of the book and its theses on the ZDF’s Forum am Freitag TV show ((http://www.zdf.de/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-5989636.html)), the authors nevertheless manage to engage each other in a serious conversation beyond mere polemics. Both authors show themselves desirous of activating what they refer to as ‘Islam’s silent majority’ and to equip this majority with the necessary theological tools to defend their faith against the depravations of jihadist interpretations. Moreover, they decry the tendency of contemporary theological debate to degenerate into a shouting match in which the opposing sides bombard each other with competing quotations from the Quran, each party eager to have its preferred textual passage count as a piece of ‘evidence’ demonstrating the – peaceful or violent, democratic or authoritarian – essence of Islam.

Whilst viewers of the TV debate could be impressed by the willingness of Abdel-Samad and Khorchide to enter into such an ambitious dialogue, it was also difficult to avoid the feeling that, as their discussion wore on, they began to fall into the very trap they had sought to avoid: beginning with a series of Abdel-Samad’s interventions, both discussants gradually came to rely rather heavily on quotations from the Qur’an; and both sought to use shreds of the text to prove their respective arguments about the true nature of Islam as a religion.

Abdel-Samad, for instance, alleged that the term ‘man’ occurs 61 times in the Qur’an; “and in all of these 61 verses, ‘man’ comes away negatively”. From this assertion, Abdel-Samad derived the assertion that “young people who ask themselves: ‘what does God want from me?’ are ultimately led to death, not to life” by the Qur’anic text. In Abdel-Samad’s view, the only ray of hope is the fact that most Muslims don’t read the Qur’an, or (if they do read it) don’t understand its message – also because the Quran is, according to Abdel-Samad, not only a violent but also incomprehensible and primitive book.

Sustaining nuance in the current political climate

At least in the TV debate of the book’s theses, the rhetorical prowess of Abdel-Samad has a certain edge of the quiet Khorchide: the discussion has Khorchide struggling to defend his perspective on the Quran against Abdel-Samad’s assault. Khorchide manages to make a number of memorable points – presenting, for instance, his view of how the Quran as a text of ongoing divine communication might be read in a meaningful way by Muslims today. Yet the viewer is still left with an overall sense that nuance is difficult to sustain in a public debate that pits an eloquently presented black and white narrative à la Abdel-Samad against the more complex analysis that Khorchide seeks to put forward.

The book form of the debate might be somewhat more suited to Khorchide, insofar as it might enable him to deploy a well-thought out answer to Abdel-Samad’s stark attacks. Nevertheless, the difficulties in developing an ambitious and theologically serious argument about the Quran faced by Khorchide are emblematic of the current state of the public debate in Germany and Europe. In fact, as his critics have noted, Abdel-Samad shares the fundamentalist Salafi understanding of Islam that he claims to fight; the sole difference being that he castigates what the Salafis find admirable. Neither of them can actually accommodate a more nuanced understanding of Islam as a lived religion or of its foundational texts.

In this respect, one of Khorchide’s points from the TV discussion rings true: the message that readers derive from the Quran tell us far more about the nature of the interpreter in question than about the nature of the Quran. The fundamentalist “must ask himself: ‘with what eyes of hate do I actually read the Quran?’” Perhaps Hamed Abdel-Samad, too, ought to take this question seriously.

UK Muslims seek own path in countering jihadism

Feeling unfairly targeted by the government’s anti-radicalisation drive, Britain’s Muslim community is rallying to find its own response to extremism and take a greater role in the fight against terrorism.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has planned a series of conferences around the country where community leaders, activists and others will speak out against jihadist ideology, but also government security measures they say alienates Muslims.

“We do know that for any policy to succeed it needs to involve Muslim communities as part of the solution and not only as part of the problem,” said MCB secretary general Shuja Shafi at the first of a series of conferences in London this week.

The initiative comes as concerns mount over the number of Britons heeding calls by the Islamic State (IS) group and other extremists to launch attacks domestically or fight abroad.

IS has been blamed for a string of outrages, including coordinated attacks in Paris Friday that left 129 dead and more than 350 wounded.

“We feel like many in our community do, that for too long terrorism has cast a long dark shadow on our community,” said Shafi.

The government has repeatedly called on Muslim civil society to help counter the lure of jihadist ideology, but such measures have been poorly received.

A January letter to imams inviting them to “explain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of the British identity” was criticised as implying that Muslims were not part of British society.

Critics say it creates a “culture of surveillance”, and since the start of the year local authorities, schools and universities have been required to report anyone showing signs of radicalisation.

In September, police questioned a Muslim schoolboy who used the word “ecoterrorist” in a discussion in French class about environmental activism.

“If you’re genuinely concerned about engaging with the community then it cannot be done through the prism of securitisation, the prism of Prevent,” said Yasmine Ahmed, director of UK Rights Watch.

Former police chief superintendent Dal Babu, one of the few Muslims and Britons of Asian origin to achieve the rank, said Prevent was a “problem”.

“We need to make sure that Prevent is for the people, by the people and has the trust of the people. Unfortunately we are not in that position.”

One of the difficulties in preventing radicalisation is that the process is not well understood, conference speakers said.

According to official figures, more than 700 Britons have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq, and of those nearly 300 have returned.

Half of Muslims sees no place for democracy in Islam

Wednesday February 25th there was a public hearing on radicalization and jihadism in the Dutch parliament. There, Paul Scheffer, specialized in integration issues, stated that according to a big minority and perhaps a majority of Dutch Muslims democracy and Islam do not fit together. Scheffer is basing himself on a research conducted by Ruud Koopmans. On the other side, ‘native’ Dutch people see no place for Islam in their democracy.

Thus a question arises: “How does one from an islamic standpoint relates to democracy and how relates democracy itself towards new religions?”

According to Scheffer authorities and educational institutions lack the promotion of freedom for everyone. “If the Muslim community states: you should be accepting towards us, I say: Yes, but are you also accepting towards the Dutch society? This is a fair question. Are you then also accepting the equality between man and woman and do you accept homosexuals in our community?”
He also thinks that part of radicalization can be explained because of inconsistence when it comes to the norms of freedom. The Netherlands is preaching freedom, but has at the same time Saudi Arabia as its ally.

Representatives from the Muslim community disagreed during the hearing on their responsibility against radicalization and jihadism in the Netherlands. According to Ibrahim Wijbenga (youth worker) the Muslim community should speak out more clearly against jihadism and radicalization. Politician Selcuk Őztürk disagrees with him. Said Idbid, board member of the Ibn Khattab mosque in the city of Almere says he is already trying for years to keep youth from radicalizing. He thinks that youth becomes radicalized because of ideological and theological convictions, but according to Latifa Bakrimi from the Hague municipality a lack of perspectives also play a role. Habib El Kaddouri from the Collaboration Dutch Moroccans says what is needed is to invest in prevention.

Manuel Valls preaches unity to combat “Islamo-fascism”

Prime Minister Manuel Valls launched an appeal on February 16 for unity in order to combat “Islamo-fascism.” Following the deadly attacks in Copenhagen, Valls stated: “We must not give in to fear nor to division. But at the same time we must also deal with the problems: combating terrorism, mobilizing society in support of secularism, combating anti-Semitism…Islam of France must take full responsibility, this is what is demanded of the large majority of our Muslim compatriots.”

Valls felt it was necessary to conduct “a war” against Islamo-fascism,” “outside, but also inside,” of the country, to combat jihadism. He stressed that every country in the region should act, militarily and financially, including Qatar and Turkey. Monday morning the Egyptian army bombed several ISIL locations in Libya.

Valls wants to “combat the discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood” in France

Prime Minister Manuel Valls stated that “we must combat the discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood in our country, we must combat Salafist groups in our neighborhoods.”

“We need to help Muslims who don’t support being confused by such discourse. Not only with jihadists, not only with terrorists, but also with fundamentalism, conservatism, radicalism,” he stated.

When asked how he would combat such groups, Valls responded: “By the law, by the police, by intelligence services. Many things are done. A religion cannot impose its discourse in our neighborhoods.”

The denunciation of Salafism, even if it is primarily quietest and hostile toward jihadism, is very common, especially as the ultra-Orthodox movement influenced by Saudi Wahhabism has gained ground in mosques, present in over 100 (out of 2,300) today.

The Muslim Brotherhood is less common today at the highest state level. The group is at once reformist as well as being conservative. It is engaged in both the political and social sectors, as well as being represented by the Union of Muslim Organizations of France (UOIF) and embodied by Tariq Ramadan, grandson of the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder Hassan el-Banna.

The liberal imam of Bordeaux Tareq Oubrou is also a member. With over 250 associations, the UOIF is one of the principal Islamic organizations in France. It oversees the first Muslim school under contract by the state (Averroès, in Lille), which has recently been accused of fostering an “Islamist” ideology among its students. The UOIF also organizes the largest annual gathering of Muslims in the West, which boasts over 100,000 attendees annually, and whose guest list is monitored by the authorities.

Will the French government’s anti-jihad campaign be effective?

The French government began a campaign aimed at dissuading young Frenchmen from leaving France to fight in Syria and launched a video to combat jihadism. The video is primarily aimed at showing the “myths surrounding jihadism” by explaining what awaits them as foreign fighters. To combat the propaganda used by ISIL and rebel groups the video contrasted the promises made by jihadi recruiters with the harsh reality: war, violence and massacres.

It targets both young men and women. One line says, “They tell you: come make a family with one of our heroes. In reality, you will raise your children in the midst of war and terror.” The film ends with: “The indoctrination speeches made by jihadists lead to new victims every day,” followed by the hash tag #stopdjihadisme. The site contains several other sections, such as “Understand the terror threat,” “Decipher jihadist propaganda,” and “React-The state’s action,” and “Mobilize-Together.”

Each section is composed of several chapters containing interviews with experts, explanations, historical references and links to other sites. For example, anthropologist Dounia Bouzar explains how the Internet’s popularity allows jihadi recruiters to establish contacts, especially with young people.

“We are going to widely circulate this video on social networking sites in order to reach the most people who might be influenced by these claims and these sirens. We hope to create shock among them. And the site proposes solutions, remedies, and help for young people, their families and their friends,” said Christian Gravel, director of the Government Information Services. (SIG)

“Do they think they’ll scare or dissuade with such a site?” Asked Florian Philipport, Vice President of the FN. “Is this a firm enough response to the grave danger to which France is exposed? This communication operation only serves to mask the blatant inaction of those with political power,” he said.

In a Midi Libre poll, 71.6% of respondents said they don’t believe the government’s anti-jihad initiative will be effective, 18.6% think it will be, and 9.8% didn’t have an opinion.

Shouldn’t we be ashamed of our suicide terrorists?

For the fourth time in two years time, a Dutch jihadi has committed a suicide attack in Iraq or Syria. It has been said, but not yet confirmed, that Lotfi S. from northern Amsterdam has committed a suicide attack in Fallujah, Iraq.

The question is: shouldn’t we be ashamed when a fellow countryman is capable of such a deed? Or: are we ashamed at all?

According to Paul van Tongeren, professor Ethics, the answer is no, because ‘we don’t identify ourselves with these guys’. There is however a problem with this mechanism of ‘looking the other way’, as has also been stated by Ben Bot, Dutch former minister Foreign Affairs: it is our problem, because our society was not able to prevent these persons from leaving.

The attacks committed by fellow countrymen would probably have a greater impact when it was known how many victims it has caused, if among them are children or if photo’s would be published. But now it is all too abstract.

Pieter Nanninga, researcher on jihadism Rijksuniversiteit in the city of Groningen, shares Bots opinion that Dutch suicide attackers are indeed a Dutch problem too.

Van Tongeren further states that it would be a good if the Dutch government paid her condolences to the families of the victims. Otherwise the We-They distinction would become even stricter, incorporating more than only terrorists or jihadi’s.

New Research Funded at Tilburg University Will Study Spread of Salafism and Jihadism

logoSix fresh PhD’s will study the use of social media by Salafis. Approximately 3 to 5 percent of the worldwide Muslim population is an adherent to Salafism, a fundamentalist current in Islam. And since the rise of jihadism both are viewed with suspicion. Under the lead of the Dutch scholar and Professor Herman Beck six PhD students will do research at the Tilburg School of Humanities on the spread of Salafism in Germany, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, and Spain.

Increase in cases of radicalization in Rotterdam.

This year 29 cases of radicalization have been reported, compared with 20 in 2013 and 16 in 2012, so there has been increase. According to the major, Ahmed Aboutaleb, this doesn’t mean that more youth become radicalized, but persons are more alert.

The newspaper had an interview with Aboutaleb, in which he says that the term ‘jihadism’ can be explained in different ways, but it is problematic when it is characterized by ideas of racism, discrimination or not being able to find a job (in the Netherlands), although religion seems to be the most important factor. The mayor also says that if people reject [the foundations of] the Dutch society, they can leave, but also should hand in their passport.