German Muslim leaders react to Barcelona attacks

Following the recent attacks in Barcelona and the Catalan town of Cambrils that left 15 dead, Muslim figures in Germany have expressed their condemnation of the events and their solidarity with the victims.

Germany’s main Islamic associations condemn the attacks

DİTİB, the country’s largest Islamic association, issued a press release rejecting all forms of terrorism. Fellow organisations VIKZ and IGMG made similar moves. ZMD chairman Aiman Mazyek also denounced the attacks and called for unity in the face of the common terrorist threat.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/08/19/religionsvertreter-bestuerzt-nach-anschlaegen/ )) Other Islamic movements, such as the German Ahmadiyya community, followed suit.(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Die-Welt-trauert-mit-Barcelona-article19989536.html ))

These routine condemnations did little, however, to conceal the enduring divisions among Islamic organisations and leaders that continue to preclude a fresh and concerted approach against violent Islamism.

A superficial show of unity

A tweet under the #Barcelona hashtag by Ercan Karakoyun, chairman of the Foundation Dialogue and Education, central institution of the Gülenist movement in Germany, puts this division into dramatic relief.

Taking aim at the current repression of his movement in Turkey, Karakoyun pugnaciously asserted that “as long as many a state can designate an educational movement a terrorist organisation no common fight against terror is possible!”(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun/status/898239034169974784 ))

Against this backdrop, calls to withstand the attackers’ attempt to play off Muslims against non-Muslims ring somewhat hollow: the Muslim figures making these statements have so far failed even to mend the rifts among their own associations. How they could meaningfully contribute to healing the divisions within European societies is therefore anyone’s guess.

Grassroots activism vs. stagnation at the top

To be sure, there are many Muslim grassroots movements in Germany that seek to stand in the way of violent ideologies: they range from Jewish-Muslim educational projects and neighbourhood initiatives to important de-radicalisation schemes aiming to offer an exit perspective from the Salafi scene. Overall, German Muslims’ civil society activism is high.

Yet at the level of the country’s Islamic associations, the picture is one of stasis. Unfortunately for German Muslims, those most likely to be heard as their representatives in the aftermath of any attack have little by way of a constructive response to offer.

Grand Mosque of Paris denounces ‘vile terrorist act’

On Friday, the Grand Mosque of Paris denounced the “vile terrorist act” that caused 14 deaths in Barcelona.

“After London, Paris, and other cities, the barbarity has once again returned, this time hitting Barcelona. The Grand Mosque of Paris firmly condemns the blind violence that attacks that which symbolizes tolerance and the vivre-ensemble,” wrote the mosque’s rector Dalil Boubakeur in a communiqué.

“This vile terrorist act must strengthen all those who fight obscurantism and radicalism in their determination to eradicate that which feeds these deviations,” said Boubakeur, who extended his condolences to the victims and their families.

 

Racist right-wing social media glorifies terrorism against Muslims after the Finsbury Park Attack

The far-right group, Britain First, posted about the Finsbury Park Mosque terrorist attack on its Facebook page. Many of the responses to the post tried to justify the attack on Muslims.

One respondent said, “The muslims are asking for it [sic]”. Other comments followed similar themes of victim blaming.

Others praised the terrorist, Darren Osborne, who was called a “patriot” and “hero” on the social media site. Others critiqued the small death toll from his attack.

The person who reported the threatening comments to the Home Office was concerned that these threatening comments against Muslims would not be treated with the same seriousness as similar (or milder) comments made by alleged Islamist extremists.

Under the Terrorism Act of 2006, these Facebook comments could be considered a crime because they may amount to an “encouragement of terrorism.”

 

Union of French Mosques condemns London attack

The Union of French Mosques strongly condemns the attack carried out in London on June 3, 2017, leaving seven victims and 50 wounded, of which four were French. Among those hurt, 21, including one Frenchman, are in critical condition. The UMF extends its sincerest condolences to the victims’ families and hopes for a swift recovery for those wounded and reaffirms its support for and solidarity with the British people who have faced these last months, with courage and dignity, against a despicable and cowardly terrorist fury.

Immersed in enormous suffering as a result of these crimes, France’s Muslims cannot find enough strong expressions to denounce the betrayal of their religion by criminal organizations that claim to act in their name. Faced with this suffering, the UMF calls on France’s Muslims to carry on their struggle, by all legal means, against extremists and followers of hate and violence.

The UMF calls on French Muslims to keep the victims of terrorism in their thoughts and to intensify their prayers, during this sacred month of Ramadan, for Peace in the World.

Paris, June 4, 2017

 

Over 130 imams in the UK Refuse to Perform Funeral Prayers for the London Attackers

 

More than 130 imams in the Uk have refused to perform the traditional  prayer for the terrorists of the London attack – and have called on other religious authorities to do the same. This is an excerpt of their declaration:

“(..)we will not perform the traditional Islamic funeral prayer over the perpetrators and we also urge fellow imams and religious authorities to withdraw such a privilege. This is because such indefensible actions are completely at odds with the lofty teachings of Islam.”

Over 130 Imams & Religious Leaders from diverse backgrounds refuse to perform the funeral prayer for London attackers in an unprecedented move

Manchester terrorist turned from drug-user to suicide bomber

Salman Abedi, the Manchester terrorist attacker, smoked cannabis and dropped out of the University of Salford (where he was studying for a business degree). Some  of his friends say he may have been involved in gangs before he became radicalised. After quitting university, he worked at a bakery.

Some experts are seeing this trajectory  as a  somewhat typical  shift from crime to  terrorism. Because criminals are accustomed to violence, according to some, there is a smaller jump to political violence.

At one point, Abedi flew an  ISIS flag from his Manchester home but the police did not interview.

Abedi attended the Burnage Academy for Boys between 2009 and 2011 but the school did not make a statement because of the status of the investigation.

Neighbours were not very familiar with Abedi but noticed a recent increase in the religiosity of his appearance. Friends from school said that he was ‘fun’ until he went to Libya in 2011. Abedi reportedly had just returned from a trip to Libya a few days before the attack.

Abedi’s cousins were arrested as well and two of them were recently released.

Minneapolis Muslims protest ‘sharia’ vigilante in Cedar-Riverside area

A man trying to impose what he calls “the civil part of the sharia law” in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis has sparked anger among local residents and Muslim leaders.

Minneapolis police received reports in February from concerned residents who saw Rashid in a dark green uniform that said “Muslim Defense Force” and “Religious Police” and had two flags associated with ISIS and other terrorist groups.

“We’ve had conversations with community members that live over there,” said Officer Corey Schmidt, a police spokesman. “Sometimes it takes a little bit of time to deal with it, but it’s something we’ve been monitoring.”

In 2015: UK government delayed Muslim Brotherhood classification

In light of the American consideration of classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, we share this 2015 UK news about the British experience on this topic. 

In 2015, British then-Prime Minister David Cameron pulled a report which was expected to say that the Muslim Brotherhood is not terrorist organisation. The government likely did not publish the report because it would have hurt the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, countries which have all banned the Muslim Brotherhood and consider it to be a terrorist organisation.

Chris Doyle, the director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, critiqued the unpublished report for being too political and for possibly contributing to the stigmatisation of Muslims within the UK.

How One Policy Change Could Wipe Out Muslim Civil Liberties

Designating Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization could lead to major fallout for American Muslims.

Members of the hardline anti-Islam lobby are eagerly anticipating the possibility of the Trump administration designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, which is increasingly likely if conspiracy theorists like Frank Gaffney play a prominent role in Trump’s transition team. Gaffney believes the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the US government at every level and has even questioned whether Barack Obama was “America’s first Muslim president” implementing the Brotherhood’s plans.

While a terrorist designation would have several foreign policy implications, experts say the measure is being pushed primarily by stateside anti-Islam extremists like Gaffney who believe it would empower the Trump administration to target a number of major Muslim American nonprofits.

“Let me be extremely clear,” said J.M. Berger, a counterterrorism analyst at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. “This initiative is concerned with controlling American Muslims, not with any issue pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood in any practical or realistic sense.”

Nathan Lean, author of The Islamophobia Industry, said such a designation could have chilling implications for Muslim civil society in the United States. Based on unfounded yet oft-repeated claims that American Muslim groups have ties to — or are outright fronts for — the Muslim Brotherhood, Lean said, the designation would provide cover for the administration to shut down nonprofits, maliciously prosecute individuals, and pursue other acts that would, in turn, leave ordinary American Muslims more vulnerable to marginalization and repression.

“I believe that Muslim civil liberties could potentially, with this policy move, be wiped off the map,” Lean said. “It sounds like hyperbole, but I mean that very seriously.”

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.