Islam in crisis: Observations by German religious scholar Michael Blume

The assumption that ‘Islam’ – usually conceived as a monolithic force – is on an expansionary path is widely shared. Islamists herald the onset of an age of Islamic renewal and dominance; anxious Westerners take to the streets against the ‘Islamisation’ of the occident; and colourful videos highlighting that Islam is set to overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religious group in the coming decades regularly go viral in social networks.

Declining levels of orthopraxy

It is in order to go against this conventional wisdom that German religious scholar Michael Blume has written his latest book Islam in Crisis: A World Religion between Radicalization and Silent Retreat. Blume asserts that Islam is not about to conquer the world but rather that it is in existential trouble.

Blume paints a picture of a religion that is rapidly losing in relevance in the lives of those who are commonly seen as ‘Muslim’. Focusing particularly on figures taken from his native Germany, Blume shows how Muslim communities are marked by a pronounced decline in orthopraxy: young Muslims in Germany pray less than their ancestors, fewer girls wear headscarves, and fewer boys go to the mosque.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

Detachment from the religious tradition

Concomitantly, Muslims are increasingly heterodox in their religious outlook: in 2013, 42 per cent of German Muslim respondents asserted that in their spiritual lives they “draw upon the teachings of different religious traditions”.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

At the same time, Blume sees most Muslims as more and more distant from and disenchanted with the traditions of their own faith. Violent groups such as the ‘Islamic State’ only foment this disenchantment, according to Blume: their despicable acts further alienate many Muslims from the religion of their parents.

In fact, the warriors of the ‘Islamic State’ are engaged in a battle against the progressing secularisation of the Islamic world. In this respect, they are a product of the present age and of the crisis of Islamic thought, rather than an organic outgrowth of the religious tradition.

Intellectual and theological stasis

According to Blume, this civilisational crisis goes back to Sultan Bayezid’s fateful decision to ban the printing press from Ottoman lands after its invention in Europe in the 15th century. This decision, according to Blume, led to societal and intellectual stasis in the Arab heartlands of the Islamic world – a state of affairs that was perpetuated by subsequent authoritarian regimes buttressed by oil rent.(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgN5dsls0M ))

Ever since the 15th century, the Islamic religious establishment has been unable to develop answers that could be meaningful to all those Muslims who seek to live in the modern age, or so Blume argues. Yet inevitably Muslims do lead modern lives – a fact that fosters their increasing disconnect from petrified religious traditions.

Looking beyond jihadism

The refreshing element of Blume’s discussion resides in its unflinching focus away from the flashy band of religious radicals who, in spite of being small in number, have managed to capture the world’s attention by their jihadist violence. Instead, Blume seeks to shed light on the religious dynamics among the majority of the world’s Muslim population.

Equally important is the related observation that these ‘Muslims’ are not a homogeneous mass. The implicit assumption in popular discourses as well as in official statistics (for instance from the German government) is the fact that being born to parents from a Muslim-majority region makes one ‘Muslim’ – irrespective of actual levels of belief and observance.

A long-standing argument made anew

At the same time, the observation that the rise of political Islam and of present-day jihadism has gone hand in hand with – in fact proceeded via – a weakening of the authority of the Islamic tradition and its institutions is scarcely new.

There are, after all, entire bookshelves filled with studies demonstrating how local Islamic traditions have been remodeled by the rise of authoritarian nation-states,((For a concise overview of this phenomenon across the Muslim world, see Part I of Jocelyne Cesari’s book The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). A particularly insightful study of a single case is provided by Brinkley Messick in The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).)) how traditional modes of Islamic reasoning have ossified in this process,((For a monumental work in that category, see Wael Hallaq’s Shari’a: Theory, Practice, Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).)) and how Islamist laymen have stepped in to fill the void.((An excellent introduction is provided by the essays in the collection edited by Ali Rahnema, Pioneers of Islamic Revival (London: Zed Books, 1994).))

Differences between Islamic heartlands and the immigrant context

Nor have the processes of change undergone by Muslim communities across the world been completely uniform everywhere: Muslims lives in Germany are, surely, necessarily different from Muslim lives in Indonesia. One is left to wonder whether Blume at times underestimates the resulting diversity.

After all, detachment from traditional religion seems easier and more likely in immigrant settings, where religious networks are less deep, religious expertise less profound, and where Muslims are permanently forced to come to terms with a plurality of lifestyles and with an often hostile perception of Islamic religiosity.

Put differently, in a context where there are hardly any mosques and few well-educated Imams; where headscarf-wearing women are often seen with suspicion; and where halal meat is difficult to come by, it is not surprising to observe declining levels of orthopraxy.

Reaffirmations of orthopraxy

Yet even in the European or German context, from whence Blume draws most of his hard figures apparently demonstrating the decline of Islamic orthopraxy, we also observe countervailing dynamics.

Well-educated daughters of secularist Turkish parents are choosing to don a headscarf, in a statement of ostentatious orthopraxy serving to reaffirm their Muslim identity. Salafis carry this identitarian reemphasis of (allegedly) traditional behaviour to its extremes. Yet while Salafis use orthopraxy to withdraw from a mainstream society seen as ‘infidel’, the young woman wearing the hijab may have very different reasons.

A recent study observed that urban, well-educated Muslim women covered up more often in order to reconcile their Muslim faith with the demands of being out of their homes and with employment in gender-mixed environments.(( http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-09-02-veil-worn-muslim-women-may-signal-they-are-integrating-more )) Here, ‘modernisation’ – understood as female participation in the labour market – actually reinforced rather than undermined religious orthopraxy.

Modernisation = secularisation?

One is thus left to wonder whether the “silent retreat” and the “radicalisation” observed by Blume are really a convincing (let alone an exhaustive) portrayal of the possibilities of Islamic religiosity in the modern world. For Blume, these are the twin reactions in the face of the secularisation processes undergone by the Islamic world and by Muslim communities.

Yet at the heart of this argument lies the supposition that ‘modernisation’ always goes hand in hand with ‘secularisation’ – a teleological claim that social science has long abandoned for being overly simplistic.

Islamic theology at German universities: successes and limitations of an unprecedented experiment

For many decades after the arrival of Muslim ‘guest workers’ from Turkey, Morocco, and other Muslim-majority countries, German authorities were happy to outsource the provision of religious services to Imams and preachers sent by the Muslim immigrants’ countries of origin. Since the Muslim workforce would ultimately return home, it was unnecessary and even counterproductive to grant Islamic religiosity a permanent presence – or so the reasoning went.

‘Domesticating’ Islam

It was only around the turn of the millennium that perceptions changed. After the events of September 11, 2001, authorities took a securitised perspective on Islam. Fears about the uncontrolled flourishing of a radical underground religious scene appeared to call for the creation of more transparent structures of Islamic learning.

Members of the Muslim community also began to voice a critique of the prevailing arrangement: they bemoaned the fact that Imams knew little about life in Germany or Western Europe and could not provide guidance on many issues that mattered to believers, and especially to younger audiences.((See Ceylan, Rauf (2009). Prediger des Islam. Imame – Wer sie sind und was sie wirklich wollen. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder. ))

Establing new chairs

In 2011, then, the German government – taking cues from the country’s ongoing Islamkonferenz, an (often controversial) forum bringing together state authorities and various Muslim figures and organisations – decided to fund the creation of several university departments of Islamic theology.

Subsequently, several university chairs were established – at Tübingen, Frankfurt/Gießen, Münster, Osnabrück, and Erlangen/Nuremberg. State funding, initially granted for five years, has since been renewed. Overall, the Ministry for Education and Research has spent € 36 million on these new faculties.(( https://www.bmbf.de/de/islamische-theologie-367.html ))

Training school teachers

Yet while the formation of Imams for Germany’s mosques has been on the agenda of these university departments, their main focus has been the training of teachers for Islamic religious education classes in public schools.

The understanding of secularism anchored in Germany’s constitution is not marked by a laic attempt to cleave apart public and religious life in a stringent manner. Instead, the German ethos is one of cooperation of state and religious bodies in the public sphere. Consequently, the country’s public schools offer confessional courses in religious education adapted to the pupils’ faith.

Expanding employment opportunities for graduates

Many of Germany’s 16 federal states – who are each individually responsible for their own educational sectors – rapidly expanded their offerings of Islamic religious education in the 2000s. Ever since, they have been in dire need of skilled teaching personnel to fill vacant positions.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Of the currently 2,000 students enrolled in degree courses in Islamic theology, most will seek employment as secondary school teachers. Others might staff the ranks of Germany’s expanding Islamic social welfare sector. Confessional institutions run by large Catholic and Protestant charity organisations play a pre-eminent role in various fields of pastoral care, including in care for the elderly. Now, with the ‘guest worker’ generations ageing, there is a growing demand for Islamic offers in this domain.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/wohlfahrtspflege-der-religionsgemeinschaften-muslimische.886.de.html?dram:article_id=346493 ))

No progress on the formation of Imams

What the centres for Islamic theology have not accomplished so far, however, is to foster a new generation of Imams that could preach in German mosques. In fact, students themselves express little desire to pursue this career – a stance for which a number of reasons can be adduced.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 ))

First of all, given their lack of firm legal status in Germany – they are not recognised as a ‘corporations of public law’ and thus do not hold a status comparable to Christian churches or Jewish congregations – many Muslim communities have extremely limited financial wiggle room. They are, consequently, at times not in a position to pay the salaries of a fully-trained Imam – and students of Islamic theology are reluctant to accept employment with extremely meagre pay.

Continued reliance on clergymen from abroad

The organisation that could most easily avoid this financial trap is DİTİB, the country’s largest Islamic association with roughly 1,000 Imams. Yet DİTİB is a subsidiary of the Turkish government’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and as such only employs Imams trained in and funded by Turkey.

To be sure, DİTİB spokesman Zekeriya Altuğ has affirmed that the mosques of his organisation will gradually move towards relying on German-trained Imams.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 )) Altuğ has also stressed DİTİB’s overall willingness to emancipate itself from its Turkish superiors.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html ))

Yet it remains doubtful whether the organisation will be either willing or capable to accomplish such a manoeuvre in the near future, particularly given the recent reassertion of central control from Ankara.

Distrust between theology chairs and associations

Scepticism about the suitability of potential Imams trained at German university extends beyond DİTİB, however. The 300 mosques of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) do fund their Imams through private donations, without relying on a financially strong state backer. Nevertheless, they have not embraced the idea of turning to graduates of Germany’s Islamic theology seminaries.

It seems likely that this reticence is linked to disputes over personnel choices and over the content of the curricula at Islamic theology faculties. On both of these matters, the more liberal-leaning faculties (with backing from universities and public authorities) and the more conservative Islamic associations have often clashed bitterly.

‘Liberals’ vs. ‘conservatives’

Generally, the liberals have had the upper hand, to the chagrin of their opponents. Consequently, Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the ZMD, criticised the tendency to “see university institutions as counter-models to the mosques”.

He claimed that the dichotomisation into “enlightened” university Islam and “backward” practices of mosque communities “does particular harm to the reputation of university institutions. For after all it is the congregations that are supposed to employ the graduated Imams one day.” In other words, the ZMD’s constituent communities continue to be suspicious of the ideological orientation of the university degree holders.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 ))

Managing students’ expectations

At the same time, members of the ‘liberal’ university teaching staff have themselves expressed some dissatisfaction with their students and their outlook on the Islamic theology curriculum.

According to Harry Harun Behr, Professor of Religious Education at the University of Frankfurt, many students “seek to deepen their faith, not to work scientifically. When I tell them that the Qur’an is the result of a theological discourse, they don’t want to hear.”(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Professor Mouhanad Khorchide of Münster University concurred: Many students “want to have their faith confirmed”, he asserted, “but university is a place to reflect on faith”. According to him, it would take at least two or three additional generations of students for this point to be accepted across the board.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Positive results

A little more than five years after the creation of the new faculties, policymakers as well as Islamic scholars and theologians nevertheless continue to see the experiment in positive light.(( https://en.qantara.de/content/europe-and-its-muslims-islamic-theology-in-germany-spanning-the-divide?nopaging=1 ))

Academic observers have stressed that, among other beneficial contributions, the establishment of departments of Islamic theology has helped to bring a more adequate and more intellectually sophisticated Muslim voice to current debates; debates which are all too often controlled by questionable “Islam experts” without any solid theological credentials.((Antes, Peter and Rauf Ceylan (2017). “Die Etablierung der Islamischen Theologie: Institutionalisierung einer neuen Disziplin und die Entstehung einer muslimischen scientific community”. In Antes and Ceylan (eds.), Muslime in Deutschland: Historische Bestandsaufnahme, akutelle Entwicklungen und zukünftige Forschungsfragen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. )) Indeed, Muslim theologians have not shied away from weighing in on controversial issues.

Islamic theology’s struggle for independence

Thus, there are encouraging signs. They might enable Islamic theology at German universities to transcend its twofold challenge: first, like any new academic discipline, it needs to establish itself and find its own turf – institutionally as well as intellectually. This, by itself, is not an easy feat to accomplish.

In the case of Islamic theology, a second and more particular hurdle presents itself, linked to the inherently contested nature of the study of Islam itself. The most powerful factions seeking to gain definitional authority and dominance over the field are conservative Islamic associations on the one hand and public authorities on the other hand.

While the latter are ostentatiously more liberal than the former, they are nevertheless bent on enforcing their security agenda and on creating a state-backed ‘moderate’ Islam. If Islamic theology wants to come of age in Germany, it must shake off the demands of both sides and strive to cut its own path.

Saudi support for religious radicalism in Germany: old questions, still unanswered

The Henry Jackson Society, a neo-conservative British think-tank, has issued a new report harshly condemning Saudi Arabia for funding religious extremism in the West.

The report, so far not accessible to the public, has been submitted to the British Prime Minister, Theresa May. The Henry Jackson Society speaks of a “clear and growing link” between jihadist terrorism and Saudi money and support.(( http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-40496778 ))

Saudi religious activism in Germany

The Society’s findings have been eagerly taken up abroad as well, including in Germany. Germany, too, has witnessed repeated public debates on the role of Gulf money in supporting Islamist extremism. In late 2016, a German intelligence report claimed that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait were supporting radical Islamists in the country.

Speaking to Deutsche Welle, Susanne Schröter, anthropologist and professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Frankfurt, said that she was not at all surprised by the findings ofthe Henry Jackson Society. She asserted that Saudi Wahhabism was largely similar to the ideology of the so-called “Islamic State” and that the post-1979 Saudi attempts at exporting a rigid and violent understanding of religion had been a great success.(( http://www.dw.com/en/saudi-arabia-exports-extremism-to-many-countries-including-germany-study-says/a-39618920 ))

Long-standing accusations

In and of itself, none of these allegations are new. In journalistic as well as in academic discourse, it is commonplace to assert that the oil boom (al-tafra) allowed the Saudi Wahhabi establishment to go on such a spending spree that it managed to obtain what had eluded religious reformers for more than a thousand years – namely global hegemony over the Islamic nation (umma).

To be sure, this perspective has some valuable insights to offer: it is indeed true that the Saudi clerical and political establishments have sought to rely on the exportation of religious doctrine as a way of buttressing their own agendas. Nor can it be denied that individuals socialised in Saudi or Saudi-funded institutions have been amongst the proponents and perpetrators of jihadi violence.

Saudi money, Saudi control?

 

Yet what those pointing to the “Saudi connection” often fail to make explicit are the ways in which Saudi largesse does its work. More specifically, one might wonder about the extent to which Saudi monetary transfers to various religious causes and institutions actually lead to Saudi control. And here the Saudi track record does not look particularly good.

At almost every historical juncture – starting from the 1990/91 Gulf War, through the internal Saudi unrest of the 1990s and the wave of terrorist attacks of the early to mid-2000s, to the engagement of the Saudi state in Syria – the Islamist and jihadist scene, supposedly marked by the adhesion to Saudi dogma, in fact abandoned the Kingdom and worked on the side of the Kingdom’s enemies.

Local adaptations

In some ways, this should not come as a surprise: to many outside observers (Islamists and even jihadists included), the Saudi regime appears simply too corrupt and sclerotic to be worthy of sustained loyalty. And even where such questions of political allegiance take the back seat, Salafi preachers – even those educated in a Saudi setting – have always been forced to adjust their teachings to local circumstances.

To give but one rather colourful example in this regard, in order to make to with the gender norms prevalent in the country, Germany’s most well-known Salafi Pierre Vogel – touched upon in the abovementioned interview with professor Schröter – has stated that in the German context it is licit for women to have a prominent role as public speakers at gender-mixed Salafi events.

According to Vogel, haja (‘necessity’) in this case nullifies the prohibition on gender-mixing imposed by the doctrine of sadd al-dhara’i’ (‘blocking of the means’). Needless to say, this striking doctrinal innovation would certainly be regarded with a high degree of suspicion by Saudi scholars.((See Wiedl, Nina (2014). “Geschichte des Salafismus in Deutschland”. In Hazim Fouad and Behnam T. Said (eds.), Salafismus: Auf der Suche nach dem wahren Islam. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder. ))

The attractiveness of the ‘Salafi’ creed

In her interview, Schröter discusses the proximity of various figures of the German Islamic associational scene to Saudi money and religious orthodoxy. Yet the precise workings of the stipulated causality are left unclear: how is it that generous financial backing from the Gulf leads to the radicalisation of Muslims in the West? And on which terms?

The most glaring lacuna in this respect is the failure to provide an account of the sources of the attractiveness of a Salafised religiosity: why is it that this particular religious form should be seen as appealing by a small but considerable number of European Muslims? Indeed, the Islamic tradition would offer a host of other spiritual paths, some of whom may also be deemed “radical” (though not necessarily violent).

More complex questions

This is not to deny the overwhelmingly illiberal nature of Saudi-sponsored religiosity. Nor is it to exclude that Saudi support may play a role in spreading a particularly rigid, Wahhabi-tinged religious thought and practice.  What appears necessary to scrutinise, however, are the ways in which a Wahhabi-Salafi creed resonates with the particular conditions of Muslim life in Germany and Europe.

This means going beyond pointing to Saudi funding of mosques and preachers. It means starting to ask a host of questions that may be far more difficult to answer, and the answers to which might be far more unsettling.

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.

European Court of Justice decision on the veil: Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) fears tension

While presidential candidate Francois Fillon welcomed the European Court of Justice’s ruling on headscarves in the work place, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) expressed its “profound worry” regarding the ruling. It argued that the judgment gave “permission to discriminate” in workplaces. The CCIF denounced the ruling as “carrying heavy consequences” that represent “tensions within certain fringes of European societies.

The sentiment was shared by European Network Against Racism (ENAR). “It’s an extremely worrying decision because it excludes women wearing the veil from the working world.”

‘We tried to do everything right. Doesn’t that matter?’

Hamid Kargaran was pacing in his San Francisco living room Sunday, not watching the news, trying to stay positive, waiting for his wife to call from Iran. She was due to leave for the airport within the hour, hoping that this time she wouldn’t be prevented from boarding a plane back home.

“I never thought when I moved here and made this country my home that this would happen,” he said. “I employ people, I pay taxes. We love this country. But I feel like the hard work has been meaningless. We’re second-class citizens.”

Now he was waiting, and he knew there would be no relief until his wife actually walked into the sun in San Francisco. In three hours, she would find out whether Lufthansa agents in Tehran would let her onto a plane. In Germany, she would learn whether officials there would let her transit to California. At home, she still had to pass through U.S. passport control.

“I don’t know,” Kargaran said. “We’ve tried to do everything right. Doesn’t that matter?”

Germany debates racial profiling after controversial police action targeting North Africans

Mass sexual assaults in Cologne a year ago

During the 2015/2016 New Year’s Eve celebrations, hundreds of women were sexually assaulted and robbed on the plaza outside Cologne’s main railway station opposite the city’s Gothic cathedral. Victims consistently described the perpetrators as men of Arab and/ or North African origin.

One year later, very few of these men have been convicted of any crimes, mainly due to the difficulty of identifying any particular individual and his actions in a teeming crowd caught on grainy CCTV footage. Yet the political ramifications of the mass sexual assaults have been momentous, with the events in Cologne constituting one of the turning points in Germany’s move towards a more restrictive immigration policy over the past year.

Political fallout

The sexual assaults in Cologne were not only followed by a harshened discourse on immigration, however. They also gave rise to renewed discussions about the presumed cultural or civilizational incompatibility of Arab Muslims with European or German values; a debate that was more often than not marked by the recycling of old Orientalist stereotypes.(( http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/01/19/new-year%E2%80%B2s-eve-assaults-on-women-the-cologne-outcry/ ))

The events of Cologne were also grist to the mill of the populist AfD in another sense: since the sexual assaults were not reported in the national media for days, it appeared that the mainstream media and the political establishment were covering up the offences of immigrants out of a misguided impulse of political correctness. This accusation was also directed at Cologne’s police, who were lambasted from the right for failing to immediately and explicitly identify the perpetrators as Arabs and North Africans.

Learning from past mistakes?

This year, the Cologne police department appears to have been eager to prevent any conduct that could lead to renewed accusations of intransparency or political correctness. Ahead of the New Year’s Eve celebrations, police presence was also further augmented against the backdrop of the truck attack against a Berlin Christmas market on December 19.

Subsequently, on New Year’s Eve the police stopped and surrounded up to 1,300 men of North African origin while they were trying to reach the central plaza in front of the Cathedral. Police asserted that the men resembled “last year’s clientele”. They were said to stand out by a heightened “basic aggressiveness”. Police expelled 190 men from the premises, detained 92 and provisionally arrested 27. 10 cases of sexual assault were reported.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/koelner-silvesternacht-polizei-verteidigt-kontrollen-von.1818.de.html?dram:article_id=375275&utm_campaign=buffer&utm_content=buffer2fe62&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com ))

Questionable terminology

These measures have ignited a fierce debate on questions of race and racism. One of the communications made by Cologne’s police department proved particularly controversial: in a since-deleted tweet designed to keep the population up to date, police had announced that “several hundred Nafris are being checked at the central station.”(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-01/koeln-silvesternacht-polizei-nafris-vorwuerfe ))

The term “Nafri”, as police subsequently explained, serves as an abbreviation for ‘North African Intensive Criminal Offender’. The co-chair of the Green Party, Simone Peters, criticised such language as a “degrading group label” that was “completely inacceptable” due to its racist connotations.(( http://www.rp-online.de/politik/koeln-polizei-faengt-in-der-silvesternacht-hunderte-nordafrikaner-ab-aid-1.6497990 ))

While Cologne’s chief of police subsequently apologised for the usage of the term ‘Nafri’, he still defended the overall police operation as legitimate and proportionate. “It is simply the case”, he asserted, “that based on experiences of the last New Year’s Eve, and based on experiences gained through police operations more generally, we got a clear picture of which individuals had to be checked.” And these, he added, “were not grey-haired old men or blonde young women.”(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-01/koeln-silvesternacht-polizei-nafris-vorwuerfe ))

Public opinion supportive

Public opinion as well as leading politicians from virtually all parties have been very supportive of this stance taken by the police. Simone Peter was disparaged in Germany’s top-selling daily newspaper, Bild, as “green-fundamentalist intensive windbag out of touch with reality”.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-01/cem-oezdemir-koeln-polizeieinsatz-simone-peter?utm_content=zeitde_redpost_zon_link_sf&utm_campaign=ref&utm_source=facebook_zonaudev_int&utm_term=facebook_zonaudev_int&utm_medium=sm&wt_zmc=sm.int.zonaudev.facebook.ref.zeitde.redpost_zon.link.sf ))

Beyond glib assertions and facile insults, however, the events of New Year’s Eve highlight that the Cologne police was caught in a real bind. The political fallout from a failure to prevent a repetition of mass sexual assaults would have been uncontrollable. Consequently, the police already announced prior to December 31 that it had lowered its “threshold of intervention” in order to guarantee a maximum of security.

And indeed, from a purely operational logic focused on the prevention of crimes, it is difficult to argue with the police’s observation that based on past experience it was not unreasonable to direct special attention to large groups of young men of North African descent. The balance between racism and discrimination on the one hand and security and necessary police work on the other hand appears exceedingly difficult to strike.

Questions of racial profiling

Nevertheless, all of this leaves behind an unsavoury aftertaste of racial profiling. The AfD Hamburg was, in fact, quick to assert that the Cologne police action showcased the need for precisely such profiling: “living in an open society means having to decide between racial profiling and mass assaults”. In a string of tweets, the AfD also gleefully picked up on the term ‘Nafri’, now using it as a racially charged catch-all phrase designating North African men in general.(( https://twitter.com/afd_hamburg?lang=en ))

Amnesty International has criticised the conduct of the police as a form of racial profiling violating human rights and likely to entrench stereotypes and prejudices. The organisation questioned whether the police had possessed enough individualised evidence against the hundreds of young men controlled.(( http://amnesty-polizei.de/massives-racial-profiling-durch-die-koelner-polizei-in-der-silvesternacht-massnahme-muss-kritisch-aufgearbeitet-werden/ ))

Tahir Dellar, chair of the Initiative of Black People in Germany (ISD) noted that, in contrast to its usual practice of categorically denying any racial profiling, this time the Cologne police openly admitted to stopping individuals purely on the basis of ethnic criteria. Dellar assumed that this unusual openness about discriminatory police action was due to the fact that the police expected majority society to support discriminatory policies, as long as they were directed against North Africans.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/silvesternacht-in-koeln-wie-deutschland-mit-racial-profiling-umgeht-1.3317987 ))

Need for a broader public debate

Germany has witnessed periodic court cases on racial profiling, as well as occasional parliamentary debates on this subject matter.(( http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btd/18/004/1800453.pdf )) However, in contrast to the UK or the US, there is limited public awareness of issues of race and ethnicity in connection with police work.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/panorama/silvesternacht-in-koeln-wie-deutschland-mit-racial-profiling-umgeht-1.3317987 ))

German police and security services have struggled to attract immigrants or their children to their forces. A 2011 study highlighted that high-school graduates of Turkish descent were not convinced that they would be welcome in the ranks of the police. The collective failure of police and intelligence services to uncover the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi terrorist group that killed above all immigrants, has further entrenched the perception that the police is unconcerned with racism at best and itself institutionally racist at worst.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2013-03/migranten-polizei-fremdenfeindlichkeit ))

The conduct of police operations in Cologne has prompted some – not just Arab Muslims – to share their stories of what they deem to be unwarranted racial profiling.(( https://correctiv.org/recherchen/flucht/artikel/2017/01/03/racial-profiling-neun-monaten-hat-mich-die-berliner-polizei-23-mal-kontrolliert/?utm_content=buffer7436b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer )) This is an important development: questions of race and racial profiling need to be openly addressed; and the police itself must become more representative of an increasingly diverse society. Only then can the police claim that its – perhaps well-meaning and necessary – actions on New Year’s Eve were also legitimate.

Jewish scholar prosecuted for anti-Muslim remarks in France

One of the world’s leading historians on the Jewish communities in Arab countries is being prosecuted in France for alleged hate speech against Muslims.

The Morocco-born French-Jewish scholar Georges Bensoussan, 64, is due to appear before a Paris criminal court over a complaint filed against him for incitement to racial hatred by the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, the group recently announced on its website.

The complaint, which leading French scholars dismissed as attempt at “intimidation” in a statement Friday, was over remarks about anti-Semitism by Muslims that Bensoussan, author of a definitive 2012 work entitled “Jews in Arab Lands,” made last year during an interview aired by the France Culture radio station, the Collective said.

The Collective based its complaint on two remarks by Bensoussan.

“Today, we are witnessing a different people in the midst of the French nation, who are effecting a return on a certain number of democratic values to which we adhere,” read the first quote flagged.

The second quote cited read: “This visceral anti-Semitism proven by the Fondapol survey by Dominique Reynié last year cannot remain under a cover of silence.” Conducted in 2014 among 1,580 French respondents, of whom one third were Muslim, the survey found that they were two times and even three times more anti-Jewish than French people as a whole.

“Besides, with the animosity toward the French nation, there will be no integration as long as we will not be rid of this ancestral anti-Semitism that is kept secret (…) as an Algerian sociologist, Smain Laacher, very bravely said in a film that will be aired on France 3, ‘it’s disgraceful to keep in place this taboo, knowing that in Arab families in France and beyond everybody knows but will not say that anti-Semitism is transmitted with mother’s milk,” the quote continued.

At least 12 people have been murdered in three attacks by suspected jihadists from France on Jewish targets in that country and in Belgium since 2012.

The anti-Islamophobia collective called Bensoussan’s statements “dangerous and in line with far-right rhetoric” targeting Muslims.

But three prominent French writers and historians — Jacques Tarnero, Yves Ternon and Michel Zaoui – disputed the allegations, calling the complaint against Bensoussan “scandalous.”

The cautions taken against Bensoussan “are part of a strategy of intimidation intended to censure any lucid statement, any form of criticism,” they wrote in a statement they published online last week.

The Collective Against Islamophobia in France wrote in its statement that Paris prosecutors initiated the prosecution against Bensoussan “in light of the gravity of his remarks.”

 

Trump Effect: Jewish and Muslim Organizations Form New Alliance

A new Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council will work to protect religious minorities’ rights as well as other ‘issues of common concern.’

Less than a week after an election that left many minority and religious groups in the United States feeling disenfranchised, two important organizations – one Jewish and the other Muslim – announced an unusual alliance on Monday.

The American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America have teamed up to form a new national group of leading Jewish and Muslim Americans: The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.

In a press release, the AJC said that the new group “brings together recognized business, political and religious leaders in the Jewish and Muslim American communities to jointly advocate on issues of common concern.”