40 per cent of Germans believe that the country is being ‘infiltrated’ by Islam

Overall group prejudices on the decline

The SPD-linked Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence at the University of Bielefeld have conducted a representative sociological survey of 1,896 Germans to probe how widespread right-wing populist attitudes are among the population. According to the authors, the results draw “the picture of a divided society.”((Zick, Andreas, Beate Küpper, and Daniela Krause (2016). Gespaltene Mitte, Feindselige Zustände: Rechtsextreme Einstellungen in Deutschland 2016. The entire study is available at https://www.fes.de/de/index.php?eID=dumpFile&t=f&f=11000&token=63d1583c0c01b940d67518cf250f334b87bf5fdb; an executive summary at https://www.fes.de/de/index.php?eID=dumpFile&t=f&f=10999&token=d27af43a8d36326af8cf0964a25a57f3b95f8ba4 ))

Overall, patterns of rejection social minorities has continued to decline since the first comparable study was published in 2002: negative attitudes towards people with disability, homosexuals, immigrants, and Sinti and Roma are down, as is prejudice based on sex or race.

Islamophobia and hostility against asylum-seekers bucking the trend

However, Islamophobia and rejection of asylum-seekers are on the rise, being voiced by 19 and 50 per cent of respondents, respectively. Negative views of asylum-seekers therefore overtake the stubbornly high levels of prejudice against the unemployed, shared by 49 per cent of the population, as the most widespread form of group-based stereotype.

The authors note further interesting trends: since a similar study was conducted in 2014, the polarisation of opinions has increased, with more people either categorically rejecting or absolutely upholding stereotypes. Moreover, prejudice against immigrants, Muslims, Sinti and Roma, asylum-seekers, or against the homeless are significantly more widespread in the Eastern part of the formerly divided country, and among social classes with lower income and education.

Politically, it is the partisans of the Alternative für Deutschland Party (AfD) that most often exhibit a comprehensive worldview marked by the denigration of others. They express dislike of immigrants (68 per cent), Muslims (64 per cent), Sinti and Roma (59 per cent), asylum-seekers (88 per cent), and the unemployed (68 per cent).

Views on immigration

A majority of 56 per cent of respondents nevertheless continues to support the intake of refugees. 24 per cent see negative side-effects of recent immigration but are optimistic that these can be overcome. 20 per cent explicitly denounce the fact that Germany has taken in refugees.

38 per cent unequivocally support an upper limit to the number of refugees accepted in any given year – a measure frequently proposed by Angela Merkel’s sister party, the Bavarian CSU – while 21 per cent strictly reject it.

While only single-digit percentages feel culturally or financially threatened by refugees, around a quarter of respondents fear a drop in living standards. 35 per cent believe that the German state is more concerned with helping refugees than ethnic Germans in dire socioeconomic straits, while 50 per cent reject this statement.

Right-wing extremist attitudes

The study thus asserts that – perhaps in the media frenzy surrounding the rise of populist forces – the German population’s fundamentally positive attitude towards refugees is being “underestimated”. The tolerant majority is lodged against “a not unsubstantial and loud minority” that “does not just reject refugees but also denigrates other social groups and has a penchant for right-wing extremist views.”

Overall, such right-wing extremist attitudes (captured in the study by the relativisation of National-Socialist crimes, a belief in German racial supremacy, national-chauvinist attitudes, and anti-immigrant sentiment) remain at stable and relatively low levels of 5.9 per cent in East Germany and 2.3 per cent in the West.

However, the percentage of East Germans professing such views doubled between 2014 and 2016, mainly due to rising right-wing extremism among the elderly, the uneducated, and the poor. During this time, the east of the country also witnessed an increased incidence of right-wing violence and terrorism.((For bomb attacks in Dresden shortly before the German National Day, see http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/german-national-day-celebrations-dresden-overshadowed-bomb-blasts-right-wing-agitation/))

The rise of right-wing populism

Beyond such far-right views with a neo-Nazi edge, a more diffuse set of opinions associated with “right-wing populist orientations” has slightly risen since 2014, now observable among 20 per cent of the population, as well as 80 percent of AfD voters.

The study’s authors conclude that “classical right-wing extremist attitudes are increasingly replaced by the modernised variant of new right-wing attitudes”. This outlook carries “nationalist-völkisch ideologies in more subtle form and in a more intellectual garb”.

The most widespread belief in this category (held by 40 per cent of respondents) is the conspiracy theory that German society is being “infiltrated by Islam”. Beyond that, 28 per cent accuse the ruling elites of “committing treachery of the people”, and assert that the German state today prevents dissenters from uttering their views and opinions freely. 29 per cent assert that “it is time to show more resistance” to contemporary political decision-making.

Populist suspicion towards Islam

Indeed, especially the high incidence of the belief that Islam and Muslims were subversive actors seeking to infiltrate the country is jarring. It demonstrates the extent to which suspicion against Islam as an alien force has become the cornerstone of right-wing populists’ appeal to the population.

This widespread suspicion also resonates with a wealth of other empirical findings, including a study published earlier this year that had highlighted the stark divergence in perceptions of Islam between German Turks and ethnic Germans.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/07/14/religiosity-integration-participation-new-survey-attitudes-experiences-citizens-turkish-descent-germany/))

Politically, this sentiment echoes the AfD’s assertion that Islam is “not compatible” with the German constitution.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/04/24/islam-not-compatible-with-german-constitution-says-far-right-afd-party/)) Of all the populist tropes the AfD relies upon – such as the defamation of elites, disparaging of the press, and the call for resistance – the fear of Islam is the belief most widely held in the population. This fact showcases the incentives for the party to continue to free-ride on and exacerbate these fears.

In the wake of the recent American election, the study also highlights trends in Germany that are similar to those that brought Donald Trump to power in the US. Most notably, it captures a widespread feeling of disaffection among white Germans that can be found disproportionately in some regions of the country (the former East) and that are often poorly educated as well as concentrated on the lower ladders of the income distribution.

German courts seek to move beyond counter-terrorism measures in path-breaking trials of fighters from the Syrian battlefields

From organisational to substantive criteria

Over the past few months, German prosecutors have cautiously embarked on new paths to bring to justice crimes committed in the Syrian Civil War. Like most of their European counterparts, German investigators had so far remained focused on offences against counter-terrorism provisions (codified in Germany under §§129a and b of the country’s criminal code).(( https://dejure.org/gesetze/StGB/129a.html ))

Consequently, until now verdicts were based on charges of terrorist conspiracy (Bildung einer terroristischen Vereinigung) and thus on purely formalistic criteria: what was penalised was only the formation or support of a terrorist association, not the substantive rights violations that perpetrators had committed in the Syrian war zone.

However, amidst the increasing rates of the return of German foreign fighters – of the more than 750 that have made their way to Syria, more than 250 returned ((https://www.icct.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ICCT-Report_Foreign-Fighters-Phenomenon-in-the-EU_1-April-2016_including-AnnexesLinks.pdf , pp. 25 f.))– and against the backdrop of the growing number of Syrian refugees in the country, prosecutors are apparently seeking to enable more ambitious judicial proceedings taking the commission of international crimes – violations of fundamental human rights and of international humanitarian law – into account.

The case of Aria L.

In July 2016, the German national Aria L. was sentenced to two years imprisonment for war crimes by the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt. Having travelled to Syria in spring 2014, L. had not directly participated as a fighter in the Civil War – at least not to the court’s knowledge. However, pictures of L. posing next to the severed heads of two Syrian government soldiers made their way on to Facebook. ((https://olg-frankfurt-justiz.hessen.de/irj/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet?rid=HMdJ_15/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet/nav/d44/d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818,3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54,,,11111111-2222-3333-4444-100000005004%26_ic_uCon_zentral=3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54%26overview=true.htm&uid=d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818 ))

The Court viewed L.’s actions as fulfilling the criteria for war crimes set out in §8.1.9 of the Code of Crimes against International Law (Völkerstrafgesetzbuch), the code translating the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court into domestic German law: L. was condemned for having treated a person protected under international humanitarian law – a category which includes enemy forces that are hors de combat – in a gravely degrading manner. ((https://olg-frankfurt-justiz.hessen.de/irj/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet?rid=HMdJ_15/OLG_Frankfurt_am_Main_Internet/nav/d44/d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818,3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54,,,11111111-2222-3333-4444-100000005004%26_ic_uCon_zentral=3ed60b46-2d1d-d551-d064-8712ae8bad54%26overview=true.htm&uid=d4471596-ad85-e21d-0648-71e2389e4818 ))

From foreign fighters to Syrian nationals

Significantly, the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch also contains provisions of universal jurisdiction; i.e. provisions allowing German courts to prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes even if they are committed by foreign citizens abroad. Normally, national courts do not have the authority to adjudicate on acts that have no connection either with the national territory (territorial principle) or with national citizens (principle of nationality). ((http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/vstgb/__1.html ))

Consequently, the code offers the possibility to bring to justice not just ‘foreign fighters’ (German nationals or residents that have travelled to the Middle Eastern theatres of battle) but also Syrian nationals that have sought refuge as asylum-seekers in Germany after having committed international crimes. In fact, at least one trial against a Syrian national is ongoing in front of a German court, and another in preparation. The offences involved include attacks on protected persons, torture, and pillaging. ((http://www.ejiltalk.org/justice-for-syria-opportunities-and-limitations-of-universal-jurisdiction-trials-in-germany/ ))

Information from within a divided Syrian community

Syrian refugees are by now systematically asked whether they have witnessed crimes against humanity or other offences justiciable under the German code, or whether they can even name perpetrators of such offences. Asylum authorities have sent 25 to 30 tips to prosecutors per day, amounting to over 2000 indications of international crimes over the course of 2015. ((http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-01/refugee-influx-spurs-germany-to-tackle-syrian-war-crimes/7374152 , http://www.ejiltalk.org/justice-for-syria-opportunities-and-limitations-of-universal-jurisdiction-trials-in-germany/ ))

At the same time, some of these tip-offs is either not verifiable, based only on rumour, or reflective of the distrust and recriminations prevailing between different groups fleeing the ravages of the Syrian war. Investigators noted that informants sometimes accused members of other ethnic or religious groups of having perpetrated war crimes without being able to furnish concrete evidence for these claims. ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/kriegsverbrechen-101.html ))

Challenges of evidence collection

This highlights the challenges involved in the collection and evaluation of testimonies and evidence. These challenges only grow in importance due to the fact that investigators have of course no access to the sites of crimes in Syria. Often, evidence is insufficient for the opening of legal proceedings but substantial enough that suspicions remain, leaving a bitter aftertaste among prosecutors as well as among Syrian human rights groups striving to bring perpetrators of international crimes to justice. ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/kriegsverbrechen-101.html ))

A related concern is that prosecutions under the provisions of the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch only target a small sub-section of war criminals from the Syrian battlefields. First of all, those responsible for the large-scale orchestration of fundamental rights violations have not left Syria and asked for asylum in Germany – meaning that German prosecutors must confine themselves to go after the small fry only. ((http://www.ejiltalk.org/justice-for-syria-opportunities-and-limitations-of-universal-jurisdiction-trials-in-germany/ ))

Moreover, there is a concern that the henchmen of Bashar al-Asad will by and large escape judgement under these provisions, since comparatively few of them have asked for asylum in Europe. ((http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-01/refugee-influx-spurs-germany-to-tackle-syrian-war-crimes/7374152 )) This does not obviate the need to bring to justice fighters and commanders of other factions, above all of the more brutal Islamist and jihadist groups. Yet given the fact that it is still above all the Asad forces that have “shredded the laws of warfare”,(( https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/24/syrian-refugees-help-nab-suspected-war-criminals-europe )) a failure to prosecute government personnel means a heavily lopsided judicial treatment of the Syrian quagmire.

Thus, while the activation of the substantive provisions of the Völkerstrafgesetzbuch constitutes a step forward compared with the prosecution under the blanket terms of counter-terrorism legislation that punishes a formal status rather than actual offences committed, bringing justice to bear on the perpetrators of international crimes in Syria remains fraught with difficulties.

Dutch anti-Islam party presents political program

The Party for Freedom (PVV), under the political leadership of Geert Wilders, the Netherlands’ most well-known anti-Islam politician, has presented a one-page political program for the upcoming elections. It is highly unusual for Dutch parties to present their particular programs in such a short and limited format. It seems the program has established somewhat of a record in this regard.

The PVV program contains controversial, but not new, political goals, including the closing of all mosques and Islamic schools, forbidding the Quran and headscarves, closing all refugees centers and canceling all the residence permits given to refugees. It also re-states the wish of the PVV for the Netherlands to become “independent again”, meaning to “get out if the EU”.

The program rejects the government policies of the Rutte II cabinet on all fronts and aims to undo some of the large retrenchments as well as to lower several taxes. The finances to take these measures the PVV want to cover by completely eliminating public broadcasting services and the funding for developmental aid, wind mills, art, innovation, and the like, stating that “in stead of financing the whole world and the people we don’t want to have here, will spend the money on the common Dutch people”.

Manhunt, arrest, and suicide of an IS-attacker keep Germany in suspense

Germany has been rocked by the protracted manhunt, arrest, and subsequent suicide of an IS-linked suicide bomber. The affair has not only thrown a bad light on local security forces, it has also highlighted the vulnerability of the large Syrian community caught beween the front lines of increased terrorist activity.

A convoluted arrest

22-year-old Jaber al-Bakr, a Syrian national recognised as a refugee in Germany since 2015, was arrested on October 10 after a two-day-long manhunt in the state of Saxony. In early October, American intelligence services had listened in on communications between al-Bakr and the Islamic State in Syria and informed their German counterparts of al-Bakr’s intent to carry out a major suicide operation against a German target.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158754890/US-Geheimdienst-hoerte-Telefonate-von-al-Bakr-ab.html ))

The initial attempt to arrest al-Bakr failed, however, as the police let the suspect walk away from his apartment in the town of Chemnitz without stopping him. Al-Bakr subsequently sought refuge in the nearby city of Leipzig where he was taken in by three fellow Syrian refugees. When they became aware of his identity, the men subdued al-Bakr, tied him up with extension cables and handed him over to the local authorities.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html ))

Police found 1.5 kg of highly potent explosives in al-Bakr’s apartment. The substance of the type TATP was of the same make as the explosives used in recent attacks in Paris and Brussels.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html )) According to investigators, al-Bakr had planned to detonate himself at one of the Berlin airports, which he had scouted in late September.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/terrorverdaechtiger-amerikanischer-geheimdienst-lieferte-entscheidende-hinweise-zu-albakr-14482338.html ))

Failure to prevent the suspect’s suicide

Initial relief over the arrest quickly dissipated, however, as al-Bakr hanged himself in his prison cell two days later. After the lacklustre attempts to arrest al-Bakr, his suicide again cast an extremely negative light on local authorities, who were still under pressure for their unprofessional handling of right-wing demonstrations at Germany’s National Day earlier this month.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/tag-der-deutschen-einheit-in-dresden-draengende-fragen-an-die-saechsische-polizei-1.3189617 ))

After the arrest, it took police more than a day to begin questioning al-Bakr, for want of an interpreter. Although by the time of his death the young man had stopped accepting food and drink, torn the lamp off the ceiling of his cell, and attempted to manipulate the cell’s electric sockets, he was still not deemed to be at risk of committing suicide.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158726169/Vor-dem-Tod-manipulierte-al-Bakr-in-der-Zelle-Steckdosen.html )) In this assessment, the prison authorities explicitly contravened the evaluation of the committing judge, who had attested al-Bakr suicidal tendencies.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/nach-dem-selbstmord-von-albakr-gefaengnis-in-leipzig-kannte-suizidgefahr/14682294.html ))

Radicalisation in Germany and contacts to the IS

Al-Bakr’s suicide complicates the ongoing investigation since no further details on his background or on potential accomplices and further members of the IS network can be obtained from him. Some insights might be provided by Khalil A., a 33-year-old Syrian in police custody: he let al-Bakr operate from his Chemnitz apartment.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschland-entging-nur-knapp-einem-grossem-terroranschlag-14474885.html ))

Der Spiegel also spoke to al-Bakr’s brother, who is still in Syria. Alaa al-Bakr asserted that his brother had been radicalised after his arrival in Germany, by two imams at a Berlin mosque which he began to frequent for Friday prayers in spite of the 4-hour-long train journey from Chemnitz.((http://www.spiegel.de/video/jaber-albakr-bruder-des-terrorverdaechtigen-gibt-interview-video-1712594.html )) This view is apparently shared by German investigators. ((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/nach-suizid-von-jaber-albakr-sachsen-hat-es-nicht-verstanden-14482684.html )) So far, the identity of the imams remains unknown.

Al-Bakr’s connections to the Islamic State are becoming increasingly clear, however. Aside from the evidence drawn from the surveillance of his communications, al-Bakr appears to have spent several months in 2016 in Turkey and may have crossed over into Syria. Visits to Idlib as well as to Raqqa have been reported by some of his acquaintances.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/jaber-albakr-terrorverdaechtiger-war-monatelang-in-der-tuerkei-a-1116170.html,  , http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/nach-suizid-von-jaber-albakr-sachsen-hat-es-nicht-verstanden-14482684.html )) In spite of his travels, German intelligence services seem to have been unaware of al-Bakr’s plans until the tip-off from the American side.

Political discussion on vetting and surveillance

For the Syrian community in Germany, the past week has been a rollercoaster ride. The initial manhunt for al-Bakr once more put the refugees from the Syrian Civil War on the spot. CDU/CSU politicians demanded that all refugees be checked and vetted more thoroughly. Policing and intelligence operations for the protection against threats to public safety needed to play a more important role in all asylum procedures, or so they argued.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/is-will-deutsche-infrastruktur-angreifen-streit-um-fluechtlings-ueberpruefung-14475616.html ))

Whilst politicians from the SPD and the Greens denounced these proposals, some Syrians living in Germany supported such measures. They argued for instance that police surveillance of the social media activities of all refugees could help filter out black sheep and thus avert suspicion from the rest.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/syrer-albakr-soziale-medien-101.html ))

Repercussions on the Syrian community

Syrians also celebrated their three countrymen who de facto arrested al-Bakr.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/syrer-albakr-soziale-medien-101.html )). Politicians of various parties demanded that they be given asylum immediately and that they receive the Federal Cross of Merit, the highest honour bestowed by the German state.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/dschaber-al-bakr-bundesverdienstkreuz-fuer-drei-syrer-gefordert-aid-1.6320884 ))

The immediate consequences faced by the three men for their actions were, however, less benign. Before his death, al-Bakr sought to implicate them in his activities by claiming that they were his co-conspirators.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/dschaber-al-bakr-bundesverdienstkreuz-fuer-drei-syrer-gefordert-aid-1.6320884 )). While these allegations were not given credence by the police, the men have nevertheless left Leipzig and Saxony because of safety concerns.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/jaber-albakr-lka-sachsen-will-fluechtlinge-aus-leipzig-schuetzen-a-1116756.html )) Revenge might not just come from the Islamic State(( http://www.focus.de/politik/videos/begegnung-mit-terrorverdaechtigen-wollte-uns-toeten-syrer-die-zu-albakr-festnahme-fuehrten-aus-angst-untergetaucht_id_6073630.html )); al-Bakr’s brother also announced his wish to avenge the death of his brother.(( http://www.spiegel.de/video/jaber-albakr-bruder-des-terrorverdaechtigen-gibt-interview-video-1712594.html ))

This episode demonstrates the ways in which the Syrian community can easily become caught in the cross-fire between the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks emanating from a few black sheep among their ranks on the one hand and domestic political backlash on the other hand. The vulnerability of the three men that helped arrest al-Bakr highlights the need as well as the difficulties for social solidarity in the face of the terrorist threat. Having narrowly escaped its first large-scale Islamist attack, the true test for this solidarity still awaits Germany.

New terrorism arrests in Germany heighten questions about scale of IS threat

A string of arrests

On September 13, three Syrians were arrested on terror charges in Germany’s northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. According to the Federal Prosecutor, the three men, aged 17 to 26, had arrived in the country in November 2015. While posing as refugees, they had already been tasked by the Islamic State to commit a terrorist attack. The youngest of the three had been given training in weapons and explosives in Syria; and the trio received “higher four-figure sums in American currency” as well as mobile phones while in Germany. However, at the time of their arrest in their respective shelters for asylum seekers, their plans had not yet come close to fruition. ((https://www.generalbundesanwalt.de/de/showpress.php?newsid=628 ))

Raising a potential link to a larger IS network, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière stated that the men had been brought to Europe by the same people smugglers’ ring as the perpetrators of the November 2015 Paris attacks. Moreover, their counterfeit passports appeared to have been produced by the same IS-run workshop in Raqqa that had already produced the ´passports found on the perpetrators of the bombings and shootings in the French capital. ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/festnahmen-de-maizire-terrorverdaechtige-hatten-bezug-zu-paris-attentaetern-1.3159581 ))

Eight days later, on September 21, a 16-year-old Syrian was arrested in a makeshift housing unit in Cologne, where he had been plotting a bomb attack. He had received extensive guidance from abroad via online messaging services; and the young man’s IS-linked chat partner had given advice about how to build an explosive device and where to plant it. The 16-year old had been in Germany as a refugee with his parents and his sister since January 2015. ((http://www.heute.de/nach-festnahme-in-koeln-junger-syrischer-fluechtling-hat-laut-polizei-sprengstoffanschlag-geplant-45319066.html ))

The spectre of a larger network involving refugees

Against this backdrop, Thomas de Maizière asserted anew that the ‘Islamic State’ was not dependent on the refugee treks to bring its members and sympathisers to Europe. Rather than being an operational necessity, the infltration of these treks in fact constitues a means to discredit refugees and exacerbate simmering social tensions in Europe, or so de Maizière argued. ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/festnahmen-de-maizire-terrorverdaechtige-hatten-bezug-zu-paris-attentaetern-1.3159581 ))

Whilst this is surely part of the IS’s calculation, a trove of documents from European security services analysed by CNN shows that interior ministries and their intelligence agencies are more concerned about the number of jihadis concealed among the refugees than de Maizière wants to admit. These documents reveal the extent to which the ‘Islamic State’ has systematically relied on the flow of migrants to channel its fighters into Europe, as well as the suspected size of the resulting European IS-controlled network. ((http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/05/politics/isis-suspects-terrorism-europe-documents/index.html ))

At the same time, the precise relationship of other attackers to the IS terror organisation remain more opaque. Of the two recent perpetrators of terror attacks in Germany, the Ansbach suicide bomber appears to have received more detailed instructions from an IS-linked source for a longer period of time. While after his death the IS claimed that it had sent him, the man nevertheless seems not connected to any of the other IS networks in Europe. The young Afghan who attacked the passengers of a regional train near Würzburg seems to have established contact with IS-channels only late in the day, without having been sent to Germany by the organisation. Subsequently he nevertheless received extensive guidance from IS operatives. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-09/islamischer-staat-europa-festnahmen-deutschland-terrorverdacht-syrer )) The IS thus proves itself once more  to be rather flexible in its dealings with potential recruits.

Reactions to multicultural Finnish society: Fear of social marginalization of ethnic Finnish men and bad vibes about sports

The newly report of the Finnish Government dealing with Finland’s internal security was discussed in the plenary session at the Parliament on the 24th of May. During the discussion, MP Teuvo Hakkarainen (Finns Party, Perussuomalaiset) expressed his concerns about the connection of Islamization to the internal security of the country. In his speech, which can be found in its full length in the verbatim transcriptions of the Parliament plenary session, Hakkarainen posed a question to the Minister of the Interior Petteri Orpo, asking, whether Orpo had considered the fact that due to the resettlement policies of immigrant refugees to certain rural areas the ethnic Finnish bachelors there could be marginalized in the society where as the immigrant Muslim men would take their place.

Furthermore, Hakkarainen argued that the biggest threat to Finnish internal security is the spread of Islamization. He doubts possibilities of integration for current Muslim immigrants, of whom most are men, based on demographic discrepancies between men and women especially in rural areas. Hakkarainen advocated in his speech rejecting further immigration and continued to argue, that the best way to fight Islamization is to secure the borders with barbed wire.

In May, Finnish media’s attention was also on another politician from the Finns Party, Seppo Huhta. The Green Party (Vihreät) and a local sports club in the town of Espoo announced a sports event, to which participants regardless of their national, political background were invited to enjoy a “multicultural baseball day”. Baseball in its Finnish version, is a very popular sports in the country and thus the event is aimed at teaching foreigners about this piece of Finnish culture.

Following the announcement, as a news article notes, Huhta had commented on the events facebook-page that the whole idea of a multicultural baseball was ridiculous since baseball, rather than ice hockey, is a national game. Moreover, in his comment – which, he maintains, he had made as a private person – Huhta wonders, how is it then even possible to make out of such a national game “multicultural” or “Mohammedean”. He claims that in reality the word “multicultural” now is restricted to mean only events and activities targeting Muslims and hence such events would not attract any Russian or even German immigrants.

Representatives of the Green Party noted that the object of the event is not to politicize sports. Huhta was criticized for his choice of words which allegedly have been harsh also before, for instance he is said to use the word “beard-child” to speak about Muslims. Afterwards Huhta commented that has nothing against anyone playing any sports, and actually sports would do good to Finns as well.

Ramadan in Finnish refugee reception centers – compromises and opposition

Ramadan in summer times poses a dilemma for Muslims in the Northern countries. Daylight times are long and in some cities the sun does not even set at all. Different courses of action were taken in the the refugee reception centers in Finland to facilitate the fasting for the Muslim refugees currently waiting for their asylum decisions. For instance, In the reception center of Evitskog, run by the Finnish Red Cross, Muslims observing the fast were of 26 different nationalities, which caused discrepancies for their individual wishes in the times to start and to end their daily fast. Many of the men would namely fast according to the respective times of their home countries, and some according to the times in Finland – although in the high summer it would mean a more or less 20 hour fast. The director of the center commented in an interview that the staff was prepared to work extra hours to offer meals even in the night times, despite the lack of extra payment for those taking on extra night shifts.

In the reception center of Hennala however, the approach was slightly different. Special arrangements to serve food were not made, although there, unlike in many other centers where refugees have kitchen facilities to prepare their own foods, the daily meals are included in the service. Instead, those who wanted to fast were given “lunch packs” which they could warm up in microwaves and ovens for their evening meals and breakfasts.

Although the arrangements in some reception centers have not always been as flexible as they were in the case of the Evitskog center, the representative of the Finns Party Youth Wing Juha Karjalainen expressed his discontent with the fact, that even arrangements of any kind to facilitate and respect the refugees religious traditions and practices were made. In his post in the blog platform “Uusisuomi” he argued that the task of reception centers is to offer accommodation for the time of the asylum application is processed and not to facilitate special religious or cultural demands. Hence, Karjalainen maintained that as no one had forced the refugees to choose Finland as their destination country, the refugees are the ones who should make compromises and be flexible, not those working in the centers. Facilitation of religious practices such as fasting in Ramadan would in his view have a negative impact on integration as it sends the wrong message about the necessity of being flexible in one’s religious practices in a Christian but secular country such as Finland.

Anti-Muslim views rise across Europe

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/07/11/anti-muslim-views-rise-across-europe/

 

http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/07/11/europeans-fear-wave-of-refugees-will-mean-more-terrorism-fewer-jobs/

 

Europe’s relationship with its Muslim minority has long been fraught. Over the past year, it seems to have become worse.

 

A wave of migrants and refugees from Muslim-majority nations have inflamed the debate about immigration on the continent, fueling the rise of far-right parties and probably contributing to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. At the same time, groups claiming to be inspired by an extremist version of Islam have carried out devastating attacks in France and Belgium.

 

Now a poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center shows that in several European nations, unfavorable views of Muslims seem to have surged in 2016.

 

In Britain, the figure jumped nine percentage points to 28 percent. In Spain and Italy, unfavorable views jumped eight percentage points each, to 50 percent and 69 percent, respectively. In Greece, unfavorable views were found in 65 percent of the country — a jump of 12 percentage points from 2014, the last time the question was asked.

 

Across the 10 European countries surveyed, a median of 59 percent felt that an increase in refugees would increase the likelihood of terrorism in a country — a figure higher than it is for concerns about the economic effect or crime in most countries.

 

In Britain, 80 percent of those with an unfavorable view of Muslims felt that refugees presented a terror threat. Only 40 percent of those with a favorable view of Muslims made the same link. A similar gap of 24 to 40 percentage points could be seen in all other countries surveyed.

 

Pew’s research also found notable splits in views on Muslims and refugees. Generally, those on the right had more negative views of both, with supporters of far-right or populist parties such as the U.K. Independence Party and France’s National Front having the most negative views. Old people and those with lower levels of education also tended to have more negative views across most countries, while young people and the highly educated were more positive about Muslims. Those with high levels of education were also more likely to believe that diversity of races, ethnic groups and nationalities in their country was a positive, as contrasted with less-educated peers, who were more likely to see it as a negative.

 

H.A. Hellyer, a senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Royal United Services Institute in London and author of “Muslims of Europe: The ‘Other’ Europeans,” says the broad results of the poll aren’t surprising. “You’ve seen a mainstreaming of anti-Muslim sentiment into the political arena over the past few years, if not the past decade,” he said Monday.

 

Hellyer said that while much of that discourse comes from the right, Europe’s left has struggled to counter it. “The left will need to think creatively about how they address the issue of immigration, without falling into populism but addressing the emotional concerns” of much of the public, he said.

 

Sara Silvestri, a specialist on religion and politics with a focus on Islam and the European Union based between City University London and Cambridge University, says that while she hasn’t noticed a change in anti-Muslim rhetoric in political discourse over the past year, she says the “behavior seems to have worsened,” with organizations such as Britain’s Faith Matters collecting data that appears to show an increase in hate crimes and discrimination.

Yusuf Islam: Some will associate Orlando with Islam – that’s criminal

I am here to talk to Yusuf Islam, the Muslim singer and humanitarian formerly

known as Sixties icon Cat Stevens, about his charity concert for child refugees at

Westminster’s Central Hall tonight.

But the mass shooting at Florida gay club Pulse by an alleged Islamic State

terrorist has overtaken us. “This guy is demented, a distortion, and it is

detestable and horrendous, but it does not reflect Islam,” says Yusuf, 67, who

looks like a benign if nattily dressed cleric.

“Yes, some people will try and associate this incident with Islam as a whole —

Donald Trump, probably — and that’s criminal.

You wouldn’t blame the whole of Britain for those football hooligans who have

gone to Marseille.”

He sounds slightly exasperated, once again compelled to defend the faith he

embraced in 1977 after almost drowing off Malibu.

But with Orlando gunman Omar Mateen’s father stating that homosexuals should

be “punished by God”, and fears of an attack at London’s own Pride celebrations,

I wonder if Yusuf will express solidarity with the gay community when he gets

on stage tonight.

“I don’t think I need to,” he says. “That’s the problem with tagging these things

with ‘Islam’. The most important thing Islam preserves is the privacy of one’s

sexual activity.

It’s up to you how you behave behind closed doors or in the privacy of your own

bedroom. We are here for a humanitarian cause and we don’t want to dis-focus

from the issue, which is the lone refugee.”

Of the estimated five million people displaced by the murder spree of IS, the war

in Syria and unrest in Iraq and Afghanistan, one million have sought refuge in

Europe, and 95,000 of those are children travelling alone.

It is these children, who may have experienced nothing but conflict, and who

may never know a stable home or school life, that Yusuf wants to help.

So through his charity Small Kindness he has hooked up with Save the Children

and Penny Appeal to highlight their plight. He has recorded a new song, He Was

Alone, created the campaign hashtag #YouAreNotAlone, and arranged the gig.

The disparate likes of Ricky Gervais, Steve McQueen, Naomi Campbell, Emma

Thompson, several Kardashians, New Order, Queen and Miley Cyrus’s Happy

Hippie Foundation have all pledged support.

The idea “came out of just watching the news on a daily basis: seeing the tragedy

unfolding, refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean, trying to get to safer

lands”, says Yusuf (I’ll call him that to avoid confusion).
http://www.standard.co.uk/showbiz/celebrity-news/yusuf- islam-some- will-

associate-orlando- with-islam- thats-criminal- a3271121.html

Islamophobia Threatens Democracy in Europe, Report Says

In a report on the health of democracy in the post-Soviet world, Freedom House painted a bleak picture of the state of liberal values in parts of Europe. The Washington-based human rights advocacy organization, which publishes a global freedom index every year, highlighted a number of worrying trends in 29 countries in Eastern and Central Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia.

Chief among them was the strengthening of authoritarian politics in a number of countries, as well as the rise of “illiberal nationalism” in others, particular European Union democracies like Poland and Hungary. The European struggle to come to grips with the migrant crisis on its borders, as well as ongoing economic turmoil, are the leading causes of this democratic malaise, according to Freedom House.

The new assessments were published this week in Freedom House’s annual Nations In Transit report, focused on the countries that started transitioning toward democracy after the fall of the Soviet Union. It usesthe organization’s specific ratings that evaluate nations across a range of criteria, from corruption to the strength of electoral institutions to the independence of the media. Weighted for population, the average Democracy Score in the 29 countries profiled by Freedom House has declined for 12 years in a row.

“The biggest challenge to democracy in Europe is the spread of deeply illiberal politics,” details Freedom House’s press release. This, as WorldViews has charted over the past year, has been very much on display in the response to an influx of refugees and migrants from Syria and other countries. Right-wing politicians, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, fanned populist flames by grandstanding over the threat of Muslim migration.

Their rhetoric, garbed in ominous declarations of a clash of civilizations, played to domestic audiences and, in a few cases, boosted the political prospects of some ruling parties. Governments from Poland to Slovakia to Hungary rejected E.U. proposals to accommodate tiny numbers of refugees.

Leaders in these countries, the report states, “exploited the crisis to strengthen their populist appeal, disregarding fundamental humanitarian principles and the ideals of democratic pluralism for short-term partisan gain.”

The mood exacerbated wider strains within the European Union, whichfaces an existential moment in June as Britain votes in a referendum on its membership in Europe.

“Claiming that Europe faces a Muslim invasion has become standard fare for a range of politicians and political parties in Europe,” Nate Schenkkan, project director of Nations in Transit, said in a statement. “This kind of speech undermines democracy by rejecting one of its fundamental principles—equality before the law. There is a danger that this kind of hateful, paranoid speech will lead to violence against minorities and refugees.”

The report also digs into various social and political crises in Eurasia sparked by the drop in global oil prices, the scourge of corruption in Ukraine and the deepening dictatorships of Central Asia. You can read it in full here.