German TV debate between Merkel and Schulz focuses on migration and Islam, catering to populists

German voters will choose a new chancellor on September 24 in an electoral contest pitting incumbent Christian Democrat Angela Merkel against Social Democrat Martin Schulz. After a brief surge in the polls earlier this year, Schulz’ SPD now looks set to lose the election to Merkel, trailing her CDU by about 15 percentage points in recent polls.

Four journalists steering the debate

Against this backdrop, the campaign’s only TV debate took place on September 03. Seen as the highlight of a previously rather lukewarm electoral contest, the debate was supposed to discuss four main topics in equal measure: migration, foreign policy, social justice, and internal security. Yet it was the first item on the list that took up nearly 60 of the debate’s 90 minutes.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

The four TV journalists hosting the programme – and particularly Claus Strunz of the Sat. 1 TV network – honed in on questions of immigration and integration, giving the discussion distinctly populist overtones.

It was above all the hosts who presented refugees and migrants as a threat to internal security and as a drain on Germany’s resources; who insinuated that Islam was inherently irreconcilable with German constitutional principles; and who claimed that Muslims were unwilling and unable to participate in German society – in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Populist demeanour

In order to pressure the two candidates into conceding that politicians were unable to take effective control of migration and to ensure migrants’ integration, the hosts (again with Strunz in the lead) resorted to all available means. Shortly after the onset of the broadcast, Strunz appeared to deliberately falsify a quote by Martin Schulz, in which the SPD politician had stated that refugees were “more valuable than gold” – a fact that Schulz managed to call out.

Other misrepresentations went unquestioned, however – such as the claim that Germany was home to 226,000 people who had no legal right to stay and remained in the country only due to politicians’ failure to expulse them.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/claus-strunz-internetnutzer-empoert-ueber-tv-duell-moderator-a-1165932.html ))

One-sided discussion of migration

Summing up the TV event, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper noted that it was as if the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) had been a prominent guest in the studio. It also castigated the complete failure to discuss the issue of migration from any other but the most myopic of all perspectives.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

For instance, not one of the hosts’ questions dealt with the deplorable conditions faced by migrants in Libyan camps or with the deaths of thousands of men and women in the Mediterranean. Neither did anyone inquire about the hundreds of attacks on refugee shelters or the resurgence of right-wing terrorism plots in Germany.

Negative Muslim reactions

The reactions of the targeted ‘foreigners’ and ‘Muslims’ were, predictably, negative. Author and activist Imran Ayata summed up their sentiment when he asserted that the “clear winner” of the debate had been the AfD.(( https://twitter.com/ImranAyata/status/904416160086716417 ))

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, noted that the hosts had fallen for the own “populist trap”. While moderator Claus Strunz had recently claimed that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing democracy”, Mazyek asserted that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing and ever more shallow media coverage”.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/aiman-mazyek/merkel-schulz-muslime-_b_17907854.html ))

Luay Mudhoon, renowned commentator on Islamic affairs, deemed the TV duel a “black day for German TV journalism” and bemoaned the “AfD-leaning leading questions”.(( https://twitter.com/Loay_Mudhoon/status/904426758325366785 )).

“Islam is a part of Germany”

Yet some Muslim observers chose to concentrate on the – rare – positive elements in the debate. The German-Turkish Journal welcomed the fact that both Chancellor Merkel and her challenger Martin Schulz had stressed the positive contributions of many Muslims to German society and that they had agreed to the statement that “Islam is a part of Germany”, albeit in a somewhat roundabout manner.(( https://dtj-online.de/angela-merkel-bekraeftigt-der-islam-gehoert-zu-deutschland-tv-duell-87597 ))

This question – “Is Islam a part of Germany” or “Does Islam belong to Germany” (“Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland?”) – has been a staple of public controversy since a 2010 speech by then-President Christian Wulff. Wulff asserted that Islam was indeed part of Germany’s social fabric.

A question of belonging

Ever since, commentators have argued about whether ‘Islam’ can belong to Germany or whether only ‘Muslims’ can (but not ‘Islam’). The same discussion regularly resurfaces and never yields any conclusion, in part because the question is itself a non-starter and any answer to it always seems to degenerate into nothing more than semantic sophistries.(( An entire academic literature has focused on this debate. For an overview see Spenlen, Klaus (ed.) (2013), Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland? Fakten und Analysen zu einem Meinungsstreit. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press. ))

Many have nevertheless rejected the notion of allowing either Islam or Muslims any part in German identity, citing the country’s inherent and primordial ‘Judeo-Christian’ make-up. (There is always something slightly odd about this claim, given that not too long ago Germany thoroughly erased Judaism from European lands by killing six million of its adherents.)

The Muslim ‘other’

Responding to these pressures, some Muslim voices seek to highlight that they are ‘more German’ than others, also in order to advance their own agendas. Ercan Karakoyun, leader of the Gülen movement in Germany, tweeted during the debate: “A form of Islam that can be reconciled with the Basic Law? There is one! #Gülen movement.”(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun/status/904417326442962944 ))

Ultimately, however, the enduring lesson of an evening spent in front of the television remains that people of Muslim faith are still seen as ‘other’ in significant parts of German society: ‘they’ really do not belong to ‘us’. The TV debate between Merkel and Schulz did nothing to challenge this perception and almost everything to reinforce it.

Islam: Bitonci to Alfano and Kyenge: In Padua, Open Mosques Become Hotels

July 1, 2013

 

“It’s just a matter of money” some members of the Moroccan community in Padua say they quarreled among themselves about economic issues and, it seems, can no longer pray together. For this reason they want another mosque, in a district which is already suffering, where integration is made impossible by immigrant riots who are without work. Numerous places of worship are transformed, little by little, into shelters, kitchens and hotels, as seen in the Bengali mosque in Via Jacopo da Montagnana. So Bitonci Massimo, president of the Northern League, has submitted an urgent request to ministers Alfano and Kyenge: “Padua is dying. Tourists and young people do not know how to spend thier free time. Do you want a curfew imposed on the center premises, because there is little investment into the city. The case is emblematic of Via Bernina: where there was a disco, now you want to raise another mosque. The project of the municipality is revealed: to transform our city to another Mecca, from which young people and entrepreneurs are forced to flee, while the various forms of humanity that revolve around places of worship create makeshift shelters.”

Dutch Cabinet to Dedicate Funds to Victims of Honour Violence

February 4 2011

Following a pilot study of two shelters serving women persecuted in honour related violence, Deputy Welfare Minister Marlies Veldhuijzen van Zanten has announced she will earmark additional funds for these victims. The minister wants the funds to help identify the problems at an early stage and to help victims resume their normal lives.

High Rate of Sexual Abuse Among Dutch Honor Violence Victims

October 11 2010

A book published this week by Dutch social services organization Fier Fryslan, entitled Zahir, reveals that honor related crime victims are sexually abused more frequently than previously thought. The organization reports that of the 89 women engaging their services between January 2008 and March 2010, 45 were sexually abused by family members. Social workers are surprised at the frequency of abuse, and call for the establishment of more shelters catering to the special situation of these girls- currently Fier Fryslan has to turn away one third of the girls who come to the shelter.

Paris ‘Little Kabul’ shelters Afghan boys

According to IslamOnline.net, every evening as many as 100 Afghan refugee boys arrive at the Villemin Square, in Paris’ trendy 10th district, to roll out their blankets and sleeping bags. Exhausted and without resources, they are struggling to rebuild their lives in the West. According to the refugee advocacy group France Terre d’Asile (France Land of Refuge), there were 683 migrants under the age of 18 have in the French capital in 2008, up from 480 in 2007. The group complains of lack of enough help to the Afghan refugees.

Dominique Bordin, the director for protection of minors at the group, said there are only 28 beds to shelter the boys.

The number of Afghan asylum seekers rose by 85 percent compared to an average of 12 percent for other migrants. France ranks third in the world in 2008 for the number of asylum requests, after the United States and Canada.

Netherlands’ Group Launches Shelters For Ex-Muslims

‘Open Doors,’ a major Netherlands-based Christian group, has launched a global initiative to set up shelters for ex-Muslims who have converted to Christianity. Founder of the organization Anne van der Bikl said that the shelters will be safe places where former Muslims can find safety and spiritual support. He added that ‘Open Doors’ will also provide medical aid and job support for those who have suffered as a direct result of their conversion.

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Honor violence under-estimated

According to experts interviewed by Knack magazine, thousands of women and girls in Belgium deal with honor-related violence. Commissioner Marc Van de Plas of the federal police cites 17 honor murders in the last five years in Belgium, notwithstanding the so many other forms of honor-violence: abuse, confinement, kidnapping, forced marriage, etc… Immigrant women are also making up an increasing percentage of women in women’s shelters; in 2006, immigrants accounted for 44% of the women in shelters in Flanders – not including their children. Clinics in Genk and at Ghent University also report the popularity of hymen reconstruction surgeries, with around 30 performed at each facility each year.

Switzerland: Fear of Militant Islamic Threat in Switzerland

The central position of the Swiss government suggests Islamic militants are using the country as bases to launch extremist publicity and solidify support abroad. The 2006 report on internal security asserts that Switzerland shelters violent extremists and that it is not excluded that of the preparations of attempts took place on his territory. John luc Vez claims that suggests there is an increasing threat from the extreme left and from hooliganism. There has been a 62% increase in disturbances since the first attack, and it is suspected that between 1500 to 2000 supporters in Switzerland are inclined to the violence. Financial exchanges through the internet have increased.