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

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

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

An alliance bypassing the Turkish associations

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

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

Vying for political influence

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

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

Broad-ranging questionnaire

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

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

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

Does Islam belong to Germany?

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

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

State “neutrality” and the headscarf

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

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

Disagreements on dual citizenship

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

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

Lack of questions on jihadism, counter-terrorism

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

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

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

No Muslim “pressure group”

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

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

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

Call for more civil society activism

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

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

Need for political engagement

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

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

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

Department of Homeland Security halts enforcement of controversial travel ban

The Department of Homeland Security said Saturday, February 4, 2017, that it had suspended “any and all actions” related to President Trump’s travel ban on immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries, as well as its temporary halt on refugee resettlements.

The move came after a federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order against the major parts of Trump’s executive order, effective nationwide, in response to a lawsuit filed by the states of Washington and Minnesota.

The State Department, which “provisionally revoked” 60,000 visas since the president signed his executive order on Jan. 27, said Saturday it had started re-accepting those visas from people in the countries affected.

Trump’s White House has said it will ask for an emergency stay of the judge’s order, arguing the president’s actions were lawful.

Somali Refugee Makes History In U.S. Election

She’s a former refugee, a Muslim, a mom of three, and now the first Somali-American lawmaker in the United States.

“This really was a victory for that 8-year-old in that refugee camp,” Ilhan Omar, 34, said. “This was a victory for the young woman being forced into child marriage. This was a victory for every person that’s been told they have limits on their dreams.”

“I think I bring the voice of young people,” Omar said. “I think I bring the voice of women in the East African community. I bring the voice of Muslims. I bring the voice of young mothers looking for opportunities.”

She won House District 60B in southeast Minneapolis with 80 percent of the vote.

In Germany, graffiti and arson damage mosques and refugee camps

Unknown perpetrators have smudged the unfinished body shell of a mosque in the city of Dormagen with swastika Nazi symbols. (Photo: DPA)
Unknown perpetrators have smudged the unfinished body shell of a mosque in the city of Dormagen with swastika Nazi symbols. (Photo: DPA)

Unknown perpetrators have smudged the unfinished body shell of a mosque in the city of Dormagen with swastika Nazi symbols. The police refused to draw correlations between the assault and the current PEGIDA protests. Police and security authorities have initiated investigation, expecting that the assaults are politically motivated.

At the same time, a fire assault has taken place against a refugee camp in the small German city of Vorra. The event has been condemned by all major parties. Some went as far as to connect it, at least ideally with the PEGIDA protests. The General Secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), Yasmin Fahimi described PEGIDA as the “spiritual arsonist” of attacks against foreigners. The commissioner for integration, the minister of State Aydan Özoğuz (SPD) condemned the assaults. Referring to the discovery of the right-wing terrorist group National-Social Underground (NSU), these assaults demonstrate the deep hatred against human beings and the potential threat caused by right-wing extremists, he declared.

Iman: ‘I am the face of a refugee’

June 29, 2014 

Its 24 years since Iman retired from modelling, but you’d never know it. She’s a completely unlikely looking 58 and is sitting in front of a stark all-white backdrop simply dressed all in black – black jeans and a black jumper that emphasises her extraordinary swan-like neck – and she is completely focused it’s not an accident that she was the world’s first black supermodel. The first black model to make serious cash, the first to become the face of global cosmetics brand (Revlon). That she seamlessly segued from model to businesswoman when she set up her own highly successful cosmetics brand. Or even, possibly, that she married an international music legend, David Bowie, and became one half of a global super-couple. Iman, you get the feeling, does it Iman’s way. Not least in that she is one of the surnameless, Mohamed Abdulmajid has played no part in Iman the brand.

Every model has a sort of creation myth, the chance encounter that led to global fame. She was walking down a street in Nairobi in 1975 and she was a 20-year-old Somali refugee living and studying in Kenya. The spotter was a man called Peter Beard, a well-connected photographer and Africophile. He asked to photograph her, and when she hesitated he offered to pay her. “How much?” she asked. “How much do you want?” he said. “$8,000,” she replied, the total amount of her university fees. It’s a fair amount of money even today. Back then it must have been an extraordinary sum. “Well, what could have happened?” she says. “He could have said no.” She shrugs. “I mean, what’s going to happen if you don’t ask? My mother taught me this. She said: ‘If God says to you: “I will grant you any wish you want – what would you ask for?” And I went: ‘Er…’ And she said: ‘If you have to think about it, you’re not worth it!’ And I said: ‘Why?’ and she said: ‘Look. Ask for everything! Ask for everything!'”

In 1975 an editor said she was like a white woman ‘dipped in chocolate’. And she didn’t even realise it was insulting: Iman continues, “I didn’t even understand it. People called me ‘Iman the black model’. In my country we’re all black so nobody called somebody else black. It was foreign to my ears. I was doing the same job as them. Why would I get less money? It didn’t even occur to me that it had anything to do with racism. I learned that quite fast. I wasn’t a major in political science for nothing, so I understood the politics of beauty and the politics of race when it comes to the fashion industry.”

Nearly 40 years on, not all that much has changed, it seems. Last year she launched a campaign with Bethann Hardison and Naomi Campbell to urge brands to use black models. They commissioned original research and discovered that some brands, like Chloé, had never used a non-white model and others like YSL, Versace, Gucci, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein hadn’t for years. “It sends a message that our girls are not beautiful enough,” she says. She had no issue with pointing the finger and calling them racist and urging a boycott until they changed their ways. But then she remembers the magazine editor who exclaimed at her beauty and said she was like a white woman “dipped in chocolate”.

“And she didn’t even realise it was insulting! I said: ‘Don’t take credit for it. I don’t have a white drop in me.'”

Iman supports, the Hawa Abdi Foundation, a Somalia-based organisation, run by three Somali women focused on bringing basic human rights – healthcare, education, agriculture – to vast swathes of the Somali population who currently have none. The foundation focuses its efforts on women and children.

“What has happened to women in Somalia? When I was growing up women wore traditional clothes or regular western clothes. We went to school. But the schools don’t exist anymore. And women are not even allowed to drive any more. It’s run by extremists. Somalia was 100% a Muslim country, but it had its own culture before it adopted Islam. So you were a Muslim, but you were a Somali first.”

Set up by Dr Hawa Abdi, Somalia’s first female gynaecologist and a nominee for the Nobel Prize, the foundation has fearlessly defended the rights of ordinary Somalis, caring for up to 90,000 people at a time despite attacks on both the compound and the foundation’s hospital by Somali forces. Dr Hawa wrote in her book that it was only when she lost her first baby that she realised she had undergone female genital mutilation, girls cannot go to school and the country has not had any schools open since 1990. Dr Hawa has built up the first school in the south of Somalia. Last year a documentary was made of its work, Through the Fire. Afterwards she stated that she didn’t know if anyone can fathom it but the Somalia she grew up in doesn’t exist anymore.

Do you think about if you’d taken a different street on a different day, I ask, and never met Peter Beard? “Absolutely.” You think it could have been another street, another girl? “I absolutely believe that. It was just my luck. I could be in a refugee camp now. There are people who have been in refugee camps for 20 years, and I could be one of them. That’s one of the reasons I’m compelled to help. First because overnight my life changed from a diplomatic daughter to a refugee and my father could not fend for us. The only time I’ve ever seen my father cry is when he couldn’t pay for us to finish our education. And the NGOs looked after us. They found me a hostel, a job, a university.”

There’s a genuine humility to the way she views her success. “I am the face of a refugee. I was once a refugee. I was with my family in exile. “

Interview with designer Belkis Baharcieva

February 24, 2014

 

Belkis Baharcieva came to Germany as a refugee in 2001. At the age of 30, she began studying fashion design in Trier. Baharcieva recently set up an online fashion shop, selling her own designs to Muslim women who want to wear high-quality, beautiful Islamic clothing.

 

Qantara: http://en.qantara.de/content/interview-with-designer-belkis-baharcieva-fashion-for-the-modern-muslim-woman

Right to Asylum: the Court of Justice of the European Union defines religious persecution and reinforces freedom of religion

September 5

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) in Luxembourg has issued an important sentence in favor of religious freedom. The sentence defines what type of infringement on freedom of religion justifies the granting of refugee status. According to this directive, Member States of the European Union should in principle grant refugee status to foreigners who face persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group in their country of origin.

The specific case concerns two Pakistani nationals belonging to the Ahmadi Muslim minority (a minority not recognized by the Muslim majority) and seeking asylum in Germany. According to the Pakistani Penal Code, the two were liable to up to three years imprisonment if they claimed to be Muslims, preached or tried to spread their religion. The German authorities have rejected their application on the ground that the restrictions on the practice of religion in public imposed on Ahmadis were not “persecution” in the eyes of the right of asylum. Both applicants then complained to the German administrative courts, arguing that the German authorities’ position was contrary to Directive 2004/83/EC.

By declaring that “certain forms of serious interference with the public manifestation of religion may constitute persecution for reasons of religion”, the Court corrected this interpretation, and admitted the possibility that two Pakistanis are given refugee status.

 

Terror Suspect in Netherlands Released without Charge

10 August 2011

 

A man arrested two weeks ago in the Dutch city of Almere, suspected of planning to join the al-Qaeda network, has been released without charge. The Iraqi national, who has a temporary refugee permit, allegedly planned to link up with the network in Syria and then carry out some form of attack in either Iraqi or Palestinian territory.

A Spanish radio station interviews Abu Sharif leader of the Al Qaeda Group Osbat Al Ansar

The Spanish radio station, Cadena Ser, one of the most popular radio stations in Spain has published an interview with Abu Sharif, the leader of Osbat Al Ansar an Al Qaeda Group settled in the south of Lebanon, in a Palestinian refugee camp. The Spanish radio station highlighted the thesis of Abu Sharif about Al-Andalus: “Al-Andalus will be again an Islamic caliphate”

Interview with the Senegalese Sociologist Amsata Sene Last Stop Senegal

Many young Senegalese want to go to Europe to escape unemployment and poverty. They risk their lives to fulfil this goal. Of those that make it, most are deported back to Senegal. Naima El Moussaoui spoke to the Senegalese sociologist Amsata Sene about the causes and the consequences of irregular migration to Europe

Mr Sene, here in Dakar I’ve only met one young Senegalese man who said he wanted to stay in Senegal. Those who get the chance leave the country. How can the situation of young people in Senegal be best described?

Amsata Sene: Just imagine you spend the whole day sleeping or drinking tea. Imagine you’re totally desperate and without any kind of future prospects. Imagine you don’t even have enough money to cover life’s basic needs … these young people have nothing more to expect from life. They are in a situation that can be described as “social marginalisation”. They can neither satisfy their needs, nor the needs of their parents.

The one who says he’s staying in Senegal is the one who’s managing to secure the necessities of life here in this country. But we’re still a long way off from being able to say that this applies to the majority of the population in Senegal or in Africa as a whole. Unfortunately to date we’ve not seen any serious or sound political solution that has succeeded in pulling the Senegalese out of this misery. That’s why to a certain extent one can say that the phenomenon of clandestine migration is a result of the political failures of African governments.

Many of these young Senegalese, who arrive in the Canary Islands in their flimsy “pirogues” and are sent back home – or repatriated as it’s officially known – blame the Senegalese government for their return, not the Spanish authorities. Why is that?

| Bild: A Senegalese refugee after his return at the beach in Dakar (photo: dpa)
Bild vergrössern The illusion of fast cash and economic success in Europe: Thousands of Africans undertake the risky sea crossing to Europe every year and can expect to be deported immediately back to their homeland | Sene: Strangely enough they all think that. There’s an explanation for it: All these young people say this because the Spaniards tell them: “We’d like you to stay here with us, but your government does not approve, and there’s nothing we can do about that.”

How do you explain the fact that the Senegalese people believe this?

Sene: If we try to analyse the circumstances of their return, we could say the following: They are for example woken up in the middle of the night and told to pack their things. They are often given a form. But many of these Senegalese can’t read, they only recognise certain words. Young people told me that at the top of these pieces of paper were the names of Spanish cities such as Barcelona.

They are told: “You’re going now,” and not informed as to their exact destination. In this kind of situation, Senegalese people tell themselves: “We’re going to Europe.” For this reason they get onto the bus without resistance, after they’ve willingly packed their things. Then they arrive at the airport and suddenly they are surrounded by police officers. They are apprehended, led away in handcuffs and sent back to Senegal on the next plane.

After an experience such as this, the young people say that they didn’t want to escape from the refugee camp, because they were completely safe. They say that they were free, not in police detention and above all with exit permits for Spain. They say: “We were sure that we were allowed to stay – if only because people treated us so well here.” All this just goes to demonstrate the great naivety of these young migrants.

Bild vergrössern Desperate flight: Some 5,000 African boat refugees arrived on the coast of Spain last year alone | What kind of image of Europe do these young people have?

Sene: The image that younger generations have of Europe is somewhat mixed. Although they regard life in Europe with a certain mistrust, they don’t doubt that it pays off. They are certain that they will achieve things and earn the kind of money that would be unthinkable if they stayed in Senegal. The indicator for the intensity of their motivation is the brother, the friend or the neighbour who returns to Senegal from Europe.

In this sense you can spend all day telling this young person that life in Europe can also be hard…but if he has a friend or a neighbour from the area who’s the same age, who’s come from Europe and during his holidays in Senegal he builds a house, drives a car, marries a woman and gives his family money, then there’s no point in staying anymore. You can no longer dissuade this young person from leaving the country. Because proof of the success it can bring is right under his nose.

That means that illegal migration is primarily driven by the desire to find work in Europe, get established somewhere and send money to the family.

Sene: Many of these migrants don’t have any professional training. Their aims are obvious. If you ask them: “What would you like to do in Europe?”, they reply that they want to go there to work. Once they arrive there, they take any work they can get. What interests them about Europe is the money. It’s not the culture, or the landscape, or anything else. None of them talk about the people in Europe. It’s as though there are no people there at all.

Interview conducted by Naima El Moussaoui

© Qantara.de 2010

Translation: Nina Coon