‘Homegrown Islam project’ could lead to new Ankara-Berlin tensions

Germany’s move intends to further integrate Muslims’ daily routines into German society, to boost the loyalty of the 3 million members of the German-Turkish community. (Shutterstock)
Updated 26 March 2019
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‘Homegrown Islam project’ could lead to new Ankara-Berlin tensions

  • Markus Kerber: “What we need now is an Islam for German Muslims that belongs to Germany”
  • Germany’s new plan aims to counter foreign influence on the Muslim community

ANKARA: Germany has reportedly initiated a campaign to push German Muslims to develop a new interpretation of Islam, the Financial Times reported on Monday. 

“What we need now is an Islam for German Muslims that belongs to Germany,” Markus Kerber, the government representative responsible for relations with the Muslim community under the German Interior Ministry, reportedly told the Financial Times.

The move of Europe’s economic powerhouse is expected to influence Turkey’s state-led diaspora engagement with German-Turks as well as its state-level relations with Germany. But experts do not anticipate relations to further deteriorate as they say they are already as bad as they can get. 

Turks, mostly from the conservative section of society, have been emigrating to Germany since the early 1960s; originally as guest workers during the economic boom. They have since become the largest Muslim community in the country. 

Germany’s new plan aims to counter foreign influence on the Muslim community and provide homegrown training to all imams preaching in Germany. 

The largest Islamic organization in Germany is the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, which is affiliated to Turkey’s state directorate for religious affairs. Turkey is sending imams to Germany who are paid by the Turkish government and who are preaching in Turkish in 900 mosques funded by Ankara.

According to Yoruk Halil, a halal butcher living in Frankfurt, Germany’s new move will be beneficial for the Turkish Muslim community. 

“Those imams coming from Turkey do not benefit Turkish youth in Germany because these young people have been raised with a totally different culture and they mostly speak German, so they cannot establish a healthy dialogue with those imams,” Halil told Arab News. “In order to reach out to the Muslim community, including Turks, there is a need to use homegrown imams. 

My 15-year-old son has been going to the mosque for five years and he even told me that he has better communication with imams being trained and educated in Germany,” he said. 

There is also a continuing debate over requiring Muslims in Germany to pay a worship tax.

Turkey is against any “Germanification” of Islam and considers any redefinition of Islam for Germany against the universality of the religion. 

Germany’s move intends to further integrate Muslims’ daily routines into German society, to boost the loyalty of the 3 million members of the German-Turkish community.  It is therefore considered a move for breaking the Turkish community’s ties with their national and religious identity as well as their traditions.

Last year, German police recorded some 578 hate crimes against Muslims between January and September, while about half of Germans think that Islam is incompatible with the values of their nation, according to recent research by pollster YouGov.

“Turkey has been developing diaspora politics since the mid-2000s, and Turks in Germany have been put at the center of it,” Murat Onsoy, an expert in Turkey-Germany relations at Hacettepe University in Ankara, told Arab News. 

However, for Onsoy, the presence of imams in Germany who have been appointed by Turkey is a socialization factor for the Turkish diaspora — who show relatively low rates of crime — and to maintain their links with their home country. 

“If Germany rejects Turkish funding to these mosques, they will face serious difficulties in covering their expenses,” he said. 

Germany has a community of about 4.5 million Muslims worshipping at about 2,400 mosques, and the number is expected to rise with the refugee influx from Muslim countries such as Afghanistan and Sy The German federal constitution, called Basic Law, gives autonomy to Muslim communities to receive funding and religious officials from abroad to operate mosques in Germany. 

“It is unlikely that this article of the constitution would be easily amended. Various provinces would react to such a move, resulting in widespread protests. The Turkish government would raise the issue at the intergovernmental Islamic organizations, and the German government would be obliged take a step back,” Onsoy said. 

He, however, draws attention to the timing of the debate. 

“It coincides with the upcoming local elections in Turkey this Sunday, and in the past we witnessed that such potential crises with Western countries have been used by the ruling government to consolidate its voters through engaging in international polemics and assuming the role of the defender of external Turks and ‘Islam’ worldwide,” he said. 

Ayhan Kaya, professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, said that the move in Germany to bring a homegrown reading to Islam had already been on the table since Angela Merkel’s initiative in 2006. 

“Although it contradicts with the Sunni Islam rhetoric, what Germany did is a counter-move against the lobbying strategies of Muslim countries such as Turkey, Morocco or Algeria within German territories,” he told Arab News. 

Kaya also noted that in the past Germany and Turkey developed joint projects to train imams who would be appointed in Germany by providing them with linguistic and cultural-integration skills. 

“This latest move is a dialectic result of the political maneuvers on the diasporas by countries who are sending and receiving migration,” he said.


Wit and grit: Algeria's sizeable youth lead fight for change

Updated 47 min 26 sec ago
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Wit and grit: Algeria's sizeable youth lead fight for change

  • More than half of Algeria’s population are under 30
  • Young protesters say they are able to receive diplomas but unable to find jobs

ALGIERS: They’re on the peaceful front line of the protest movement that toppled Algeria’s longtime ruler, facing down water cannons with attitude, memes — and fearless calls for shampoo.
Oil-rich Algeria is one of the most youthful countries in the world with two-thirds of the population under 30.
They are politically engaged, educated, on social media and funny. And they initiated nationwide protests in mid-February that toppled the only leader they’ve ever known — former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999.
“Only Chanel does No. 5,” read the placard of a young Algerian protesting against Bouteflika’s failed bid for a fifth term. “Love the Way You Lie,” read another, referencing Rihanna’s hit song. Yet another, featuring the “Ghostbusters” movie poster, was a humorous rebuke to the infirm 82-year-old who’s rarely been seen since a 2013 stroke. And when police unfurl the water cannons, they start to sing in rhyming Arabic: “Bring me some shampoo and I’ll feel good!“
A quarter of these under-30s are out of work, creating a deep well of frustration against the North African country’s veteran rulers and the policies that have left them behind.
“I came to protest against this power structure because we, the young people, we are the main victims,” said Belkacem Canna, who just turned 30, and works for the local water company on what he described as a miserable salary. “We get diplomas but can’t get jobs.”
For two decades, Algeria has been ruled by Bouteflika and other survivors of the 1954-1962 War of Independence against colonial power France.
“Algeria’s leaders have one foot in the War of Independence and the other foot in the post-colonial period. This is a generational problem. Algeria is a gerontocracy that can’t represent the country’s majority,” said Rachid Tlemcani, political scientist at Algiers University.
Bouteflika had for years used Algeria’s oil and gas wealth to fund affordable homes and handouts. The country escaped the Arab Spring uprisings that began in Tunisia in 2010. But tensions began simmering after oil prices slumped in 2014, exposing a country blighted by youth unemployment where more than one person in four aged under 30 doesn’t have a job.
Over a decade ago, Bouteflika’s government made a half-baked attempt at helping the country’s youth by creating a funding initiative for young entrepreneurs. However, it only stoked further anger amid perceptions it was a handout scheme, after borrowers who didn’t repay debts faced no consequences.
“Mentalities have to change,” said Imad Touji, a 22-year-old geology student at Bab Ezzouar University. “It’s not just about going out and shouting. We really need to change things in a concrete way.”
In February, it was clear that many Algerians were aghast at their plight.
Many trapped at home with their parents and with seemingly little to lose, took to the streets some ten days after Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term. Students and professionals such as doctors, lawyers and magistrates all joined in.
Bouteflika’s replacement, the 77-year-old Abdelkader Bensalah, is yet another veteran of the War of Independence. It’s an open question if fresh presidential elections announced for July 4, will appease the vociferous movement.
“We are raising awareness, all the youth is,” said Sofiane Smain, a 23-year-old computing student. “We are trying to make all the Algerian people follow us so we can be unified to make a better Algeria, God willing.”
Social media instructions told protesters to come equipped only with “love, faith, Algerian flags and roses,” and to remove trash. In a poignant detail, many of them were observed cleaning up.
“Algeria’s youth are an example to the world of what a smiling and peaceful protest movement can achieve,” Tlemcani said.
Though the protests have been largely judged to have been peaceful, they have claimed their first casualty. On Friday, an unemployed 19-year-old from a town south of Algiers was buried. Police say he died after falling from a truck, while his friends say he was beaten by police with truncheons.