Islamic studies scholar Armina Omerika: “Muslims need new ways to approach their religious heritage”

The German Evangelical Church′s relationship with Luther shows Muslims that it′s possible to find and develop a way of engaging critically with your own religious tradition, says Islamic studies scholar Armina Omerika in an interview with Canan Topcu.

When did you first hear about Martin Luther?

Armina Omerika: I think I heard his name for the first time as a schoolgirl, in history lessons, but I don′t remember precisely when that was. For me, the figure of Luther is part of my general knowledge.

But many Muslims don′t even know about Luther′s existence, let alone his significance for Christianity – isn′t that true?

Omerika: I can′t say whether, what or how much each individual knows. And it certainly depends on a person′s educational background. The level of awareness of Luther among Muslims certainly also has something to do with the context in which they learn about Christianity.

In some Muslim societies – in the Middle East, for example – other forms of Christianity are more well known: Oriental Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. What people in Germany are often unaware of is that Muslim intellectuals in the Middle East actually studied the Reformation in depth during the 19th century, being sometimes even influenced by contemporary debates within German Protestantism.

Nevertheless, even people with a biographical connection to Christianity aren′t necessarily particularly well informed about Luther as a historical figure or his theological relevance.

From the viewpoint of an Islamic theologian, what stands out about Luther?

Omerika: The fact that Luther questioned the status of clergy keeps being picked up on by Islamic theologians – mainly because this institution doesn′t exist in Islam at all. In terms of the history of ideas, however, what is important to Islamic theologians is Luther′s image of Islam and Muslims and how it developed. It is well worth taking a closer look at the historical reception, the context and the reasoning behind such a negative image of Muslims.

In my view, it functioned as intra-societal criticism and had little to do with Muslims, particularly since Luther had absolutely no contact with Muslims; they weren′t part of his world. The criticism of Muslims was linked to criticism of the Catholic Church.

Is it actually important for Muslims today to study Luther?

Omerika: Yes, absolutely. One of the main arguments for studying Luther is the way he and his legacy are now being handled by Protestant theologians. The Evangelical Church in Germany, as well as colleagues in university theology departments, communicate and discuss Luther′s position on Jews, women, Muslims and social hierarchies quite openly. At the same time Christian theologians remain willing to pick up on other ideas put forward by Luther, building on them and bringing them to fruition.

The Evangelical Church′s relationship with Luther shows Muslims that it is also possible for us to find and develop a critical approach to our own religious tradition.

The current “situation” in the Islamic world is often explained by the fact that there was no Reformation there. So does Islam need its own Reformation?

Omerika: I don′t think calls for reformation contribute much to the theological debate. Luther′s thought and work should be seen as a reaction to a very specific historical context. And that context can′t be mapped onto present-day Muslim societies. The problems that without doubt exist in the Islamic world are entirely different to those that existed in the German principalities of the 15th and 16th centuries; the crises in Muslim societies are the result of many factors such as poverty, the battle for resources, post-colonial problems, an absence of the rule of law and insufficient democratic legitimisation.

As far as Islamic thought is concerned: yes, it needs to reorient itself, the traditional texts need to be re-read and historicised. Traditional modes of thought should be examined to see whether their methodological and epistemological bases still provide a firm foundation today. Not just the content, but the processes by which we engage with the content need to be re-examined. There needs to be some thought given to whether the positions taken in the past still offer adequate solutions for Muslims today. The answer to these problems does not, however, lie in a reformation modelled on historical examples from another age.

Muslims certainly need new ways to approach their religious heritage – with a view to the present and the future – but what they don′t need is the approach favoured by radical factions: drawing on the past, a time when there were entirely different social models. Nor however do they need to draw on the Reformation, which for all its benefits, remains a historical phase that can never be recalled.

Canan Topcu

© Qantara.de 2017

Translated from the German by Ruth Martin

Democratic Union for French Muslims receives only three sponsorships

Kamel Messaoudi, candidate for the Democratic Union for French Muslims in the upcoming presidential elections, received three elected sponsorships according to the latest official figures. The number falls far below the 500 sponsorships necessary to validate his candidacy, he thus officially fails to take part in the elections.

“In a time of the ‘battle against the burkini’, amidst proposals of banning the veil in universities or public places, our social rights are being sacrificed,” he stated. “While political actors have worked to create categories of citizens, we campaign to strengthen our country by enhancing its richness, which is based in all of its citizens, without distinguishing among them.”

 

 

Sexual violence, criminality, and immigration: Germany discusses how to report on immigrants’ criminal offences

With the Berlin Christmas market attack, security questions have become dominant on the German political scene. Especially the domain of immigration law is becoming more securitised by the day as politicians propose more restrictive immigration policies, as well as greater scope for surveillance operations on the part of intelligence agencies.

Beyond the Berlin attack, however, a range of other incidents and developments continue to feed into this securitisation dynamic. Among them are not just the large-scale sexual assaults that occurred in Cologne and other German cities on New Year’s Eve 2015/2016, but also an increasingly agitated discussion on crime and criminality among refugees and asylum-seekers in general.

Sexual assaults

A milestone in this regard has been the highly mediatised case of the rape and murder of a 19-year old student by a 17-year old Afghan refugee in the city of Freiburg. To many, this case – especially as it came after a series of other rapes and acts of violence in the Freiburg region – demonstrated the direct linkage between increased immigration and a worsening security situation.(( http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/justiz/mord-an-studentin-in-freiburg-risse-im-idyll-a-1124344.html ))

The case gained added salience due to the fact that, like the 17-year-old Afghan who had attacked the passengers of a regional train near Würzburg in July, the perpetrator of Freiburg was living in a local host family. He thus appeared to have all the possibilities to integrate and build a successful life in Germany.

Since then, two other high-profile cases of assault against women have come to light: in Bochum, a 31-year-old Iraqi asylum-seeker apparently raped and grievously injured two students of the local university.(( http://www1.wdr.de/nachrichten/ruhrgebiet/neue-details-nach-sexuellen-uebergriffen-in-bochum-100.html )) And in Hameln, a Kurdish man tied his wife to the back of his car by a rope around her neck and drove off, dragging her through the town’s streets.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/2016/11/21/hamel-bluttat-auto-schlei_n_13122450.html ))

Difficult reporting decisions

The media have been placed under close scrutiny with respect to their reporting strategies in the aftermath of these events. In a controversial move, Germany’s most-watched nightly TV news magazine, the Tagesschau running at 8 pm on the ARD public broadcaster, initially chose not to mention the arrest of the 17-year-old Afghan charged with raping and killing the Freiburg student.

The network subsequently justified this decision by arguing that the Tagesschau “only very rarely reports on individual criminal cases” because as a national-level news magazine, it is focused on “societally, nationally, and internationally relevant events. A murder case does not number among such events.”(( http://blog.tagesschau.de/2016/12/04/der-mordfall-von-freiburg/ ))

The news magazine’s head editor, Kai Gniffke, asserted that his programme “cannot and does not want to report on every single one of the around 300 murder cases per year (although it is interesting to note that this number has dramatically decreased over the course of the last 15 years).”(( http://blog.tagesschau.de/2016/12/04/der-mordfall-von-freiburg/ ))

Harsh criticism of editorial choices

The criticism directed at the Tagesschau’s editorial desk for its decision not to discuss the case was, nevertheless, fierce. It came not only from the right-wing fringe but also from outlets such as the mainstream conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

In a vitriolic commentary on the matter, the paper asserted that the Tagesschau’s unwillingness to report on the case justified labelling the ARD public broadcaster “Lückenpresse”—‘lacunae press’, or ‘press with gaps’. This constitutes an unabashed reference to the slogan “Lügenpresse” (‘liar’s press’), a term of disparagement of the ‘mainstream media’ with a strong National Socialist legacy that today is widespread among partisans of the new populist right.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/medien/tagesschau-berichtet-nicht-ueber-ermordete-studentin-in-freiburg-14560129-p2.html ))

The fact that one of the country’s major respectable newspapers should so openly accuse another standard media outlet of being complicit in a pro-immigrant cover-up mandated by political elites demonstrates the extent to which populist language and demands have seeped into public debates.

Scrutinising empirical data

As a result, there is now an expectation that any serious crime committed by a refugee or asylum-seeker must be reported on immediately. Crimes perpetrated by immigrants are thus deemed more newsworthy and more dangerous than crimes committed by ethnic Germans.

At the same time, empirical data on the actual number of offences committed by asylum-seekers or refugees has scarcely figured in these debates. According to numbers released by the Federal Criminal Police Office, 5.7 per cent of all suspects involved in criminal cases in 2015 were asylum-seekers or other individuals without residence status.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/zuwanderer-und-kriminalitaet-mord-in-freiburg-ein-absoluter-ausnahmefall-1.3291719.

In Germany, these other persons without official residence status include not just ‘illegal’ immigrants. They also include more than 150,000 individuals under the peculiar legal regime of ‘Duldung’ (literally ‘toleration’ in English). Duldung merely connotes the temporary suspension of deportation; consequently, ‘geduldete’ individuals do not have access to most of the state’s social and financial services, no right to work, and no right to participate in integration courses. Their freedom of movement is restricted to their locality.))

The most common offence with which these individuals have been charged is theft, amounting to a quarter of all criminal cases, followed by fare evasion on public transport (17 per cent). Another quarter of cases concern bodily harm, aggravated theft, or coercion. Sexual offences amount to 1.3 per cent of all cases.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 ))

Make-up of perpetrators and victims

94 per cent of the interpersonal violence is directed at other immigrants.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 )) Especially Germany’s overcrowded refugee shelters have often been identified as conducive to outbreaks of violence.

Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans – collectively making up two thirds of immigrants – are responsible for only 33 per cent of criminal offences perpetrated. Conversely, immigrants from the Balkans and from the Maghreb countries are over-represented among criminal suspects.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 ))

Overall, in the first three quarters of 2016, immigrants were involved in 214,600 criminal offences. Over the course of these three quarters of the year, the number of crimes recorded dropped by 23 per cent, potentially reflecting a growing degree of settledness of the newly arrived migrants. Over the same time period, 67,300 anti-immigrant crimes were recorded.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/fluechtlinge-bka-bericht-fluechtlinge-begehen-weniger-straftaten-1.3315641 ))

Making sense of the numbers

Experts have remained cautious as to which conclusions to draw from these shifting and volatile numbers. Importantly, criminologists point to the need to tackle widespread impoverishment, especially with respect to the Balkans and North Africa: migrants from these regions are drawn into the powerful crime and mafia networks headquartered in their home countries; and participation in these networks is one of the few reliable sources of a stable income.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/zuwanderer-und-kriminalitaet-mord-in-freiburg-ein-absoluter-ausnahmefall-1.3291719-2 ))

Against this backdrop, recent cutbacks to social and financial support given to immigrants are seen in a sceptical light: whilst these restrictions are ostentatiously aimed at curbing the influx of migrants by disincentivising the perilous and expensive journey to Germany, they might jeopardise the ability of already arrived refugees to build a stable life in the country and thus to do without the networks of organised crime.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/zuwanderer-und-kriminalitaet-mord-in-freiburg-ein-absoluter-ausnahmefall-1.3291719-2 ))

Speaking on the Muslim debating programme Forum am Freitag, sociologist Ahmet Toprak highlighted that the perpetrators of violent crimes, particularly sex offences, generally share a set of characteristics—across all ethnic or religious divides. Aside from psychopathological diseases these characteristics include social isolation, lack of education, a history of violence running in the family, as well as intense experiences of violence during childhood and adolescence.(( https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-16-dezember-2016-fluechtlinge-und-gewalt-100.html ))

Putting crime into perspective

Empirical figures as well as sociological and criminological studies thus put into perspective the alarmist language on crime and criminality supposedly emanating from refugees and immigrants. Yet they also highlight particular problem areas.

Immigrants driven from their countries of origin by poverty and lack of economic opportunity with slim chances of obtaining a residence permit in Germany are more likely to become enmeshed in crime. This is particularly true if these criminal organisations already have a strong presence in the home countries (and are perhaps even the ones who can facilitate and finance the travel of migrants to Germany and Europe).

Moreover (and even more difficultly), among the many immigrants fleeing war and persecution, there might very well be a certain number whose own biographies of violence and dislocation make them more prone to the commission of violent acts. This is of course not the same as claiming that, for instance, ‘Afghans as such’ are criminals.

Yet such nuance might be difficult to maintain in a context in which the failure to explicitly ‘name and shame’ a sex offender if he is an immigrant is lambasted as complicity in political correctness.

Defusing the lure of militant Islam, despite death threats

These days, Dounia Bouzar doesn’t go anywhere without her three bodyguards. The French Muslim anthropologist has received death threats for unveiling the tactics of Islamist recruiters. I meet her in a cafe along Paris’ Boulevard St. Germain, where Bouzar is enjoying an ice cream sundae in the back while her security contingent, provided by the French government, sits at a table out front, eyes on the entrance.

Bouzar’s book, Defusing Radical Islam, was published in 2014, a year before the rest of the country woke up to the threat of homegrown radicalization. That moment came in January 2015, when radical Islamist gunmen attacked the Paris offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, killing 17 people.

“When it was published, hundreds of parents of radicalized kids came looking for me,” says Bouzar. “Because they recognized themselves and their children in my book.”

After the book came out, Bouzar began working with 300 parents to develop ways to deal with the problem. One of the fathers was a policeman and showed the others how to bug their kids’ phones and computers. Bouzar says they were then able to witness how the recruiters worked.

“They set out to break every emotional, social and historical tie in the kids’ lives,” says Bouzar. “The recruiters had them drop their friends, who [they said] were complicit with a corrupt society; their teachers, who [they said] were being paid to indoctrinate them; and eventually, even break from their parents, who [they said] were nonbelievers even if they were Muslim,” she says.

Bouzar says the young people also stopped taking part in sports and music. And when they were stripped of their identity and there was nothing left, ISIS took them over and they became part of the group.

In early 2015, Bouzar’s organization, the Center for the Prevention of Sectarian Excesses Linked to Islam, won a government contract to help parents who had called a national anti-radicalization hotline that had recently been put in place. Bouzar traveled the country training teams of psychologists, police and other experts to deal with the phenomenon of radicalization and parents’ concerns.

One of the parents who reached out to Bouzar for help was Celine, a mother from a small Normandy town whose 19-year-old son had converted to Islam. Celine doesn’t want to give her last name because of fears for her family.

She says it wasn’t her son’s conversion to Islam that bothered her, but the way he began to cut himself off from the world. “All of a sudden, he refused to eat pork or listen to music,” she says. “And his grades plummeted. He had an empty look in his eyes and it was like he didn’t think for himself anymore. He became sort of like a robot. And he was always, always on the phone.”

Celine discovered her son had opened a second Facebook account — and on it, he was discussing going to Syria.

According to the French Interior Ministry, more young people from France have radicalized and gone to war zones in Syria and Iraq than from any other European country. About 1,500 French citizens have gone or tried to go. Approximately 700 are still there. Celine wanted to make sure her son would not be among them.

Bouzar says that ISIS, unlike al-Qaida, tailors its radicalization tactics to individual profiles. For example, girls are particularly attracted to the idea of taking care of children hurt by the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad or finding a God-fearing and faithful Muslim husband. Recruiters play to these desires. They even have different videos geared to speak to the different motivations for wanting to join ISIS.

“For girls, there’s a kind of myth of a Daesh-[ISIS-]land utopia where no one will be cold or hungry and everything runs on divine law,” says Bouzar. “The recruiters make them believe they can become a nurse and be running a hospital wing in just a couple of months.”

One of Bouzar’s methods for treating young people seduced by ISIS involves re-establishing links between radicalized individuals and their former lives. She counsels parents to try to bring them back in touch with their childhood — through old pictures and videos or food.

Celine tried this with her son and had little success at first, but she persevered.

“I made all his favorite meals that he loved as a child,” she says. “And I took him to places he liked when he was young. I did everything to reconnect him with his childhood.” Eventually, she noticed he was becoming more open to discussion. He took an interest in school again. The empty look vanished from his eyes.

Bouzar says a person can only be brought back with the help of someone close, like a parent or other family member — or by a reformed jihadist himself.

She has used allegedly reformed jihadists in counseling sessions to try to break through to some of the young people who are radicalizing. “We get them together without the young person realizing who this person is,” says Bouzar. “But then they begin to recognize their own story out of the mouth of the reformed jihadist, because he was lured for some of the same reasons. And slowly, doubt begins to set in.”

Bouzar says there is no such thing as a radicalized youth who wants to be de-radicalized. “He thinks he’s been picked by God and he sees things no one else does, because [everybody else is] indoctrinated,” she says.

Bouzar’s methods have been controversial. Some say her use of allegedly reformed jihadists is dangerous. (In some cases, it can be challenging to ascertain whether they’ve really reformed or are pretending.) Others accuse her of self-promotion. Many more say treating radicalization as purely brainwashing is to underestimate geopolitical and social factors, and the role that radical Islam plays.

Benjamin Erbibou, who works with an organization called Entr’Autres (Among Others), a group that works with radicalization issues in the southern city of Nice, thinks only a small percentage of radicalization cases are linked to brainwashing.

“Mostly,” he says, “it’s linked to a complete rupture and rejection of French society and Western values.”

But Marik Fetouh, deputy mayor of Bordeaux and head of the city’s de-radicalization center, says it’s easy to criticize efforts to deal with radicalization because it’s a poorly understood new phenomenon.

“Bouzar came forward with real ideas to fight this complex phenomenon when pretty much no one else had a clue what to do,” he says.

Although her contract with the French government is over, Bouzar’s association still counsels families affected by radicalization. Bouzar and her teams have counseled more than 1,000 young people and their parents — from Muslim, Catholic and atheist backgrounds.

Normandy mother Celine credits Bouzar’s methods with saving her son’s life. She says he’s still a Muslim, but now he’s begun to think for himself. And most important, she says, he no longer wants to go to Syria.

In Mayotte, Muslim leaders support Marine Le Pen

When Marine Le Pen arrived in Mayotte she was warmly greeted by Muslim leaders on the island, among them the High Cadi who prayed that she would be the 2017 president-elect.

The High Cadi and six other judges requested, using a translator, that “their role in the fight against fundamentalism would be remembered.” He also “ask[ed] God” that Le Pen become president in 2017.

Since April 2016, Mayotte’s 19 judges have depended on a social mediation service within the city council pay them.

“You have a spiritual magisterium, must we delegate the role of the Republic to a religious representative? I’m unconvinced,” she responded, while adding that she is “convinced [their] influence allowed for monitoring the possible dangers that weigh on the island due to the abandonment of the state’s role as a state.”

“I will fight against Islamic fundamentalism” she insisted. “It’s a common adversary shared with the High Cadi.” Le Pen was also received by several associations, including the presidents of the chamber of agriculture and the chamber of trade.

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.

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.

The old question of loyalty: German Turks and their relationship to Erdogan

 

A charged political atmosphere

On July 31st, 2016, up to 40,000 people, most of them German Turks, congregated on the banks of the river Rhine in Cologne to show their support for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the wake of the country’s failed coup. German media and politicians presented the rally in an overwhelmingly negative light. This is perhaps not surprising, given the fact that the came at the highpoint of months of diplomatic rows between Berlin and Ankara – including, but not limited to, renewed dispute surrounding the German government’s position on the Armenian genocide, the Turkish government’s refusal to let German parliamentarians visit German soldiers fighting ISIS from Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase, President Erdogan’s defamation lawsuits against a German comedian, as well as the lukewarm German reaction to July’s putsch attempt.

Whilst the scenes of rioting and violence conjured up prior to the rally did not materialise in the end, the spectre of large crowds waving Turkish flags nevertheless sent shockwaves throughout the German political scene. Subsequent weeks witnessed growing calls that German Turks be more active in displaying their loyalty to Germany. Conservative Die Welt newspaper chastised them for remaining silent in the face of Islamist terrorism while loudly supporting Erdogan. This, the paper argued, “raises questions about the attachment of large swathes of the Turkish community to our federal republican democracy.” ((https://www.welt.de/debatte/kommentare/article157395025/Tuerken-in-Deutschland-muessen-ihre-Loyalitaet-klaeren.html ))

Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to pick up on this view when she asserted in mid-August that “we expect from all those with Turkish origins who have been living for a long time in Germany to develop a high degree of loyalty to our country.” ((http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-08/angela-merkel-deutsch-tuerken-loyalitaet-deutschland )) Concomitantly, Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière announced his support for the abolition of legal provisions allowing dual citizenship. ((http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-08/innere-sicherheit-thomas-de-maiziere-doppelte-staatsbuergerschaft-abschaffung )). On a more polemical note, young CDU hopeful Jens Spahn encouraged all those with too much of an interest in Turkish domestic politics to return to their country of origin. ((https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article157406464/CDU-verurteilt-tuerkische-Aufmaersche-Erdogan-empoert.html ))

Sources of support for Erdogan

Amidst all this furore, the question why large numbers of German Turks remain extremely supportive of Erdogan – the AKP received close to 60 per cent of the Turkish German vote in last November’s elections ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerken-in-deutschland-waehlten-erdogan-partei-akp-a-1060661.html )) – has been less explored by politicians and the media.

Yet when interviewed by the Forum am Freitag TV magazine ((http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz?setTime=83.633#/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz )), Seyran Ateş, Turkish-born publicist and outspoken critic of the Erdogan administration, deemed the continued support for Erdogan among German Turks to be eminently comprehensible: after Turkish emigrants had for a long time been viewed as convenient suppliers of migrants’ remittances at best and as national traitors at worst, Erdogan has been the first Turkish leader openly welcoming German Turks as full-fledged citizens and members of the Turkish nation. At the same time, economic growth and rehabilitation of religiosity have enabled Erdogan’s mostly lower and middle class supporters in Germany to look upon their country of origin with pride.

Long-standing issues of social acceptance

These feelings were echoed by Bilgili Üretmen, a blogger and fervent Erdogan supporter born and raised in Germany. ((http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz?setTime=83.633#/beitrag/video/2838240/Deutschtuerken-mit-Doppelherz )) He cited economic and social development, greater stability, and the ability to be more open in one’s religious practices as Erdogan’s main achievements. Commenting on Merkel’s call that Turkish citizens be more outspoken in their allegiance to Germany, he asserted that “loyalty is not a one way street” and that Merkel’s demand was “absurd”.

Üretmen stressed that in his view German Turks had contributed a lot to German society for decades; yet that German politics towards Turks and Turkey had remained antagonistic. Moreover, he bemoaned a lack of social acceptance, noting that in Germany “everything that is foreign is seen as a problem”, as well as the fact that German Turks are still predominantly perceived as “toilet-cleaning headscarf-wearing women” rather than as a diverse and successful community.

As Euro-Islam has reported in the past, Üretmen’s comments are illustrative of broader trends and perceptions among Germany’s Turkish population, with shortcomings in terms of social inclusion and of thorny questions of religious acceptance being frequently-cited concerns. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/07/14/religiosity-integration-participation-new-survey-attitudes-experiences-citizens-turkish-descent-germany/ ))

The search for the moral high ground

A little more than a month after the pro-Erdogan demonstration, Cologne came full circle when 30,000 Kurds used the same spot by the Rhine to criticise the AKP government and demand the liberation of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Although the PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the EU and forbidden in Germany, the rally elicited only scant public and political attention. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-09/koeln-kurden-abdullah-oecalan-demonstration-kundgebung ))

The fact that such a degree of toleration was extended quite nonchalantly to the pro-PKK rally was promptly picked up upon by AKP supporters. Perhaps not unreasonably, they interpreted this as a sign of German double standards. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/ )) Yet their claim to be recognised as the pristine defenders of democracy loses its moral clarity when taking into account not just the course of events in post-putsch Turkey but also developments in Germany: Turkish German partisans of Erdogan have themselves engaged in aggressive and at times violent actions against Kurdish and Gülenist dissident individuals and institutions; actions that appear to have been condoned or perhaps even coordinated by the Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD) – the very same organisation that also organised the pro-Erdogan rally in late July. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/ ))

German Turks as well as German politicians thus gradually come to realise that in the complex struggle between rival Turkish political forces and factions, it is increasingly difficult to maintain neutrality. At the same time, siding with any single one of these forces – be they the AKP, the Gülen movement, or the Kurds – comes with enormous strings attached, since no single player ticks all the boxes of democratic accountability and openness.

Taking sides thus involves a high price – a price that German politicians have not been willing to pay. Instead, they have been flip-flopping between condemning and courting Erdogan: while depicting him as a neo-Ottoman dictator, they have nevertheless signed the EU-Turkey deal on refugees; while lambasting the AKP government for its lacklustre response to ISIS, they have nevertheless refrained from pulling out German soldiers from Incirlik; and while they passed a parliamentary resolution determining that the killing of Armenians amounted to genocide, the Merkel government promptly distanced itself from this position. After so much vacillating of their own, German politicians should perhaps refrain from asking for declarations of unconditional loyalty from their Turkish German citizens.

Halal supermarket ordered to sell pork and alcohol

A halal supermarket in a Paris suburb has been told by local authorities it must start selling alcohol and pork or else it will be shut down.

Good Price discount mini-market in Colombes has been told by the local housing authority, from which it rents its premises, that it has not followed the conditions on the lease that stipulate that the shop must act as a “general food store.”

The authority argues that all members of the local community are not being served properly if there are no alcohol or pork products in the Good Price store, which is run as a franchise and which last year replaced another small supermarket.

“The mayor of Colombes, Nicole Goueta, went there herself and asked the owner to diversify the range of products by adding alcohol and non-halal meats,” the mayor’s chief of staff, Jérôme Besnard, said.

He said locals, particularly older residents, had complained that they could no longer get the full range of products at Good Price, which replaced a regular supermarket, and had to travel some distance now to do their shopping.

“We want a social mix. We don’t want any area that is only Muslim or any area where there are no Muslims,” Mr Besnard said, adding that the town’s reaction would have been the same had a kosher shop opened on that spot.

The Colombes housing authority argues that the store breaches French republican principles by prioritising a certain group within society rather than catering to all categories.

It has taken legal action to bring an end to the lease which would normally run until 2019. The case goes to court in October.

Soulemane Yalcin, who runs the shop under franchise, said he was merely catering to the demands of his customers in this area of large public housing estates.

“It’s business,” said Mr Yalcin.

“I look around me and I target what I see. The lease states ‘general food store and related activities’ – but it all depends on how you interpret ‘related activities’,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

He has hired a lawyer to fight the housing authority’s bid to get him evicted.

Würzburg train attack by young Afghan refugee puts Germany on edge

Germany has been rocked by what media outlets have called the country’s “first attack by [a] radicalised asylum seeker”.((https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/19/germany-train-attack-could-prompt-rethink-of-counter-terrorism-policy)) On the evening of July 18, 2016, a 17-year-old Afghan, who had arrived in Germany in the summer of 2015 as an unaccompanied minor, attacked passengers on a regional train in northern Bavaria with a knife and an axe.
The young man seriously injured four tourists from Hong Kong before the train ground to a halt on the outskirts of the city of Würzburg. After fleeing the scene, the attacker injured a fifth person with his axe, before being tracked down by special forces of the German police. The young man was shot dead when he appeared to charge the policemen with the axe.
Subsequently, Amaq, a news agency close to the so-called Islamic State, released a video showing the attacker pledging allegiance to the organisation with the words “I am a soldier of the Islamic state and about to begin a holy operation in Germany.” In his room, a hand-drawn copy of the IS flag was found, next to what appeared to be a farewell letter to his father, in which he announced his intention to kill infidels in order to make his way to heaven.

Precise motivation of the attacker still in question

The attack’s political significance lies above all in the fact that the perpetrator was a recently arrived refugee. Most worrying to many observers has been the fact that the young man seemed to be poised to become an example of a comparatively successful path: he had been supported by state youth services and had recently moved into the home of foster parents. Moreover, he had begun working in a local bakery in the village of Gaukönigshofen. Distraught local residents described the young man as “always friendly and nice” as they struggled to make sense of his deed and his death. ((http://www.morgenpost.de/vermischtes/article207916573/Der-Axt-Attentaeter-von-Wuerzburg-Immer-freundlich-und-nett.html))
Investigators have tried hard to make out a reason for the perpetrator’s apparent “turbo radicalisation” and the precise motive underlying the attack. A potential triggering moment appears to have been the death of a close friend in Afghanistan a few days prior. His behaviour reportedly changed after this episode; and the state prosecutor hypothesised that the 17-year-old might have wanted to avenge his friend by attacking the ‘infidels’ responsible for Muslim suffering. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-07/wuerzburg-axt-attacke-zug-pressekonferenz-staatsanwaltschaft))
The political fallout from the attack includes the Bavarian interior minister’s demand for tighter border controls,((http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-07/joachim-herrmann-csu-fluechtlinge)) as well as a wave of hate mail and death threats against organisations and volunteers working in the Gaukönigshofen area.((http://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article157229563/Ochsenfurter-Fluechtlingshelfer-erhalten-Morddrohungen.html))

The evolving nature of the security threat

In certain respects, the train attack mirrors recent attacks carried out in elsewhere the West. The assailant of Würzburg does not seem to have been overly devout, going to the mosque mainly on holidays and not on a regular basis.((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-07/wuerzburg-axt-attacke-zug-pressekonferenz-staatsanwaltschaft))
Moreover, as some observers have pointed out, the events in Orlando, Nice, and now the – comparatively low-casualty – attack in Würzburg blur the lines between terrorism and spree killing.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/psychologie-was-einen-terroranschlag-von-einem-amoklauf-unterscheidet-1.3085290)) This is especially true if the death of the assailant’s friend should reveal itself to have constituted a truly transformative moment, thereby giving the motive for the attack a decisively personal-psychological bent.
Finally, the events in northern Bavaria continue a trend in which individuals with only scant or no connection to terrorist networks commit attacks. In the words of leading German analyst Daniel Gerlach, “every criminal, every failure, every individual in the whole world with a penchant for mass murder can basically bestow a higher aim on their deed or somehow endow their deed with metaphysical significance by pledging allegiance to the Islamic State.”((http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/kanaluebersicht/446#/beitrag/video/2792332/Wie-sicher-sind-wir-vor-dem-IS-Terror))

News coverage and the “IS media trap”

These issues have been at the centre of criticism directed at the media coverage of the Würzburg train incident. German-Egyptian political scientist Asiem El Difraoui has pointed out that many media outlets have been swept away by a wave of hysterical reporting and are concomitantly unable to proffer any calm and meaningful analysis.
How much media reporting is indeed dominated by fears of the Islamic State, and how news coverage indeed works to amplify and aggrandise these fears was on ample display a few days later, when a shooting spree in a Munich shopping mall claimed 10 victims, including the shooter himself. TV, print, and online sources immediately began to report live on the unfolding events and continued to do so for hours without cease.
The almost universally held (and sometimes explicitly stated) assumption underlying this coverage was that this was an IS-linked terrorist attack – until it emerged that the shooter had collected newspaper clippings and books on school shootings and a history of mental health issues, including depression potentially linked to being bullied at school. As this article is being written, police and investigators are officially treating the Munich incident as completely unrelated to Islamic extremism.(( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/23/munich-shooting-teenage-gunman-researched-killing-sprees-no-isis-links))
This exhibits why, according to El Difraoui, “we have walked right into the IS media trap”, with European news sources spreading panic and thus de facto “making propaganda for the IS”: “The media has created the fertile soil so that psychopaths believe in the IS’s mendacious doctrine of salvation. These lies would not be as big if the terrorists were not given so much space.” ((http://dtj-online.de/islam-versus-dschihadismus-wir-machen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-77574))

Wake up call for Muslim community leaders

Beyond that, El Difraoui also admonished Muslim communities and associations in Europe to be more proactive in matters of theological interpretation and also in their social engagement with often disaffected Muslim youth.
Drawing parallels to the commitment of Christian churches to offer a critical perspective on a purely hedonistic lifestyle in a consumerist society, El Difraoui encouraged European Muslim leaders to develop a “spiritual” challenge to jihadists: “The terrorists from Europe want to become something in this society, no matter what, and they let themselves be led astray by the IS. These boys don’t become Muslims but jihadists – because they don’t even know what Muslim spirituality is.”((http://dtj-online.de/islam-versus-dschihadismus-wir-machen-propaganda-fuer-den-is-77574))
In this respect, the condemnation of the train attack issued for instance by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) and its chairman Aiman Mazyek, as well as their call to stand united against any attempts to divide German society is important.((http://islam.de/27783)) Yet at the moment and amidst the current inauspicious political climate, the splintered and factious Muslim associational scene in Germany still struggles to provide the kind of leadership and public impact that would go far enough in this regard.