German Muslims Feel Sidelined

    By Stefan Nicola Muslim organizations in Germany say they feel sidelined after last week’s terrorist attacks on London’s mass transit system amid calls from lawmakers for greater integration by the community and more vocal criticism of Islamic militancy. “There is no strategy for the integration of Muslims in Germany,” Ali Kizilkaya, head of the Islamrat (Islam Council), which with 140,000 members is Germany’s largest Muslim group, said Friday in a telephone interview with United Press International. For integration to succeed, Kizilkaya said, German politicians should foster an increased dialogue with the estimated 3.5 million Muslims living in the country. He criticized German politicians for “ignoring the German Muslims.” Kizilkaya’s remarks come eight days after British-born Muslims detonated bombs in several subway trains and one bus in London. Fifty-four people were killed and several hundred injured in the worst terrorist attacks on European soil since the Madrid train bombings last year. The situation in Germany immediately turned tense. On the day of the attacks, security in Berlin was tightened. After the explosions, several lawmakers, security experts and police organizations demanded tougher anti-terror laws. Calls for countrywide video surveillance, as already implemented in Britain, were put forward by interest groups but show down by major parties. Several lawmakers, among them Bavaria’s Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein, called on the Muslim community to distance itself from the attacks. Cardinal Karl Lehmann, head of the German Catholic church, Thursday told a German radio station Muslims living in Germany should “actively acknowledge” the values embodied in the German constitution. That’s a one-sided and ineffective approach to integration, Muslim leaders say. “You can’t impose integration,” Kizilkaya said. “It’s a process that needs to come from both sides: the German society and the Muslims. There needs to be more dialogue.” Beckstein also said he would like to see intelligence personnel in German mosques. “We have to know what happens in each and every mosque,” the politician of the Christian Socialist Union (the conservative version of the Christian Democrats in Bavaria) is quoted in Thursday’s edition of the Berliner Zeitung. “Wherever extremist ideas are preached, we have to be present with our intelligence,” he said. Kizilkaya called the current political discussion in Germany “hysterical” and criticized Beckstein’s proposals. “Comments like the ones from Mr. Beckstein don’t help,” he told UPI. “They lead to increased mistrust against the Muslim community, which is poison for the integration process.” Kizilkaya, born in the Turkish city of Kayseri, emigrated to Germany with his family more than 34 years ago. At the time, Germany’s economy was thriving and thousands of so-called “Gastarbeiter” (“guest workers”) were asked to enter the country and fill the many available jobs. After the German economic miracle slowed down, the Gastarbeiter stayed. They had married, raised their children in Germany and often had blended into German culture in a way that — in some cases — alienated them from their home country. Kizilkaya, who entered the country without knowing a single word of German, is an example of successful integration. But there is the other extreme. Large secluded Turkish communities have formed in recent years in Berlin and Hamburg, where German remains the second language. The children of the second and third generation — though born in Germany — are hardly integrated into society and are only slowly able to learn German, reports MDR, a public broadcaster based in Berlin, the nation’s capital. Social tensions and unemployment (according to MDR, more than 40 percent of Turks in Berlin are jobless) are because of ethnic ghettos. So far, German politicians have not done enough to tackle the problem, observers say. And attacks like the one in London hurt the already troubled integration process, experts say. Oguz Uecuencue, head of the Muslim organization Milli Goerues, known by its acronym IGMG, told the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung “every shameful attack in the name of Islam reduces the trust in our community.” Uecuencue told the newspaper German politicians avoid talking about concrete measures to integrate Muslims because these topics are “unpopular” with most voters. But Muslim imams who preach hate and encourage terrorism remain an obstacle. Dieter Wiefelspuetz, the interior spokesman for the Social Democrats, told UPI in an interview Thursday that the SPD will use “every possibility our constitutional state gives us to expel these people.” Lehman and Beckstein both called on Muslims to work with authorities to eradicate extremist elements in the German Muslim communities. They said Muslims need to do more to distance themselves from hate preachers and acts of terror. Nadeem Elyas, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told the FAZ his organization had repeatedly condemned acts of violence, as they are contrary to the teachings of Islam. The council furthermore organized imam seminars where Muslim preachers were sensitized to peaceful preaching, he said. Kizilkaya said there is no room for hate preachers in German mosques. “Preaching that disturbs the peaceful living of Muslims in Germany is not tolerated,” he said. But by repeatedly asking the Muslim community to distance itself from acts of terror, officials communicate that Muslims have not done so in the past, which is wrong, Kizilkaya said. “How many times will we have to apologize,” Kizilkaya asked. “It’s very hard to overcome that kind of mistrust.” Kizilkaya told UPI that German society has “cooled off” to Muslims since the London attacks. “It’s not explicit, but you can sense it,” he said. The integration process is not in its best state, but it is far from dead, Kizilkaya said. “We shouldn’t forget that Muslims have lived here for nearly half a century now,” he said. “We are open to integration, but we would like to see more help from the other side.” There is no reason why German politicians shouldn’t come forward and push for an increased dialogue with the Muslim community, he said. “Our mosque is not in Istanbul or Saudi-Arabia,” he said. “It’s here, right around the corner.”

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