DITIB: a pawn of the Turkish government?

Recent weeks and months have witnessed growing pressure on Germany’s largest Islamic association, DITIB. As a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), DITIB has been charged with being a pawn of the Turkish government and with seeking to render German Turks loyal to President Erdoğan. As Euro-Islam reported, these accusation have become ever louder since July’s failed coup in Turkey, in the aftermath of which DITIB appeared to participate in anti-Gülenist agitation.1)http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/

These developments now jeopardise the slow progress DITIB has made in its quest to be recognised as a ‘religious community’ or even as a ‘public law corporation’, legal statuses provided by the German constitution. The bestowal of such a status would enable DITIB to have a greater say in the organisation of religious education in public schools, and would eventually also open up new financial possibilities – e.g. through the granting of state subsidies or even through the power to tax Muslim community members via the Muslim equivalent to the Christian ‘church tax’.

Current political turmoil threatens DITIB’s institutional and political gains

In recent years, DITIB had made some headway in this regard in several of Germany’s 16 federal states: in Lower Saxony as well as in Rhineland-Palatinate, DITIB is negotiating state treaties with the regional governments that seek to open new areas of cooperation in education, social services, and ritual matters. In North Rhine-Westphalia, DITIB is even attempting to become a ‘public law corporation’.

Recent events, however, have rendered the success of these initiatives doubtful. The Lower Saxon oppositional Christian Democratic Party (CDU) has withdrawn from the state treaty negotiations with DITIB, arguing that an association controlled by the Turkish government is no legitimate discussion partner.2)https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/CDU-Fraktion-steigt-aus-Scheitert-Islamvertrag,islamvertrag106.html In a similar move, the Social Democratic government of Rhineland-Palatinate halted treaty negotiations, asserting that it was necessary to await further developments in Turkey and DITIB’s reaction to them.3)http://www.swr.de/landesschau-aktuell/rp/dreyer-aeussert-sich-zu-umstrittenem-islamverband-die-tuerkei-krise-folgen-fuer-rheinland-pfalz/-/id=1682/did=17903846/nid=1682/5yt4qj/index.html

Finally, the minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft (SPD), noted that it was increasingly unlikely that DITIB would meet the necessary criteria in order to be recognised as a ‘religious community’ or ‘public law corporation’ in the constitutionally relevant sense.4)http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/hannelore-kraft-geht-auf-distanz-zu-tuerkischem-islamverband-ditib-a-1107293.html This comes after her government had been relatively well-disposed towards DITIB’s quest for legal recognition in the past.

Emancipation from Turkish state and government?

These events have apparently prompted the DITIB leadership to publicly distance their organisation from events in Turkey and from the Turkish government. In the past, DITIB had repeatedly emphasised its claim to political neutrality.5)http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/01/tensions-supporters-erdogan-partisans-gulen-rise-germany/ Going beyond this, the organisation’s spokesman Zekeriya Altug now broached the sensitive issue of DITIB’s financial ties to the Turkish state apparatus: in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, Altug asserted that “the question is how long Turkey will still give support to DITIB-Imams. We need to look for alternative sources of funding in the long run.”6)http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html

Altug added that in the future DITIB’s Imams “shall and will” no longer be Turkish citizens sent by the Turkish government; instead, Imams would be from Germany and be native German speakers.7)http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html

DITIB’s dilemma between Germany and Turkey

This move is a strong indicator of the pressure DITIB is under in the current political situation. While the organisation usually simply denies that any control is exercised by Ankara, its spokesman now apparently felt compelled to declare that DITIB would seek to emancipate itself from Turkish governmental influence. It is not yet clear whether DITIB will act upon this announcement and progressively eliminate the financial links to Turkey. Nor is it clear, for that matter, how the resulting shortage in funds could be replaced: as long as the legal status of the association is in limbo in Germany, DITIB would most likely struggle to attain adequate funding – a fact that is generally not mentioned by all those criticising DITIB for its continuing ties to the Turkish state.

Altug’s statements do reveal, however, DITIB’s predicament: on the one hand, DITIB is deeply embedded in Turkish institutions and politics. It cannot simply extricate itself from these ties to Turkish state and government. On the other hand, however, DITIB wishes to remain an influential player on the German political scene, also in order to retain its position in the large Turkish immigrant community in the country.

Amidst the current turmoil, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile these two objectives. For German Islamic associations, this is not an unheard-of situation: in the past, the Islamic Community Milli Görüş in Germany (IGMG) gradually chose to loosen the ties to its Turkish parent, because too close an affiliation with the Turkish Milli Görüş movement proved too detrimental to IGMG’s attempts to gain a foothold on the German political and institutional scene. What is new is that DITIB, for a long time the preferred partner of successive German governments, should be faced with this dilemma.

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