The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Association, known for its close ties to the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, has published a report on Germany’s “Islampolitik”, or German policies concerning Islam. This report was published on 24 September 2017, one month before the general elections in Germany.
The report shows that Islam has not had equal status with other religions for years in Germany. It states that Germany’s Islam policy is unstable and too complicated, which isn’t fitting for a fully democratic state. Policies regarding Islam and Islamic society in Germany have to change with the new government after the 2017 elections. The paper examines the history of Germany’s Muslim community, established Islamic organization in Germany, and the asylum crisis. It also analyzes the decline of Turkish influence in Germany and the tension between the two countries, rising terrorist activities and increased popularity of radical right-wing anti-Islamic political parties and movements. In addition, information on the discussions and proposals on these issues also finds a place in the report.
In this study, a summary of the report will be presented with the topics mentioned above.
1. The Old Story
The growing Muslim Community in Germany
– Germany is one of the countries that host the most Muslims in Europe.
– The estimated population of Muslims in Germany is between 4.4 and 4.7 million. Almost 2 million of them have German citizenship.
– Approximately, 2.3 million Muslims living in Germany have a Turkish identity and their understanding of Islam is based on Sunni Islam. Therefore, Sunnis Islam is the dominant Islamic orientation in Germany. However, there is also an important Shi’a population in the country, mostly from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq. In addition to this, there are almost 500 thousand Alevi Turks and around 30 thousand Ahmadis of Pakistani origin.
– The most important conclusion to be drawn from all these figures is that Muslims in Germany are not a homogeneous group. Muslims are a community that has religious and cultural differences within itself.
– In addition, the study emphasizes that the majority of Muslims in Germany come from an “immigrant background”. Muslims first arrived in Germany in 1960 and 1970, but not with the intention of staying permanently. They planned to stay for a short time as temporary guests. Thus, German people and government saw them as temporary guests too. Over time, however, these guests became permanent citizens.
Germany’s sense of secularism: “positive neutrality”
– In order to better understand the situation of Muslims, a brief overview of Germany’s secularism is given in this report. According to Jacobs, German secularism can be described as “positive neutrality”. According to Article 4 of the German Constitution, the state must be equally distant and neutral to all religions and should not intervene in religious affairs. Moreover, the German legal system offers a wide range of freedoms to all religions and these freedoms are not limited to individual religious activities but also can be protected by the state in regards to the entire community. These rules contain all religions, including Islam.
– The German legal system officially recognizes religious institutions but gives them a separate public status (Corporation by public law / Körperschaft des Öffentlichen Rechts). To be eligible for this status, organizations must meet some criteria which are given below:
* Organizations have to survive more than 30 years and must have a stable background.
* Transparent organizational structure and decision making mechanisms
* A doctrine that is not contrary to law
Muslim organizations in Germany: Why are they treated as second class?
– According to many jurists and political scientists, some of the Muslim organizations in Germany have problems in fulfilling these criteria. But there are still many Islamic organizations established in Germany since the 1970s. The most important of these are:
* Turkish Islamic Union of Religious Affairs
* Association of Islamic Cultural Centers
* Federal Republic of Germany Islamic Council
* Muslims Central Council
* Federation of German Alevi Union
* Some small scaled unions for Shi’a and Bosnians
– These organizations sometimes work in harmony with each other, but in some cases they compete with each other to be more effective and / or have certain privileges.
– According to the report, only 20% of Muslims in Germany can be represented by these institutions and this is a problem in the fact that the majority can not be represented. Some organizations are also criticized for being influenced by external powers, radical leanings, lack of transparency, and, in particular, lobbying for ethnic or political ideas instead of religious representation. These points lead to the question ‘Why do Islamic institutions seem to be a second class?’
– The report was specifically addressed to the German Islamic Conference (DIK) organized by the German Ministry of the Interior in 2006 because in this conference there were not any concrete results; several criticisms have been brought up as reasons for this:
* Islamic organizations do not necessarily agree with the German political authorities, either because they are in the target group of different groups, they prioritize different issues, they do not trust the German political authorities, they are reluctant to work together and they tend to reject German legal rules.
* On the other hand, Islamic organizations criticize state authorities for such things as setting different Muslim groups against each other, violating public law, and keeping Islamophobia out of the way.
* Finally, some Muslims individually criticize the German Islamic Conference because of ignoring the liberal, secular and non-institutionalized Muslims and taking into account only conservative Muslims.
2. New Challenges
Since 2015, Germany has accepted 1.3 million asylum seekers and most of these new asylum seekers are from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. This population growth affects Germany’s Islam policies in three ways:
– Islam is becoming more and more important in Germany.
– The ethnic, cultural and sectarian structure of the Muslim community of Germany is changing. In the past, while the Islam of Germany was mostly shaped byTurkish influence, this influence was weakened by the decrease in the ratio of Turkish to non-Turkish Muslims.
– This change in population structure causes new political conflicts, cultural norms and social habits to enter the country.
Political tensions between Turkey and Germany
– After the unsuccessful coup attempt on July 15 2016, Germany expressed their suspicions and concerns about human rights in Turkey. In addition, the Turkish government’s investigation into alleged Gulenists residing in Germany was met with a negative reaction from Germany.
– Moreover, the tension between two countries has increased even more with campaign issues during the constitutional referendum in Turkey.
– All these tensions have caused Turkish citizens in Germany to question their loyalty to the German state, while the influence of Turkish political authorities on German internal affairs has also created a separate debate.
The report draws attention to the increase in terrorist attacks in Germany and Europe after 2016, thus demonstrating the need for Muslims in Germany to improve their relations with the state and society and to strengthen their ties. It is underlined that Germany’s Islam policies need to be changed in their entirety.
Extreme right-wing and anti-Islam populist political parties and movements
Extreme right-wing parties, such as the “Alternative Party for Germany (AFD)” and “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West (PEGIDA), are gaining popularity in Germany, through triggering fears that immigrants and Islamization are increasing in society. It is also argued that the AFD is likely to enter parliament after the September 2017 elections, and if this happens, anti-Islamism will weigh even heavier on the agenda.
3. Current Discussions
Deradicalization policies debates
One of the most criticized aspects of Germany’s Islam policies is that it does not have effective anti-radicalization policies. In the report it is said that federal German state’s policies could not control radicalization in provinces and state-affiliated institutions (places where radicalization activities happen most frequently, such as associations, mosques, prison schools, etc.). In this context, proposals such as the examination of the mosques, the funding of the Islamic institutions and ties became more popular, and the preaching of imams in German are presented as agenda items to be discussed in Germany.
Facial veil-ban debates
Another hot debate in the country is about the facial veil ban. While many CDU officials refer to the necessity of a facial veil ban nationwide, politicians such as Angela Merkel and Interior Minister Lothar de Maiziere have voiced that a wholesale ban is not legally possible. In other words, a common decision has not been reached yet and it is predicted that this debate will continue in the future.
Discussions on the need for immigrants to embrace common German culture and values, such as secularism, democracy and the rule of law, are all echoing in the country. In this regard, a segment is defined as Leitkultur (guiding culture) that the adoption of these cultural values is the cornerstone of the coexistence of Germans and immigrants and the continuity of German culture. However, another group indicates that it is not possible to define such a common culture. Parties such as the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens and the Left Party (Die Linke) have expressed their view that Leitkultur will affect tolerance culture negatively in the country.
The foreign interference debates
The “Leitkultur” debate has been instrumental in reevaluating the situation of Muslims in the country . For many years, interventions, especially from Turkey, have been found beneficial and welcomed by Germany. In 2015, however, Salman, king of Saudi Arabia, offered to build 200 mosques to meet the needs of the asylum seekers in Germany. This idea started the debates about foreign interference and financing mosques to increase radicalization. The debates ended up with the closure of the King Fahd Academy in Bonn. Then another debate began on the development of a new model forbidding financial support from the other countries as in Austria. However, German churches are allowed to receive funds from abroad and are able to send aid abroad. So, this prohibition is incompatible with the understanding of German secularism and equality of religions.
“Private Islam law” debates
The fact that Austrian state affairs related to Muslims are separated by a private law has caused this model to be discussed in Germany. However, it is seen that such a special law is neither necessary in Germany nor possible in the existing constitution. However, it is necessary to regulate the rights and duties of the Muslims in the country more clearly.
All of this information highlights the need for Germany to make a clear beginning in its Islam policies.
Muslims, the Islamic organizations and the state are entering into a “rethinking” phase. It is vital for meeting the expectations of all actors. The elections to be held on September 24, 2017 are also a cornerstone for the future of “Islampolitik”.