France hands maximum sentence to mother of jihadist

Christine Rivière was handed the maximum sentence for her “unfailing commitment” to jihad and for helping a number of women travel to Syria to marry jihadists, including her son.

The 51-year-old, nicknamed ‘Mama Jihad’ in the French press, was convicted for being part of a terrorist organisation.

The sentencing comes a week after the conviction of Nathalie Haddadi, a mother of a French jihadist who was given a two-year prison sentence for financing terrorism after transferring money to him. Rivière, who converted to Islam in 2012, travelled to Syria three times to meet her son Tyler Vilus between 2013 and 2014.

Vilus, 27, travelled to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State group (ISIS).

He is believed to have been close to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the mastermind behind the Paris terror attacks.

He was arrested in Turkey in 2015 and is awaiting trial in France. Rivière was arrested in July 2012 as she was preparing a fourth visit to Syria.

She was accused of aiding her son’s terrorist activities by giving him money as well as sharing his extremist ideas. Rivière denied fighting for ISIS, but posted propaganda images and pictures of herself holding a Kalashnikov on Facebook.

Her lawyer Thomas Klotz said she was “completely lost” and only had a rudimentary knowledge of Islam.

Outspoken defender of women’s rights founds a gender-equal mosque in Berlin

 

The – patchy and insufficient – provision of religious spaces and services for Germany’s growing Muslim population has become a fiercely political issue. This is not only linked to a general and widespread sense of hostility towards Islam and its spatial visibility in the form of mosques, minarets, and headscarves. Rather, it is also due to the fact that much attention is now focused on the real and supposed political influence mosques and Islamic associations wield over Muslims.

The country’s largest Islamic associations have been a particular object of criticism in this regard: politicians from across the ideological spectrum have lambasted these organisations as too conservative or even reactionary and as too beholden to foreign interests. Whilst they continue to figure in government-sponsored forums of dialogue – such as the national-level German Islam Conference – as well as more local initiatives, they are increasingly viewed as unfit to be considered legitimate Muslim representatives.

A ‘liberal’ mosque

To these critics, the foundation of a self-consciously ‘liberal’ mosque community in Berlin must be a welcome sign of change: a well-known activist of Turkish-Kurdish heritage, Seyran Ateş, announced the opening of the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque, marked by its gender equality and its openness towards all Islamic currents.(( https://international.la-croix.com/news/women-imams-to-help-lead-prayers-at-new-mosque-in-berlin/5201 ))

The mosque, which is an explicit counter-project to the established Islamic associations, will hold its first Friday prayers on June 16. Every Friday, a man and a woman will both function as Imams and jointly lead the service. Ateş herself is seeking to become an Imam. What is more, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, an openly gay prayer leader from Marseille, France, will also participate in the Friday session of June 16.(( https://international.la-croix.com/news/women-imams-to-help-lead-prayers-at-new-mosque-in-berlin/5201 ))

Defence of women’s rights

The project – notably with its feminist reading of Islamic religiosity, expressed by its insistence on gender-mixed prayers and on the prominent role given to female Imams – inscribes itself into Ateş’ long-standing fight against patriarchal structures of oppression.

A lawyer by training, Ateş has spent the bulk of her career defending the rights of Muslim women against abusive family relations, forced marriages, and so-called ‘honour killings’. During a consultation with a client in 1984, the client’s enraged husband made his way to Ateş’ office and shot both his wife and Ateş. While the wife died, Ateş spent several years recovering from her life-threatening injuries.

Following the 2009 publication of her book Islam Needs a Sexual Revolution (Der Islam braucht eine sexuelle Revolution), Ateş received a number of death threats that caused her to reduce her public appearances. She also closed down her lawyer’s practice temporarily, before reopening it in 2012.

Muslims ‘need to enlighten Islam’

Ateş laid out her vision for the Ibn-Rushd-Goethe mosque in an impassioned and highly personal op-ed for the weekly newspaper Die Zeit. She recounts how her late father no longer felt at home in Berlin’s mosques due to their conservatism, and how at his burial the male Muslim clergy made her feel like a second-class believer. “Nowhere do I feel as discriminated against as in mosques”, she asserts – and goes on to ask: “Is my religion the business of men only?”(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/22/islam-reform-liberale-moscheen-berlin/komplettansicht ))

Against these entrenched tendencies, Ateş sees her new mosque as making a contribution to the “reform of our religion” and as helping to address the “modernisation problem in Islam”. For Ateş, Muslims “finally need to enlighten” their religion: “Not every tradition is worthy of being kept. Not every pious resistance to what is novel is truly pious.”((http://www.zeit.de/2016/22/islam-reform-liberale-moscheen-berlin/komplettansicht ))

A political minefield

At the same time, Ateş is aware that by opening a mosque, she is entering a political minefield where she faces opposition not only from the side of Muslim traditionalists but also from the political right. In her opinion piece she recounts how her past activism against the oppression of mainly Turkish Muslim women has – albeit unintentionally – made her a respected persona at the Islamophobic end of the spectrum.

According to Ateş, when she posted good wishes for a Muslim religious festival on facebook, some of her friends and followers were outraged – even though they very much appreciated Ateş’ acknowledgement of Christian and Jewish religious celebrations.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/22/islam-reform-liberale-moscheen-berlin/komplettansicht ))

Undoubtedly for this reason, Ateş also refuses the label of ‘critic of Islam’ (Islamkritikerin), with which she is often connected in the German media: “I am not an ‘Islamkritikerin’”, Ateş asserted in a recent interview. “If anything, then I’m a critically-minded person overall. That I make critical statements on certain matters of religion, including of Islam, does not mean that I am not devout.”(( http://www.taz.de/!5395895/ ))

‘Liberal’ or ‘Islamophobic’?

These issues highlight the political difficulties the mosque project will encounter, squeezed between the Scylla of religious conservatism and the Charybdis of being co-opted by the far-right as a fig-leaf for an Islamophobic agenda. As to whether Ateş’ mosque in particular and her project of Islamic renewal in general will be able to withstand this test remains to be seen. Some doubts nevertheless appear apposite in this regard.

Notably, a number of the supporters of the ‘Freiburg Declaration of secular Muslims’ are to assume – as of yet unspecified – roles in the mosque and its community. These figures include Abdel-Hakim Ourghi, initiator of the Declaration, and Saida Keller-Messahli, chairwoman of the Swiss ‘Forum for a Progressive Islam’.(( http://www.taz.de/!5395895/ ))

The Declaration – whose language of religious reform and enlightened secularism Ateş echoes in her op-ed for the Zeithad divided Germany’s liberal Muslims. The Liberal-Islamic Union swiftly condemned its initiators of “having become the accomplice of racist and Islamophobic discourses”, adding that “[a] ‘liberal’ Islam stops being liberal where it unreflectingly falls into line with marginalising discourses of mainstream society.”

Traditionalism, Islamism, jihadism

Ateş otherwise moving defence of her mosque project in her op-ed is not free from some regrettable tendencies in this regard. At times, the piece appears to veer uncomfortably close to amalgamating Islamic traditionalism, Islamist activism, and jihadist violence.

To be sure, each of these forces are formidable; and they may – all in their own way – undermine a genuinely inclusive, progressive, and vibrant Islamic religiosity. Yet this does not make them one and the same: Islamic traditionalism, infused with local norms going back to the modus vivendi of ancestral generations in rural Anatolia, does indeed hold back many Muslim women living in Germany.

Nevertheless, the Islamist challenge is structurally and ideologically different, particularly insofar as Islamism seeks to break with many of these traditional fora and modes of authority. Jihadist violence is again different in both means and ends, and in its perspective on women. One is left to wonder as to whether it is either theologically accurate or politically far-sighted to castigate mainstream conservatism by ranging it with the most barbaric jihadist killings and doctrinal innovations.

Need for enhanced public clout and credibility

Against this backdrop, Seyran Ateş’ very public persona may very well turn out to be both a blessing and a curse for her new mosque project. On the one hand, her long and courageous struggle for women’s rights may enable her to make herself heard to all those who would otherwise regard the foundation of a mosque with suspicion.

Ateş might, in other words, be able to galvanise more political support among decision-makers in Berlin. This is an all-important asset: in the past, the foundation of strong, visible ‘liberal’ mosques that could function beyond the purview of the conservative associations has often failed due to a lack of political clout.

More generally, it is surely an important development to see someone like Ateş, who has for a long time fought the gender violence commonly associated with Islam in Western public perceptions and who thus cannot be seen as being ‘too soft’ on uncomfortable issues besetting the faith, should openly vindicate her right to be a practicing Muslim herself.

A difficult trajectory ahead

On the other hand, critical questions might be asked as to who or what legitimises Ateş, who has not shown a marked interest in Islamic religiosity in the past, to open a mosque. One might also wonder whether it is helpful for her to publish another book on the day of the mosque opening, titled Selam, Mrs. Imamin: How I Founded a Liberal Mosque in Berlin. There appears to be a real risk that the new mosque becomes Mrs Ateş’ vanity project rather than a way of supporting a process of reflection on the part of Muslim communities.

For now, although Ateş’ books are already in print, the mosque’s work remains unaccomplished as the first Friday prayers are yet to be held. The mosque also does not have its own buildings so far: initially, services will take place on the premises of the Church of Saint-John (Sankt-Johannis) in the Moabit district of Berlin.

Ateş hopes that she will be able to witness the construction of a true mosque building at a later stage. In this respect, it remains to be seen whether her project will come to be a powerful manifestation of a liberal Islam, or whether it will be derailed by political vicissitudes in the meantime.

CNRS study measures French youth support for terrorism

A recent CNRS study has attempted to measure support for “radical beliefs” among high schoolers in France following the November 2015 attacks. 7,000 students, ages 14-16, were interviewed about their opinions on radical religion and violence, the combination of these two factors demonstrating a possible susceptibility to jihadist propaganda.

Regarding religion, a minority adhere to “fundamentalism”: 11% believe there is “one true and correct religion” and that “religion is [more correct] than science,” regarding the Earth’s creation. This figure is 6% for those who are Christian and 32% for those who are Muslim.

Moreover, 25% of those interviewed believed in “violence and deviance”–33% among Muslims interviewed. They believed it was “acceptable” to “participate in violent action in support of one’s beliefs.” Researchers predicted this population is likely to “face run-ins with the police” in the future. “There is, among certain segments of the youth, a culture of violence and delinquency that has become commonplace,” stated Olivier Galland, one of the researchers. “When this culture combines with radical religion, it becomes very worrying.”

 

 

Row over students’ prayers highlights questions of Islam’s visibility in the German educational sector

“Provocative” and “conspicuous” praying

A secondary school in the Western German city of Wuppertal has caused a stir by prohibiting its Muslim pupils from “conspicuous praying”. In an internal memo directed at the teaching staff, the administration of the Johannes-Rau-Gymnasium encourages its instructors to prevent “provocative” praying activities.

For the administration, this includes the performance of ablutions in school bathrooms or the rolling out of prayer carpets. Should students pray in spite of the prohibition, teachers are to determine the names and to pass them on to the school administration.(( http://www.derwesten.de/region/muslimische-schueler-fallen-durch-provozierendes-beten-auf-wirbel-an-wuppertaler-gymnasium-id209791697.html ))

Commentators remarked upon the memo’s police-style formulations, questioning whether this signalled the school’s generalised suspicion against its Muslim pupils. While defending the thrust of the text, the local government conceded that the language used had been “unfortunate”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/panorama/schule-in-wuppertal-verbietet-muslimischen-schuelern-sichtbares-beten-aid-1.6648704 ))

Religion in the educational sector

The case touches upon the larger question to what extent educational establishments must accept the presence and expression of religious convictions. Legal professionals point out that within the German framework, schools are given wide latitude to regulate religious expression if such regulation is necessary in order to guarantee “school peace”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/nrw/panorama/schulfrieden-schlaegt-religionsfreiheit-aid-1.6648883 ))

To what extent this ‘peace’ was threatened in the case of the Johannes-Rau-Gymnasium of Wuppertal is difficult to ascertain. No details of the precise chain of events leading up to the prohibition on prayer have been released.

In recent months and years, public scrutiny of Muslim students’ religious practices had been focused mostly on prayer rooms or multifaith spaces at universities. Some of them were closed after reportedly attracting hard-line religious purists who sought to engage in missionary activity and enforce a strict morality code. Others continued to function and were praised as success stories.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutsche-universitaeten-gebetsraeume-unter-generalverdacht-14118890.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

Secularisation and publicly visible religion

The presence of a growing number of Muslim students with higher levels of religious observance comes as the historically active Lutheran and Catholic student associations are experiencing a slow but steady decline. Concomitantly, an increasing number of students and commentators advocate a strictly secularised university that offers no institutional space for religiosity.

The visibility of Islam in these establishments has emerged as an important political battlefield in its own right. After all, some of the 9/11 attackers had used a supposed prayer circle at the Technical University of Hamburg for conspiratorial purposes.(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/11/religion-universitaet-beten-verbot-wissenschaft ))

Although this case has remained isolated and no other Muslim university circles have spawned jihadist groups since, the seed of distrust has, in many cases, been sown. As a result, a considerable portion of educational decision-makers is increasingly willing to question the traditionally generous attitude towards the public expression of religiosity in the educational sector.

Defusing the lure of militant Islam, despite death threats

These days, Dounia Bouzar doesn’t go anywhere without her three bodyguards. The French Muslim anthropologist has received death threats for unveiling the tactics of Islamist recruiters. I meet her in a cafe along Paris’ Boulevard St. Germain, where Bouzar is enjoying an ice cream sundae in the back while her security contingent, provided by the French government, sits at a table out front, eyes on the entrance.

Bouzar’s book, Defusing Radical Islam, was published in 2014, a year before the rest of the country woke up to the threat of homegrown radicalization. That moment came in January 2015, when radical Islamist gunmen attacked the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, killing 17 people.

“When it was published, hundreds of parents of radicalized kids came looking for me,” says Bouzar. “Because they recognized themselves and their children in my book.”

After the book came out, Bouzar began working with 300 parents to develop ways to deal with the problem. One of the fathers was a policeman and showed the others how to bug their kids’ phones and computers. Bouzar says they were then able to witness how the recruiters worked.

“They set out to break every emotional, social and historical tie in the kids’ lives,” says Bouzar. “The recruiters had them drop their friends, who [they said] were complicit with a corrupt society; their teachers, who [they said] were being paid to indoctrinate them; and eventually, even break from their parents, who [they said] were nonbelievers even if they were Muslim,” she says.

Bouzar says the young people also stopped taking part in sports and music. And when they were stripped of their identity and there was nothing left, ISIS took them over and they became part of the group.

In early 2015, Bouzar’s organization, the Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Excesses Linked to Islam, won a government contract to help parents who had called a national anti-radicalization hotline that had recently been put in place. Bouzar traveled the country training teams of psychologists, police and other experts to deal with the phenomenon of radicalization and parents’ concerns.

One of the parents who reached out to Bouzar for help was Celine, a mother from a small Normandy town whose 19-year-old son had converted to Islam. Celine doesn’t want to give her last name because of fears for her family.

She says it wasn’t her son’s conversion to Islam that bothered her, but the way he began to cut himself off from the world. “All of a sudden, he refused to eat pork or listen to music,” she says. “And his grades plummeted. He had an empty look in his eyes and it was like he didn’t think for himself anymore. He became sort of like a robot. And he was always, always on the phone.”

Celine discovered her son had opened a second Facebook account — and on it, he was discussing going to Syria.

According to the French Interior Ministry, more young people from France have radicalized and gone to war zones in Syria and Iraq than from any other European country. About 1,500 French citizens have gone or tried to go. Approximately 700 are still there. Celine wanted to make sure her son would not be among them.

Bouzar says that ISIS, unlike al-Qaida, tailors its radicalization tactics to individual profiles. For example, girls are particularly attracted to the idea of taking care of children hurt by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad or finding a God-fearing and faithful Muslim husband. Recruiters play to these desires. They even have different videos geared to speak to the different motivations for wanting to join ISIS.

“For girls, there’s a kind of myth of a Daesh-[ISIS-]land utopia where no one will be cold or hungry and everything runs on divine law,” says Bouzar. “The recruiters make them believe they can become a nurse and be running a hospital wing in just a couple of months.”

One of Bouzar’s methods for treating young people seduced by ISIS involves re-establishing links between radicalized individuals and their former lives. She counsels parents to try to bring them back in touch with their childhood — through old pictures and videos or food.

Celine tried this with her son and had little success at first, but she persevered.

“I made all his favorite meals that he loved as a child,” she says. “And I took him to places he liked when he was young. I did everything to reconnect him with his childhood.” Eventually, she noticed he was becoming more open to discussion. He took an interest in school again. The empty look vanished from his eyes.

Bouzar says a person can only be brought back with the help of someone close, like a parent or other family member — or by a reformed jihadist himself.

She has used allegedly reformed jihadists in counseling sessions to try to break through to some of the young people who are radicalizing. “We get them together without the young person realizing who this person is,” says Bouzar. “But then they begin to recognize their own story out of the mouth of the reformed jihadist, because he was lured for some of the same reasons. And slowly, doubt begins to set in.”

Bouzar says there is no such thing as a radicalized youth who wants to be de-radicalized. “He thinks he’s been picked by God and he sees things no one else does, because [everybody else is] indoctrinated,” she says.

Bouzar’s methods have been controversial. Some say her use of allegedly reformed jihadists is dangerous. (In some cases, it can be challenging to ascertain whether they’ve really reformed or are pretending.) Others accuse her of self-promotion. Many more say treating radicalization as purely brainwashing is to underestimate geopolitical and social factors, and the role that radical Islam plays.

Benjamin Erbibou, who works with an organization called Entr’Autres (Among Others), a group that works with radicalization issues in the southern city of Nice, thinks only a small percentage of radicalization cases are linked to brainwashing.

“Mostly,” he says, “it’s linked to a complete rupture and rejection of French society and Western values.”

But Marik Fetouh, deputy mayor of Bordeaux and head of the city’s de-radicalization center, says it’s easy to criticize efforts to deal with radicalization because it’s a poorly understood new phenomenon.

“Bouzar came forward with real ideas to fight this complex phenomenon when pretty much no one else had a clue what to do,” he says.

Although her contract with the French government is over, Bouzar’s association still counsels families affected by radicalization. Bouzar and her teams have counseled more than 1,000 young people and their parents — from Muslim, Catholic and atheist backgrounds.

Normandy mother Celine credits Bouzar’s methods with saving her son’s life. She says he’s still a Muslim, but now he’s begun to think for himself. And most important, she says, he no longer wants to go to Syria.

French jihadist sentenced to ten years in prison following return from Syria

Nicolas Moreau, a convicted French jihadist who returned from Syria, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for criminal association with a terrorist organization.

The 32-year-old Frenchman was not present at the Paris correctional court since he refused to leave the prison where he is being held for the hearing.

Prosecutors had argued that Moreau presented an “extremely dangerous threat” and warned that he risked returning to his “jihadist commitment” once released.

 

A former fisherman from Nantes, Moreau fell into a life of petty crime before he was radicalised in prison and left France to join the ranks of the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq. He stayed in the region for nearly a year and a half, according to prosecutors, and even ran a restaurant in the IS group’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, during the last three months.

At a hearing on December 14, 2016, Moreau warned the court that if he was sentenced to more than 18 months in jail he would “return to armed combat”.

Born in South Korea and adopted by a French family at the age of four, Moreau lived in the western French city of Nantes and fell into delinquency after his adoptive parents divorced. He was sentenced to five years in jail for violent robbery and converted to Islam while in prison.

It was a trajectory of radicalization similar to his younger brother, Flavien Moreau, who became the first French jihadist to be tried upon his return from Syria. In November 2014, Flavien was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Both the brothers were born in South Korea before they were adopted as infants. But Flavien, the younger brother, spent only a few weeks in IS group-held territory since he was unable to cope with the jihadist group’s no-smoking policy. He entered Syria in November 2012, but returned to France weeks later to pick up an electronic cigarette. He was arrested in Turkey on his way back to Syria. Flavien is currently serving a seven-year term.

During his trial, Nicolas Moreau, the older brother, told the court he left the caliphate because he “became aware of the excesses of Daesh. He told judges he wanted to get married and return to normal life. But he also warned judges that: “If you put a heavy penalty on me, it will be harder to reintegrate me [into society]. I will take up arms again.”

Prosecutors however argued that Nicolas Moreau required a 10-year sentence since “he would return to his jihadist commitment” if released.

Islamist “mole” exposed at German domestic intelligence agency

Arrest on November 16

A 51-year-old man working at the German domestic intelligence agency – the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz) – has been exposed as an alleged sympathiser of the jihadist cause.

He was arrested on November 16, after he had been placed under surveillance by his own employer for the preceding weeks.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/verfassungsschutz-islamist-suchte-verbuendete-fuer-gewalttat-gegen-unglaeubige-14552367.html )) The 51-year-old had been part of the agency’s office tasked with monitoring the country’s Islamist scene.

His employer appears to have been alerted to the man’s questionable role when he offered advice to a fellow jihadist during an online chat session. The agent noted that he could supply access to the Verfassungsschutz buildings in Cologne in order to facilitate an attack on “unbelievers”. He asserted that he was “ready to do anything to help the brothers”. What he did not know was that his counterpart during the chat was himself working for the Verfassungsschutz.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-107.html ))

Actions “in the name of Allah”

No clear picture of the man and his potential motivations has emerged so far. Following his arrest, he claimed that he had sought to use his position at the agency to warn his brothers in faith of any potential investigations against them. His actions were, according to him, in accordance with Allah’s will.

Yet while he had mentioned internal matters from the Verfassungsschutz during the abovementioned online conversation, he does not appear to have leaked further information on the agency’s ongoing investigations.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/verfassungsschutz-islamist-suchte-verbuendete-fuer-gewalttat-gegen-unglaeubige-14552367.html )) The man nevertheless presented himself as part of a large-scale plan to “infiltrate” the intelligence office.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-109.html ))

Mental health questions

More than two weeks after the arrest, however, there are ongoing questions as to whether the man is a ‘Salafist’ or ‘jihadist’ or in fact an unstable individual. While in custody, the man has made a range of “mystical allusions” that appear to raise questions about his mental health.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/verfassungsschutz-islamist-suchte-verbuendete-fuer-gewalttat-gegen-unglaeubige-14552367.html ))

He claims to have converted to Islam following a “spontaneous inspiration” in 2014 while on the phone with an unidentifiable “Mohamed” from Austria. Neither his wife nor his four children were aware of his alleged conversion.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-109.html )) The man’s work as an actor in homosexual pornographic movies also at least casts doubt on his hard-line Islamist credentials.((http://www.dw.com/de/islamisten-pornos-und-der-verfassungsschutz-das-r%C3%A4tsel-um-maulwurf-m/a-36596498 ))

Keeping apart investigators and investigated

This cases comes as a renewed blow to Germany’s much-criticised domestic intelligence agency. In recent years, the Verfassungsschutz has been rocked by successive revelations about its role in the series of murders and attacks by the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a far-right terrorist cell.

There have been worrisome questions about the agency’s knowledge and thus de facto complicity in the NSU’s activities: the German neo-Nazi scene is densely populated by the agency’s informants – so densely, in fact, that the Constitutional Court rejected a motion to ban the far-right NPD party in 2005 because it noted that it could not distinguish between party leadership and Verfassungsschutz personnel.

In the present case, the Verfassungsschutz once again appears to be rather too close to the people it seeks to monitor. Indeed, on facebook the suspect not only expressed regret about the recent arrest of Abu Walaa – reported by Euro-Islam – but was also friends not just with a number of Islamists but also with several functionaries from a far-right political party.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-109.html ))

Renewed criticism of the Verfassungsschutz

The agency’s president, Hans-Georg Maaßen, stressed that all necessary security preconditions had been taken when the man was hired. Nevertheless, the fact that an individual who joined the Verfassungsschutz as a lateral entrant in April 2016 – after he had lost his previous job as a bank clerk((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-107.html )) – could gain access to sensitive information so quickly raises considerable questions about the agency’s professionalism.

German parliamentarians also criticised Maassen and his office for failing to notify them immediately: news of the case broke only nearly two weeks after the arrest through revelations by Der Spiegel magazine.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/geheimdienst-islamist-schleicht-sich-bei-verfassungsschutz-ein-a-1123676.html ))

The threat of “infiltration”

The call for consequences has been swift: parliamentarians demanded, among other things, that the security checks of all Verfassungsschutz employees be conducted more often. Others called for a more dramatic restructuring of the agency itself.

Beyond these immediate reactions, however, what is likely to stick in the public’s perception is the threat of “infiltration”. As Euro-Islam reported, a recent survey found that 40 per cent of Germans believe that the country and its institutions are already “infiltrated” by Islam.

The media reaction to the suspected mole, at the Verfassungsschutz has most likely not dampened this anxiety. It was noteworthy, for instance, how many news outlets quickly focused on the man’s “conversion”—an act that, after all, seems to have occurred on the phone to an obscure contact in Austria if it occurred at all. ((See e.g. https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-107.html, https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article159849913/Islamist-beim-Verfassungsschutz-enttarnt.html )) Conversion, as the ultimate act of infiltration, thus serves as the measuring stick for dangerousness.

Turkish citizens’ applications for asylum in Germany on the rise, aggravating diplomatic strain

 

Growing numbers of Turkish requests for asylum

During the first nine months of the year 2016, German authorities have registered a considerable rise in demands for asylum made by Turkish nationals. Between January and September, 3,973 Turkish citizens filed their requests with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). This compares with an overall number of 1,767 demands for asylum filed in all of 2015.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-staatsbuerger-101.html, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerkei-zahl-der-asylbewerber-steigt-laut-medienbericht-a-1106227.html ))

A spokesman of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) asserted that authorities had not observed any increase in Turkish asylum applications since the failed coup attempt in July. ((http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-staatsbuerger-101.html )) Yet it is questionable whether this assertion stands up to empirical scrutiny: by the end of June 2016, the number of applicants had stood at 1,719; only to skyrocket to the abovementioned number of 3,972 by the end of September. This implies that in the third quarter of 2016 alone, the number of Turkish asylum seekers more than doubled.

Kurds dominant among applicants

During the first six months of the year, 1,510 applicants were of Kurdish origin. Kurds had already constituted a large majority of Turkish asylum-seekers in 2015. Whilst this reflects the continued and indeed escalating violence in Turkey’s Kurdish regions, the acceptance rate of Kurds has actually fallen: only 5.2 per cent of Turkish Kurds received a positive decision from the BAMF. This compares to an almost equally low acceptance rate of 6.7 per cent for Turkish applicants in general.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-08/bamf-asyl-tuerken ))

Over the course of recent months, German Kurds have increasingly mobilised, staging street protests against developments in Turkey. They have also sought to pressure the German government to relinquish what they deem to be a stance of appeasement towards Erdoğan.(( https://kurdische-gemeinde.de/bundesregierung-hat-keinen-plan-b-fuer-das-eu-tuerkei-fluechtlingsabkommen/ )) Following the arrests of Kurdish HDP leaders Selahattin Demirtaş und Figen Yüksekdağ, Kurdish associations organised a large demonstration with up to 15,000 participants in Cologne.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/kurden-demonstration-in-koeln-erdoan-laesst-einem-keine-luft-zum-atmen-1.3236375 ))

Weak position of the German government

Chancellor Merkel seemed to step up her criticism of the Erdoğan administration after the latest spate of arrests. Yet while she referred to the situation in the country as “alarming” and intimated that there would be detrimental consequences for Turkey’s attempts to accede to the EU, Merkel stopped short of any more thoroughgoing redefinition of Germany’s relations with the country.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/angela-merkel-verschaerft-kritik-an-verhaftungen-in-tuerkei-14509228.html))

In his column for the Die Zeit weekly, Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the recently raided Cumhuriyet newspaper had repeatedly criticised Merkel for her stance. The journalist, now living in German exile after his conviction for treason in Turkey, accused her of doing too little too late to penalise the human rights violations committed by the Turkish government.((http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-07/can-duendar-eu-tuerkei-angela-merkel-kritik))

However, Germany continues to be in a weak position vis-à-vis Erdoğan’s policies: Merkel has staked her political survival on the ‘refugee pact’ with the AKP administration. This agreement is the cornerstone of Merkel’s steps to stem the influx of refugees into Germany and therefore a crucial aspect in Merkel’s widely expected attempt to seek a fourth term in office at the federal elections in September 2017. After a string of electoral defeats attributed to Merkel’s initial ‘open door policy’, lower immigration figures are a key ingredient for calming the political climate to Merkel’s benefit.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/regional-elections-germany-deliver-gains-afd-weakening-merkel/))

Mutual recriminations and ‘terrorism’ charges

However, the ability of Merkel and her government to keep the boat steady and retain the status quo in its relations with Turkey seems to grow more limited by the day. Verbal mudslinging between the two administrations has returned to fever pitch after a German court refused to consider the defamation lawsuit Erdoğan had sought to bring against a German comedian, a case that had caused international uproar and profound embarrassment to the German government. ((http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/jan-boehmermann-erdogan-scheitert-mit-beschwerde-a-1116635.html))

Subsequently, in early November the Turkish President accused Germany of harbouring and supporting the terrorists of the Kurdish PKK, the left-wing DHKP-C and of the Islamist Gülen movement. At a public speech, he asserted that German support for terrorism would be eternally remembered. Erdoğan claimed that he had requested the extradition of 4,000 suspects linked to the July coup attempt without receiving an answer from the German government.((http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-11/recep-tayyip-erdogan-deutschland-terrorismus))

These allegations come after the publication of a German government memo in August in which Turkey had been accused of supporting terrorism. The memo asserted that Turkey had become a central actor in the networks of Islamist parties and radical movements across the Middle East. The memo thus made public the at least implicit accusation of the German government that President Erdogan actively supports the armed jihadist forces in Syria.((http://www.zeit.de/2016/36/terrorismus-tuerkei-islamisten-unterstutzung-vorwuerfe))

Demands for asylum of high-ranking anti-government figures

Moreover, antagonism will not cease any time soon: as German news sources revealed, following the July 15 coup attempt, a growing number of high-ranking Turkish diplomats have asked for asylum in Germany. By late October, there were 35 ongoing requests for asylum of Turks holding a diplomatic passport. Asylum-seekers appear to include the former military attaché at Turkey’s Berlin embassy.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-diplomaten-101.html, https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html))

Reportedly, the Turkish embassy itself had been the site of significant confrontations during and after the failed putsch: allegedly, pro-military forces had planned to seize control of the embassy on the night of the coup, leading pro-government staff members to barricade themselves in one of the building’s floors. Subsequent days seem to have witnessed significant altercations taking place in the embassy’s interior, as well as the recall of a number of staff members to Turkey.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html))

Unsurprisingly, Turkish authorities have already begun to pressure their German counterparts to extradite the 35 diplomats.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html)) Some German politicians demanded that their requests for asylum be approved quickly, given the prevailing climate of persecution in Turkey.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html)) So far, however, the BAMF has not taken any decisions. Such limbo is, in fact, the most desirable state of affairs for German authorities, since there is no appetite for an unpalatable choice between upholding legal principles and further antagonising a vital political partner.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-diplomaten-101.html)) For how long this balancing act is sustainable remains to be seen.

IS and its media: Calling all suicide bombers

The media is playing its part in today’s horror as “Islamic State” showcases its terrorists in magazines, videos and on the Internet to recruit new members. Joseph Croitoru examines how IS strategy has developed and evolved

The radio station operated by the terrorist militia “Islamic State”, which has been broadcasting regularly for the past few months in English, French, Russian, Turkish and Kurdish, is called “Al-Bayan”. The Arabic term succinctly reveals the group’s agenda, conjoining modernity and tradition to connote both an “announcement” and also spreading the word of the Koran.

The daily Arabic news programme, around seven minutes long and consisting mostly of war reporting, has followed the same pattern for months. A brief rendition of a jihadist song (nasheed), which praises the Islamic Umma (world community) and continues in the background as the news is read, is followed by reports of “successful” suicide attacks by IS members.

The radical Sunni station refers to them by the term “amaliya istishhadiya” (martyrdom operations), originally popularised by the Shia arch-enemies who are today at war with the IS: the pro-Iranian Hezbollah introduced the term in the 1980s.

The IS terrorist militia lets it be known that its suicide martyrs – “Istishhadiyin” – are deployed both offensively and defensively. Sometimes their bombs clear the way for combat troops to follow, or the bombers detonate armoured vehicles laden with explosives to slow down the advancing enemy.

To make sure daily messages from “Al-Bayan” like these do not get lost in the constant stream of information, the IS website periodically features a special report on its suicide bombings – a diagram for example shows 65 such attacks during October in Iraq and Syria.

Twenty-minute “martyr” farewells

Checking the veracity of such information is not easy, not least because the Arab media use various names for the suicide operations of the IS, which are in fact very numerous. What is striking is that the term “suicide” is always included, in pointed emphasis of the fact that this form of terrorism violates Islam′s prohibition of suicide, something Islamists like to gloss over.

For the media staging of its suicide bombers, the IS likes to make use of a genre already established three decades ago, perpetuating their deeds individually on video or at least in an extended photo sequence. But the competition is watching: rival terrorist militias, in particular the Syrian “Nusra Front”, which is linked to al-Qaida, is also very productive in this respect.

Farewell image of an IS suicide bomber (source:donotgothere.org)

The macabre and the mundane: “suicide attackers should raise their right hand with a pointing index finger at some point during the farewell video – signalling the number one, a symbol for the unity of Islamic faith and the unity of the jihadists. The Palestinian Hamas popularised this gesture years ago, but not wanting to be linked with the IS under any circumstances, they have now reverted to the traditional victory sign,” writes Croitoru

Such rivalry has occasionally prompted farewell videos to swell to lengths of up to twenty minutes. Usually, the reading of the “will”, which often segues into a hate sermon, is followed by a farewell scene as the perpetrator climbs into the vehicle and drives off to launch the attack.  The final chord is then struck with the explosion scene, which is often shown repeatedly.

The pointing index finger is mandatory

Lately, however, the videos bidding farewell to IS suicide bombers have become noticeably shorter, probably due to their great proliferation. The bombers are still permitted to appear before the camera as individuals wearing their own, very diverse, clothing. But they are clearly asked to play it up a bit.

An underage Arab, for example, holding a small Koran in his hand on his way to blowing himself up with belt full of explosives, acts the role of the devout and contemplative believer before uttering a torrent of jihadist slogans and threats. For a Tajik car bomber, by contrast, two sentences in broken Arabic must suffice, muttered out of the window of his prepared tank car, before he proceeds to his death.

Recently it has apparently been decided that suicide attackers should raise their right hand with a pointing index finger at some point during the farewell video – signalling the number one, a symbol for the unity of Islamic faith and the unity of the jihadists. The Palestinian Hamas popularised this gesture years ago, but not wanting to be linked with the IS under any circumstances, they have now reverted to the traditional victory sign.

Welcome to the “caliphate”

The IS also glorifies its death terrorists in four non-Arabic magazines. Probably the best known among them is the English “Dabiq”, named for a town in northern Syria where the doomsday battle will ostensibly take place against the “infidels”. The magazine evokes apocalyptic themes and a supposed global war of civilisations, which the IS claims to be spearheading on the Muslim side.

Again and again, the suicide attack is highlighted as the preferred weapon, as it also is in the French counterpart “Dar Al-Islam” (House or Dominion of Islam), a magazine designed to teach Francophone Muslims where they supposedly truly belong. They are especially welcome to take part in the IS “caliphate” as suicide soldiers: by the third of six issues of “Dar al-Islam” currently published, a death driver from France was already being extolled, sitting at the wheel of his vehicle and smiling.

Similar to “Dar Al-Islam”, the latest, third issue of the Turkish IS magazine, “Konstantinyye”, features on its cover a massive explosion, under the heading “Martyrdom operations are allowed and legitimate”.

Cover of the IS Turkish magazine "Konstantiniyye"

Dead end: IS also glorifies the role played by its suicide bombers in four non-Arabic publications. “Konstantiniyyee”, published for the Turkish market, emphasises that “martyrdom operations are allowed and legitimate”

Ataturk denigrated as an idol

The magazine’s title was chosen cleverly, because “Konstantiniyye” is the Ottoman name for Istanbul, thus recalling the Islamic conquest of Byzantine Constantinople and its conversion into the capital of the Ottoman Caliphate. The publishers thus echo the way Erdogan’s AKP has glorified this victory over the East Roman Christian Byzantine Empire in its neo-Ottoman discourse for the past several years. Ataturk is however consistently vilified in “Konstantiniyye” as a “kafir” (infidel) and “tagut” (idol).

This division between good and evil also colours the rhetoric of the Russian IS periodical, “Istok” (source, origin), in which suicide attacks are likewise a featured theme. The decision by Russian, Caucasian and Central Asian sympathisers to carry out an “Istishhad Operacja” is not only exalted here as the culmination of an almost mystical enlightenment – to dispel any last doubts, it is interwoven with the narrative of an intimate camaraderie, which these non-Arab mujahedeen then believe to be typical of IS.

Joseph Croitoru

© Qantara.de 2015

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

French anti-jihad video reaches nearly one million views

Launched at the end of January, the online government clip, which is meant to counter jihadist propaganda on social media, has received nearly 1 million views on YouTube and Dailymotion. According to The Parisien, including Twitter and Facebook, the video has garnered more than 1.9 million views. This is a success for the campaign, which uses the hashtag #Stopdjihadisme.

“The idea is to provide a counter-discourse that corrects sectarianism and provides correct information,” explained Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve. Almost 80 French jihadists have been killed during terrorist operations in Syria and Iraq, and close to 1,400 have been identified as having links to these networks.