German state agencies finance youth education projects with fundamentalist motives

Michael Laubsch, political analyst

Between 2017 and 2019, an association called „Education and Training Without Borders Ruhr“ (EBG) received a total of 180,000 euros from the federal program “Live Democracy!” for its Jusa project, paid by the German Ministry of Family Affairs. The stated goal of the program: “To make multipliers aware of Islamist attitudes and attitudes among young people.”

“Live democracy!” is, according to the ministry, a unique program in Europe and designed to win young people for freedom and the rule of law and to protect them against anti-democracy. The ministry has spent more than 431 million euros since 2015. But the investment has not only earned praise. In particular, support projects to prevent religious radicalization among Muslim young people have already been criticized – for example, because of doubts about their sponsors. In 2016, for example, for an association close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

There are also doubts concerning EBG and the Jusa program. Because even though the association did not mention it in its application for funding and did not mention it in public, it is religiously motivated and belongs to the Gülen movement. The network of the Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen is known in Germany because the Turkish government blames it for the failed coup in 2016. Since then, followers have been persecuted and thousands have been detained. And many fled: in 2019 alone, 5,000 asked for asylum in Germany. The women at the information stand in Germany do not deny that their association belongs to the movement. However, they claim that their educational work has nothing to do with religion. Meanwhile, a text leaflet of the association postulates that religion is superior to secular systems such as democracy. “Religion deals holistically with the nature and life of man. On the other hand, secular systems are subject to constant change. Belief in a God, the hereafter, prophets, revelations, angels and predestination are not subject to change. (We) must not lose sight of the fact that democracy is not a measurable quantity. Religion, on the other hand, provides (holds) unchangeable rules and values ​​for human life.”

Eternal, superior Islam here, transient, inferior democracy there? That is likely to be an understanding of Islam, which the German government wants to prevent rather than promote.

The policy paper on youth work was published on the EBG website in November 2019. On July 16, it disappears from there. It appears that the release remained under the radar of politics. The German Ministry of Family Affairs, however, has checked the association’s Jusa project proposal. The ministry announced that it had submitted the application to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. This signaled “no knowledge” of the EBG. Drawn attention to the text concerning policy and religion, the ministry itself now sends a signal: it considers the quoted passages to be “problematic”. The North Rhine-Westphalian State Office for the Protection of the Constitution, on the other hand, declares on request not to evaluate the document as long as there are no “findings” about the association.

Apparently, the public sector has no clear picture of the association it supports. The EBG received a good 848,700 euros in funding this year and last year for various purposes. The money flow of the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs for Jusa has dried up, Berlin rejected a follow-up application for 2020. North Rhine-Westphalia struck for this. The city of Essen approved around 52,000 euros from state funds for the continuation of the project, and finances 560,000 euros in operating costs for the day care center with 65 children every year. Other sources are bubbling too. The Rhineland Regional Association donated 145,000 euros to the EBG for the years 2019 and 2020, also from state funds, for art projects, youth coaching and a memorial trip, among other things.

On request, the city of Essen states that it knows the Gülen background of the EBG – but not the regional structure of the movement itself. Jusa reveals how the funding is flowing: Not only the EBG benefits from the funding, but with it seven project partners in Bottrop, Duisburg, Essen and Oberhausen. According to the Düsseldorf Gülen regional association “Committed Civil Society”, they all belong to the network of the preacher living in exile in the US.

Islam as a better democracy and authoritative morality – this message probably hardly enables Muslim young people to stand up for freedom, self-determination and participation. But apparently Gülen associations manage to hide their stance from state sponsors. The diffuse branches of the network help here. With so much lack of transparency, some political authorities seem to be overwhelmed.

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