Macron will ‘not recognize Palestine’

Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron has reiterated that he will not recognize Palestine as a state as it would hinder good relations between Israel and France

Prior to his election win, Macron said he backs a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that recognizing Palestine would cause instability and he would not risk France’s relationship with Israel to serve the Palestinian agenda. At a political rally Macron said: “Unilateral recognition of Palestine, right now, will undermine stability.” He added: “it will not change the lives of anyone on the ground, including Palestinians.”

German Interior Minister revives the debate on a ‘guiding culture’ to which Muslims must assimilate

 

Periodically, the German discourse on immigration is marked by the resurgence of a distinctly German notion – the idea of a ‘guiding culture’ (Leitkultur), supposed to connote an essence of Germanness that needs to be safeguarded amidst what appear to be accelerating migratory flows.

Leitkultur – history of a debate

The term was first coined in 1996 by political scientist Bassam Tibi, who asserted that, in the face of Muslim immigration, Europeans needed to develop and uphold a “European guiding culture”. For Tibi, central elements included the dominance of reason over religious revelation, democracy and the separation of religion and politics, pluralism, and tolerance.

Tibi’s critique of what he saw as cultural relativism and as unlimited immigration was subsequently taken up in political circles – most notably by the CDU politician Friedrich Merz, at the time one of his party’s leading young faces. In the process, it assumed a more narrowly German meaning.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/leitkultur-merz-geht-in-die-offensive-a-99435.html ))

Ever since, calls for an official recognition and – in one way or another – an enforcement of a ‘guiding culture’ are regularly voiced on the conservative side of the political spectrum.

De Maizière’s comments

The latest – and particularly crude – attempt to do so was recently kick-started by the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière. In an op-ed for the Sunday edition of the country’s best-selling tabloid, Bild, de Maizière wrote that “I like the term ‘guiding culture’ and want to stick with it.” The piece was titled: “We are not burka (Wir sind nicht Burka)”.(( http://www.bild.de/bild-plus/politik/inland/thomas-de-maiziere/leitkultur-fuer-deutschland-51509022,view=conversionToLogin.bild.html ))

The remainder of the relatively long text includes somewhat repetitive musings on the notion of a ‘guiding culture’, followed by a platitudinous as well as random ten-point checklist supposedly summarising its core elements. Essentials of Germanness mentioned range from giving a handshake by way of greeting to Germany’s embedding in the NATO security architecture.

To paper over the cracks of the rather flimsy content of the article, Bild underlaid the entire text with the black-red-gold of the German flag, further enhancing its nationalistic overtones.

Buttressing Germanness against Muslim immigration

As the title intimates, Muslim immigration lies at the heart of de Maizière’s intervention. The first of the ten theses starts by highlighting the need to shake hands and to show one’s face in order to participate in the democratic community.

The fourth section asserts that “religion is a glue rather than a wedge in our country”. This also means upholding the Christian heritage of Germany through Christian festivals and buildings. The seventh point then takes a swipe at notions of “honour” that many immigrants may – illegitimately – connect with “violence”.

Other elements of de Maizière’s declaration stray much further afield, making a good level of “general knowledge (Allgemeinbildung)” constitutive of Germanness (thesis 2), as well as defining Germany via its capitalist ‘social market economy’ (thesis 3). Particularly tortuous manoeuvring is reserved for the issue of patriotism, which – in view of 20th-century German history – de Maizière strives hard to separate from nationalism by asserting that “we are enlightened patriots” (thesis 8).

Political praise and criticism

Reactions to de Maizière’s statements were mixed. While he drew considerable applause from the CDU party, others pointed out that his ’10 points on guiding culture’ were indicative above all of an attempt to fend off conservative challengers from within his own party.

Notably, the Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann is mooted as a replacement for de Maizière should Angela Merkel return to the chancellery after the upcoming German federal election.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/leitkultur-thomas-de-maiziere-und-seine-thesen-sorgen-fuer-aufregung-a-1145587.html ))

Politicians from the Social Democrats, Greens, and the Left remained critical of the discourse on Leitkultur, dismissing it as a political ploy.

Talking about Muslims

As usual, however, the voices of those being ‘talked about’ in this debate were much less likely to be heard. Immigrants, and more particularly Muslim immigrants (as well as their descendants), were not party to the debate being led in the country’s main media outlets and on the political stage.

This state of affairs was criticised by Armina Omerika, Bosnian-born professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Frankfurt((https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-12-mai-2017-100.html )): she noted that the ostentatious targets of the Leitkultur debate were never reached by and included in these discussions; a fact which, since Friedrich Merz’s comments in 2000, had made all talk about a ‘guiding culture’ a rather sterile and inane exercise.

More broadly, Omerika questioned the attempt to legalise and commit to paper inherently changeable and shifting social conventions. Giving examples from the university context, Omerika noted that social life in Germany was totally different today when compared to even the recent past of only 50 years ago.

Refugees stress the need for respect

When interviewed about the Interior Minister’s ideas on Leitkultur, a group of Syrian refugees from the town of Rüsselsheim had very little to say about it.((https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-12-mai-2017-100.html )) The common consensus appeared to be that it did not really matter what de Maizière said but that it was important to interact with others respectfully in everyday life and respect the ‘ways of the German people’ (whatever that might mean), even if that did not necessitate giving up all one’s own cultural particularities.

A social worker underscored the point that most new arrivals would not even be able to read de Maizière’s article due to the language barrier, making his text a purely ‘domestic’ exercise catering mainly to the established population and to political rivals.

“Germany is my country, too”

More self-consciously Muslim voices were dismayed by what they perceived to be de Maizière’s exclusivism: Malika Laabdallaoui, Moroccan-born psychologist and chairwoman of the Central Council of Muslims in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, stressed somewhat defiantly that not only church spires, handshakes, and carnival belonged to Germany, as insinuated by the Interior Minister.((https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-12-mai-2017-100.html ))

“Germany is my country, too”, she asserted. “I belong here with all my values, my religion, my mindset, my engagement for society, my German as well as my Christian and my Muslim friends, with my family.” Addressing de Maizière, she added: “How can it be that you just think me away out of this society?”

German Army rocked by right-wing extremism revelations

To what extent is the German Army – the Bundeswehr – a home for far-right sentiments? This disconcerting question has dominated the German political debate since last week’s arrest of Franco A. Apparently motivated by far-right ideology, the 28-year-old Lieutenant is suspected of having planned attacks on politicians, civil society institutions, and Jewish and Muslim representatives while seeking to make it appear as if refugees were to be held responsible.

A far-right backstory

Franco A., who is a member of the Franco-German Brigade stationed in Illkirch in the French Alsace region, has a history of engagement with far-right ideas. The young man’s master’s thesis – submitted at the French elite military academy of Saint-Cyr in 2014 – was marked by an obvious adherence to right-wing extremist and racial ideologies.

His professors notified their German colleagues, whose evaluation of the thesis came to the same conclusions: an internal Bundeswehr document noted that the text was “not a work for an academic degree but rather a radical nationalist, racist call for action”.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164193275/Die-voelkisch-rassistische-Masterarbeit-des-Franco-A.html ))

Nevertheless, his superiors still reached the conclusion that any doubts about the soldier’s fitness for service and about his politico-ideological convictions could be “excluded”. As a result, no further steps were taken and his disciplinary file remained unsullied.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article164193275/Die-voelkisch-rassistische-Masterarbeit-des-Franco-A.html ))

A second identity as a refugee

In light of Franco A.’s brinksmanship, the following events read like an adventure tale. In late 2015, he approached local authorities in Bavaria under the pseudonym ‘David Benjamin’ and, claiming that he was a green grocer from Damascus, sought asylum in Germany.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

Inexplicably enough, over the following months he managed to lead a double life by commuting back and forth between his refugee shelter in Bavaria and his barracks in Alsace. And even more remarkable is the fact that, although he spoke hardly any Arabic, he not only managed to demand legal protection in Germany – he also obtained it.

Whilst this casts an extremely bad light on the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF), Franco A. prepared meticulously for his role by questioning fellow soldiers who had helped out at the Office at the height of the so-called refugee crisis in late 2015 and early 2016. In this way, he appears to have obtained valuable insider information on the conduct of asylum procedures and hearings.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/franco-a-soll-bundeswehr-kollegen-vor-asylantrag-ausgefragt-haben-a-1146248.html ))

Run-in with the police at Vienna Airport

Subsequently, Franco A. – together with an accomplice who has also been arrested but whose role remains unclear – began collecting weapons and ammunition. He had hidden an old pistol in the cleaning shaft of the toilet facilities of Vienna’s international airport. The weapon was discovered; and A. was briefly detained when attempting to recuperate it in February 2017.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

The Austrians tipped off their German counterparts, who began a surveillance operation. Over the following weeks and months, ample materials testifying to A.’s far-right views were collected. Investigators reached the conclusion that A. and some of his confidants might be planning an attack.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-offizier-unter-terrorverdacht-das-bizarre-doppelleben-des-franco-a-a-1145166.html ))

This premonition appeared justified when, following the arrests of A. and one of his accomplices, investigators uncovered a large stash of ammunition, most of which was taken from Bundeswehr depots.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-soldat-franco-a-hortete-1000-schuss-munition-a-1146177.html ))

Accomplices and targets

The size of the Lieutenant’s network is as of now unclear. The weapons were stored by fellow soldier Matthias F. in the central German city of Offenbach.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundeswehr-soldat-franco-a-hortete-1000-schuss-munition-a-1146177.html )) A blacklist of potential targets for assassinations appears to have been compiled by Franco A. together with at least one other accomplice, Maximilian T., who served together with Franco A. in the Alsace-based battalion.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-franco-a-mitwisser-angela-merkel-ursula-von-der-leyen ))

The blacklist seems like a compilation of all political actors A. and his followers despised: targets include former German President Joachim Gauck, current Minister of Justice Heiko Maas, Green party politician Claudia Roth, as well as Bodo Ramelow, Minister President of the state of Thuringia and leading member of the Left party.

Yet the list also mentioned civil society institutions, such as the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, the most important foundation seeking justice for the victims of far-right and neo-Nazi violence; as well as the Central Council of Jews and the Central Council of Muslims.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-franco-a-mitwisser-angela-merkel-ursula-von-der-leyen ))

A larger issue

The extent to which the conspirators’ deliberations amounted to a coherent plan or just to a megalomaniacal laundry list of unreachable targets needs to be uncovered by further investigations. Yet even so, the events surrounding Franco A. cast an exceedingly negative light on the Lieutenant’s environment in Germany’s armed forces.

Not only was A.’s master’s thesis not seen as a cause for a concern (critics would say that it was, in fact, swept under the rug). Army inspectors also visited the Lieutenant’s barracks in French Illkirch, only to report that they had found swastikas drawn on the barracks’ walls as well as on an assault rifle. They also noted that the buildings contained a range of memorabilia from the Wehrmacht, the National Socialist predecessor of the current German Bundeswehr.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-05/bundeswehr-verteidigungsministerin-ursula-von-der-leyen-usa-reise ))

Extremism in the Bundeswehr

The Bundeswehr has repeatedly had to struggle with allegations of unsavoury behaviour in its ranks. Over the past few months, a string of sexual harassment scandals have rocked the Army. Moreover, the armed forces have faced repeated accusations that they are too lenient vis-à-vis right-wing extremism.

The military intelligence agency (Militärischer Abschirmdienst, MAD) is currently investigating 280 cases of potentially far-right and neo-Nazi soldiers. Yet the treatment of these affairs is long-winded and the number of unreported cases potentially considerably higher.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/rechtsextremismus-in-der-bundeswehr-wenn-der-soldat-den-hitlergruss-zeigt-1.3493827 ))

In fact, an overriding concern in recent years had been the possibility that Islamists might join the armed forces in order to gain military training or even battlefield experience. This is, to be sure, a risk: from 2007 to 2016, 24 soldiers with Islamist leanings were identified by the MAD.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/bundeswehr-islamisten-101.html )) Nevertheless, against the backdrop of the case of Franco A., this strong focus on Islamists looks like a major blunder on the part of the military and intelligence leadership.

Political repercussions

These events have placed considerable pressure on the German Defence Minister, Ursula von der Leyen. Widely dubbed as a potential successor to Chancellor Merkel in her CDU Party, von der Leyen took up the Ministry of Defence after the last federal election in 2013 in order to gain political clout.

At the same time, the Ministry is famed for being “ungovernable”.(( http://www.dw.com/de/schleudersitz-verteidigungsministerium/a-16889658 )) Successive corruption affairs, as well as managerial incompetence have long plagued the German defence portfolio, including during von der Leyen’s tenure. Yet no scandal has developed into such a threat to von der Leyen’s position as the case of Franco A.

The Minister initially took a strikingly bold stance, attesting the army an “attitude problem” and “leadership weaknesses”. However, a backlash from within the CDU forced von der Leyen to apologise for these utterances, seen as tarnishing the work of thousands of committed soldiers. Others questioned von der Leyen’s ability to actually control her own ministry and the armed forces. (( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/bundeswehr-skandal-nur-merkel-verteidigt-von-der-leyen-1.3492235 ))

Growing militancy of the German far right

The case involving Franco A. is only the latest indication of growing militancy on the part of the German far-right. Answering to an information request by a Left party MP, the federal government has just published new data showing that more and more known far-right activists are acquiring weapons, with numbers nearly doubling between 2014 and early 2017.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/news/politik/waffen-750-rechtsextreme-besitzen-legal-schusswaffen-dpa.urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-170506-99-343300 ))

In recent months, the German National Day celebrations were have been overshadowed by bomb blasts and far-right agitation. More generally, the incidence of xenophobic hate crimes has skyrocketed with the ‘refugee crisis’ has remained high ever since.

On the backs of refugees

The fact that Franco A. sought to pass himself off as a Syrian grocer is also indicative of a scapegoating mechanism that seeks to paint refugees as the originators of violence. In this respect, the presence of refugees is instrumentalised to carry out agendas of violent action.

These agendas need not necessarily be political. A particularly striking case in this regard was the recent bomb attack on the team bus of the Borussia Dortmund football team. The perpetrator placed three letters at the scene in which the so-called Islamic State appeared to claim responsibility.

Investigators later found, however, that the man had most likely sought to make large financial gains on the stock market by speculating on a dramatic fall in the football clubs’ share prices in the aftermath of his attack.(( https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-04-21/german-soccer-team-attacker-hoped-to-profit-from-share-slump ))

A Young Latino Arab American Throws His Hat in Congressional Ring

A young, American-born man of Latino and Arab heritage decided to throw his hat in the political ring after working as a community activist and in the Obama administration.

Ammar Campa-Najjar, 28, announced his candidacy Thursday in the hopes of unseating a long-term Republican representative in California’s District 50 in 2018.

Campa-Najjar, whose mother is Mexican American and whose father is Palestinian American, says he spent a lot of time speaking to Hispanic voters in his district to get them to the polls. Arab Americans have faced stereotyping and discrimination after the 9/11 attacks. But Campa-Najjar believes he can use his experience in Gaza and California to bridge divides and listen to voters’ anxieties about terrorism.

 

Elected Politicians with a Muslim Background in the UK, France and Germany


The UK

Information collected by euro-islam contributor Shayna Solomon

In the most recent elections, in 2015, the 13 Muslims were elected (or reelected) to the House of Commons, of which 6 were women. Only one Muslim former MP, Anas Sarwar lost the election in his Glasgow constituency. In 2015, Sadiq Khan also was elected to become the mayor of London, making him the first Muslim mayor of a major Western city. The current Muslim members of parliament are as follows:

Imran Hussain

Born 1978 in Bradford, West Yorkshire to a working class family, he started his political career in 2003 at the City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council. In his first run for Parliament, he unexpectedly lost to George Galloway in 2012. He mostly fits within the Momentum branch of the Labour party.

Labour since 2015
Khalid Mahmood

Born in 1961, trained as an engineer. 1990-1993 Birmingham City Councillor. He entered the parliament in 2001, failed to be re-elected in 2005, but won his seat back in 2010.

Labour 2001-2005 since 2010
Naseem ‘Naz’ Shah

Shah is the Labour MP for Bradford West. She is a women’s rights activist, advocating for policies to protect women from domestic violence and stopping forced marriage. She has also challenged the Prevent policy.

Labour since 2015
Yasmin Qureshi

Born in 1963 in Gujrat, moved to Britain in 1972, qualified as a barrister. Was the Head of the Criminal Legal Section of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the Director of the department of Judicial Administration in Kosovo. She served as the London Mayor’s Human Rights advisor and entered parliament in 2010 as one of the three first female Muslim MPs.

Labour since 2010
Shabana Mahmood

Born in Birmingham, she was educated at Oxford and worked as a barrister. In 2010 she entered the parliament as one of the first three Muslim women to become British MPs.

Labour since 2010
Rushnara Ali

Born in Bangladesh, moved to Britain at age of seven, grown up in London’s East End, educated at Oxford. She had jobs in Parliament, the Institute for Public Policy Research, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office before being elected one of the first female Muslim MPs in 2010.

Labour since 2010
Sajid Javid

Born in the UK, studied economics and politics, worked as a banker. He was elected as one of the first two Muslim MPs of the Conservative Party in 2010.

Conservative since 2010
Rehman Chishti

Studied law and worked as a barrister before pursuing a political career. Along with Sajid Javid he is the first Conservative MP of Muslim background.

Conservative since 2010
Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh 

Born in Chelsea London in 1970 to a political family her father was the first Asian councilor in Scotland), Ahmed-Sheik is a lawyer, actress, and businesswoman. Ahmed-Sheikh serves as the Trade and Investment spokesperson for the SNP, as well as its National Women’s and Equalities Officer.

Scottish National Party Since 2015
Rupa Asha Huq

Dr Huq is a Sociology lecturer by training and currently serves as the MP for Ealing Central and Acton, both in London. She has also served as the former consort to the deputy mayor of Ealing.

Labour Since 2015
Tulip Rizwana Siddiq 

Siddiq was both in 1982 in London. She currently serves as the MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and the vice-chairwoman for the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism. She is also the Shadow Education Minister.

Labour since 2015
Nusrat Munir Ul-Ghani

Born in 1972 in Birmingham, Ghani is the MP for Wealdon in East Sussex.  She has worked for several charities and the BBC World Service. She lost her first parliamentary election in 2010 but won in 2015. She was the first Muslim Conservative woman to be elected to the Parliament.

Conservative Since 2015

 

There are also Muslim politicians in the immediately pre-Brexit European Parliament. In the 2014 European elections, the number of Muslim British MEPs doubled. There were previously two Conservative Muslim MEPs, Syed Kamall and Sajjad Karim. These MEPs retained their seats and were joined in the European Parliament by Afzal Khan (Labor) and Amjad Bashir (UKIP). More information about Muslims in the 2014 European elections can be found here.

 

FRANCE

Information collected by euro-islam contributor, Selene Campion

 

Muslim Parliament Members in France (out of 577)

 

  1. Ibrahim Aboubacar (Parti socialiste), Mayotte (2nd district), born 1965 in Comoros, Constitutional Acts, Legislation and General Administration Committee

 

 

  1. Pouria Amirshahi (unattached), French citizens living outside of France, born 1972 in Iran, Cultural and Education Committee

 

  1. Kader Arif, (Parti socialiste), Haute-Garonne (10th district), born 1959 in Algeria, Foreign Affairs Committee

 

 

  1. Kheira Bouziane-Laroussi, (Parti socialiste ), Côte-d’Or (3rd  district), born 1953 in Algeria, Social Affairs Committee

 

  1. M. Georges Fenech, (Les Républicains), Rhône (11th district), born 1954 in Tunisia, Constitutional Acts, Legislation and General Administration Committee
  2. 6. Razzy Hammadi, (Parti socialiste), Seine-Saint-Denis (7th  district), born 1979 in Toulon to Algerian and Tunisian parents, Financial Commission

7.  Kléber Mesquida, (Parti socialiste), Hérault (5th district), born 1945 in Algeria, Economic Affairs Committee

European Parliament

Karima Delli: Europe Écologie Les Verts (EEEV); since June 2009 in North West district, Algerian parents; born in France.

 

Tokia Saifi: Les Républicains; since 1999 North West district; Algerian father; born in France.

 

Rachida Dati: Les Républicains; since July 2009 in Ile-de-France district; Moroccan mother and Algerian

 

 

Muslim politicians in Germany

Information gathered by euro-islam contributor, Jacob Lypp

 

Following the 2013 Federal Elections, 8 Muslim representatives entered or re-entered parliament of which 4 were women. This means that 1.3 per cent of Germany’s 630 federal-level parliamentarians are Muslim. This compares to Muslim’s share of roughly 5 per cent of Germany’s 82 million inhabitants.

Sevim Dağdelen

After having worked as a journalist, Dağdelen joined the Bundestag in 2005. Since then, she has been one of the most prominent figures of the anti-capitalist wing of The Left. The professed atheist has caused a number of stirs, including by stating her support for the Kurdish PKK.

The Left Since 2005
Ekin Deligöz

After her studies of public administration, Deligöz, a long-time Green Party activist, acquired German nationality and quickly joined the Bundestag. Since then, she has been involved mostly in budgeting commissions.

Bündnis 90/ The Greens Since 1998
Cemile Giousouf

Following her studies in political science, Giousouf joined the CDU, becoming the party’s first Muslim MP in 2013. She serves as the CDU’s Commissioner for Integration.

Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Since 2013
Özcan Mutlu

Mutlu studied electrical engineering and joined the Green Party in 1990. He was elected to the state parliament of Berlin in 1999 before joining the Bundestag in 2013, serving as his party’s spokesman for education and sport. In 2013, he received negative media attention for his attendance of an event organized by the Islamic Community Milli Görüş.

Bündnis 90/ The Greens Since 2013
Omid Nouripour

He is the Green Party spokesman for Foreign Affairs in the German Parliament. Despite being the chairman of the German-American parliamentary cooperation group, Nouripour was initially targeted by the first instantiation of President Trump’s executive order on immigration due to his German-Iranian dual citizenship.

Bündnis 90/ The Greens Since 2006
Cem Özdemir

A member of the centrist wing of the Green Party, Özdemir became the first Muslim MP in the country upon his election in 1994. After a stint in the European Parliament, he returned to the Bundestag in 2013. He has been one of the co-chairs of the Green Party since 2008 and is part of the leadership duo spearheading the Green effort for the 2017 federal elections. He has been a vocal commentator on German-Turkish relations and on the role of the Turkish-dominated Islamic associations.

Bündnis 90/The Greens Since 1994
Mahmut Özdemir

Born in 1987, Özdemir interrupted his law studies to take up his parliamentary seat. He represents the northern parts of Duisburg, an area of high poverty and neglect often presented in media discourses as an epitome of ‘failed immigration’.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) Since 2013
Aydan Özoğuz

An MP since 2009, Özoğuz became one of the SPD’s six vice-chairs in 2011. She is her party’s spokesperson on issues of migration and diversity. Since 2013, she serves as the Federal Government’s Commissioner for Migration, Refugees, and Integration.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) Since 2009

 

European Parliament

Ismail Ertug

While working in the healthcare sector, Ertug joined the SPD in 1999. After a stint in the city council of Amberg, Ertug was elected to the European Parliament in 2009. He has since worked on issues of infrastructure and tourism, as well as on environmental issues and on EU-Turkey relations.

Social Democratic Party (SPD Since 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Diversity’ and its pitfalls: The role of Muslim representatives in German parliaments

Ahead of this year’s federal election in Germany, it is worth taking stock of the current assembly and its composition. More particularly, given the particular focus on issues of immigration and integration in the election campaign, the number of Muslim representatives it is worth scrutinising. To what extent do German Muslims actually have the possibility to contribute politically to debates and legislative reforms on issues that their own community will be most affected by?

A growing number of MPs of ‘migration background’

When it was elected in September 2013, the 18th Bundestag, as it is referred to in official nomenclature, was the most diverse in the Parliament’s recent history: of its 630 members, 5.6 per cent or 35 MPs had a ‘migration background’. In German parlance, this refers to an individual that is either an immigrant or has a at least one parent born outside of the Federal Republic.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/09/24/bundestag-abgeordnete-mit-migrationshintergrund/ ))

This represents a marked increase over the previous legislative period, in which only 3.4 per cent of representatives had such a background. At the same time, these numbers remain a far cry from the 19 per cent of the overall German population who have at least one parent born abroad.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/09/24/bundestag-abgeordnete-mit-migrationshintergrund/ ))

A higher number of Muslim representatives

A similar picture obtains with respect to Muslim representatives. The number of Muslims living in Germany is an unclear – and, by now, politically contested – figure; yet some estimates put the number of Muslims living in Germany at the moment of the 2013 federal election at roughly 4 million, equivalent to 5 per cent of the country’s population.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/umfrage-zahl-der-muslime-in-deutschland-wird-deutlich-ueberschaetzt/10975728.html ))

At the same time, only roughly half of Muslims living in the contry also held German citizenship in 2013. A fair share of these two million Muslim citizens will, furthermore, be underage and thus not hold the right to participate at the polls. The Federal Office of Statistics thus estimated in 2009 that only 750,000 German Muslims were eligible to vote.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/yasin-bas/parteien-islam-muslime_b_9819518.html ))

In spite of this, the Muslim share of the German population is still underrepresented in parliament: a mere eight of the current Bundestag’s members are of Muslim faith, making for slightly less 1.3 per cent of parliamentarians. At the same time it is worth noting that the number of Muslim MPs more than doubled in comparison to the previous session of parliament (2009-2013), which included only three Muslims.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/abgeordnete-im-neuen-bundestag-fieser-freiherr-trifft-film-kommissar-1.1798554-4 ))

Split along party lines

With four of their 63 lawmakers adhering to Islam, the Greens supply the largest number of Muslim parliamentarians. One of the party’s leadership figures, Cem Özdemir, had, in 1994, become the country’s first Muslim MP.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/abgeordnete-im-neuen-bundestag-fieser-freiherr-trifft-film-kommissar-1.1798554-4 ))

A very vocal presence has been the first ever Muslim member of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Cemile Giousouf. Nevertheless, in terms of their voting behaviour and political affiliation, German Muslims have traditionally been closer to the Social Democrats than to the Conservatives; a fact potentially influenced by the working-class background of many of the so-called ‘guest workers’.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/migranten-und-politik-diese-parteien-waehlen-einwanderer/14851994.html ))

As Euro-Islam reported, a group of Turkish Muslim politicians is currently seeking to challenge this status quo, by building a Muslim platform within the CDU. Whilst offering potential electoral gains by increasing the Conservatives’ share of the Muslim vote, their initiative has been viewed with some suspicion by the party leadership.

Divergences at state level

Data is much harder to come by for Germany’s 16 state parliaments, let alone for local administrations. Browsing through the lists of state representatives published by the respective assemblies, however, confirms the broad trends observable at the national level.

Policy-makers of an immigrant and/ or Muslim background tend to fall on the left of the political spectrum. Often the roots of their political activism lie in the labour movement. What is more, a glance at the list of elected decision-makers from the urban city-states of Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen – all traditional strongholds of the left – consistently (and perhaps unsurprisingly) show higher levels of MP diversity.

Conversely, the parliaments of the traditionally conservative, territorially larger and more rural states of the German south such as Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria scarcely contain members whose names do not strike the voter as immediately ethnically German.

Interestingly enough, this pattern is replicated in the capitals of these two states, Stuttgart and Munich, in spite of the fact that these two cities are among the most ethnically diverse in the country. Low degrees of representativeness of immigrants and Muslims cannot, therefore, be simply a function of an lower share of immigrants and Muslims in the population at large.

Going beyond mere numbers

The number of Muslims and persons of different ethnic backgrounds in state and federal parliaments is, undoubtedly, important. These figures do offer important insights into the dynamics that allow or disallow all sectors of the population to participate in political life. In this respect, obvious deficiencies are apparent: Germany’s parliaments are clearly do not ‘represent’ – in a very basic sense of the word – the diversity of the country’s population.

Beyond that, however, we may also ask what the Muslim members of parliament actually do. In this respect, it is striking – even though again not necessarily surprising – that many of them fill the offices of ‘commissioners for immigration’ or ‘integration ombudsman’ or other ostentatiously ‘diversity’-oriented positions.

To be sure, this is nothing to object to in principle: it seems logical to entrust for instance issues of migration to people who, perhaps because of their own biography, might have an affinity and a passion for the issue at hand. In a political climate in which voices from all sides of the spectrum talk of ‘integration of Muslims’, it is key that a Muslim voice is also heard in the relevant governmental departments; otherwise, the conversation becomes one that is always about Muslims but never involves them as actors.

Poster children of ‘diversity’

Yet this lopsided participation of Muslim and immigrant representatives in governmental functions also seems indicative of a dynamic in which all those whose names and physiognomy indicate ‘diversity’ are first and foremost shunted into departments and positions in which they deal with ‘people of their own kind’.

On this somewhat unkind but arguably realistic appreciation of Muslim representatives positioning on the political scene, mere numbers are not necessarily indicative of equal participation. Surely many of Germany’s aspiring Muslim politicians or even politically interested youth would be interested in pursing other political offices not oriented towards ‘diversity’.

No hijabs to be seen

Finally, in none of Germany’s parliaments there are female members wearing the hijab. In part, this is undoubtedly due to the abovementioned fact that leftist parties are more likely to include Muslims (or women, for that matter). Conceivably, the secularist views of left-wing parties’ female Muslim members mean that they are simply less likely to wear the headcovering.

At the same time, the saga of judicial wrangling about issues of ‘state neutrality’ has been long and is ongoing. Consequently, prohibitions on the display of religious symbols in some domains of the public sector are in force in some of Germany’s federal states. Against this backdrop, a hijab-wearing MP would be a major challenge to the status quo.

In 2014, Muslim associations reported with contentment that a female Muslim student wearing a headscarf had completed an internship in the Bundestag office of her local Conservative member of parliament.(( http://islam.de/24212.php )) Whether she and other young Muslim women will be able rise to the position of MP in the future remains to be seen.

Rising numbers of Islamic burials pose challenges to German cemeteries

For a long time, German Muslims have predominantly buried their dead abroad: especially the members of the country’s large Turkish community preferred to find their final resting place ‘back home’. Many of the so-called guest workers had envisaged a return to Turkey during their lifetimes but stayed on in Germany for work or for the sake of their families. The return home was delayed until after death.

Yet for some of the children of those who moved to Germany, the ties to their ancestors’ country of origin are increasingly remote. For others, the expense of a costly transfer of the body is simply too high; although this factor is often offset by the high cost of maintaining a grave in Germany. For yet others, warfare in their countries of origin makes a return for burial impossible.

All of this has led to a strong rise in demand for burials in conformity with Islamic rites in Germany. A seemingly innocuous issue, questions and perceptions surrounding these burials are indicative of the complex processes of adaptation Muslim communities undergo in the Western European context – as well as of the challenges this processes involves.

Running afoul of German law

To begin with, a number of Muslim traditions run counter to German legal regulations.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/menschen/bestattung-von-muslimen-teilweise-problematisch-14942392.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 )) In Germany, burial heeds to be carried out by an expressly hired professional undertaker; a notion unknown in other parts of the world. At the same time, there is not just a need for familiarity with the Islamic ritual on the part of the undertaker, but also for specific facilities to wash the dead body.

Muslim tradition encourages burial within 24 hours after death. Yet the slowly grinding mills of the German bureaucracy mean that burials cannot generally be accomplished in less than 48 hours. Medical regulations ate at times also adduced against quicker burial.

When it comes to the actual burial site itself, Muslims’ graves are customarily oriented towards Mecca – a requirement that cannot be fulfilled by most regular German cemeteries since the existing lines of graves are ordered differently.

What is more, in a somewhat macabre twist, an ‘eternal resting place’ in Germany generally means a maximum of 20 or 25 years – after that, graves are reallocated. Maintaining a grave beyond that point may be either impossible or dramatically increase the price of the grave lease. According to Muslim tradition, however, the dead should be buried in untouched earth and should have a genuinely eternal last home.

To name but one more hurdle, many administrations and cemeteries across the country require bodies to be buried in a coffin; a practice forbidden in Quranic tradition.

Pragmatic solutions

In many cases, practical solutions have been found.((https://www.welt.de/regionales/hamburg/article162782576/Wie-sich-deutsche-Friedhoefe-fuer-Muslime-veraendern.html )) Specialised Islamic undertaking businesses have cropped up all over the country, offering their services to a Muslim clientele. Especially larger towns and cities have begun to create Muslim sections in their cemeteries in order to accommodate graves oriented towards Mecca.

Some municipalities have been more lenient on the rules restricting early burial, provided that no medical reasons demand that the burial be postponed. A specifically Muslim cemetery is set to open in the city of Wuppertal, offering graves with an unlimited lease.

Enduring challenges

In some cases, however, such solutions have proved elusive. Three German states – Bavaria, Saxony, and Saxony-Anhalt – continue to categorically prohibit burials without a coffin while others no longer require the casket.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/menschen/bestattung-von-muslimen-teilweise-problematisch-14942392.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

For some on the political right, upholding the so-called ‘coffin obligation’ (Sargpflicht) has become a matter of principled defence of autochthon values and traditions. (It should perhaps be noted that burials in a coffin were only introduced in Germany in the 18th century, making it a tradition presumably less essential to local identity than one might think.(( http://www.brauchwiki.de/Beerdigungsriten )))

Acts of vandalism

Nor have Muslims’ graves gone unnoticed in largely (post-)Christian neighbourhoods, with some expressing anxieties about the expansion of cemeteries’ Islamic sections. Only a month ago a series of Muslim graves was vandalised and desecrated by swastika signs in the southern town of Aalen.(( http://www.swr.de/swraktuell/bw/aalen-muslimische-graeber-auf-friedhof-geschaendet/-/id=1622/did=19107694/nid=1622/1tyli8u/index.html ))

Yet apparently it is not only the far right that has been bent on destroying graves: in 2011, Islamic religious purists appear to have embarked on a purge in the Muslim section of a cemetery in Bielefeld, smashing angel figurines, terracotta sculptures and other ‘German-style’ adornments.

Since the graves themselves and a number of other Islamic symbols remained untouched, police surmised that the vandals only attacked those elements they deemed offensive to their restrictive understanding of Islam.(( http://www.nw.de/lokal/bielefeld/mitte/mitte/4902487_30-muslimische-Graeber-geschaendet.html ))

The salience of identity politics

The question of death and burial is thus surprisingly revelatory about the nature of Muslim life in Germany. The scope for pragmatic accommodation balancing German legal frameworks and Muslim traditions seem large; yet a fair amount of intransigence from various players in the system also makes this room for manoeuvre more difficult to use. Identity politics in its more toxic forms – emanating from ethnically German xenophobes and Islamist fundamentalists alike – leaves its mark.

More generally, when following this issue in the centre-right section of the mainstream media, one is struck by the whole range of contradictory emotions and expectations that German Muslims are faced with: the implicit reproach of a lack of loyalty is directed at those who choose burial abroad. Yet at the same time, the expansion of Islamic segments on German cemeteries is greeted with a certain amount of suspicion and civilizational angst.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/gesellschaft/menschen/bestattung-von-muslimen-teilweise-problematisch-14942392.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

In this manner, all sides manage to project their political ambitions onto Muslims’ final resting places. At times, the resulting debate seems almost as eternal as the peace people from across religious divides are seeking for their dead.

British foreign office: Muslim Brotherhood is “fundamentally non-violent” and contributes to peace

On Monday, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued a report which argued that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are the “best ‘firewall'” against violence in democratic transitions. This was their conclusion because, when individuals and groups are excluded from the political process and subject to repression, they may resort to violence.

This appears to reverse the government’s stance, as defined by the 2014 review of the Muslim Brotherhood by UK then-ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Jenkins. The previous assessment saw the Muslim Brotherhood as a gateway to a violent form of radicalisation.

The new assessment sees the Muslim Brotherhood as a necessary policy partner in the Middle East.

Some politicians have expressed concern over the new report, including the chair of the foreign affairs committee, Crispin Blunt.

In 2015: UK government delayed Muslim Brotherhood classification

In light of the American consideration of classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, we share this 2015 UK news about the British experience on this topic. 

In 2015, British then-Prime Minister David Cameron pulled a report which was expected to say that the Muslim Brotherhood is not terrorist organisation. The government likely did not publish the report because it would have hurt the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, countries which have all banned the Muslim Brotherhood and consider it to be a terrorist organisation.

Chris Doyle, the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, critiqued the unpublished report for being too political and for possibly contributing to the stigmatisation of Muslims within the UK.

Marine Le Pen says Assad solution to Syria crisis

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen on Monday called Syrian President Bashar Assad “the most reassuring solution for France,” a major divergence with her nation’s official policy.

Le Pen, head of the National Front, spoke after meetings with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri. They were among numerous officials, including the Christian Maronite patriarch, that Le Pen was meeting on her two-day visit to Lebanon, a former French protectorate.

The trip represented the first major foray into foreign policy for Le Pen, a leading candidate in France’s April 23 and May 7 election.

She said she told Hariri that there is “no viable and workable solution” to the Syrian civil war beyond choosing between Assad and the Islamic State group.

“I clearly explained that in the political picture the least bad option is the politically realistic. It appears that Bashar al Assad is evidently today the most reassuring solution for France.”

Le Pen has made known her preference for Assad in the past — a position that runs counter to the French government’s strong anti-Assad approach — but it carries extra weight being stated while on a foreign visit with a Syrian neighbor, and during unusual meetings with the nation’s top officials. The trip is Le Pen’s first real public foray into foreign policy.

Before meeting with the prime minister, Le Pen had a visit with Aoun, the leader of a Christian party allied with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia fighting on the side of Assad.

Le Pen said she and Hariri, who has longstanding ties to France, agreed on “the absolute necessity” for nations wanting to fight the Islamic State group tearing Syria and Iraq apart to come “to the table,” an apparent reference to formal talks. She noted the threat to France of the Islamic State group which has claimed deadly attacks in Paris, Nice and elsewhere, and has lured hundreds of French youths to the war zones in Syria and Iraq.

Le Pen was also using her two-day visit to the former French protectorate — and her unusual encounter with a foreign president — to appeal to the thousands of French voters in Lebanon.