Ankara’s long arm? German DİTİB branch embroiled in a spying affair targeting Gülenists

A deteriorating relationship

In recent months, the relationship between German authorities and DİTİB, the country’s largest and Turkish-dominated Muslim association, has taken a severe drubbing.

For close to three decades, DİTİB used to be the German government’s preferred cooperation partner in Islamic religious affairs: outsourcing the religious needs of the country’s Muslim population to DİTİB, a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), was a convenient way to ensure that a quietist albeit conservative Islamicality was propagated in DİTİB’s 1,000 mosques in Germany.

Yet especially since the failed coup attempt in Turkey in July 2016, DİTİB has fallen out of favour. As diplomatic relations between Germany and the Erdoğan government have soured, German politicians have been accusing DİTİB of being a pawn of the Turkish government. As a result, calls have been voiced demanding an end to the cooperation with DİTİB in areas such as Islamic religious education for Muslim youth attending public schools.

DİTİB’s role in the anti-Gülenist crackdown

DİTİB’s German critics have now received ample new ammunition in their fight. The press has analysed DİTİB’s bylaws, pointing to the extensive prerogatives enjoyed by Turkish government representatives, especially with regards to personnel choices.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/satzung-des-islamverbands-ditib-tuerkische-funktionaere.886.de.html?dram:article_id=375487 ))

Even more momentously, however, DİTİB has been embroiled in a spying affair targeting suspected sympathisers of the Gülenist hizmet movement. The Turkish government holds the Gülen responsible for orchestrating July’s coup attempt. Some of DİTİB’s Imams have apparently followed an order by Diyanet to gather information on Gülen supporters in their localities, passing on their findings to Turkish authorities.

DİTİB had already been scrutinised for its role in anti-Gülenist agitation in the immediate aftermath of the attempted putsch. Back then, flyers defaming Gülenists as “traitors of the fatherland” had been put up in a DİTİB mosque. At the time, the backlash faced by DİTİB prompted the association to vow greater independence from the Turkish government.

Reports sent back to Ankara

Such independence, however, appears difficult to attain for DİTİB. In September 2016, Diyanet “urgently requested” Turkish consulates abroad to collect information on the Gülen organisation and its schools, housing units, NGOs, or cultural associations.

Some of DİTİB’s Imams appear to have followed up on these orders: at least three clerics from Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Lower Saxony compiled reports on suspected Gülenist activities in their regions and sent them back to Ankara.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Basing himself on the content of these reports, Green Party politician Volker Beck has now filed a lawsuit against DİTİB with the Federal Prosecutor, accusing DİTİB of having illegally spied on supposed Gülenists living in Germany.

DİTİB’s shifting reaction to the allegations

DİTİB initially denied the spying accusations as “remote from reality” and as the product of a “manipulative and untrue” anti-DİTİB campaign.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2016/12/15/ditib-imame-unter-verdacht/ )) Subsequently, however, the secretary general of DİTİB in Germany, Bekir Alboğa, conceded that some DİTİB Imams had collected and passed on information.

Alboğa stressed, however, that this was not a systematic policy but the result of the “misguided” action of a few Imams only. He asserted that DİTİB “deeply regrets this mishap”.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/deutschland/ditib-bedauert-spitzel-affaere-aid-1.6528628 ))

In a follow-up statement on DİTİB’s website, Alboğa then denied that his statements constituted an admission of “spying”. He asserted that his organisation was “continuing to strive for a transparent resolution” of the case.(( http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=560&lang=de ))

Defending DİTİB

Other voices from the Muslim and Turkish community have also commented these developments. When the spying accusations were first made public in December 2016, the secretary general of the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), Bekir Altaş, came to DİTİB’s defence, asserting that DİTİB’s Imams “deserved respect and recognition”.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2016/12/15/ditib-imame-unter-verdacht/ ))

The chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), Gökay Sofuoğlu, demanded that potential spying activities be investigated. Yet he also asserted that DİTİB was made up of “many people and a large number of officials” seeking to change the organisation’s structures for the better. Not all of them ought to be tarred with the same brush, or so Sofuoğlu asserted.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Political ramifications

The Federal Prosecutor himself has been slow to act upon the lawsuit brought against DİTİB. This has sparked the anger of Beck and others, who accuse the Prosecutor of pandering to political interests.

In their view, delaying investigations into DİTİB’s activities might be a means to prevent further damage to German-Turkish relations – relations particularly salient in a context where German politicians depend on President Erdoğan for sealing the border to Europe in order to stem the flow migrants.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/ditib-erdogan-101.html ))

Indeed, political decision-makers themselves have not dramatically altered their stance vis-à-vis DİTİB. The North-Rhine Westphalian (NRW) state government, for instance, long at the forefront of a more ambitious cooperation between German authorities and DİTİB, expressed its will to continue its work with DİTİB in spite of the spying affair.(( http://www.taz.de/Islamverband-entschuldigt-sich/!5371091/ ))

Erosion of legitimacy of Muslim associations

Nevertheless, even the NRW government announced the formation of a commission of inquiry into DİTİB’s linkages with the Turkish state. And NRW’s Minister President, Hannelore Kraft, also rejected DİTİB’s ambitions to be formally recognised as a religious community or a corporation of public law.(( http://www.taz.de/Islamverband-entschuldigt-sich/!5371091/ ))

Many Christian churches as well as other religious bodies are holders of these formal legal titles, which confer a host of financial, social, and political benefits set to facilitate the religious life of these communities.

Despite being the country’s second-largest faith group, Muslims have so far not been able to obtain such recognition, with the exception of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in the state of Hesse. DİTİB’s embroilment in the anti-Gülenist spying affair further erodes the legitimacy of Germany’s Islamic associations and thus hampers the ability of German Muslims to attain legal parity within the country’s legal framework.

Catalonia admits that the regulation of the burqa causes alarm in Muslim groups

22 August 2013

The General Director of Religious Affairs of the Generalitat, Enric Vendrell, admitted that the regulation of the burqa in public spaces has generated “alarm” in the Muslim community living in Catalonia. Vendrell promises dialogue and mediation to approach this question and recognizes that the use of the burqa is residual in Catalonia. He also highlighted that in Catalonia there are “no problems of coexistence between citizens on religious grounds”.

The law (first issued by the city of Lleida) implements ban of the burqa in public space and a fee of 600 euros for the ones infringing the prohibition. After several appeals, the Spanish Supreme Court stated on the basis of the religious Freedom Law that the ban was not valid. However, now, the Catalonian Parlament has asked the Generalitat (Autonomous Government) to consider a new law prohibiting the cover of the face in public spaces due to security reasons.

Kuwait Civil Servant Chairman at Amsterdam’s Blue Mosque

28 May 2013

 

Newspaper Het Parool has reported that Mutlaq Alqarawi, a civil servant from the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Kuwait, has been appointed board chairman of the Blue Mosque in Amsterdam. He has been registered at the Chamber of Commerce as chairman of Europe Trust Nederland, the owner of the building which runs the mosque. Het Parool obtained minutes from a board meeting in August in which Alqarawi is named as mosque chairman. In the same minutes, Alqarawi pressed for the recruitment of Dutch converts to Islam.

 

Imams Participate in Training Seminar in Palermo

Thirty Muslim imam, brokers and managers of the Muslim community participated in a free seminar for those in Muslim communities in Italy. The course is supported by Isesco (Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), in collaboration with the COREIS (Italian Religious Communities), the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Kuwait and the Municipality of Palermo. The students, from all of the provinces of Sicily, participate in four days of seminars which focus on Islam in the West. Started last year in Padua, the course is one of the first in Italy.

End of the II Inter-religious Iberian-American Summit in Barcelona

30 June 2012

 

For three days, leaders, experts and representatives of different religious denominations coming from America, Spain and Portugal met in Barcelona.
The Director General of Religious Affairs has emphasized in his speech “the ability to dialogue and listening and the importance of interreligious dialogue.” In the closing ceremony was also discussed and approved a document called the Barcelona Declaration which will be given to the heads of states participating in Cadiz, in November at the XII Iberian-American Summit.

Islamic Religious Education: Everything Still the Same

19/21 September 2010

One year following the debate raised by Mouhanad Korchide’s study of Islamic religious education in Austria, not much has changed. In Korchide’s report, it was discovered that 40% of teachers did not have a pedagogical background, while 33% felt overwhelmed by the workload – partly due to a lack of fluency in German. Meanwhile, 27% stated that they were opposed to the declaration of human rights, as it was incompatible with Islam.
The uproar led the Minister of Education Claudia Schmied to propose a “Five-point-program” in February 2009, so as to assure better conditions for students and teachers of Islam; however, one year later even the new syllabus has not been approved. The proposal which had been drawn up by the commission in charge of the question was sent back by the Department of Religious Affairs due to technical concerns, while the subsequent proposal has not been fully inspected. Without a new syllabus, there have obviously been no new textbooks.
One of the main problems is the lack of personnel. This has led to a practice whereby students of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria’s (IGGiÖ) Islamic studies program have been employed even before finishing their degrees.
Finally, in response to the earlier uproar, Minister Schmied has stated all Islamic religious instructors will be required to sign a new employment contract. In this contract they will state their commitment to democracy, human right, and the constitution – something not required of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, nor of Orthodox religious instructors.
According to Aly El Ghoubashy, a large part of the problem lies with the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiÖ), and its leader Anas Schakfeh. El Ghoubashy, a religious instructor who was suspended in February 2009 due to his criticism of the IGGiÖ, says that Schakfeh “represents only himself,” and that the IGGiÖ is “not a church.” He argues that the state needs to take on a larger role with regard to Islamic religious education in Austria so as to balance the influence of the associations, and to avoid the “importation” of imams and instructors from abroad.

Church plans to establish kindergarten for Muslims

The Protestant church in Mannheim has announced plans for building an “integration kindergarten” to accommodate Muslim children. The plans are a reaction to an envisioned Turkish kindergarten that would be run by DITIB, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs in Germany. It is a controversial project for fears of isolation instead of integration, and is also being criticised by Turkish parents. The church’s initiative is an attempt to show “true concern with the issue of integration” and a Muslim partner would accompany the planning process, the Protestant dean Günter Eitenmüller said.

Portrait: the Turkish Islamic Union for Social and Cultural Cooperation in Austria (ATIB)

During the numerous controversies that have occurred with regard to the construction of mosques in Austria, one association is frequently cited: the Turkish Islamic Union for Social and Cultural Cooperation in Austria (ATIB). This federation, linked with the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (the Diyanet) and similar to the German DITIB, brings together 63 mosque association and comprises 80 000 members, of which 70% are Austrian citizens. The spokesperson for ATIB, Nihat Koca, emphasises that ATIB is a reliable and open partner, and is not influenced by the Turkish state.

Other than offering religious services by means of imams sent from Turkey, ATIB also offers after-school tutoring for students, musical activities and German language classes. The repatriation fund for burial in Turkey, which counts 25 000 registered families, is also an important activity for the association.

Integration expert Kenan Güngör criticises some of ATIB’s programmes, such as kindergarten classes, which he says encourages parallel societies: “it is especially children who need to be socialised in a mixed environment as early as possible.” While ATIB tries to be inclusive and not raise controversy, Güngör concludes that it needs to distance itself more clearly from the antidemocratic and backwards image that many people have of Islam, especially since the terror attacks of 9/11.

Portrait: the Turkish islamic union for social and cultural cooperation in Austria (ATIB)

During the numerous controversies that have occurred with regard to the construction of mosques in Austria, one association is frequently cited: the Turkish Islamic Union for Social and Cultural Cooperation in Austria (ATIB). This federation, linked with the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (the Diyanet) and similar to the German DITIB, brings together 63 mosque association and comprises 80 000 members, of which 70% are Austrian citizens. The spokesperson for ATIB, Nihat Koca, emphasises that ATIB is a reliable and open partner, and is not influenced by the Turkish state.

Other than offering religious services by means of imams sent from Turkey, ATIB also offers after-school tutoring for students, musical activities and German language classes. The repatriation fund for burial in Turkey, which counts 25 000 registered families, is also an important activity for the association.

Integration expert Kenan Güngör criticises some of ATIB’s programmes, such as kindergarten classes, which he says encourages parallel societies: “it is especially children who need to be socialised in a mixed environment as early as possible.” While ATIB tries to be inclusive and not raise controversy, Güngör concludes that it needs to distance itself more clearly from the antidemocratic and backwards image that many people have of Islam, especially since the terror attacks of 9/11.

52 Algerian Imams Arrive in France

Bouabdallah Ghlamallah, Algerian minister of Religious Affairs, announced that fifty-two Algerian imams will be sent to France this year for an orientation mission centered on education and culture. The aim of the project is to promote Algeria’s ideas and vision vis-à-vis religion while ensuring tolerance and fighting against extremism.