German politicians at odds over dealing with Islamism

Michael Laubsch

In Germany, the impression is growing that politicians cannot or do not want to come up with a clear and unambiguous answer to Islamist tendencies in society. Recent debates, whether of a personal or substantive nature, show the different approaches of western European politics towards Islamist developments, which have one thing in common: a cautious, if not ignoring look at the fact that legalistic or political Islam has an equally destructive effect on our societies.

In the political and social discussion about extremist tendencies in Germany, three main aspects are decisive: financing by foreign actors, the influence of politics and its normative approach.

Financing extremism

Extremists with money are more dangerous than those without money. This is not only the case with jihadists and salafists, but also with so-called political or legalistic Islam. Although funds from countries such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Iran have been declining in the past, the financial transactions from dubious sources within Europe and offshore paradises continue to occupy the security organs, without being able to do much about it. But more on that later.

One example is the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Europe Trust Foundation, MENA Research Center has already reported. With the help of the investment from this UK-based foundation, an Islam center has been set up in Berlin, which is viewed with suspicion. Several Islamic associations and groups have moved into almost 6,000 square meters and are being monitored by the German Office for the Protection of the Constitution, as they are said to be affiliated with the ideology of political Islam.

Official support, especially from Turkey, is repeatedly suspected of promoting an ideology that feeds on religion, nationalism and intolerance and questions the fundamental values ​​of Europe. Not only in Berlin, but also in other German federal states, communities with suspected ties to political Islam are being observed by the security authorities. The recent annual reports from the Offices for the Protection of the Constitution can prove that.

However, the current legal situation in Germany hardly allows such financing by extremist groups to be closely examined, as the statement by the head of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and a parliamentary initiative in the Bundestag have shown: The security bodies in Germany are not authorized at all to carry out financial investigations against associations from Islamist groups, if they do not pose a terrorist threat. Politicians and security services are now calling on the legislature to close this gap. Whether it really comes to that depends to a large extent on the government factions and the responsible ministries of justice and the interior.

Political tactics: see nothing, hear nothing

The danger of extremism in Germany since 1949 has always been carried in one direction. While in the 1950s the fear of communism in a divided country was the decisive moment, in the late 1960s until the reunification of Germany the fear of left-wing extremism grew sharply. The threat of right-wing extremism was more or less ignored. The debate about the NPD ban was more of an exception. At the latest with the pogrom-like riots on a home for asylum seekers in Rostock in 1992 by a right-wing mob and the assassinations in Solingen in 1993, in which five Turkish citizens were murdered, it became clear that right-wing extremism in Germany was growing to new strength, while still the extremist Left remained the main opponent officially. In particular, the NSU murders and the assassination of the German politician Walter Lübcke led to the realization that right-wing extremism had become the primary threat to the German constitutional state.

And the danger of Islamism? With 9/11 and the emergence of internationally active jihadists/salafists, the focus was placed on Islamic extremism, which put the constitutional systems in Europe to the test with violence and blood. But the danger of political Islam continued to be ignored by more or less all parties in Germany, and the new coalition in Berlin seems to be continuing this tradition.

The most recent example of this is the Federal Government’s planned „Democracy Promotion Act“. Even if word got around in government circles that political Islam and its anti-constitutional ideology poses a danger to the diverse society in Germany, precisely this challenge was ignored. A federal government paper for the planned law states: “Right-wing extremism, racism and anti-Semitism are just as much an attack on our social coexistence as antigypsyism, Muslimophobia, antifeminism, queer hostility and other ideologies of inequality and discrimination.” Islamic fundamentalism appears here not up.

When asked, a member of the government stated that there were no plans to explicitly name all forms of extremism in the law. This would later be “the subject of the program guidelines”. The executive could therefore pursue a one-sided focus on right-wing extremism without involving the Bundestag in this regard.

“In a legal regulation, prevention of Islamist extremism must be clearly named as a task,” says a statement by the Federal Working Group on religiously based extremism, in which civil society organizations for the prevention of Islamism have joined forces. The NGO finds it irritating that Islamism is left out here.

The Germn government apparently has no problem cooperating with associations such as the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD). Although important members of the ZMD are attributed to Turkish right-wing extremism, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood or the Iranian regime, their representatives visited the federal government three times in May this year alone. ZMD chairman Aiman ​​Mazyek met the Federal Government Commissioner for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Frank Schwabe (SPD), on May 16 in the Federal Development Ministry.

Eleven days later, Mazyek was even a guest in the Federal Chancellery – with the Minister of State for Integration, Reem Alabali-Radovan (SPD). “Fertile exchange should be continued, as well as constructive cooperation,” wrote the Central Council – and received a like from the Minister of State.

Statements by leading politicians make it clear that they either do not want to see the dangers of political Islam, or are pursuing the tactics which – slightly modified – also led to dangerous misjudgments with regard to Putin’s Russia: Here “change through trade” becomes “Change through uncritical embrace”. With the blessing of German politics, the preachers of hatred, segregation, exclusion, intolerance and nationalism can continue to do their work unhindered, while at the same time critical Muslim voices are silenced precisely by this support.

Questionable personnel decision

These critics, advocating the rule of law, the separation of state and religion, who call for an Islam that must continue to develop, are now being snubbed again with a personnel decision by the federal government: the appointment of Ferda Ataman as the new Commissioner for Discrimination.

Ataman caused a stir in 2020 when she defended the term “potato” for Germans without a migration background. Previously, she had assumed that the Home Ministry, then led by Horst Seehofer (CSU), was “primarily symbolic for potential right-wing voters”. Seehofer drew consequences and then stayed away from an integration meeting with Ataman. The deletion of more than 10,000 Twitter entries after Ataman’s nomination also provoked very violent reactions.

Ali Ertan Toprak, chairman of the Kurdish community in Germany, called Ataman a “divider” in a statement. It “prevents always and everywhere” that anti-Semitism, racism and right-wing extremism, e.g. B. is spoken in the Muslim community. “All migrants who deviate from Ataman’s ideological ideas and don’t want to exclusively bash the majority society” would be “declared to be enemies,” says Toprak.

Even if the “potato” comparison could be read as an ironic-rhetorical metaphor, Ataman’s positions show a risky positioning of social developments: no longer questionable, backward-looking inner-religious problems and segregating tendencies in an increasingly diverse society are questioned, but the “us against them” becomes the main element of this new identity politics. This prevents the emergence of an inclusive identity built on common ground.

The associations and representations of political Islam have also recognized this. The ideology propagated by the “identity left” is adopted by them, one shows solidarity with these groups. Thus a new comrade-in-arms has been found, in circles that are actually incompatible with the goals of Islam, but can be useful in the struggle for hegemony of their actual political and social concepts.

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