Mosque closures in Munich highlight lack of Muslim prayer spaces in Germany

The Bavarian capital of Munich is one of Germany’s boom towns: rapid population growth in the past few years has driven up rents and strained public services.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/einwohnerprognosen-warum-das-bevoelkerungswachstum-in-muenchen-probleme-macht-1.2984306 )) Now, another consequence of the city’s expansion has become clear: a lack of mosques and Islamic prayer spaces.

Growing Muslim population – and mosque closures

By 2014, 100,000 of Munich’s 1.5 million inhabitants were Muslim.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moschee-projekt-in-muenchen-schmid-will-idriz-unterstuetzen-1.2061937 )) This figure has only been on the rise since then, due to the arrival of large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the city.

In spite of the increased demand for Islamic religious spaces and services, mosques within Munich’s city limits have, in fact, been closing down in recent years. At the end of March, 2017, the Kuba mosque, the last of what used to be nine mosques in the area surrounding the central train station – home to many Muslim shopkeepers and employees – shut its doors.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moscheen-muslime-haben-in-muenchen-kaum-platz-zum-beten-1.3445341 ))

The stories of mosque closures tend to mirror each other: local Muslim associations have their rental lease agreements cancelled since their premises are overcrowded and hence violate fire safety regulations. In the case of the Kuba mosque, at Friday prayers up to 450 believers had crammed into a room designed to hold a maximum of 90.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moscheen-muslime-haben-in-muenchen-kaum-platz-zum-beten-1.3445341 ))

Plans for a larger mosque

In the case of Munich, plans to build a larger mosque have been mooted for years without ever coming to fruition. The Munich Forum for Islam (MFI), an association bringing together Muslim representatives as well as local politicians from various political parties, had proposed the construction of a representative mosque north of the city centre.(( http://www.islam-muenchen.de/ ))

The project was set to include not only an Islamic house of prayer, but also training facilities for Imams, a library, a cultural space, and a café grouped around a public plaza. However, the project failed to gather the necessary funds to acquire the plot of land on which it was to be built.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/moschee-fuer-muenchen-muenchen-bekommt-kein-islamzentrum-zumindest-erst-einmal-1.3055209 ))

Reasons for the failure

The reasons for this failure were manifold. The notoriously divided and financially weak Muslim associational scene did not always speak with one voice and did not manage to function as a convincing lobby for the project.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/gescheitertes-projekt-mit-dem-aus-fuer-die-muenchner-moschee-scheitert-mehr-als-eine-idee-1.3055211 ))

What is more, the MFI always put great stress on the need to emancipate itself from any ties to the countries of origin of Muslim immigrants. Such ties have emerged as a core obstacle to the political and societal recognition of existing Muslim institutions in Germany. At the same time, however, the MFI’s attempts to gather donations focused mostly on attracting Arab funds from the Gulf. For many outside observers, this approach was not conducive to building confidence and trust.

Some commentators have pointed out, however, that another reason for the project’s miscarriage was a lack of political will on the part of the local administration: when it came to the crunch – notably the acquisition of the plot for the construction site – the political support on the part of the city’s decision-makers was lacklustre at best.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/gescheitertes-projekt-mit-dem-aus-fuer-die-muenchner-moschee-scheitert-mehr-als-eine-idee-1.3055211 ))

Enduring political dilemma for mosque communities

The fate of the MFI mosque highlights the enduring dilemma faced by comparable efforts elsewhere in Germany: a lack of financial and political capital confines Muslim prayer to the outskirts of town – Munich’s largest mosque is located on the city’s northern edge next to a sewage treatment plant – or to small and often insalubrious prayer spaces in apartments, ancient warehouses, or disused factories – so-called ‘backyard mosques’ (Hinterhofmoscheen).

Whilst politically ostracised as tools of authoritarian Middle Eastern governments, only those mosque communities backed by wealthy donors or state agencies from Turkey and the Gulf are, as of now, capable of building appropriate houses of worship. Any community wishing to emancipate itself from these backers – such as Munich’s MFI – is thus caught in a real bind.

Backlash against public prayer

To draw attention to this state of affairs, a number of Munich’s Muslims got together on social media and sought to organise a public Friday prayer at Marienplatz square, the city’s historical heart in front of the town hall.

Yet the right-wing backlash online against the planned public prayer was so fierce that the organisers decided to cancel the event. They feared both that they would not be able to guarantee the safety of potential attendees, and that such a highly public demonstration would make their attempt to raise awareness of the lack of prayer space seem too confrontational and thus counter-productive.(( http://www.br.de/nachrichten/moscheen-muenchen-demo-100.html ))

This week, the local Jesuit community of Saint Michael offered a pray er room to all those who had wished to attend the event at Marienplatz. Whilst this amounts to a precious gesture of interreligious dialogue, the picture of Munich’s Muslims having to pray under an almost life-sized crucifix struck many belivers and observers as at the very least odd.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/raumnot-moscheenot-in-muenchen-muslime-beten-in-der-michaelskirche-1.3513855 ))

Würzburg train attack by young Afghan refugee puts Germany on edge

Germany has been rocked by what media outlets have called the country’s “first attack by [a] radicalised asylum seeker”.((https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/19/germany-train-attack-could-prompt-rethink-of-counter-terrorism-policy)) On the evening of July 18, 2016, a 17-year-old Afghan, who had arrived in Germany in the summer of 2015 as an unaccompanied minor, attacked passengers on a regional train in northern Bavaria with a knife and an axe.
The young man seriously injured four tourists from Hong Kong before the train ground to a halt on the outskirts of the city of Würzburg. After fleeing the scene, the attacker injured a fifth person with his axe, before being tracked down by special forces of the German police. The young man was shot dead when he appeared to charge the policemen with the axe.
Subsequently, Amaq, a news agency close to the so-called Islamic State, released a video showing the attacker pledging allegiance to the organisation with the words “I am a soldier of the Islamic state and about to begin a holy operation in Germany.” In his room, a hand-drawn copy of the IS flag was found, next to what appeared to be a farewell letter to his father, in which he announced his intention to kill infidels in order to make his way to heaven.

Precise motivation of the attacker still in question

The attack’s political significance lies above all in the fact that the perpetrator was a recently arrived refugee. Most worrying to many observers has been the fact that the young man seemed to be poised to become an example of a comparatively successful path: he had been supported by state youth services and had recently moved into the home of foster parents. Moreover, he had begun working in a local bakery in the village of Gaukönigshofen. Distraught local residents described the young man as “always friendly and nice” as they struggled to make sense of his deed and his death. ((http://www.morgenpost.de/vermischtes/article207916573/Der-Axt-Attentaeter-von-Wuerzburg-Immer-freundlich-und-nett.html))
Investigators have tried hard to make out a reason for the perpetrator’s apparent “turbo radicalisation” and the precise motive underlying the attack. A potential triggering moment appears to have been the death of a close friend in Afghanistan a few days prior. His behaviour reportedly changed after this episode; and the state prosecutor hypothesised that the 17-year-old might have wanted to avenge his friend by attacking the ‘infidels’ responsible for Muslim suffering. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-07/wuerzburg-axt-attacke-zug-pressekonferenz-staatsanwaltschaft))
The political fallout from the attack includes the Bavarian interior minister’s demand for tighter border controls,((http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-07/joachim-herrmann-csu-fluechtlinge)) as well as a wave of hate mail and death threats against organisations and volunteers working in the Gaukönigshofen area.((http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article157229563/Ochsenfurter-Fluechtlingshelfer-erhalten-Morddrohungen.html))

The evolving nature of the security threat

In certain respects, the train attack mirrors recent attacks carried out in elsewhere the West. The assailant of Würzburg does not seem to have been overly devout, going to the mosque mainly on holidays and not on a regular basis.((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-07/wuerzburg-axt-attacke-zug-pressekonferenz-staatsanwaltschaft))
Moreover, as some observers have pointed out, the events in Orlando, Nice, and now the – comparatively low-casualty – attack in Würzburg blur the lines between terrorism and spree killing.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/psychologie-was-einen-terroranschlag-von-einem-amoklauf-unterscheidet-1.3085290)) This is especially true if the death of the assailant’s friend should reveal itself to have constituted a truly transformative moment, thereby giving the motive for the attack a decisively personal-psychological bent.
Finally, the events in northern Bavaria continue a trend in which individuals with only scant or no connection to terrorist networks commit attacks. In the words of leading German analyst Daniel Gerlach, “every criminal, every failure, every individual in the whole world with a penchant for mass murder can basically bestow a higher aim on their deed or somehow endow their deed with metaphysical significance by pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.”((http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/kanaluebersicht/446#/beitrag/video/2792332/Wie-sicher-sind-wir-vor-dem-IS-Terror))

News coverage and the “IS media trap”

These issues have been at the centre of criticism directed at the media coverage of the Würzburg train incident. German-Egyptian political scientist Asiem El Difraoui has pointed out that many media outlets have been swept away by a wave of hysterical reporting and are concomitantly unable to proffer any calm and meaningful analysis.
How much media reporting is indeed dominated by fears of the Islamic State, and how news coverage indeed works to amplify and aggrandise these fears was on ample display a few days later, when a shooting spree in a Munich shopping mall claimed 10 victims, including the shooter himself. TV, print, and online sources immediately began to report live on the unfolding events and continued to do so for hours without cease.
The almost universally held (and sometimes explicitly stated) assumption underlying this coverage was that this was an IS-linked terrorist attack – until it emerged that the shooter had collected newspaper clippings and books on school shootings and a history of mental health issues, including depression potentially linked to being bullied at school. As this article is being written, police and investigators are officially treating the Munich incident as completely unrelated to Islamic extremism.(( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/23/munich-shooting-teenage-gunman-researched-killing-sprees-no-isis-links))
This exhibits why, according to El Difraoui, “we have walked right into the IS media trap”, with European news sources spreading panic and thus de facto “making propaganda for the IS”: “The media has created the fertile soil so that psychopaths believe in the IS’s mendacious doctrine of salvation. These lies would not be as big if the terrorists were not given so much space.” ((http://dtj-online.de/islam-versus-dschihadismus-wir-machen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-77574))

Wake up call for Muslim community leaders

Beyond that, El Difraoui also admonished Muslim communities and associations in Europe to be more proactive in matters of theological interpretation and also in their social engagement with often disaffected Muslim youth.
Drawing parallels to the commitment of Christian churches to offer a critical perspective on a purely hedonistic lifestyle in a consumerist society, El Difraoui encouraged European Muslim leaders to develop a “spiritual” challenge to jihadists: “The terrorists from Europe want to become something in this society, no matter what, and they let themselves be led astray by the IS. These boys don’t become Muslims but jihadists – because they don’t even know what Muslim spirituality is.”((http://dtj-online.de/islam-versus-dschihadismus-wir-machen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-77574))
In this respect, the condemnation of the train attack issued for instance by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) and its chairman Aiman Mazyek, as well as their call to stand united against any attempts to divide German society is important.((http://islam.de/27783)) Yet at the moment and amidst the current inauspicious political climate, the splintered and factious Muslim associational scene in Germany still struggles to provide the kind of leadership and public impact that would go far enough in this regard.

Daughter of Turkish victim testifies in Nazi terrorism trial

November 5, 2013

 

Gamze Kubasik, daughter of Mehmet Kubasik who was one of the victims of the murder series of the Nationalist Socialist Underground (NSU) testifies against the accused Beate Zschäpe at the court of Munich. Beate Zschäpe has shown no reaction or signs of regret towards any family members of the victims.

April 6th 2006, Mehmet Kubasik was murdered in his little shop in the city of Dortmund. Tragically, the police authorities suspected the victim to be connected to illegal channels of the Turkish mafia.

 

Spiegel: http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/nsu-prozess-verhandelt-mord-an-mehmet-kubasik-a-931954.html

The Perception of Muslims in the German Media: Heavy on the Clichés

A recent study shows that Muslims are often negatively portrayed in the German media. Is this really the case? The research indicates that this trend has been in evidence since 9/11. Klaudia Prevezanos has the details

For years, the terms “doner murders” and “Turkish mafia” were used by German media in reports about a series of attacks that resulted in the murder of nine Turkish and Greek immigrants. In November 2011, it emerged that the murders were probably committed by an extreme right-wing terror cell calling itself the National Socialist Underground, or NSU.

For Semiya Simsek, the daughter of the first victim, these are “thoughtless, cynical and racist” terms. She has written a book about the murder of her father, Enver, titled Schmerzliche Heimat (Painful Homeland). “Now everyone realizes that these are racist terms, but that wasn’t the case back then,” she says today, referring to the conduct of the media since it became clear that the killers were driven by right-wing motives and that the murders were not related to criminal activities within the victims’ families. The NSU trial is set to begin on 6 May 2013 in Munich.

Muslim Teacher’s Application for Civil Service Rejected

12.01.2012

A 30-year-old Muslim secondary school teacher, who had completed his teacher training in August 2009 and subsequently applied for a position as a teacher (and, thus, civil servant), was denied the position as a teacher, as he is under suspicion of having links to Islamist organisations. According to the Bavarian office for the protection of the constitution, the young man has expressed his support for the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Community in Germany (IGD), which is openly directed against the free democratic basic order. As he did not distance himself from this ideology, the school authority in Munich does not consider him to be a suitable candidate for a teaching position.

Cameron: Multiculturalism Speech Not Attack on Muslims

23 February 2011

David Cameron has insisted he was not “singling out Muslims” in a recent speech on multiculturalism. Mr Cameron’s call for an end to “state multiculturalism” sparked debate around the world, with some accusing the UK prime minister of attacking Islam.

Explaining his words to students in Qatar, he backed a “multiracial” society but not a “super tolerant” one in which people lived separate lives. Mr Cameron, who is touring the Middle East, also spoke up for gay rights.

In a speech on the causes of terrorism and radicalisation in Munich last month, Mr Cameron blamed “state multiculturalism” for a “weakening of our collective identity” and said it encouraged different cultures to live “separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream”.

Why the German Media are Courting the Anti-Islam Movement

1 October 2010

If discussions on the cultural pages of German newspapers in spring 2010 were representative of German opinion, then we must assume that around half the German population comprehend Islam as a threat. Does the negative attitude towards Islam testify to vigilance or to prejudice?

No matter how coarse and emotional these debates may have been, a glance across Germany’s frontiers shows that things could have been much worse. In Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Switzerland the anti-Islamic mood is not only to be felt in newspaper feature supplements, blogs and talk shows; it also influences party politics, election results, and special legislation on Islam. In Germany the political fallout of this debate is astonishingly limited. Udo Ulfkotte’s attempt to establish an anti-Islam Party failed.

Within political elites there exists a consensus that less emphasis should be put on Islam, which should rather be left to conferences and committees of specialists and representatives of particular interests. They realise that there is nothing to be gained by taking action over Islam. One of the reasons is that the conflict over Islam permeates all the political parties. At public discussions in Munich, Cologne, Berlin, and Brussels in recent weeks, opponents of Islam among the audience frequently mentioned their adherence to the established parties so as to not to be seen to be on the wrong side, i.e. the extreme rightist camp.

Plans for a new mosque centre near Munich put on hold after allegations of Islamism

Munich was to get a “Centre for Islam in Europe – Munich” (ZIEM), which proposed an open, European and German-speaking Islam (see http://www.euro-islam.info/2010/03/19/munich-will-get-a-new-mosque-center). But now the plans by Imam Benjamin Idriz had to be put on hold after allegations that he has close relations to Islamists. A court has ruled that the Islamic community of Imam Idriz was rightly named in a 2007 report by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The Office has monitored Idriz’s phone calls with leaders of the Islamist organizations Milli Görüs (IGMG) and the Islamic Community in Germany (IGD), who are believed to hold close ties with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The group and their lawyer have announced to take this dispute to the next level of jurisdiction and to fight for their reputation.

Munich will get a new mosque center

Recently, the Turkish community of one Munich district had to bury their plans for a new mosque. The conservative party CSU had blocked the construction for reasons of “wrong place, wrong architecture” and the lack of involvement of local neighbors. Furthermore, the initiative was proposed by an organization which has close ties to the Turkish government.

But now it is the turn of a different initiative. The imam of Penzberg, a small town near Munich, Benjamin Idriz, proposed his plans of a “Centre for Islam in Europe – Munich.” Born in Macedonia, Idriz has long worked for this project which will involve a mosque and community services such as a kindergarten, a space for senior citizens, a library and an Islamic museum. The center strives to convey a liberal, European Islam.

For the first time, there is now a political consensus in the city council. All parties, including the CSU, have expressed their support for the new mosque project. The administration will therefore search for suitable premises at a central location.

Chinese consulate attacked in Munich

As unrest in China continues after bloody weekend riots in the Xinjiang region, police in Munich are investigating an arson attack on the Chinese consulate in Munich early on Tuesday morning. The building’s exterior sustained minimal damage, and a Chinese flag on a flagpole was burned. The city’s criminal investigation department is currently searching for two unidentified men seen around 1 am near the consulate building. Local residents described hearing a car with squealing tires speed off.

The incident follows violent demonstrations outside the Chinese embassy at the Hague in the Netherlands. Police there arrested 142 people for throwing stones at the building on Monday.

“China has made solemn representations to the Netherlands and Germany,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said. “We strongly urge the Netherlands and Germany … to take measures to ensure the safety and dignity of Chinese diplomats and institutions, to guarantee the normal work order, avoid this happening again and deal with the perpetrators.”

Munich authorities are not sure whether there is a link between the consulate attack and ethnic violence involving Uighur Muslims in China. Erkin Zunun, a spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, said he believes the two incidents are linked. “We don’t know who threw the petrol bombs, but we do know that our people hate the Chinese authorities,” he said. Zunun said he was angered by the conduct of Chinese police. According to official figures, more than 150 people have died so far in the riots in the northeast region of China where many Uighurs live.