Arrests of German citizens prompt downgrading of German-Turkish relations

At least since the July 2016 coup attempt, German-Turkish relations have taken a severe hit.

Recurring bones of contention have included the German army’s NATO presence at the Turkish Incirlik air base. German troops, who are part of the anti-IS coalition, are now being transferred to Jordan after a series of diplomatic rows over visits of German parliamentarians to the base.

Conversely, the visits of Turkish politicians – particularly in the run-up to the country’s controversial constitutional referendum in April 2016 – have unsettled the German political elite.

Arrests of German citizens in Turkey

Yet the perhaps most divisive issue has been the arrests of German citizens in Turkey, caught up in the post-coup repression. As of May 31, 2017, 44 Germans were held in Turkish detention. Many of them were dual citizens of Germany and Turkey, meaning that they had no legal claim to be supported by the German Embassy.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/deutsche-in-tuerkei-inhaftiert-101.html ))

In 2017, there have been a number of high profile arrests that have made particular headlines: Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, correspondent of the Die Welt newspaper, was arrested in February; German journalist and translator Meşale Tolu, in April. And on July 5, human rights activist Peter Steudtner was arrested in Istanbul.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerkei-deutscher-menschenrechtler-peter-steudtner-muss-in-haft-a-1158364.html ))

Swift changes to the German-Turkish relationship

The case of Steudtner has led to a major shift in German-Turkish relations. After having merely expressed ‘deep concern’ at developments in Turkey before, this time Berlin was surprisingly swift to react.

The German Foreign Office tightened its travel alerts for visitors to Turkey; a move that could potentially harm Turkey’s tourism-dependent economy. Further measures include the potential freezing of trade credit insurance offered to German companies exporting to Turkey. What is more, all German arms exports to Turkey – on paper an important NATO ally – are also halted.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/tuerkei-deutschland-121.html ))

Domestic ramifications

In the case of Germany, troubles in external relations with Turkey of course risk causing major domestic repercussions, thanks to Germany’s roughly three million inhabitants of Turkish descent. In the past months, the political loyalty of Germans with a Turkish background has come repeatedly into focus, particularly in the context of the Turkish constitutional referendum.

German Turks have reacted with dismay to the renewed bout of antagonism. They perceive themselves to be the first victims of the diplomatic tensions. Many also asserted that they did not feel represented by any German political party or force in this context.(( http://dtj-online.de/deutsch-tuerken-die-leidtragenden-der-deutsch-tuerkischen-konflikte-86452 ))

Letter to German Turks

Against this backdrop, the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel addressed German Turks in a letter published in the country’s leading tabloid, Bild. Gabriel stressed that the German government “has always worked for good relations with Turkey, because we know that a good relationship between Germany and Turkey is important to you.”

Recent arrests were forcing the government to act in order to protect its citizens, Gabriel asserted. Yet he stressed that this should not be seen as an assault on German Turks:

“Nothing of this is directed against the people living in Turkey and our fellow citizens with Turkish roots in Germany. For no matter how difficult political relations between Germany and Turkey are – this much remains obvious to us: you […] belong to us – whether with or without a German passport.”(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/sigmar-gabriel/liebe-tuerkische-mitbuerger-52625202.bild.html ))

An attempt at inclusivity

Gabriel’s statement was striking in the clarity of its commitment to inclusiveness. For months, media discourses had been strongly marked by an implicit perception that German Turks were quintessentially ‘other’, and that ‘they’ did precisely not belong to ‘us’.

Overall, the Foreign Minister’s intervention was well-received among the general public.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-07/deutsch-tuerkei-gabriel-erdogan-deutschtuerken-beziehungen )) Some pointed out, however, that it was left to the Foreign Minister to write this letter – a fact that seemed to point to the ways in which men and women of Turkish descent are still considered ‘foreign’ in Germany today.(( http://www.taz.de/!5428909/ ))

Nevertheless, the letter appeared to spark a kind of bandwagoning effect, as other politicians also called for a measured approach towards Turkey and Turkish citizens. Leading confidant of Angela Merkel and Head of the Chancellery Peter Altmaier (CDU) stressed that Turkey remained “one of the most democratic countries” in the Middle East. “And by that”, he added, “I don’t mean Mr. Erdogan but rather the country and Turkish society as a whole.”(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/konflikt-berlin-ankara-peter-altmaier-warnt-vor-pauschalen-verurteilungen-der-tuerkei/20095232.html ))

Increased polarisation

The impact of Gabriel’s statement remains to be seen. By now, German Turks are exposed to fundamentally opposing narratives of the events of the recent months and years. While the overwhelming majority of German and European news outlets continue to focus on Turkey’s descent into repression, the Turkish viewpoint is still dominated by a sense of persecution and a martyrology called forth by last year’s coup attempt.

Against the backdrop of these competing narratives and visions, the decision where to ‘belong’ is becoming a more and more categorical question facing many German Turks, pitting a group of ‘us’ (however defined) against an inimical ‘them’.

The Hague Mosque Received a Threat Letter: A Truck Might Strike

The As-Soennah Mosque in The Hague received a threat letter together with a toy truck.

Between 2005 and 2015, 175 mosques were target of  violence or aggression in the Netherlands.The city of The  Hague drew up a special Manual with tips for a safer environment for mosques. The Netherlands does not have exact numbers of islamophobic incidents unless these are reported as a criminal offense.

‘Cut beard or leave’: French high school student told his beard is ‘sign of radicalization’

A student of a French high school was threatened with expulsion after he refused to comply with the headmaster’s demand to shave his beard, which the headmaster considered a “sign of radicalization.”

“You cut it or you leave,” the headmaster reportedly told the student. The head teacher also reportedly claimed that the student’s beard is an apparent “sign of radicalization.”

When the headmaster first asked the student to shave or shorten his facial hair, the young man, 21, explained that he had been cultivating his beard for two years for religious reasons.

“The Prophet [Muhammed] was wearing one. It is something important to me,” the student, who wanted to remain unidentified out of fear of “being stigmatized even more.”

He also added that the head teacher’s “threats put pressure” on him and he “ended up” writing a letter to inform him that he was leaving the school. According to Le Parisien, the student has not attended school since October 13.

“He [the headmaster] gave me a few days for reflection to see if I change my mind and shave [the beard]… but I will not!” the student said. The student, who is a son of an atheist and a non-practicing Muslim, also admitted that he used to miss classes to go to Friday prayers, and said that he avoided shaking hands with his schoolmates for reasons of “decency.”

He also said that he used to wear harem pants – a sort of clothing common among Muslims – but stopped wearing them at headmaster’s request, as he agreed that it could be a religious sign. However, he still defends his right to sport a beard.

“I am not the only one with a beard, both among students and teachers,” he said. In the meantime, the young man received support from his classmates. “It looks like it was the parents who complained to the headmaster. Everything is mixed up!” one girl said.

The incident took place in the Parisian northern suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, where some of the terrorists, who were involved in the Paris attacks in November 2015, were living.

 

 

Muslim leaders critique burkini controversy

Amar Lasfar, President of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF) and rector of the mosque in southern Lille, disapproved of the recent burkini controversy in a recent 20 Minutes interview. “For years, we have tried to attack radical Islam and terrorism, to tell Muslims that France does not target them, and this type of debate and decision has the inverse effect.”

In a letter addressed to Manuel Valls, Christian Estrosi, First Deputy of the Republicains to the mayor of Nice, wrote that “the complete covering of the face or body to go to the beach does not correspond with our ideal of social relations.”

Lasfar states that “the burkini is not part of the Muslim religion” and that he does not advocate wearing a burkini. But for religious leaders, that is not the point of the debate. “For me it’s not a question of religion, but of liberty,” says Lasfar. “But someone tell me what the difference is between a diving suit and a burkini.”

“That’s enough. It’s been blown out of proportion,” deplores Abdullah Zekri to BFMTV. The President of the Observatory Against Islamophobia stated he is “exasperated by everything I hear, Muslims, halal, the burka…”

 

Muslims attend Sunday Mass after priest’s murder

Muslims attended Catholic mass in churches around France in solidarity and sorrow following the brutal murder of a priest in an ISIL-linked attack.

More than 100 Muslims were among the 2,000 who gathered at the cathedral of Rouen near the Normandy town where two teenagers killed 85-year-old Father Jacques Hamel.

“I thank you in the name of all Christians,” Rouen Archbishop Dominique Lebrun told them. “In this way you are affirming that you reject death and violence in the name of God.”

Nice’s top imam Otaman Aissaoui led a delegation to a Catholic mass in the southern city where Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel carried out a rampage in a truck on Bastille Day, claiming 84 lives and injuring 435, including many Muslims.

“Being united is a response to the act of horror and barbarism,” he said. The Notre Dame church in southwestern Bordeaux also welcomed a Muslim delegation, led by the city’s top imam Tareq Oubrou.

“It’s an occasion to show [Muslims] that we do not confuse Islam with Islamism, Muslim with jihadist,” said Reverend Jean Rouet.

The Muslims were responding to a call by the French Muslim council CFCM to show their “solidarity and compassion” over the priest’s murder on Tuesday.

“I’m a practising Muslim and I came to share my sorrow and tell you that we are brothers and sisters,” said a woman wearing a beige headscarf who sat in a back pew at a church in central Paris:

Giving her name only as Sadia, she added softly: “What happened is beyond comprehension.”

 Prime Minister Manuel Valls called on Sunday for a new “pact” with the Muslim community in France, Europe’s largest with around five million members.

“Islam has found its place in France … contrary to the repeated attacks of populists on the right and far-right,” he said, condemning “this intolerable rejection of Islam and Muslims”.

Also on Sunday, dozens of prominent Muslims published a joint letter warning that “the risk of fracturing among the French is growing every day.”

The signatories, who included academics as well as medical professionals, artists and business leaders, pledged: “We, French and Muslim, are ready to assume our responsibilities.”

Both of the 19-year-old attackers – Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean – had been on intelligence services’ radar and had tried to go to Syria.

 Meanwhile, a Syrian refugee who was taken in for questioning after a photocopy of his passport was found at Kermiche’s house has been released, a source close to the investigation said. “Nothing suggests he had any involvement” in the attack, the source said.

However, Petitjean’s 30-year-old cousin was to appear before an anti-terrorist judge later on Sunday.

Prosecutors said they have asked that the suspect, named as Farid K, be charged with “criminal association in connection with terrorism”. The suspect “was fully aware of his cousin’s imminent violent action, even if he did not know the precise place or day”, the Paris prosecutor said in a statement.

Media reports, meanwhile, said investigators had established that Petitjean and Kermiche met through the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

Kermiche described the modus operandi of the attack on the priest in an audio posted on Telegram just a few days beforehand.

More American than apple pie, Muslims have been migrating to the US for centuries

Muslims have been coming to the US for centuries, but you wouldn’t know it by the intense debates that continue to surround the movement of Muslims across international borders.

Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have called for the US to effectively ban Syrian refugees from entering the country. The South Carolina Senate passed a bill that would require all refugees to register with the state, subjecting themselves to surveillance. On social media, the hashtag #StopIslam trended internationally in the hours after the Mar. 22 terrorist attack in Brussels.

Together, these reactions contribute to the idea that Muslim migration to the US is somehow distinct from America’s history as a “nation of immigrants.” Columnist Mark Nuckols summarized the sentiment when he wrote in Townhall about “problematic immigrants” to the US.

The “most problematic,” he writes, are Muslims from the Middle East and Africa. “This most recent wave of immigrants are often more resistant to easy assimilation and more reluctant to accept this country as truly their own,” he says.

In truth, Muslims have been part of this country since before the thirteen original colonies even declared their independence and became a nation. The examples below offer a glimpse of the long history of their migration and contributions to the US.

Muslims were among the first to explore the “New World”

A circular map in black and white lines

In his book Meadows of Gold, published around 950 CE, Muslim geographer Al-Musudi described the experiences of Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad, a Muslim explorer who he claims sailed across the Atlantic in 889 CE. This reconstruction of a world map from Meadows of Gold depicts a world before Europeans arrived in the Americas.

Individuals like Christopher Columbus are often recognized as among the first to “discover” the Americas (despite, of course, the long presence of the indigenous).

But those explorations would not have been possible without Muslims.

Historian Leslie Brout Jr. notes in his book The African Experience in Spanish America: 1502 to the Present Day that many Muslim men accompanied European travelers clamoring to “discover” the Americas in the 1500s. Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Hernán Cortés, Pánfilo de Narváez, Pedro de Alvarado, Francisco de Montejo, and other conquistadors all brought Muslims with them to aid in their early expeditions in the Western Hemisphere.

For example, a Muslim man named Estevanico was sold into slavery in the 1520s and brought to the Americas to aid Spain’s exploration of present-day Florida. Although he was a slave until his death, Brout writes that Estevanico became famous for completing an eight-year journey on foot from Florida to Mexico City.

The labor of enslaved Muslims helped build the United States

As historian Sylviane A. Diouf writes in her book Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas, Muslim men, women, and children were among the first people taken by force from their homes in West Africa in the Atlantic slave trade.

It’s estimated that between 10 and 15 percent of all Africans forced into bondage in the United States were Muslims. These individuals, many of whom were among the most educated and renowned in their homelands, were forced to work as slaves in the Americas. Several of them published narratives about their time in captivity.

A framed portrait of an elderly man on one side; a stately oil painting on the other

Left: Omar Ibn Sayyid, a Muslim slave in the United States, published his autobiography in 1831. Right: The first known portrait of an African man by a British portraitist was completed shortly after Job Ben Solomon’s arrival in London in 1733.

Omar Ibn Sayyid, for example, was taken from his home in present day Senegal and forced into slavery in South Carolina around the year 1770. In 1831 he published his autobiography in Arabic, which was later translated into English.

Sayyid’s autobiography reveals in his own words his experiences being taken from his home, his life under slavery in the United States and his devotion to Islam. Today, a mosque in Fayetteville, North Carolina is named in his honor.

In his book Muslims in America, historian Edward Curtis describes the experience of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, who became known as Job Ben Solomon after he was taken from West Africa in 1731 and sold into slavery to a tobacco farmer in Annapolis, Maryland.

Solomon was able to escape slavery after less than three years of bondage. He could read and write in Arabic, so he wrote a letter to his father with the hopes that he might send money to ransom his freedom. His father never received the letter. However, the letter did finds its way to the hands of James Oglethorpe, the founder of Georgia, who had it translated into English.

Oglethorpe was so impressed with Solomon that he purchased the freedom bond himself.

Slavery ends, Muslim influence continues

Historian Edward Curtis writes in his book Muslims in America that Alexander Russell Webb used Islam in America to “promote Islam as a religion that expressed some of America’s most deeply held values, especially those of rationality, human equality, broadmindedness, and acceptance of religious diversity.”

Muslims played important roles in securing a Northern victory in the United States Civil War and bringing about the end of slavery. Curtis’s Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History explains that nearly 300 people with Muslim last names fought in the Civil War.

Several became officers, including Moses Osman, a captain in the 104th Illinois Infantry. After being subjected to slavery in Turkey, Russia, and the US when he was forced to serve a European traveler who crossed the Atlantic, Mohammed Ali ben Said fought in the Civil War from 1863 to 1865 and earned the rank of sergeant in the Union Army. After his emancipation, Said went on to travel the world before settling in Alabama. He  published his autobiography in 1873 before passing away in 1882.

While emancipation allowed former Muslim slaves to practice their religion more freely, they were not the only ones who practiced Islam in the US after the Civil War.

Alexander Russell Webb, born in 1846, was a middle class white Protestant who converted to Islam in 1887 after traveling the world in his capacity as the US Consul to the Philippines. When he returned to the US in 1893, he started a newspaper called “The Moslem World,” published a book called Islam in America and was selected to be a representative of Islam at the Chicago World Fair.

Nativism and exclusionary immigration laws took hold in the early 1900s, but Muslims lived all over the country

Mother Mosque in Iowa, white building with green roof

By the 1930s, Muslims established mosques in Maine, North Dakota, Michigan, Indiana and Iowa. The Mother Mosque of America, built in 1934 by Lebanese and Syrian immigrants and their ancestors in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, remains the oldest surviving mosque in the US.

Credit: RifeIdeas/CC BY-SA 3.0

With the turn of the 20th century came the rise of anti-immigrant feelings among Americans. Nevertheless, Muslim American communities continued to grow. In North Dakota, for example, Syrian and Lebanese Muslim immigrants worked as farmers in the Great Plains.

As part of the New Deal, the Works Progress Administration interviewed Mike Abdullah, a Syrian native, about life in North Dakota. Abdullah and his fellow community members in North Dakota were practicing Muslims whose experiences mirrored those of many farmers who worked the land in the American heartland from the 1900s through the middle of the century.

The Dillingham Commission formed in 1907 out of growing anti-immigrant sentiment in the US. The “Dictionary of Races or Peoples,” included in the 41-volume report that the Commission published in 1911, tried to legitimize ideas about racial difference, which were often intertwined with religion. The Commission’s report helped create laws that curtailed immigration from countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Southern and Eastern Europe.

Credit: University of California Libraries via archive.org

Muslims lived and worked across the US. Historian Vivek Bald writes in Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian Americans that Muslims labored not only as farmers but also as industrial and service workers. They immersed themselves in Creole, African American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods in New Orleans, Detroit, Baltimore and New York City. The growth of these diverse communities continued despite the passing of laws that didn’t bode well for Muslims hoping to come to the US.

The Immigration Act of 1917 barred immigration from Asia, and the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 introduced numerical quotas that restricted the entry of immigrants according to their country of origin. Many countries with sizeable Muslim populations received low quotas and Muslims from Asian countries were excluded outright.

The Hart-Cellar Act of 1965 eventually eliminated national origins quotas and made it easier for Muslims — at least those who were skilled and professional workers — to migrate to the US. This landmark legislation was just part of the continuation of Muslim migration to the US — not the beginning.

Trump’s proposal to keep out Muslims crosses a line for many in both parties

Republican and Democratic leaders leveled their most forceful criticism yet against Donald Trump on Tuesday, widely denouncing the GOP presidential front-runner’s call to bar Muslims from entering the United States and signaling that Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic rhetoric has agitated both parties more than ever.
At the White House, President Obama’s top spokesman said Trump’s proposal “disqualifies him” from the presidency, marking a rare administration foray into the 2016 race. On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the idea was at odds with the values of their party and the United States as a whole.
In working to tamp down anti-Muslim sentiment that erupted after the attacks, Bush repeatedly talked about Islam as a peaceful religion and said the terrorists did not represent Muslims around the world.

Occupation of mosque shocks Dutch Muslim community

The Council of Moroccan Mosques of the Netherlands (RMMN) has responded with shock to the occupation of a mosque in construction in the Dutch city of Leiden. Five members of the Dutch extreme right group “Identitair Verzet” (English: Identitary Resistance, named after the French group “Géneration Identitaire”) occupied the mosque in the morning of 7 February showing banners with slogans like “In Leiden victory starts” and “Stop Islam.”

According to the council fear is growing among Dutch Muslim citizens for an increase of agressive attacks on Muslims and mosques. The RMMN has called upon the government to ante up the protection of Muslims and their institutions. In the past ten years one out of three mosques has been the target of the besmearing of blood, pig’s heads on the front portal, and even arson.

“The past months we have witnessed a horrific increase of violent and discriminatory acts against mosques and individual Muslims and Muslimas,” According to the RMMN. In January the council already wrote a pressing letter to the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Dutch Vice Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher in a response has said about the act that it is “A malicious act to frighten people in such a way.” Additionally he stated that the Dutch government “would never allow that mosques, churches, synagogues, or any other house of worship become a target of threat, occupation, or destruction. If necessary houses of worship can count on additional protection measures.”

Eric Pickles writes a letter to 1,000 imams to promote ‘Muslim British Identity’ sparks criticism

Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government is at the center of a new row has erupted between the British government and Muslim organisations after the minister responsible for community cohesion wrote to hundreds of imams calling on them to do more to tackle violent extremism and demonstrate "how faith in Islam can be part of British identity."
Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government is at the center of a new row has erupted between the British government and Muslim organisations after the minister responsible for community cohesion wrote to hundreds of imams calling on them to do more to tackle violent extremism and demonstrate “how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.” (Photo: Joe Giddens/PA/The Guardian)

A new row has erupted between the British government and Muslim organisations after the minister responsible for community cohesion wrote to hundreds of imams calling on them to do more to tackle violent extremism and demonstrate “how faith in Islam can be part of British identity”.

The letter, sent by Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, to every mosque in England, provoked an angry response from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which accused the government of peddling far-right arguments about integration. “Is Mr Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?” said Harun Khan, the deputy secretary-general of the MCB.

However the Prime Minister, David Cameron, intervened, saying that the council’s response showed that it – not Mr Pickles – had “a problem”.

Speaking at lawn mower factory in Ipswich, Mr Cameron said: “It’s absolutely right to write this letter, to say we all have a responsibility to fight extremism. Anyone who reads this letter will see that what he is saying is that British Muslims make a great contribution to our country.

Lady Warsi argues that while the letter was in fact positive, the timing and actions before the letter led to its failure: “The Muslim Council of Britain was one of a number of groups over which we never reached agreement, but one which nevertheless was never formally engaged with. I’m not here to defend the council. Unlike some colleagues, I never viewed it as extreme or dangerous. My criticism, which I have on numerous occasions discussed with it, is that it continues to produce a leadership that is neither equipped to represent, nor is genuinely reflective of, the contemporary aspirations of large sections of British Muslim communities. So while I welcome Eric’s attempt to reach out, the reality is that if you haven’t cultivated a friendship, if you haven’t fostered trust, then the chances of success are limited. A letter out of the blue to a mosque that is potentially affiliated to an organisation like the Muslim Council of Britain – with whom the government has refused to engage – creates a climate where even the most benign of correspondence can become toxic. It makes it appear as if the government is neither listening nor genuine in its intentions. And it provokes a negative response, irrespective of the true motive.”

[Full text of the letter is here.]

Gultepe Mosque in Rotterdam receives threat letter

The Gultepe Mosque in northern Rotterdam received a threat letter this week. Part of it reads: “You can’t trust anyone anymore, so leave now, when you’re still able too. Because death is in your mosques.” And: “You are the most ungrateful and disgusting people in the world. Your own your own schools, shops and butchers, because the Netherlands don’t seem to be good enough for you cockroachers. We’re done with it. Leave if you want to stay alive. Everyone hates you. You can’t trust anyone anymore.”

The mosque’s chairman doesn’t want to react on the issue. But there has been made a report with the police, who has start an investigation.

A Muslim in the city of The Hague also received a threat letter this week. The letters seem to be a consequence of the attacks in Paris.