Turkish citizens’ applications for asylum in Germany on the rise, aggravating diplomatic strain

 

Growing numbers of Turkish requests for asylum

During the first nine months of the year 2016, German authorities have registered a considerable rise in demands for asylum made by Turkish nationals. Between January and September, 3,973 Turkish citizens filed their requests with the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). This compares with an overall number of 1,767 demands for asylum filed in all of 2015.(( http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-staatsbuerger-101.html, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerkei-zahl-der-asylbewerber-steigt-laut-medienbericht-a-1106227.html ))

A spokesman of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) asserted that authorities had not observed any increase in Turkish asylum applications since the failed coup attempt in July. ((http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-staatsbuerger-101.html )) Yet it is questionable whether this assertion stands up to empirical scrutiny: by the end of June 2016, the number of applicants had stood at 1,719; only to skyrocket to the abovementioned number of 3,972 by the end of September. This implies that in the third quarter of 2016 alone, the number of Turkish asylum seekers more than doubled.

Kurds dominant among applicants

During the first six months of the year, 1,510 applicants were of Kurdish origin. Kurds had already constituted a large majority of Turkish asylum-seekers in 2015. Whilst this reflects the continued and indeed escalating violence in Turkey’s Kurdish regions, the acceptance rate of Kurds has actually fallen: only 5.2 per cent of Turkish Kurds received a positive decision from the BAMF. This compares to an almost equally low acceptance rate of 6.7 per cent for Turkish applicants in general.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-08/bamf-asyl-tuerken ))

Over the course of recent months, German Kurds have increasingly mobilised, staging street protests against developments in Turkey. They have also sought to pressure the German government to relinquish what they deem to be a stance of appeasement towards Erdoğan.(( https://kurdische-gemeinde.de/bundesregierung-hat-keinen-plan-b-fuer-das-eu-tuerkei-fluechtlingsabkommen/ )) Following the arrests of Kurdish HDP leaders Selahattin Demirtaş und Figen Yüksekdağ, Kurdish associations organised a large demonstration with up to 15,000 participants in Cologne.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/kurden-demonstration-in-koeln-erdoan-laesst-einem-keine-luft-zum-atmen-1.3236375 ))

Weak position of the German government

Chancellor Merkel seemed to step up her criticism of the Erdoğan administration after the latest spate of arrests. Yet while she referred to the situation in the country as “alarming” and intimated that there would be detrimental consequences for Turkey’s attempts to accede to the EU, Merkel stopped short of any more thoroughgoing redefinition of Germany’s relations with the country.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/angela-merkel-verschaerft-kritik-an-verhaftungen-in-tuerkei-14509228.html))

In his column for the Die Zeit weekly, Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the recently raided Cumhuriyet newspaper had repeatedly criticised Merkel for her stance. The journalist, now living in German exile after his conviction for treason in Turkey, accused her of doing too little too late to penalise the human rights violations committed by the Turkish government.((http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-07/can-duendar-eu-tuerkei-angela-merkel-kritik))

However, Germany continues to be in a weak position vis-à-vis Erdoğan’s policies: Merkel has staked her political survival on the ‘refugee pact’ with the AKP administration. This agreement is the cornerstone of Merkel’s steps to stem the influx of refugees into Germany and therefore a crucial aspect in Merkel’s widely expected attempt to seek a fourth term in office at the federal elections in September 2017. After a string of electoral defeats attributed to Merkel’s initial ‘open door policy’, lower immigration figures are a key ingredient for calming the political climate to Merkel’s benefit.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/regional-elections-germany-deliver-gains-afd-weakening-merkel/))

Mutual recriminations and ‘terrorism’ charges

However, the ability of Merkel and her government to keep the boat steady and retain the status quo in its relations with Turkey seems to grow more limited by the day. Verbal mudslinging between the two administrations has returned to fever pitch after a German court refused to consider the defamation lawsuit Erdoğan had sought to bring against a German comedian, a case that had caused international uproar and profound embarrassment to the German government. ((http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/jan-boehmermann-erdogan-scheitert-mit-beschwerde-a-1116635.html))

Subsequently, in early November the Turkish President accused Germany of harbouring and supporting the terrorists of the Kurdish PKK, the left-wing DHKP-C and of the Islamist Gülen movement. At a public speech, he asserted that German support for terrorism would be eternally remembered. Erdoğan claimed that he had requested the extradition of 4,000 suspects linked to the July coup attempt without receiving an answer from the German government.((http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2016-11/recep-tayyip-erdogan-deutschland-terrorismus))

These allegations come after the publication of a German government memo in August in which Turkey had been accused of supporting terrorism. The memo asserted that Turkey had become a central actor in the networks of Islamist parties and radical movements across the Middle East. The memo thus made public the at least implicit accusation of the German government that President Erdogan actively supports the armed jihadist forces in Syria.((http://www.zeit.de/2016/36/terrorismus-tuerkei-islamisten-unterstutzung-vorwuerfe))

Demands for asylum of high-ranking anti-government figures

Moreover, antagonism will not cease any time soon: as German news sources revealed, following the July 15 coup attempt, a growing number of high-ranking Turkish diplomats have asked for asylum in Germany. By late October, there were 35 ongoing requests for asylum of Turks holding a diplomatic passport. Asylum-seekers appear to include the former military attaché at Turkey’s Berlin embassy.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-diplomaten-101.html, https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html))

Reportedly, the Turkish embassy itself had been the site of significant confrontations during and after the failed putsch: allegedly, pro-military forces had planned to seize control of the embassy on the night of the coup, leading pro-government staff members to barricade themselves in one of the building’s floors. Subsequent days seem to have witnessed significant altercations taking place in the embassy’s interior, as well as the recall of a number of staff members to Turkey.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html))

Unsurprisingly, Turkish authorities have already begun to pressure their German counterparts to extradite the 35 diplomats.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html)) Some German politicians demanded that their requests for asylum be approved quickly, given the prevailing climate of persecution in Turkey.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/diplomaten-tuerkei-schutz-101.html)) So far, however, the BAMF has not taken any decisions. Such limbo is, in fact, the most desirable state of affairs for German authorities, since there is no appetite for an unpalatable choice between upholding legal principles and further antagonising a vital political partner.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/asylantraege-tuerkischer-diplomaten-101.html)) For how long this balancing act is sustainable remains to be seen.

German National Day celebrations in Dresden overshadowed by bomb blasts and right-wing agitation

A history of far-right activity

On October 3, Germany celebrated the 26th anniversary of its reunification. This year, the official festivites were hosted by the city of Dresden. For two years now, the capital of the East German state of Saxony has been the site of weekly demonstration by the Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident), a far-right anti-immigration collective with close yet somewhat oblique links to Germany’s new right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany.

Concomitantly, Saxony has recorded the by far highest rate of anti-refugee violence of all German states in recent years. ((https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/10/03/germany-reunified-26-years-ago-but-some-divisions-are-still-strong/ )) Critical questions have been raised about the State’s security and judicial apparatuses, and their personal links with as well as broad institutional sympathies for far-right movements – a criticism that was recently made even by the Saxon Minister of the Economy, Martin Dulig (SPD). ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/sachsen-polizei-sympathisiert-laut-minister-martin-dulig-mit-pegida-a-1080343.html ))

Bomb attacks on a mosque and a conference centre

Consequently, security fears ahead of the National Day celebrations ran high. Whilst the authorities’ main attention was focused on potential Islamist plots on October 3, the city was actually rocked by twin blasts on a mosque and a congress centre less than a week before Unity Day.

The self-made explosive device caused extensive damage to the entrance area of the mosque, although the Imam and his family, who had been inside the building at the time, remained unhurt. ((http://www.mdr.de/sachsen/dresden/sprengstoff-anschlaege-in-dresden-100.html )) Due to security concerns, the Imam now contemplates returning to his native Turkey, after nearly 20 years in Dresden. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-10/einheitsfeier-dresden-sachsen-deutsche-einheit-pegida ))

Investigators have not yet been able to apprehend a suspect in this case. Initially, a claim of responsibility was published on a militant left-wing website. Whilst this claim was widely picked-up upon in conservative publications, it subsequently turned out to be a falsification. ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/bekennerschreiben-dresden-105.html ))

“Traitors of the people”

The subsequent celebrations on Unity Day thus occurred under tight security control. However, in a widely-criticised move, police planners allocated a central spot to Pegida demonstrators, allowing them to congregate in the very heart of the historic city outside the Church of Our Lady, destroyed during WWII and reconstructed a few years ago as a memorial to peace and understanding. As leading politicians such as Chancellor Merkel and President Gauck arrived at the scene, they were insulted as “Volksverräter” (“traitors of the people”) by the angry crowd. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-10/dresden-tag-der-deutschen-einheit-einheitsfest-farce ))

Demonstrators had already directed the same slogan at Dresden’s mayor the previous day when he received representatives of the city’s three mosques in the city hall on the occasion of the Islamic New Year. As the police sought to calm the situation, scuffles broke out that also targeted the mayor. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-10/dresden-oberbuergermeister-dirk-hilbert-pegida-poebeleien ))

Rehabilitating old vocabulary

The Unity Day Pegida rally appeared to be even more heavily frequented by full-fledged neo-Nazis than the movement’s usual congregations. Quotes by Joseph Goebbels adorned some of the protestor’s signs, and a black man walking past was vilified by the crowd as spectators broke out in ape-like sounds and shouted “Deport him!” ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-10/einheitsfeier-dresden-sachsen-deutsche-einheit-pegida ))

The term “Volksverräter” – originally used by right-wingers in the Weimar Years to disparage the supporters of peace and of the German democratic constitution – has become the battle cry of the Pegida movement. ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/dresden-proteste-volksverraeter-aber-gerne-doch-kommentar-a-1115094.html )) Concomitantly, Frauke Petry, leader of the Alternative for Germany, recently suggested that the term “völkisch” should once more receive a positive connotation – again, a word and concept strongly associated with far-right racial ideas of the inter-war years. ((https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158049653/Wir-wollen-keinen-Buergerkrieg-in-Deutschland.html ))

In this view, the existence of the German Volk as a blood-based community is most strongly threatened by the arrival of Muslims: at Pegida’s main rally on October 3, speakers accused the German government of seeking to exterminate the German population by using “Islam as a weapon of mass destruction”. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-10/einheitsfeier-dresden-sachsen-deutsche-einheit-pegida ))

Questions about police complicity

In a move that appeared to vindicate their critics, the Saxon police not only did not step in as pro-Pegida protestors disrupted the Unity Day celebrations; police in fact appeared to condone these actions: aside from giving pride of place to Pegida by allocating them a spot outside the Church of Our Lady, a policeman used a loudspeaker to wish the gathering crowd of Pegida supporters “a successful day”.

The crowd responded by chanting: “One, two, three, thank you police” (“Eins, zwei, drei, danke Polizei”). Whilst the individual policeman is now facing disciplinary action, the Dresden police as a whole re-emphasised that it conceives of itself as “a guarantor of neutrality”. ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/dresden-einheitsfeiern-polizist-wuenschte-pegida-erfolgreichen-tag-a-1115009.html ))

Day of the Open Mosque

Incidentally, October 3 also serves as the ‘Day of the Open Mosque’ in Germany, and thus as an opportunity for the country’s roughly 1,000 mosques to present themselves to the public. The day had been initiated by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), one of a number of rivalling Islamic associations, in 1997.

The government’s Commissioner for Integration, Aydan Özoguz (SPD), called upon Germans to use the day of the open mosque to take a stand against Islamophobia. ((http://www.epochtimes.de/politik/deutschland/bewusst-am-tag-der-deutschen-einheit-rund-1000-moscheen-oeffnen-ihre-tueren-a1360804.html )) After the events in Dresden, this stance is surely needed.

Amidst political controversy, German DITIB association vows greater emancipation from Turkish state

 

DITIB: a pawn of the Turkish government?

Recent weeks and months have witnessed growing pressure on Germany’s largest Islamic association, DITIB. As a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), DITIB has been charged with being a pawn of the Turkish government and with seeking to render German Turks loyal to President Erdoğan. As Euro-Islam reported, these accusation have become ever louder since July’s failed coup in Turkey, in the aftermath of which DITIB appeared to participate in anti-Gülenist agitation.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/))

These developments now jeopardise the slow progress DITIB has made in its quest to be recognised as a ‘religious community’ or even as a ‘public law corporation’, legal statuses provided by the German constitution. The bestowal of such a status would enable DITIB to have a greater say in the organisation of religious education in public schools, and would eventually also open up new financial possibilities – e.g. through the granting of state subsidies or even through the power to tax Muslim community members via the Muslim equivalent to the Christian ‘church tax’.

Current political turmoil threatens DITIB’s institutional and political gains

In recent years, DITIB had made some headway in this regard in several of Germany’s 16 federal states: in Lower Saxony as well as in Rhineland-Palatinate, DITIB is negotiating state treaties with the regional governments that seek to open new areas of cooperation in education, social services, and ritual matters. In North Rhine-Westphalia, DITIB is even attempting to become a ‘public law corporation’.

Recent events, however, have rendered the success of these initiatives doubtful. The Lower Saxon oppositional Christian Democratic Party (CDU) has withdrawn from the state treaty negotiations with DITIB, arguing that an association controlled by the Turkish government is no legitimate discussion partner.((https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/CDU-Fraktion-steigt-aus-Scheitert-Islamvertrag,islamvertrag106.html)) In a similar move, the Social Democratic government of Rhineland-Palatinate halted treaty negotiations, asserting that it was necessary to await further developments in Turkey and DITIB’s reaction to them.((http://www.swr.de/landesschau-aktuell/rp/dreyer-aeussert-sich-zu-umstrittenem-islamverband-die-tuerkei-krise-folgen-fuer-rheinland-pfalz/-/id=1682/did=17903846/nid=1682/5yt4qj/index.html))

Finally, the minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft (SPD), noted that it was increasingly unlikely that DITIB would meet the necessary criteria in order to be recognised as a ‘religious community’ or ‘public law corporation’ in the constitutionally relevant sense.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/hannelore-kraft-geht-auf-distanz-zu-tuerkischem-islamverband-ditib-a-1107293.html)) This comes after her government had been relatively well-disposed towards DITIB’s quest for legal recognition in the past.

Emancipation from Turkish state and government?

These events have apparently prompted the DITIB leadership to publicly distance their organisation from events in Turkey and from the Turkish government. In the past, DITIB had repeatedly emphasised its claim to political neutrality.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/)) Going beyond this, the organisation’s spokesman Zekeriya Altug now broached the sensitive issue of DITIB’s financial ties to the Turkish state apparatus: in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Altug asserted that “the question is how long Turkey will still give support to DITIB-Imams. We need to look for alternative sources of funding in the long run.”((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html))

Altug added that in the future DITIB’s Imams “shall and will” no longer be Turkish citizens sent by the Turkish government; instead, Imams would be from Germany and be native German speakers.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html))

DITIB’s dilemma between Germany and Turkey

This move is a strong indicator of the pressure DITIB is under in the current political situation. While the organisation usually simply denies that any control is exercised by Ankara, its spokesman now apparently felt compelled to declare that DITIB would seek to emancipate itself from Turkish governmental influence. It is not yet clear whether DITIB will act upon this announcement and progressively eliminate the financial links to Turkey. Nor is it clear, for that matter, how the resulting shortage in funds could be replaced: as long as the legal status of the association is in limbo in Germany, DITIB would most likely struggle to attain adequate funding – a fact that is generally not mentioned by all those criticising DITIB for its continuing ties to the Turkish state.

Altug’s statements do reveal, however, DITIB’s predicament: on the one hand, DITIB is deeply embedded in Turkish institutions and politics. It cannot simply extricate itself from these ties to Turkish state and government. On the other hand, however, DITIB wishes to remain an influential player on the German political scene, also in order to retain its position in the large Turkish immigrant community in the country.

Amidst the current turmoil, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile these two objectives. For German Islamic associations, this is not an unheard-of situation: in the past, the Islamic Community Milli Görüş in Germany (IGMG) gradually chose to loosen the ties to its Turkish parent, because too close an affiliation with the Turkish Milli Görüş movement proved too detrimental to IGMG’s attempts to gain a foothold on the German political and institutional scene. What is new is that DITIB, for a long time the preferred partner of successive German governments, should be faced with this dilemma.

Tensions between supporters of Erdoğan and partisans of Gülen on the rise in Germany

Strong support for Erdoğan among German Turks

In the aftermath of the attempted putsch in Turkey, Erdoğan’s critics are increasingly feeling the heat. While Erdoğan has proceeded to purge the military, the judiciary, and the educational sector under the state of emergency provisions, those presumed to be opponents of the ruling AKP government have been faced with the ire of Erdoğan’s supporters not just within Turkey but also within the large Turkish community in Germany.

There are more than 2.7 million people with at least one Turkish parent in the country; more than 1.5 million of them hold Turkish citizenship.((https://ergebnisse.zensus2011.de/#dynTable:statUnit=PERSON;absRel=ANZAHL;ags=00,02,01,13,03,05,09,14,16,08,15,12,11,10,07,06,04;agsAxis=X;yAxis=MHGLAND_HLND)) Among this community, Erdoğan’s base is strong: in the November 2015 Turkish elections, 59.7 per cent of German Turks who went to the ballot box gave their vote to the party of current Turkish president – compared to the 49.5 per cent the AKP received in Turkey itself.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerken-in-deutschland-waehlten-erdogan-partei-akp-a-1060661.html))

Hatred on social media and beyond

Since the failed coup attempt, those affiliated with the Gülen movement and its associated institutions, as well as Kurdish and Alevi individuals, have complained about growing animosities. The Federal Criminal Police Office has observed a massive increase in hostilities towards members of the Gülen movement online and in social networks.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/deutschland-hetzen-drohen-denunzieren-1.3088817))

Apparently, many German Turks received notifications on social media encouraging them to name and denounce members of the Gülen movement by calling a newly created Turkish government hotline. The originator of these notifications is supposed to have been the AKP-linked Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD).((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ankaras-rachefeldzug-gegen-guelen-anhaenger-erreicht-deutschland-14347999.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2)) Other sources dispute the existence of such a hotline.

Similarly, in a mosque run by DITIB, a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs and still the largest and most financially strong Muslim association in Germany, flyers reading “Out with the traitors of the fatherland” have reportedly been put up.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ankaras-rachefeldzug-gegen-guelen-anhaenger-erreicht-deutschland-14347999.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2)) Pictures of this flyer, as well as of signs posted in Turkish shops asking Gülenists to stay out have been published by the yellow press.((http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/militaer-putsch-tuerkei/boese-hetze-gegen-tuerken-in-deutschland-46878454.bild.html))

Attacks on Gülenist schools and institutions

However, assaults have not remained confined to the online or the purely verbal realm. In several German cities, buildings of educational institutions that are part of the Gülen movement have been defaced or damaged. In Stuttgart, a school that organises its curriculum in accordance with Gülenist thought is receiving increased police protection after numerous threats were made.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ankaras-rachefeldzug-gegen-guelen-anhaenger-erreicht-deutschland-14347999.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2))

Video material has appeared online showing an attack by an angry crowd on a youth club in the city of Gelsenkirchen in North-Rhine Westphalia. Windows were smashed and significant damage was caused in the incident. The youth club is part of Gülen’s hizmet movement.((http://www.spiegel.de/video/gelsenkirchen-erdogan-anhaenger-greifen-jugendclub-an-video-1690598.html))

The Gülenist online journal ‘Deutsch-Türkisches Journal’ has consequently complained of a “pogrom mood also in Germany”.((http://dtj-online.de/tuerkische-pogromstimmung-auch-in-deutschland-wir-werden-in-eurem-blut-baden-77556)) The chairman of the Gülen-linked ‘Foundation Dialogue and Education’, Ercan Karakoyun, has reiterated these accusations in interviews.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/guelen-bewegung-in-deutschland-erdogan-hat-einen.694.de.html?dram:article_id=360824, http://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.angriffe-auf-guelen-bewegung-der-kampf-ist-in-deutschland-angekommen.1f291dbf-9e09-43e4-ab28-f135cc1af219.html))

DITIB’s reaction

DITIB spokesperson Ayse Aydin denied the allegation that DITIB was participating in a government-orchestrated witch hunt on Gülen sympathisers: “We are are Muslim religious community and we do not reject anyone who wishes to pray in a mosque”, Aydin asserted.  Similarly, the UETD ostentatiously sought to dissociate itself from violence and hatred against Gülenists, implying that the UETD name and logo had been misused on social media.((http://www.dw.com/de/erdogan-gegen-g%C3%BClen-auch-in-deutschland/a-19415216))

Going further, however, a DITIB press release noted that “our mosques are not places of provocation or agitation. If necessary, mosque leaders may, in accordance with the statutes, limit but also prohibit activities in the mosques that go beyond prayer – right up until a ban to enter. This serves the protection of the spiritual atmosphere, of the sacred space and of community peace.” Needless to say, the vagueness of this statement also allows for the banning of (suspected) Gülenists from DITIB mosques, if they are deemed to disturb sacred space and community peace.

Just like the Gülen movement, DITIB went on to criticise the media for its allegedly “widely spread and enduringly tendentious reporting that does not even spare kids’ programmes”.((http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=530&lang=de)) Irrespective of the question of tendentiousness, it is indeed true that many German media outlets and public voices have grown critical enough of Erdoğan so as to hold a certain degree of sympathy towards the hizmet movement – a movement that not long ago they would have regarded with a much greater degree of suspicion.

Enduring political faultlines between German Muslim associations

Events in Turkey have also revealed anew the faultlines between German Muslim associations. The three largest predominantly Turkish associations -DITIB((http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=528&lang=de)), as well as the Sufi-tinged VIKZ((http://www.vikz.de/index.php/pressemitteilungen/items/putschversuch-in-der-tuerkei-gescheitert.html)) and the Islamist-leaning IGMG((https://www.igmg.org/uneingeschraenkte-solidaritaet-mit-dem-tuerkischen-volk-und-der-tuerkei/)) – all lauded the Turkish people for helping defeat the coup by defying the military’s orders. These associations’ press releases present the failure of the putsch as a victory for democracy.

Conversely, the Turkish Alevi community in Germany (AABF) criticised DITIB, VIKZ, and IGMG for simply siding with Erdoğan against the putschists. The Alevi association’s press release demanded genuine democratisation in Turkey and deemed neither Erdoğan nor military rule to be desirable. ((http://alevi.com/de/?p=8555))

The only peak association that is not dominated by Turkish Muslims and Turkish questions, the ZMD, strove to take a pointedly neutral stance and to sharpen its profile by doing so: ZMD chairman Aiman Mazyek announced that “from the position of German Muslims we will continue to advocate for democracy in Turkey […] and not let us get entangled in turf battles.”((http://www.zentralrat.de/27788.php))

To a certain extent such ostentatious neutrality is an easier choice for the ZMD, since it is less embroiled in the Turkish political scene. Yet it is also part and parcel of the ZMD’s and especially Mazyek’s quest to present his persona and organisation as the politically preferable and most reliable voice in the Muslim spectrum.

Senators critique an ‘Islam of France’ under foreign influence

The Senate report is concerned with France’s dependence on Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, and Tunisia for certain religious affairs. It lists the domains where their influence remains strong: financing mosques, providing and sending imams overseas to France, and determining the structure of the Islamic federations. However, according to the figures provided in the report, the funds from foreign countries are less than we might think: six  million each year from Morocco and no more than 4 million from Saudi Arabia.

The report argues that the resources exist in France, notably from donations from worshippers. “An imam confirmed…that zakat received during Ramadan increased more than 1 million,” said senator Nathalie Goulet. The report is not opposed to foreign funding but rather hopes to increase transparency. To do that the senators hope to relaunch the Foundation for Islam in France, created in the mid 2000s but never truly inaugurated. It would collect and redistribute funds.

July 6, 2016

Source: http://www.lefigaro.fr/actualite-france/2016/07/06/01016-201607-en-france-un-rapport-denonce-l-ambiguite-de-l-etat.php

 

 

A Closer Look at Brussels Offers a More Nuanced View of Radicalization

BRUSSELS — Around the world, this city of great, if often ramshackle, charm has become Exhibit A in the case against immigration, particularly when it involves large numbers of Muslims.

Donald J. Trump called the Belgian capital “a hellhole,” while Lubomir Zaoralek, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic, recently cited the city to explain why his and other Eastern European countries had steadfastly resisted a plan by the European Union to spread Syrian and other Muslim refugees around the Continent under a quota system.

“All the people in the Czech Republic and in other countries see what happened in Molenbeek,” he told a security conference in Slovakia over the weekend, referring to the Brussels borough where many of those involved in the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 and in Brussels on March 22 grew up.

A closer look at what has happened in Molenbeek and other heavily immigrant parts of Brussels, however, provides a far more nuanced picture than just a generation of badly integrated young Muslim immigrants running amok. In some ways, it debunks the view that Islam is a one-size-fits-all faith that fuels terrorism.

It is true that all those so far identified in connection with the Paris and Brussels carnage were young Muslims from immigrant families. But a more significant marker than their faith was their shared origin in North Africa, especially Morocco. None was from Brussels’ large community of Turks, who share the same religion and the same discrimination, as well as other hardships that are often cited as a root cause of jihadist rage against the West.

Brussels first became a magnet for Muslim immigrants in the 1960s, when the Belgian government eagerly invited workers from Morocco and Turkey to move to Belgium to take jobs in factories and mines. The two countries were regarded as generally pro-Western and full of poor and hard-working people eager for jobs in Europe, unlike many developing nations that at the time were frothing with rage at European colonialism and racked by conflict.

“You wish to come and work in Belgium? We Belgians are happy that you are coming to bring to our country the support of your strength and your intelligence,” read a message from the minister of labor posted at Belgium’s embassy and consulates in Morocco in 1964. Similar notices went up a year later in Turkey.

Together, Belgians of Moroccan and Turkish origin today account for the vast majority of the capital city’s Muslim population, and both groups are heir to a fairly relaxed form of Islam that has none of the reactionary dogmatism of Saudi Arabia and some other Arab states.

So how was it that some Moroccans became so angry, alienated and, in some cases, radicalized? “There is a malaise within the community of Moroccan origin,” the mayor of Molenbeek, Françoise Schepmans, said, dismissing arguments that terrorism is a byproduct of religious faith.

Left-wing politicians and community leaders, she said, had missed and amplified the trouble brewing in Molenbeek by treating young Belgian-Moroccans as victims who had no chance of succeeding. “There is a strong sentiment of victimhood,” she said, noting that “Turks have also endured discrimination but there is a force in their community.”

Much of this force comes from the Turkish state, which controls many of the mosques attended by Belgian-Turks and keeps a close eye on potentially wayward elements in the community through a well-established network of local leaders and imams who are trained in Turkey and then sent to Belgium at the government’s expense.

At a Turkish mosque in Molenbeek run by Diyanet, Turkey’s state-controlled religious affairs agency, the imam, who speaks only Turkish, expressed revulsion at the March attacks in Brussels and said that he and his worshipers never tolerate extremist views. He stressed that his congregants respect and follow the law.

Worshipers at a nearby Moroccan mosque angrily shooed away reporters, accusing them of fanning “Islamophobia” and stigmatizing their neighborhood as a haven of jihadists.

In contrast to Belgium’s Turks, the Moroccan community is far more divided and resistant to authority, in part because many of the early immigrants came from the Rif, a rebellious Berber-speaking region often at odds with the ruling monarchy in Morocco. “When emigration to Europe started, the king was happy to get rid of these people,” said Bachir M’Rabet, a youth worker of Moroccan descent in Molenbeek.

Another source of anger in his community, he added, is that many Turks often speak poor French and no Dutch, Belgium’s two main languages, and cling to their Turkish identity, while most Moroccans speak fluent French and aspire to be accepted fully as Belgians. This, he said, means that many Moroccans feel discrimination more acutely and, at least in the case of young men on the margins, tend to view even minor slights as proof that the entire system is against them.

Philippe Moureaux, who served for two decades as Molenbeek’s mayor, described this as “the paradox of integration.” A less-integrated Turkish community has resisted the promise of redemption through jihad offered by radical zealots. Yet, a Moroccan community that is more at home in French-speaking Brussels has seen some of its young fall prey to recruiters like Khalid Zerkani, a Moroccan-born petty criminal who became the Islamic State’s point man in Molenbeek.

“The Turks suffer much less from an identity crisis,” Mr. Moureaux said. “They are proud to be Turks and are much less tempted by extremism.”

Suspicion of and hostility toward authority, particularly the police force, run so deep among some North African immigrants in Molenbeek that when the police mobilized in the area this month to prevent a group of anti-immigrant right-wing hooligans from staging a rally, local youths, mostly young men of Moroccan descent, began hurling abuse and objects at the police.

Molenbeek immigrants of Turkish or other backgrounds generally have a less hostile view of the police. A Turkish shopkeeper who runs a general store near the police station said he feared not the police but aggressive North African youths who accuse him of being a bad Muslim because he sells alcohol. He noted that the youths steal, which is also forbidden.

Emir Kir, the Belgian-Turkish mayor of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, a heavily immigrant Brussels borough that is worse off economically than Molenbeek, said the only Turk he knew about who had tried to go to Syria was a young man who had fallen in love with a girl of Moroccan descent. He got as far as Istanbul before being sent back. “This was a love affair, not an act of extremism,” he said.

Austria Passes ‘Law on Islam’ Requiring Austrian Muslim Groups To Use German-Language Qurans

Austria’s parliament passed a law on Wednesday that seeks to regulate how Islam is administered, singling out its large Muslim minority for treatment not applied to any other religious group.

The “Law on Islam” bans foreign funding for Islamic organizations and requires any group claiming to represent Austrian Muslims to submit and use a standardized German translation of the Koran.

The law met with little opposition from the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic population, was backed by Austria’s Catholic bishops, and was grudgingly accepted by the main Muslim organization. But it upset Turkey’s state religious establishment.

“We want an Islam of the Austrian kind, and not one that is dominated by other countries,” said Sebastian Kurz, the 28-year-old conservative foreign minister – formally the minister for foreign affairs and integration – who is easily Austria’s most popular politician.

Austria’s half a million Muslims make up about 6 percent of the population and are overwhelmingly the families of Turkish migrant workers. Many of their imams are sent and financed by Turkey’s state religious affairs directorate, the Diyanet.

Mehmet Gormez, head of the Diyanet, said before the law was passed that “with this draft legislation, religious freedoms in Austria will have fallen back a hundred years.”

Austria’s biggest Islamic organization, IGGiO, accepted the law, but its youth arm opposed it, as did the Turkish-financed Turkish-Islamic Union in Austria (ATIB), which runs many mosques and has vowed to challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court.

RELATIONS UNPROBLEMATIC

While the government has said Islamist militancy is on the rise, and around 170 people have left Austria to join jihadists in Syria or Iraq, Austria has experienced no Islamist violence of note, and relations with the Muslim community have been relatively unproblematic. Unlike France, Austria has not banned Muslim women from wearing full-face veils in public.

Nevertheless, the opposition far-right Freedom Party, which opposed the bill as too mild, attracts about 25 percent support with an anti-immigrant stance that is also highly critical of Islam. Meanwhile, the ruling Socialist and conservative parties struggle to muster a majority together.

Austria’s neighbor Germany has also experienced an upsurge of anti-Islam sentiment in the form of the weekly PEGIDA protests in Dresden.

These have, however, been met with much larger anti-racism demonstrations and a robust response from Chancellor Angela Merkel, mindful of Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews, who asserted that “Islam belongs to Germany.”

The Austrian government says the new law strengthens Muslims’ legal status, for example by guaranteeing Islamic pastoral care in hospitals and the army, and protecting Muslims’ rights to eat and produce food according to Islamic rules.

The bill updates a “Law on Islam” dating from 1912 that was intended to guarantee the rights of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Muslims in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Turkey’s Gormez, who had attended centenary commemorations for the 1912 law, said its replacement would disregard the “morals and laws of coexistence” that Austria had established a century ago. (Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris and Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Dutch participants in jihad: few Turks, mostly Moroccans

The Dutch newspaper Het Parool has stated that among Dutch Jihad participants just a small percentage are Dutch citizens with a Turkish cultural background. But it also suggested that “all the ingredients for radicalization among the Turkish-Dutch community are present.” Terrorism expert Edwin Bakker estimates that approximately 15 to 20 have a Turkish-Dutch cultural background out of a total of 200 to 250 Jihad participants. Around 80 percent has a Moroccan cultural background, Bakker states.

Het Parool further suggested that while the Turkish-Dutch community struggles with high percentages of unemployment and social-economic arrears there is also an observable increase in interest for Islam. An additional factor is the frontline of the Syrian war that borders on Turkey were Turkish-Dutch citizens have relations and speak the language.

According the Het Parool experts explain the low contribution of Dutch Turks by alluding to the strong social control in the Turkish community. Bakker states “I know of one case of a Turkish-Dutch boy that nearly crossed the border with Syria when he stopped his journey under pressure of his family. Otherwise they would come and get him. This is a typical type of pressure we can observe in the Turkish community.”

Everyone knew about Omar H. possible flight

Jihadi Omar H. was sentenced for a year, with four months probation. After these four months he was able to leave the Netherlands, despite that the authorities were aware of his situation. And the information about his possible flight from the country was shared with all these authorities. Beside this, his passport was revoked and he was cut off from his financial resources. But in the Schengen-area and Turkey one is able to travel with a identity-card. Ivo Opstelten, minister Security and Justice however is working on the prohibition of this too.

Interview: How France could better regulate the imams who preach on its soil

Atlantico: From the time he was Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls wished for French imams to be trained in France. Would that be possible?

Haoues Seniguer: It seems to me that we must make a distinction between desirable and possible, what is feasible and impossible. Several of Manuel Valls’s predecessors have discussed training imams in France, but it’s difficult to accomplish under the constraints. Moreover, permanent structures must exist with a multidisciplinary education, notably in history and in Islamic studies available at recognized universities.

Atlantico: Does it not pose a geopolitical problem that certain foreign imams come to France concerning the question of internationalization of educating the forein imams?

Franck Frégosi: Take the example of Turkey. The Turkish state believes that where important communities are located, it can exercise its right to monitor and control religious speech. This allows them to follow the eventual political evolution, to avoid what they consider to be hostile commentary. In Turkey, the religious administration is allowed to exercise control over what officially occurs in the Turkish mosques.

Atlantico: What are the problems encountered by Muslims in the education of imams?

Frégosi: Among the most well known private institutions there is the European Institute of Social Sciences, which has a satellite campus in Paris, and the school at the Great Mosque of Paris. The number of years of study to become an imam in France depends on the structure of each private institute. In general, the training is between three and four years. From the beginning, religious institutes are mostly preoccupied with opening places of worship or mosques in France, the question of the education of imams came much slower and later, when the French government raised the issue. It seems difficult to design an educational system different from that in Islamic states who have a state religion, and who wish to form an official clergy. Concerning Muslims in foreign countries, such as Turkey and Algeria, some imams were trained in their countries in religious universities. As I explained before they are sent and sponsored by their home country.

Atlantico: The difficulty in training imams doesn’t have to do with the multiple interpretations of the Qur’an?

Frégosi: It primarily comes from the fact that there are several different Muslim populations in France: North Africans, Turks, etc. who have different cultures and therefore different interpretations. Each Islamic federation wants to maintain complete control in training its imams, and therefore it’s difficult to develop a uniform training. The problem of foreign imams living on French soil demonstrates that Islamic education in France is not adapted to those who live in France. We need a global response from Muslim countries to this education, including countries such as Morocco who fear radicalization. Morocco has established an increased politicization of Islam concerning the training of its imams. This allows them to have a more contextualized interpretation of the texts; this also allows the state to maintain control over what happens in its mosques. Because if the state finances religion, it’s normal that it would control them.

Atlantico: Should the French state finance the training of imams?

Seniguer: Retaking the reigns would mean nothing less than a revision of the 1905 law. This would not come without reviving and exacerbating distrust between everyone.

Frégosi: Legally, it’s not possible for the state to intervene in the financing of a religion, and therefore in the training of imams. On the other hand, the state could show its support in the training of imams who are in charge of civic duties and allow them to have an official status. Thus, the expenditures would be for the training only, not the remuneration of religious sectors.

Atlantico: What would be the other necessary conditions to create an Islam of France? Is that the role of an imam?

Frégosi: I have the tendency to say that an Islam of France already exists; it is in the day-to-day lives of all the Muslims of this country. But looking at it from a sociological reality, it must develop its roots in France through any educational and theological work. This allows Muslims to have their own intellectual and spiritual reference and ensures that they no long rely on just any person’s interpretation of Islam.

The imam has a role to play in this respect but most of the time he possesses a secondary role. He’s not just an employee of the mosque, it is he who runs it and who has the most influence. The imam has a role to play in the transmission of the fundamental elements [of Islam], he is an integral part of the successful integration of Islam, it’s why certain large mosques established instructional seminars to be able to educate imams about the work and to understand the practice of Islam in France.