German Turks ponder “existential” election results, gain 14 MPs

Germany’s federal elections of September 24th have propelled the far-right AfD party into parliament with 13 per cent of the popular vote, making it the third-largest group in the Bundestag.

Given the AfD’s anti-immigrant and anti-Islam platform, German-Turkish political scientist Said Rezek observed that for many German Turks the AfD’s rise poses an “existential” challenge.((http://www.migazin.de/2017/09/25/bundestagswahl2017-eigeninteresse-deutscher-muslim/))

Rise of anti-immigrant ethnonationalism

At heart, the AfD’s message has been an ethnonationalist one. Throughout the electoral campaign, the party plastered Germany’s streets with billboards encouraging the birth of larger numbers of ethnically German children or castigating the spread of Islam.

On election night, AfD leader Alexander Gauland vowed that his party’s entry to the Bundestag was only the first step on the long march to “take back our country and our people” – an allusion that to many appeared to play on the AfD’s fantasy of an ethnically pure Germany.

Public façade

To be sure, when invited to certain public fora, the party leadership often strikes a different tone. In a pre-election debate with German-Tunisian rapper Bushido, founding father of the German gangster rap genre, the leading AfD politician Beatrix von Storch claimed as a matter of course that the AfD considered the rapper and his children – all of whom hold German citizenship – as an integral part of the “German people”.((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3juZ-CwXG8))

This façade of inclusivity is quick to unravel, however. During a post-election TV debate among the major parties’ leading candidates, Alexander Gauland complained that Germany was too ethnically mixed and that true, ethnic Germans were becoming a rarity in the country’s cities. For the AfD, “our” people is thus always pitted against the immigrant “them” living in our midst.((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PrSk4wBArc))

German Turks go public after the elections

Against this backdrop, the voices of the targets of the AfD’s vitriol – who are often somewhat marginalised in German political discourse – have been more prominent than usual after the elections. The most vocal group in this respect have been German Turks. By virtue of their higher social capital compared to recently arrived immigrants they also serve as a proxy voice for the German Muslim community.

Many German Turks have come out with their thoughts on the elections, expressing their fears of increased discrimination, as well as their hopes that German constitutional safeguards might be able to prevent the AfD from doing more damage.((http://www.huffingtonpost.de/2017/09/27/bundestagswahl-afd-migration-migrationshintergrund-deutschland-zukunft-_n_18105126.html))

German Turks’ electoral participation

With respect to German Turks’ political participation at the ballot box on September 24th, no figures have been published yet. Joachim Schulte, analyst at the Data4U analytics company asserted that he had not been commissioned to gather data on German Turks’ voting behaviour.

After the 2013 elections, Data4U had conducted a survey among German Turkish voters at the behest of the UETD, a group with close ties to the AKP. Four years ago, 70 per cent of German Turks holding a German passport had gone to the polls. The Social Democrats had secured 64 per cent of the German Turkish vote, followed by 12 per cent for Greens and 12 per cent for The Left.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/deutschtuerken-bei-bundestagswahl-erdogans-boykott-aufruf-blieb-unerhoert/20381760.html))

In the run-up to the 2017 elections, the persistence of these tendencies – particularly the stability of German Turks’ affiliation with the political left – had been questioned. SPD leader Martin Schulz had taken a strong stance against the accession of Turkey to the EU. Moreover, President Erdoğan had urged German Turks to boycott CDU/CSU, SPD, and Green parties for being ‘hostile to Turkey’.

Limited impact of Erdoğan’s call for boycott

Yet the fact that the pro-Erdoğan UETD has not asked Data4U (or another company) to conduct another survey might point to the fact that the Turkish President’s call for boycott went relatively unheeded among German Turkish voters.

Speaking to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, members of Berlin’s Turkish community stressed that they saw the federal elections as unconnected to events in Turkey. As a consequence, they did not feel that President Erdoğan had the authority or the qualification to issue electoral recommendations.

In North-Rhine Westphalia – home to the largest number of German Turks – the openly Erdoğanist Alliance of German Democrats (ADD) party only managed to secure 0.4 per cent of the popular vote. Many saw this as a sign that even those supportive of the Turkish President and his authoritarian turn were unwilling to put ‘Turkish’ concerns first in a German election.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/deutschtuerken-bei-bundestagswahl-erdogans-boykott-aufruf-blieb-unerhoert/20381760.html))

Fourteen German-Turkish MPs on the left

The election also propelled fourteen German Turks to the Bundestag as parliamentarians – up from eleven after the 2013 poll. Six Social Democratic MPs, five Green party MPs, and three MPs of The Left are of Turkish extraction.

Conversely, the right-of-centre parties – Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU, the free-market Free Democrats, and the far-right AfD – field no parliamentarians of Turkish descent. Cemile Giousouf, the CDU’s first and only Muslim MP failed to gain re-election.((https://dtj-online.de/14-tuerken-ziehen-in-den-bundestag-88537))

A relatively homogeneous Bundestag

Overall, the Bundestag is still far removed from capturing the diversity of the country’s population. Of 709 MPs, only 57 (8 per cent) have a ‘migration background’ – the official bureaucratic term connoting a person with at least one foreign-born parent.

This represents a minor uptick compared to the last Bundestag; yet it is still nowhere close to equalling the 22.5 per cent of Germany’s population that have a ‘migration background’. In terms of female representation, the current Bundestag is a step backwards (mainly because of the entry of the overwhelmingly male AfD party), with only 30.7 per cent of MPs being female – the lowest share in 20 years.((http://www.taz.de/!5448373/))

Cem Özdemir as foreign minister?

Beyond this modest increase in MPs, German Turks might be able to console themselves for the AfD’s rise by pointing to the fact that Cem Özdemir, co-leader of the Green Party, is dubbed to become Foreign Minister. Özdemir and Social Democrat Leyla Onur had been the first German MPs of Turkish heritage upon their entry to parliament in 1994.((http://www.taz.de/!5448373/))

Yet Özdemir’s relationship with the German Turkish community is anything but easy. The 51-year-old has been an extremely vocal critic of the Erdoğan administration; and together with the other German Turkish MPs, he supported the ‘Armenia Resolution’ of the Bundestag in 2016: via this decision, Germany officially designated the killings of Armenians in Turkey during WWI as a genocide.((https://dtj-online.de/14-tuerken-ziehen-in-den-bundestag-88537))

The passage of the Armenia Resolution has occasioned deep rifts between German Turkish politicians and an electorate that is still strongly wedded to the Turkish national account of history. Satisfaction with having a German Turkish voice figure prominently on the German political scene is thus counterbalanced by a fear that this voice might ‘sell out’ and adopt the discourses and positions of the political mainstream.

German Turks gear up for upcoming election

As Germany prepares to go to the polls on September 24th, the public debate has zoned in on questions of immigration, integration, and Islam. Consequently, German Muslims are under particular scrutiny in the run-up to an election that will most definitely hand a good number of parliamentary seats to the openly Islamophobic AfD party.

German Turks: the largest part of the Muslim voter bloc

German Turks continue to be the largest group of predominantly Muslim voters. To be sure, their share in Germany’s overall Muslim population has been falling – not least because of the arrival of several hundred thousand refugees from the war-torn Middle East.

Yet by virtue of having lived in Germany for many decades, Muslims from a Turkish background are much more likely to hold German citizenship and thus to be allowed to vote: of the three million German Turks, 1.3 million will be able to go to the ballot box in nine days’ time.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/doppelte-loyalitaet-die-deutsch-tuerken-und-die.724.de.html?dram:article_id=388019 ))

A ‘Muslim vote’?

Scientists observing electoral behaviour of Muslims in Germany nevertheless warn of a simplistic conceptualisation of a ‘Muslim vote’. Muslims are not only in themselves a heterogeneous group; they also tend to focus on a whole set of diverse issues that other German voters are also concerned about – ranging from education and employment to security, healthcare, or taxation.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/09/05/wahlverhalten-von-muslimen-in-deutschland/ ))

Beyond that, many Muslim voters traditionally voice strong demands when it comes to equality of opportunity and anti-discrimination. This concern does not arise out of their Islamic religiosity per se but rather out of their experiences in the German context: recent studies have highlighted the continued impact of discriminatory practices to the disadvantage of individuals with ‘foreign-sounding’ names on the housing market,(( https://www.hanna-und-ismail.de/ )) in job applications,(( http://www.spiegel.de/lebenundlernen/schule/auslaendische-vornamen-migranten-diskriminierung-durch-firmen-bestaetigt-a-960855.html )) and even when dealing with the state bureaucracy.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/video168461476/Mitarbeiter-von-Jobcentern-neigen-zur-Diskriminierung.html ))

Traditional affiliation with the political left

In the past, these particular concerns meant that German Turks’ political affiliations were clear: at the last elections in 2013, 64 per cent of voters with Turkish roots supported the Social Democrats (SPD). Undoubtedly, an additional factor playing in favour of the SPD was the blue-collar identity of a large share of German Turks – a socioeconomic position that many of the former Gastarbeiter have passed down to their children.

In 2013, another 24 per cent of German Turkish voters chose two other left-wing parties, with 12 percent supporting The Left – a conglomerate of political factions to the left of the SPD – and another 12 per cent coming out in favour of The Greens.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/10/30/bundestagswahl-2013-so-haben-deutsch-tuerken-gewaehlt/ ))

While the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) obtained 41.5 per cent of the overall vote in 2013, only 7 per cent of German Turks put their trust in Chancellor Merkel’s party. And although Muslims have sought to organise in the CDU, the Conservatives count far fewer men and women of Muslim faith or of immigrant extraction among their representatives than other parties.

Diverging electoral preferences in Germany and in Turkey

By contrast, those members of the German Turkish community who are still eligible to vote in Turkish elections regularly deliver resounding victories to conservative and Islamically-oriented President Erdoğan – rather than to the leftist opposition.

This might be due to the fact that political and ideological preferences diverge fundamentally between those German Turks who still hold Turkish citizenship and those who have acquired a German passport.

Yet it is perhaps more likely that, in the past, German Turks were perfectly capable of balancing an emotionally-driven support for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s agenda in Turkey with a rational cost-benefit analysis of the political game in Germany.(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/bundestagswahl2017/tuerken-wollen-nicht-waehlen-52799904.bild.html ))

Ending EU accession talks with Turkey

After years of degrading relations, however, German Turks are finding this balancing act harder to accomplish. More particularly, there are indications that they are feeling less and less represented by the SPD and their traditional, leftist political home in Germany.

Although SPD Foreign Minister Gabriel sought to reassure German Turks of their continued importance to the German government and to his party, the SPD’s relationship to its formerly staunchly loyal clientele is increasingly fraught.

This trend culminated in the TV debate between incumbent chancellor Merkel and her SPD Challenger Martin Schulz on September 3rd: Schulz – somewhat surprisingly and perhaps ill-advisedly – sought to be ‘tough’ on Turkey and announced that, if elected to the Chancellery, he would immediately end EU accession talks with Turkey.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/tv-duell-martin-schulz-ueberrascht-spd-mit-hartem-tuerkei-kurs-15182702.html ))

Detachment from the SPD

Schulz’s statements may resonate with dominant public opinion in Germany, which is increasingly sceptical of Turkey and its authoritarian President. Yet his brash and somewhat populist stance may also turn out to be politically unwise: Chancellor Merkel noted that talks over EU membership could only be ended if there was agreement among the 27 member states to do so, and that they constituted an important political lever to influence developments in Turkey.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/tv-duell-martin-schulz-ueberrascht-spd-mit-hartem-tuerkei-kurs-15182702.html ))

In any case, Schulz’s outburst during the TV debate may have done considerable harm to his party’s standing among German Turks. Interviewed by news magazine Tagesschau, a Cologne resident of Turkish extraction who had previously supported the Social Democrats stated that he would not go to the polls on September 24th. Voicing his disillusionment with the SPD, who had always claimed to be the voice of German Turks, he said:

I prefer to have someone who tells me openly and honestly that he doesn’t like me – instead of someone who pretends to like me and at the end of the day does nothing that is in accordance with my wishes and interests.(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9prj-3VZ44 ))

Mainstream parties “hostile to Turkey”

In this way, Schulz’s announcement, which was ostentatiously aiming to curtail President Erdoğan’s standing in Europe, may actually end up fostering the loyalty German Turks feel towards ‘their’ President.

Erdoğan himself has already called upon his countrymen in Germany not to cast a ballot in favour of parties who are “hostile to Turkey” – a list which, according to him, includes CDU, SPD, and Greens.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/erdogan-und-die-bundestagswahl-wie-stimmen-die-deutsch-tuerken-ab/20294522.html ))

The Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), an affiliate of the AK Party in Europe, has echoed this statement: in a press release, it condemned (albeit in somewhat broken English) not only the AfD for stoking populist hatred but also The Greens and The Left for supporting “known […] terrorist organizations”. This swipe aims not only at Gülenists but also the PKK, whose secularist struggle for independence is indeed seen in a positive light in some quarters.(( https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DJds1nUWAAImIKd.jpg ))

Pro-Erdoğan splinter parties

The political home of German Turks thus appears to be in considerable flux. As a response, a new Erdoğanist splinter party has been set up in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW), home to the largest number of German Turks.

The Alliance of German Democrats (ADD) uses the portrait of President Erdoğan on its election posters calling for solidarity with the friends of Turkey. Yet the party only managed to obtain 0,1 per cent of the vote at recent state elections and thus has no political significance beyond the purely symbolic.(( https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article168473921/Mit-diesem-Erdogan-Plakat-wirbt-eine-Partei-im-Bundestagswahlkampf.html ))

Another pro-Erdoğan faction, the Union for Innovation and Justice (BIG), recently announced its decision to boycott the elections. BIG seeks to unify the German Turkish vote; a quest that has so far remained elusive: in most of its electoral attempts, the party did not manage to attain as much as one per cent of the popular vote – even in constituencies with large numbers of German Turkish voters.(( https://dtj-online.de/big-boykott-bei-den-bundestagswahlen-87268 ))

A more limited influence?

The failure of these attempts to constitute a quasi-AKP as a viable political force in Germany also points to the limitations of President Erdoğan’s appeal. Some of Germany’s largest ethnically Turkish immigrant organisations continue to be opposed to Turkey’s authoritarian turn.

The Turkish Community in Germany (TGD), as well as the Federation of Democratic Workers’ Unions (DIDF), called upon German Turks to vote in the elections and to defy President Erdoğan’s demand to reject the established political system. This statement was echoed by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), a predominantly non-Turkish Islamic umbrella association.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/erdogan-und-die-bundestagswahl-wie-stimmen-die-deutsch-tuerken-ab/20294522.html ))

Ultimately, how German Turks will decide to deal with these competing pressures will only become clear after polls close on the evening of September 24th. One respondent on the street stressed the need to retain a modicum of calm: Mustafa Karadeniz, entrepreneur from Berlin, asserted that

We should do neither Erdoğan nor German politicians the favour that the Turkish President becomes the main topic of the electoral campaign. There are really bigger Problems in Germany: the climate, the automotive industry, the old-age pension system.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/bundestagswahl-wie-viel-einfluss-hat-recep-tayyip-erdogan-a-1165992.html ))

Three of Germany’s Islamic associations forge an “Islamokemalist” front

Amidst escalating political tensions between Germany and Turkey, three of Germany’s Turkish-dominated Islamic associations have made clear their perspective on the causes of the current diplomatic spat.

Joint press release

On the anniversary of last year’s military coup attempt in Turkey, the DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB organisations issued a joint press release, calling for a “about-face in German-Turkish relations”.(( http://ditib.de/detail1.php?id=610&lang=de ))

In this document, the three signing associations bemoan that “Europe’s highly reserved reaction” to the attempted putsch had “deeply unsettled the people of Turkish descent. It is more necessary than ever to lift German-Turkish relations to the usual, cordial level.”

“Lack of solidarity”

The core message of the statement centres on Europe’s failure to “recognise the great trauma of July 15 [2016]”. DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB criticise what to them appears to be “widespread disappointment at the failure of the coup”. They castigate the “lack of solidarity with the Turkish people, considering 249 dead and thousands injured”.

The three organisations greeted the conciliatory signals made by Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Sigmar Gabriel, who had in the past repeatedly stressed the need to be supportive of Turkish democracy against the coup plotters.

The Gülenist foe

Overall, the statement paints a picture of Turkey as beleaguered by internal and external enemies, ranging from a PKK terror campaign to instable neighbouring states. It is against this backdrop that DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB see the coup attempt as having been committed by “a sect-like parallel state, which has infiltrated nearly the entire state apparatus through illegitimate networks and unlawful means” – i.e. the Gülenists.

Implied in this argument is always the suspicion that Germany is either too soft on Gülenists or that it even actively endorses the movement. In fact, a Turkish tabloid recently claimed that the Gülen organization was “Germany’s long arm”.(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun?lang=de ))

Bridging old divides between DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB

Yet it is not only the statement itself that is of interest but also the entente of the three organisations responsible for its drafting. DİTİB, IGMG, and ATİB joining hands represents the convergence of previously disparate groups under the shared commitment to a strong Turkey led by an increasingly authoritarian President.

DİTİB, the subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and thus an indirect organ of the Turkish statem has always pursued a line broadly sympathetic to current Turkish governments. Recently it has come under increasingly tight control of the AKP administration.

Islamists and nationalists

IGMG – in its full name “Islamic Community Millî Görüş” – is an offshoot of Necmettin Erbakan’s Islamist movement. As such, it did not use to be on good terms with DİTİB, as long as the old Kemalist elites were in charge of the organisation. This changed after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s arrival in power: Erdoğan’s own AK Party is a spin-off of Erbakan’s movement.

Finally, ATİB – the “Union of Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations in Europe” – represents a stridently nationalistic version of Turkish Islam. Whilst some of the Union’s funding is derived from the Turkish state and Diyanet, it also has long-standing ties with hardline Turkish nationalism as incarnated by the “Grey Wolves.”

The rise of “Islamokemalism”

As such, ATİB’s co-signing of the press release with DİTİB and IGMG mirrors the rallying of Turkey’s far-right MHP party to Erdoğan’s persona and his authoritarian leadership style. In this respect, the agenda of the three associations is not as much Islamic as it is concerned with projecting a strikingly nationalistic picture of Turkish greatness.

Şahin Alpay, one of Turkey’s leading intellectuals arrested since the coup attempt, has referred to this marriage of authoritarian nationalism with Islamist references as “Islamokemalism”.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-10/sahin-alpay-journalist-gefaengnis-silivri-tuerkei-putsch )) This term perhaps better than any other captures current developments in Turkey.

Arrests of German citizens prompt downgrading of German-Turkish relations

At least since the July 2016 coup attempt, German-Turkish relations have taken a severe hit.

Recurring bones of contention have included the German army’s NATO presence at the Turkish Incirlik air base. German troops, who are part of the anti-IS coalition, are now being transferred to Jordan after a series of diplomatic rows over visits of German parliamentarians to the base.

Conversely, the visits of Turkish politicians – particularly in the run-up to the country’s controversial constitutional referendum in April 2016 – have unsettled the German political elite.

Arrests of German citizens in Turkey

Yet the perhaps most divisive issue has been the arrests of German citizens in Turkey, caught up in the post-coup repression. As of May 31, 2017, 44 Germans were held in Turkish detention. Many of them were dual citizens of Germany and Turkey, meaning that they had no legal claim to be supported by the German Embassy.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/deutsche-in-tuerkei-inhaftiert-101.html ))

In 2017, there have been a number of high profile arrests that have made particular headlines: Turkish-German journalist Deniz Yücel, correspondent of the Die Welt newspaper, was arrested in February; German journalist and translator Meşale Tolu, in April. And on July 5, human rights activist Peter Steudtner was arrested in Istanbul.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerkei-deutscher-menschenrechtler-peter-steudtner-muss-in-haft-a-1158364.html ))

Swift changes to the German-Turkish relationship

The case of Steudtner has led to a major shift in German-Turkish relations. After having merely expressed ‘deep concern’ at developments in Turkey before, this time Berlin was surprisingly swift to react.

The German Foreign Office tightened its travel alerts for visitors to Turkey; a move that could potentially harm Turkey’s tourism-dependent economy. Further measures include the potential freezing of trade credit insurance offered to German companies exporting to Turkey. What is more, all German arms exports to Turkey – on paper an important NATO ally – are also halted.(( https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/tuerkei-deutschland-121.html ))

Domestic ramifications

In the case of Germany, troubles in external relations with Turkey of course risk causing major domestic repercussions, thanks to Germany’s roughly three million inhabitants of Turkish descent. In the past months, the political loyalty of Germans with a Turkish background has come repeatedly into focus, particularly in the context of the Turkish constitutional referendum.

German Turks have reacted with dismay to the renewed bout of antagonism. They perceive themselves to be the first victims of the diplomatic tensions. Many also asserted that they did not feel represented by any German political party or force in this context.(( http://dtj-online.de/deutsch-tuerken-die-leidtragenden-der-deutsch-tuerkischen-konflikte-86452 ))

Letter to German Turks

Against this backdrop, the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel addressed German Turks in a letter published in the country’s leading tabloid, Bild. Gabriel stressed that the German government “has always worked for good relations with Turkey, because we know that a good relationship between Germany and Turkey is important to you.”

Recent arrests were forcing the government to act in order to protect its citizens, Gabriel asserted. Yet he stressed that this should not be seen as an assault on German Turks:

“Nothing of this is directed against the people living in Turkey and our fellow citizens with Turkish roots in Germany. For no matter how difficult political relations between Germany and Turkey are – this much remains obvious to us: you […] belong to us – whether with or without a German passport.”(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/sigmar-gabriel/liebe-tuerkische-mitbuerger-52625202.bild.html ))

An attempt at inclusivity

Gabriel’s statement was striking in the clarity of its commitment to inclusiveness. For months, media discourses had been strongly marked by an implicit perception that German Turks were quintessentially ‘other’, and that ‘they’ did precisely not belong to ‘us’.

Overall, the Foreign Minister’s intervention was well-received among the general public.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-07/deutsch-tuerkei-gabriel-erdogan-deutschtuerken-beziehungen )) Some pointed out, however, that it was left to the Foreign Minister to write this letter – a fact that seemed to point to the ways in which men and women of Turkish descent are still considered ‘foreign’ in Germany today.(( http://www.taz.de/!5428909/ ))

Nevertheless, the letter appeared to spark a kind of bandwagoning effect, as other politicians also called for a measured approach towards Turkey and Turkish citizens. Leading confidant of Angela Merkel and Head of the Chancellery Peter Altmaier (CDU) stressed that Turkey remained “one of the most democratic countries” in the Middle East. “And by that”, he added, “I don’t mean Mr. Erdogan but rather the country and Turkish society as a whole.”(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/konflikt-berlin-ankara-peter-altmaier-warnt-vor-pauschalen-verurteilungen-der-tuerkei/20095232.html ))

Increased polarisation

The impact of Gabriel’s statement remains to be seen. By now, German Turks are exposed to fundamentally opposing narratives of the events of the recent months and years. While the overwhelming majority of German and European news outlets continue to focus on Turkey’s descent into repression, the Turkish viewpoint is still dominated by a sense of persecution and a martyrology called forth by last year’s coup attempt.

Against the backdrop of these competing narratives and visions, the decision where to ‘belong’ is becoming a more and more categorical question facing many German Turks, pitting a group of ‘us’ (however defined) against an inimical ‘them’.

Reactions to ‘gender-equal’ mosque in Berlin: anger from abroad, limited impact at home

As Euro-Islam reported, lawyer and women’s rights activist Seyran Ateş has opened a gender-equal mosque in Berlin. After the first Friday prayers on June 16, co-led by Ateş and an openly gay French guest Imam, reactions to the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque have been strong, especially from Islamic authorities in Turkey and Egypt.

Reactions from Turkey

The Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs – Diyanet – mounted a fierce attack on Ateş’ project, describing it as “un-Islamic” and as an attempt to “undermine and destroy” religion. In a press release, Diyanet went on to declare that the mosque violated “the foundations of our sacred faith that are determined in the Quran and the sunna.”(( http://www.fr.de/politik/berlin-moabit-eine-moschee-fordert-den-islam-heraus-a-1300030 ))

Yet in keeping with the current political climate in Turkey, Diyanet’s most vociferous criticism was reserved for the alleged connections of the new mosque to the Gülen movement: “It is clear that this is a project of religious remodelling that has been implemented for many years under the leadership of Fetö [The Gülen Movement] and other nefarious organisations” – or so Diyanet argued.(( http://www.fr.de/politik/berlin-moabit-eine-moschee-fordert-den-islam-heraus-a-1300030 ))

Fake news of a Gülenist conspiracy

These allegations of Gülenist sympathies or influences were swiftly rejected by Ateş, who called the accusations “absurd”.(( http://www.ndr.de/kultur/Seyran-Ate-zur-Kritik-an-liberaler-Berliner-Moschee,journal888.html )) The Chair of the Gülenist Foundation for Dialogue and Education, Ercan Karakoyun, also denied any involvement with the mosque. He pointed out that while in a pluralist society his movement would tolerate Ateş’ initiative, her mosque “does not correspond to our vision of Islam”.(( http://www.berliner-kurier.de/berlin/kiez—stadt/ibn-rushd-goethe-moschee-morddrohungen-wegen-liberaler-moschee-in-berlin-27820764 ))

Karakoyun’s denial of any involvement with the new mosque came after Turkish TV channel AHaber had falsely named him as a confidant of Ateş’ and her mosque project; a claim that had resulted in death threats being uttered against Karakoyun. AHaber went on to label the opening of the mosque an act of “treason”.

Turkish newspaper Sabah spoke of the “liberal mosque madness” while also zeroing in on Ateş’ supposed links to Gülenism. The Star network described the mosque as a “Fetö-church” where women with headscarves would not be allowed to enter.(( http://www.fr.de/politik/berlin-moabit-eine-moschee-fordert-den-islam-heraus-a-1300030 ))

Reactions from Egypt

That Ateş’ initiative would be met with criticism from certain Turkish actors was, in many ways, to be expected: over the course of her career, the activist born to a Turkish mother and a Kurdish father had repeatedly been accused of fouling her own nest by Turkish media and decision-makers.

However, the opening of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque also brought to the scene the Egyptian state fatwa office, Dar al-Ifta’: “no to the violation of religious foundations – no to the liberal mosque”, the Office wrote in an official statement on Facebook.

The Cairene institution was particularly incensed at the gender aspect of the project, criticising the mixing of the sexes at the mosque, the fact that women were not obliged to wear a hijab while praying, and the fact that female Imams were leading the congregation. Dar al-Ifta’ denied that the project would combat religious extremism: “to the contrary – the disrespect of the foundational rules of a religion is extremism, too. This is an attack on the religion.”(( https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/fatwa-moschee-berlin-101.html ))

Reactions in Germany

The echo in Germany has been much more restrained. The main Islamic associations have kept a guarded silence vis-à-vis the new mosque, although the chairman of the Islam Council (IR) stated that he did not believe that the mosque’s approach was in accordance with the basic tenets of Islam.(( https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/in-germany-a-new-feminist-islam-is-hoping-to-make-a-mark/2017/06/16/fc762d00-529c-11e7-b74e-0d2785d3083d_story.html?utm_term=.fcc83e557c0f ))

The Frankfurt-based hardline organisation “Reality Islam” castigated the mosque as an example of “the disfigurement of Islam and its emptying of all meaning in Germany”. Ateş project, for them, is a form of “intellectual colonisation” that seeks to illegitimately “redefine Islam in accordance with Western ideas of gender equality.”(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/themen/reportage/berliner-moschee-fuer-liberale-muslime-der-islam-gehoert-nicht-den-fanatikern/19919994-all.html ))

Ateş defends herself

Againt this backdrop, Ateş sees her long-standing criticism of conservative Islamic associations as vindicated: in an interview with the NDR network, she – perhaps somewhat simplistically – stated that authorities such as Egyptian Dar al-Ifta’ had not criticized and attacked al-Qaeda or the Islamic State as they had attacked her. “This shows the true face of the fundamentalists”, she asserted.(( http://www.ndr.de/kultur/Seyran-Ate-zur-Kritik-an-liberaler-Berliner-Moschee,journal888.html ))

Ateş also expressed dismay at the fact that many deem her commitment to an Islamic religiosity to be disingenuous. Her initial announcement that she would open a mosque had been met with surprise, given the fact that in the public’s perception her persona had been associated with a critical – even hostile – stance towards Islam and an atheist positioning.

In an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio, Ateş highlighted that already in her 2003 autobiography she had stated that she did not fight Islam but patriarchy. “Yet there are people who have never bought that I’m a believing Muslim.”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/imamin-seyran-ates-muslime-organisiert-euch.886.de.html?dram:article_id=388789 ))

Positive yet muted feedback

According to Ateş, “95 per cent” of the feedback she has received for her mosque initiative has been positive, especially from the Kurdish community. Nevertheless, participation at the first Friday prayers has been somewhat muted: at the congregation on June 16 there were more journalists than worshippers.(( http://www.berliner-kurier.de/berlin/kiez—stadt/allah-fuer-alle-hier-beten-maenner-und-frauen-gemeinsam-27808522 ))

The mosque has nevertheless sparked some interest from elsewhere: Muslims from Hamburg and Bremen have established contact with Ateş; they seek to open their own mosques and to join forces in a new, liberal Islamic association.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/themen/reportage/berliner-moschee-fuer-liberale-muslime-der-islam-gehoert-nicht-den-fanatikern/19919994-all.html ))

Forever in transit: New report highlights plight of Syrian refugees

For his reportage “Stranded. Refugees Between Syria and Europe” the writer Tayfun Guttstadt travelled to the cities of Turkey and along the Turkish-Syrian border. In conversation with Sonja Galler, he talks about the precarious situation faced by Syrian refugees, their legal status and Turkey′s lack of any kind of integration concept

Turkey is one of the most important transit nations for refugee flows en route to Europe. At the same time, Turkey has itself become a migration country in recent years: at around three million, the nation hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees worldwide. NGOs estimate the actual number of Syrians in Turkey is closer to 3.5 million, as not all refugees have been registered yet.

For the EU and the Turkish government, the six-figure number may first and foremost serve as an argument in a domestic and foreign policy game that both areplaying to serve their own political ends. But how are the refugees themselves faring? Those that are “stranded” in Turkey and decided to remain there for a wide variety of reasons.

The Hamburg writer Tayfun Guttstadt, who reported on the Gezi protests in his first book “Capulcu“, has resumed his travels and spent time talking to (among others) Syrian refugees between Istanbul, Hatay, Gaziantep and Diyarbakir about their lives, political views, hopes and disappointments.

Strong desire to return home

The resulting work is a densely narrated reportage, abundant with conversations with friends, casual acquaintances and people from all walks of life, sprinkled with observations and background information. It provides a manifold insight into the precarious social and legal situation of Syrians and other refugees in the country, people who fluctuate between staying and travelling on.

“Most refugees live in hope of being able to return soon. Others feel at home in Turkey, because for example the culture is quite similar, or they’ve found a job, or made friends. Others stay because they don’t know what else to do. Other reasons to stay are the fear of continuing illegally to Europe or doubts over whether things would be better there,” says Guttstadt.

Only a small percentage of the refugees are living in one of the camps set up by the Turkish government close to the Syrian border and from which only a few more than airbrushed images reach the public domain. Just as it is to other journalists, access is also denied to Guttstadt on his travels.

Poverty risk in the metropolis

The overwhelming majority muddle through in one of the country’s cities. There may be more opportunities here, but the risk of falling into poverty is also high: refugees often live in over-priced, cramped accommodation working without permits “for a pittance in industry or on a building site, fielding accusations that they’re taking work away from Turks and Kurds,” says Guttstadt.

Without a work permit – something that few employers go to the trouble of obtaining for their employees – access to welfare is barely possible. Child labour, in the textile industry for example, is also an issue. However, the authorities frequently turn a blind eye to illegal work or new businesses that haven’t been correctly registered.

But Guttstadt does include more positive biographies in his book and reports on wealthy individuals who have rented or even bought apartments and houses and who have relocated their businesses to Turkey. Artists, intellectuals and musicians gather in Istanbul, which has developed into one of the exile centres of Syrian intellectuals alongside Gaziantep and Berlin.

A peculiarity of the Turkish asylum system means, however, that in accordance with the Geneva Refugee Convention, the refugee status does not apply to Syrians for whom a special status was created in Turkey, which officially allows them to use the public health system and now the education system too. But there is often a lack of appropriate capacity to guarantee these promised rights.

In this context, the reportage also shines a light on civil society efforts: the local initiatives and aid organisations that offer support to the refugees, sometimes under makeshift conditions, trying to offer language courses and provide psychosocial support. Guttstadt also visits the controversial aid organisation IHH, predominantly active in the Sunni milieu – the offshoot of which was banned in Germany.

No integration concept

But we also hear the views of people on the street, taxi drivers and their highly subjective comments, which range from racist resentment through to understanding and expressions of empathy, show that in Turkey too, the issue is emotionally charged.

“First and foremost among nationalist AKP opponents, there is a commonly-held view that the Syrians are living the high life at the expense of the country’s citizens. The most vociferous supporters on the other hand are full of religious pathos, in which the needs and interests of the refugees barely play a role. Very few actors in Turkey recognise that the refugees deserve the same rights as any other person,” says Guttstadt.

Guttstadt also has unequivocal words of criticism for the Turkish government: “There is no discernible integration concept, the situation is characterised by emergency solutions. Always under the assumption that a few ‘guests’ have to be looked after just for a short while, because Assad will in any case be toppled tomorrow or the day after. None of the parties giving serious attention to the rights of refugees. The AKP uses a romanticised rhetoric, which barely conceals its political exploitation of the situation, above all in domestic and EU policy,” says Guttstadt.

The discussion concerning the naturalisation of Syrian refugees is also to be viewed in this context: It is “controversial because the AKP is doing all it can to fit the majority Sunni refugees – non-Sunnis only come to Turkey unwillingly – into its social model.”

Sonja Galler

© Qantara.de 2017

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Germany’s DİTİB rocked by internal dissent, dismissals, and disputes

 

Recent months have not been kind to Germany’s largest Islamic association, the Turkish DİTİB. Particularly since the July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, the organisation has been under fire for its real and supposed proximity to the Turkish government.

This criticism received new force when it was revealed that DİTİB’s Imams had done the dirty work of the Turkish authorities by spying and informing on suspected members of the Gülen movement in Germany.

Growing internal dissent

In all of this, DİTİB as an organisation and its internal workings have often continued to appear inscrutable. Compared to the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) and its ambitious chairman Aiman Mazyek, DİTİB is also less present and outspoken in the public debate, adding to the sense of mystery surrounding the association.

Yet the post-coup political maelstrom and the deteriorating German-Turkish diplomatic relations appear to lead to growing internal dissent and schisms within DİTİB that are increasingly visible from the outside.

Asylum for DİTİB Imams?

DİTİB’s Imams are Turkish state employees, sent to Germany for a number of years before returning back home to Turkey when their contracts with DİTİB’s close to 1,000 mosques in Germany run out.

Since the coup attempt, however, a number of DİTİB Imams have asked for political asylum in Germany, for fear of arrest and persecution should they return to Turkey, due to their (past) affiliation with the Gülenist movement.(( https://www.heise.de/tp/features/Ditib-Bei-den-Ermittlungen-wegen-Spionage-laeuft-erheblich-viel-schief-3664619.html ))

Internal criticism repressed

In February 2017, Murat Kayman, coordinator of DİTİB’s local German branches stepped down from all of his DİTİB offices. Kayman had also been a member of the powerful DİTİB section in the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, home to a large share of German Turks.

Kayman had been widely perceived as one of the key advocates of a greater structural independence of DİTİB from the Turkish state, and his departure was seen as having occurred due to considerable internal pressure. At the time of his resignation, Kayman warned that all sides to the various ongoing German-Turkish disputes needed to “disarm verbally and to focus on substantive questions if they do not want to jeopardise durable coexistence”.(( http://www.ksta.de/koeln/murat-kayman-ditib-vorstand-legt-aemter-nieder—rueckt-verband-enger-an-ankara-heran–25773130 ))

Resignation of DİTİB’s youth leadership

Yet Kayman’s departure has not been the endpoint of DİTİB’s internal turmoil. In May 2017, the entire governing board of DİTİB’s youth organisation, the Union of Muslim Youth (Bund der Muslimischen Jugend, BDMJ), announced its collective resignation. The move came after the senior German DİTİB leadership had forcibly transferred two of BDMJ’s functionaries.

The BDMJ leadership complained that a meaningful continuation of their work had become impossible “in the face of the current situation that has been persisting for more than a year.” The youth leaders, who – like most of DİTİB’s grassroots functionaries, work on a voluntary basis – complained of “having been by-passed and not taken seriously once more” in the context of the dismissal of its two members.(( https://dtj-online.de/ditib-jugend-bdmj-ruecktritt-83748 ))

Local dismissals

The internal upheaval in the German DİTİB branch has also reached the very local level. In recent months, DİTİB’s highest functionary in Berlin apparently forced a change in the governing board of the German capital’s famous Şehitlik mosque (pictured above) by manipulating the list of candidates eligible to be elected.(( https://dtj-online.de/ditib-jugend-bdmj-ruecktritt-83748 ))

In other mosques, DİTİB Imams that were suspected of political disloyalty were fired. They subsequently contested their dismissal in court. Although the Imams lost their cases – the court stated that not DİTİB but the Turkish state was their employer – these affairs nevertheless cast a glaring light on the internal state of the association.(( http://www.lto.de/recht/nachrichten/n/arbg-koeln-entlassung-kuendigungsschutzklage-imame-ditib-moscheegemeinde-arbeitgeber/ ))

Pre-existing tensions

The recent events in Turkey and in German-Turkish relations have aggravated and brought to the fore a tension that, in fact, already predates these developments. In many respects, this is a tension over the future direction of DİTİB in particular and of Muslim associational life in Germany more generally.

The youth wings of Germany’s Muslim associations are filled by young men and women born and raised in Germany. Irrespective of their continued affinity to the country of origin of their parents or grand-parents, their upbringing in the German context has nevertheless shaped them in manifold ways.

Generational conflict

By contrast, the organisations’ ‘old guard’ remains essentially Turkish (in the case of DİTİB), with Imams and functionaries being sent by (and returning to) the Turkish state. Thus, the fallout between the DİTİB leadership and the association’s youth wing is also a generational dispute, in which the former is accusing the latter of having become “too German”.(( https://www.pressreader.com/germany/leipziger-volkszeitung/20170529/281608125386373 ))

DİTİB is not the first organisation to experience this conflict, either. In recent years, the German youth section of the Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG) has also clashed time and again with the old leadership. The IGMG’s youth wing wished to break with an orthodoxy that seemed too traditionalist and too ‘Turkish’.((See El-Menouar, Yasemin (2013). “Islam und Sozialkapital: Beispiele muslimischer Gruppierungen in Deutschland”. In Klaus Spenlen (ed.), Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland? Fakten und Analysen zu einem Meinungsstreit. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press, 2013, pp. 382 ff.)

Future prospects

All this highlights the ways in which the German Islamic associational scene is in turmoil; especially the parts that are predominantly Turkish or of Turkish heritage. What remains to be seen is the ultimate outcome of this unrest.

Some, such as Lamya Kaddor, Islamic scholar and leading member of the Liberal Islamic Union (LIB), see the personnel changes as indicative of a new era of contestation and of much-needed debate. Especially the dissatisfaction among younger members shows, according to Kaddor, that Germany’s Islamic associations need to become more open, more democratic, and more adapted to the needs of Muslims living in Germany if they want to stay relevant.

At the same time, the internal purge that appears to be going on within DİTİB also raises the obverse possibility – of an association that is more and more under the conclusive control of fierce loyalists of the AKP and President Erdoğan and bereft of any alternative voices. In that case, dissenters will be faced by a formidable task of organising themselves anew outside of any existing fora.

German Turks debate the results of the constitutional referendum

On April 16, Turkish voters approved President Erdoğan’s proposed constitutional changes, transforming the country into a presidential republic. Turkish voters domestically were close to being evenly split on the issue, with only a narrow majority 51.4 per cent voting Yes.

Strong Yes vote among Turks abroad

Turks living abroad generally supported Erdoğan by a much larger margin, with 59.1 per cent of them casting a Yes ballot. In Germany, this number stood even higher, at 63.1 per cent.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2017-04/deutschtuerken-tuerkei-referendum-volksabstimmung-recep-tayyip-Erdoğan ))

National differences are striking in this respect: while more than 70 per cent of Turks living in Belgium, Austria, and the Netherlands approved the constitutional changes, the Yes camp received only 20 per cent or less in Great Britain, the United States, and the Czech Republic.(( http://diepresse.com/home/ausland/aussenpolitik/5202096/Tuerken-in-Oesterreich-stimmen-klar-fuer-Verfassungsaenderung ))

Politicians’ reactions to the referendum

German media has expressed shock at the comparatively high number of Yes votes coming from German Turks. Some politicians have echoed this sentiment. A diverse number of CDU members has called for the abolition of dual citizenship provisions, as well as for the abandonment of plans that would allow foreigners to vote at county level.(( http://www.wn.de/Muensterland/2775255-Nach-Tuerkei-Referendum-Neuer-Streit-um-Doppelpass-CDU-fordert-strengere-Regeln ))

While remaining critical of the Yes voters, the co-chair of the Green Party, Cem Özdemir, nevertheless struck a different note. He interpreted the strong showing of the Yes camp as a sign of failed integration policies. In particular, he pointed to belated reforms to German citizenship law that had compelled many immigrants to remain foreigners in Germany.(( http://www.daserste.de/information/politik-weltgeschehen/morgenmagazin/videos/FN__moma_Oezdemir_Meier_2504nl_8000-100.html ))

Critical voices from among German Turks

Özdemir’s argument was echoed by Can Dündar, former editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper living in German exile. Dündar criticised the widespread expectation that German Turks should be immune to Erdoğan’s propaganda effort. Erdoğan’s success among German Turks was linked by Dündar to his ability to present himself as the defender of the interests of those Turks excluded from their host communities.(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/18/verfassungsreferendum-tuerkei-deutsch-tuerken-meine-tuerkei ))

Gökay Sofuoğlu, leader of the Turkish Community in Germany (TGD) organisation, which had openly campaigned for a No vote, also rejected any calls for the curtailment of political rights of Turks living in the country. Only greater possibilities for political participation in Germany could be a sensible reaction to the referendum outcome, he argued.(( http://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.interview-zur-tuerkei-abstimmung-wir-muessen-endlich-aus-der-opferrolle-raus.dcb4866b-2d0b-416c-b441-9981e4836821.html ))

Others, such as comedian Serdar Somuncu, asserted that German decision-makers had failed to stand up to Erdoğan’s authoritarian tendencies as long as it suited them not to do so (mainly as long as he prevented the arrival of further refugees to Europe). This, together with the inability and/or unwillingness to curb racially-charged polemics or even violence against Turkish immigrants, was seen by Somuncu as rendering somewhat hypocritical the belated demand that German Turks act in accordance with democratic norms now.(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KH6vVl9Jj9w ))

Islamic associations’ muted response

German’s Muslim associations have generally stayed silent in response to the referendum result. DİTİB, the country’s largest association, has been embroiled in a succession of scandals linked to its pro-Erdoğan line, including spying activities of some of its Imams directed at suspected members of the Gülen movement. Conceivably, by not commenting on the referendum result, DİTİB wishes to keep a somewhat lower political profile and not attract renewed negative attention.

The equally Turkish-dominated Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), an organisation with roots in the same Islamist milieu as Erdoğan’s AK Party, also sought to project an outward image of neutrality, asserting that both Yes and No votes deserved respect.(( https://www.igmg.org/das-ziel-muss-jetzt-kompromisskultur-heissen/ ))

Only the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), which is ethnically more mixed and whose current chairman Aiman Mazyek has pursued an ambitious policy of rendering the ZMD politically visible and influential, struck an openly critical note, warning of the threats of dictatorship in Turkey.(( http://islam.de/28665 ))

Need for self-criticism

At the same time, many Turkish German commentators also engaged in self-criticism. TGD chairmain Sofuoğlu asserted that the TGD and other immigrant organisations had made mistakes in the past: “We were too focused on the role of the victim. We have shown too much understanding to those who just stay out of everything [in Germany].”

More particularly, Sofuoğlu noted that only 20 per cent of Turks holding a German passport regularly cast a ballot in German federal or state elections, signalling a lack of interest in German politics.(( http://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.interview-zur-tuerkei-abstimmung-wir-muessen-endlich-aus-der-opferrolle-raus.dcb4866b-2d0b-416c-b441-9981e4836821.html ))

Unpacking the numbers

At the same time, Sofuoğlu’s comments also apply to some extent to German Turks’ participation in the Turkish referendum. Only half of Germany’s population with a Turkish background was allowed to vote in the referendum because they still hold Turkish nationality. Of these, only 46 per cent actually went to the polls. Consequently, the Yes vote did not represent 63 per cent of all German Turks but only 29 per cent.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2017-04/deutschtuerken-tuerkei-referendum-volksabstimmung-recep-tayyip-Erdoğan ))

Others noted that the intimidation tactics used by the Turkish secret service even on German soil had had an impact in keeping opponents of the constitutional changes away from the ballot box. Many German Turks also reported of acquaintances suspected of being critical of Erdoğan having been arrested when they temporarily returned to Turkey to visit friends and family.(( https://www.rbb-online.de/politik/beitrag/2017/04/tuerkei-referendum-reaktionen-neukoelln.html ))

Diverse reasons for support

Yet the reasons German Turks espouse for supporting Erdoğan are undoubtedly diverse. When interviewed during and after the referendum process, respondents often expressed admiration for Erdoğan’s ability to transform Turkey “from a developing country to the 17th-largest economy in the world”. Nationalist tropes of Turkish pride and greatness were often emphasised.

At the same time, many also presented much more nuanced arguments as to why they supported a presidential system under Erdoğan. And, to be sure, some of them patently felt out of touch with Germany in general and with its political scene in particular. These individuals would not shy away from denouncing those campaigning against the presidential system of being “traitors” and of “having become German”.(( https://www.rbb-online.de/politik/beitrag/2017/04/tuerkei-referendum-reaktionen-neukoelln.html ))

Yet many Yes voters interviewed felt in no way to be on the margins of German life. They asserted that their home country was Germany and that ‘their’ president was “definitely” Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the new German head of state, rather than Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Nevertheless, they deemed it their duty to strengthen the position of the only man they deemed able to prevent Turkey from sliding back into instability.(( https://www.zdf.de/kultur/forum-am-freitag/forum-am-freitag-vom-14-april-2017-100.html ))

A community divided

In the aftermath of the referendum, old and new disagreements within the German Turkish community have come to the fore again. The opponents of enlarged presidential powers accused their fellow German Turks for failing to even comprehend the latitude of the proposed constitutional changes, instead voting blindly in favour of their strongman Erdoğan.

Others could not get over what they saw as an enormous cognitive dissonance – the fact that the partisans of a Yes vote cast a democratic ballot in Germany in order to undermine democracy in Turkey.(( https://www.rbb-online.de/politik/beitrag/2017/04/tuerkei-referendum-reaktionen-neukoelln.html ))

The most pervasive sentiment among opponents of the constitutional changes has been fear – fear of being targeted by communal violence or by the organs of Erdoğan’s state. The president’s supporters were, nevertheless, unfazed: they celebrated their Erdoğan’s win in Germany’s streets.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-04/deutschtuerken-referendum-tuerkei-evet-hayir-berlin-kottbusser-tor ))

German Turks split on referendum, Erdoğan’s critique of Europe

In Turkey, voting for the country’s crucial constitutional referendum will take place on April 16, 2017. President Erdoğan is hoping for a resounding Evet (Yes) vote in order to transform Turkey into a presidential republic and to enhance the powers of his office. In Germany, 1.4 million German Turks holding a Turkish passport were already able to vote between March 27 and April 9 in consulates and 13 polling stations around the country.

German Turks as a critical constituency

As opinion polls in Turkey have tightened, German Turks have become a crucial factor in the election, potentially able to tip the scales either way. Consequently, AKP politicians have spent considerable energy on trying to mobilise Turkish voters in Germany in favour of the presidential system.

The German government and local administrations proceeded to prohibit several campaign speeches by Turkish ministers. None of these events had diplomatic consequences as severe as the Netherlands’ expulsion of the Turkish Minister for Family Affairs shortly before the Dutch election.(( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/11/erdogan-brands-dutch-nazi-remnants-for-barring-turkish-mp )) Nevertheless, the Turkish leadership has not openly accused German authorities of fascist practices and of seeking to weaken Turkey by preventing a Yes-vote in the referendum.

Belated organisation of the No campaign

Compared to the Evet camp, their Hayır (No) opponents, have tended to organise late in Germany. Fears of potential repercussions of an open anti-Erdoğan stance appear to have played a role in this.

In recent weeks, German media have reported on extensive intelligence and spying operations of the Turkish secret service, MİT. The agency has a strong presence in Germany with reportedly 400 full-time employees. Observers noted MİT’s attempt to spread a “climate of fear” among Turkish dissidents in Germany – Kurds, Gülenists, Kemalists, and leftists alike.(( http://www.dw.com/de/geheimdienstexperte-t%C3%BCrkei-sch%C3%BCrt-ein-klima-der-angst/a-38158666?maca=de-domschule-de-pol-we-eur-1200-rdf ))

At first sight, the German Turkish vote appears Erdoğan’s vote to lose: In 2015’s parliamentary elections, 60 per cent of German Turks opted for the AKP. However, less than 50 per cent of those eligible to vote actually cast a ballot, leaving a considerable marge of uncertainty over the actual allegiances of the community.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschtuerken-gegen-erdogans-referendum-14928470-p2.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

A loyalty questioned

Against the backdrop of this uncertainty, the outcome of the referendum among German Turks seems just as unforeseeable as the overall referendum result. What is certain, however, is that the Turks and people of Turkish heritage living in Germany have been placed in a real bind. As relations between Berlin and Ankara have soured, their loyalty to Germany has been questioned time and again.

What is more, on the conservative side of the political spectrum there have been repeated attempts to roll back dual citizenship provisions, with the aim of forcing German Turks to choose between their allegiance to Turkey or to Germany.

Europe and Germany as the villain

With the Turkish President – the strongman and thus the very embodiment of the Turkish nation to many of his supporters – receiving unprecedented opprobrium in much of mainstream German political and media discourses, some German Turks have shifted to a more pro-Erdoğan position.

Many young attendees at a loyalist rally led by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu evoked feelings of indignation at what they perceived to be a humiliation of Turkey in the German press. More generally, many of them asserted that the restrictions placed on Turkish politicians’ speeches showed that Germany was not a true democracy and that freedom of speech was systematically limited to their detriment.(( http://www.jetzt.de/politik/deutschtuerken-wie-denken-sie-ueber-erdogan-und-die-deutsche-politik ))

This line is also held by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), a pro-AKP lobbying organisation active in Turkish communities across Europe. Its chairman Zafer Sırakaya asserted that “at the moment in Germany freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly only apply to the opponents of the constitutional reform”.(( http://uetd.org/meinungs-und-versammlungsfreiheit-haben-nur-gegner-der-tuerkischen-verfassungsreform/?lang=de ))

Taking a stand against dictatorship in Turkey

Conversely, the largest ethnically Turkish association in Germany, Türkische Gemeinde in Deutschland (TGD), has become a vocal critic of Erdoğan since 2013 and openly supports the No campaign.(( http://www.tgd.de/2017/03/22/referendum-in-der-tuerkei-worum-geht-es-eigentlich/ )). The association, together with a number of German Turkish politicians, also published a manifesto calling for a No vote and declaring solidarity with oppressed groups in Turkey.(( https://www.mehr-demokratie.de/tuerkei-aufruf.html ))

These sentiments are echoed in the statements of many of those German Turks willing to speak about their objections to the presidential system and Erdoğan’s quest for power to the media (although some only do so on condition of anonymity).(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/gelsenkirchen-was-deutsch-tuerken-ueber-erdogan-denken-a-1107002.html ))

Feridun Zaimoğlu, writer and public intellectual captured an oft-voiced argument when he stated that “as a Turk or German Turk one cannot benefit from freedom in Germany and then vote for the unfreedom of Turkey. Whoever does that is a coward. And sick.”(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/15/deutschtuerken-referendum-wahlkampf-tuerkei/komplettansicht ))

A community divided

Yet the sentiment perhaps most widely expressed by German Turks is a sentiment of regret. They perceive the diplomatic rows as a threat to their position in Germany. The stance on President Erdoğan and his constitutional referendum has become to many a choice between Turkey and Germany.

This choice also divides friends and family, with close family members breaking off contact or insulting each other as ‘traitors’.(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/15/deutschtuerken-referendum-wahlkampf-tuerkei/komplettansicht )) How these divisions could be healed in the future is anybody’s guess.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar supporting Salafi radicals in Germany, according to German intelligence report

Recurring scrutiny of religious activities of the Gulf States

The two main German domestic and foreign intelligence agencies (the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz and the Bundesnachrichtendienst) are accusing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar of financing Salafi missionary activities in Germany. Practices scrutinised include the construction of mosques and educational centres, as well as the sending of Imams.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

These findings are gathered in a report by the two agencies, which had been commissioned by the German government. In the context of the recent arrival of Syrian and other Arab immigrants, the authorities’ concerns about the influence of religious exports from the Gulf have been growing. A number of Salafi missioning attempts in asylum centres have been highly mediatised and led to fierce public discussions.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/krude-missionierung-salafisten-werben-nahe-fluechtlingsheimen-13793462.html ))

Earlier this year, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel had scolded Saudi Arabia for funding Wahhabi offshoots and institutions the world over. The Social Democratic politician claimed that “the time of looking away is over”.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/01/14/german-vice-chancellor-accuses-saudi-arabia-of-funding-islamic-extremism-in-the-west/ ))

Focus on Turkey

However, not much by way of official action has perspired since then. One of the most controversial Saudi-funded educational institutions in the country – the Bonn-based King Fahd Academy – was shut down and the Saudi government announced that it intended to cut back on its religious activities in Germany. Yet it was not immediately obvious that these Saudi steps had been taken due to mounting pressure by the German government.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/closure-controversial-king-fahd-academy-bonn-shifting-saudi-religious-politics-germany/ ))

Indeed, during 2016 public attention shifted back to Erdoğan’s Turkey and its control over DİTİB, Germany’s single largest Islamic association. As the diplomatic climate between Germany and Turkey worsened, authorities began to perceive DİTİB as a Trojan horse, suspending decades of close cooperation with the organisation ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/26/amidst-political-controversy-german-ditib-association-vows-greater-emancipation-turkish-state/ ))

The present intelligence report might put the Gulf back at the centre of the attention. It warns that the presence of Saudi Arabia and other wealthy religious players from the Gulf will lead to a further growth of the Germany’s 10,000-strong Salafi scene. A particular concerns it the potential for radicalisation among recently arrived refugees.

The precise linkage between missionary activities and violent jihad

While organisations such as the Kuwaiti Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), the Shaykh Eid Charity Foundation from Qatar, or the Saudi-led Muslim World League reject violence, the intelligence reports asserts that, at least in the practice of the RIHS, “no clear distinction between missionary and jihadist Salafism” can be observed.

At the same time, the report notes that evidence capable of demonstrating these organisation’s active support of jihadists in Germany remained inconclusive.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/salafisten-verfassungsschutz-101.html )) Thus, the precise linkages between missionary foundations and jihadist networks still remain somewhat murky.

The role of the governments of the Gulf States

A particularly delicate matter are the connections between these organisations and the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. While for instance Saudi Arabia has continued to insist on the ostentatious independence of the Muslim World League, the intelligence report asserts that these associations are “closely connected to state authorities in their countries of origin”.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

In other words, in spite of steps such as the closure of the King Fahd Academy, “worldwide missionary activity continues to remain raison d’état and part of foreign policy” of the Gulf States. Consequently, the report expects a further expansion of missionary activities in the future. As a response, the report demands that a European registry of Salafi missionary organisations and preachers be created, so as to prevent their entry to the Schengen zone.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))