The German Islam Conference (DIK) wants to set new approaches for dialogue under the leadership of the new federal government and is leaving behind purely religious-theoretical topics. This could give new impetus to the dialogue with the Muslim association structures if the Federal Government also sets an example with regard to the dangers posed by political Islamism.
Since it was founded in 2006, the German Islam Conference (DIK) has repeatedly faced criticism, particularly for its inability to call things by their proper name and for having been misused as a mere means of communication by conservative Muslim associations. And yet it is essential, because it has proven itself as a central forum – for cooperation between the state and Muslims as well as for exchange and understanding between Muslims.
At the event that took place last month, the German Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser (SPD), set two new topics for the institution’s work. She wants to gradually phase out and eventually end the state posting of imams from abroad to Germany. The ministry is conducting talks with the Turkish religious authority Diyanet.
On the other hand, Faeser takes up socio-political topics more than her predecessors in the Islam Conference and goes beyond the previous religious-political questions. Just as she stands for the fight against all forms of racism, extremism and group-related enmity, she also wants to fight anti-Muslim hostility with determination. The independent group of experts on Muslim hostility set up by her predecessor Horst Seehofer will present its report with concrete recommendations for action next summer. Criticism has been triggered by the fact that the independent group of experts on Islamophobia set up two years ago is still in existence, but that the group of experts on political Islamism, also based in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, ceased its work in September. It was appointed towards the end of the last legislative period for the time of one year following a motion by CDU/CSU MPs. Although this group should no longer meet regularly, its members should continue to take part in specialist conferences.
The task of the working group was to research and document political extremism in Germany derived from Islam. However, the supporters did not find a majority for this. Some of the experts complained that there were hardly any scientific projects investigating “political Islam”. However, this is only partially true: The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) has a research area on Islamist extremism and the dangers of legalistic Islamism, which does not use violence but tries to change the state order by legal means. In addition, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the state authorities for the protection of the Constitution have an apparatus that keeps an eye on these developments and acts if necessary.
Like her predecessors since 2006, the German minister does not want to turn the DIK into a security conference, because the security authorities are dealing with this issue, and Muslims should not be placed under a blanket suspicion of extremism.
Scientists and large parts of politics agree that the term “political Islam” discredits Islam as a religion. Despite all the reservations, since the establishment of a documentation center in Austria, it has also established itself in the public discourse in Germany. Faeser’s predecessor Seehofer had already rejected the term because it is too vague and above all because naming politics and religion in the same breath would not correspond to the desired effect of religion in public space.
In Germany, religious people, regardless of their religion, can and should take part in politics. You are invited to do the same. The problem is not the political activity itself. What matters is the purpose of this activity.
That is why the previous expert group in the Ministry of the Interior was called “political Islamism”. As a political ideology, this pursues the goal of changing the state order without violence but with legalistic means. However, it was not called a group of experts “political Islam”. Because the political participation of Muslims within the framework of the existing order is just as desired as that of Christians and of secular atheists and agnostics. The German minister therefore called for further improving the social participation of Muslims. Now it remains to be seen which measures the federal government will take to curb the danger of political Islamism in Germany as well.
On the one hand, it is to be welcomed to seek dialogue with the Islamic associations recognized in Germany and to have constructive discussions with them. However, it must remain clear “who is the cook and who is the servant”: In a secular state, the religious organizations are obliged to respect the laws, legal norms and values, not just to be the executive body of their donors from Ankara, Doha or Tehran. They must conform to the norms of the society in which they operate. They must also clearly communicate this in their association structures and to their members. Examples would be gender equality, sexual morality, the ban on forced marriages. The state, in turn, is obliged to ensure that these principles are observed.
The German federal government should formulate more clearly where the limits of cooperation with religious organizations that represent a world view that goes against the basic principles of a tolerant and enlightened society in the 21st century lie. This also includes packages of sanctions against those associations that oppose precisely these fundamentals. When Minister Faeser says that it is not the political activity itself that is the problem, but what goals this activity is pursuing, she and her ministry must take legislative action when funds from dubious sources abroad finance Islamic associations in Germany, when an autocrat from Ankara conducts active election campaigns in Germany and incites the Turkish communities against the majority society, when imams are not trained under state control in Europe, but in fundamentalist institutions under the control of questionable theologians.
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