Is The EU Funding Islamism? The German Debate

“The European Commission funds several associations that are considered Islamist by the German government or the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz). Although officials [of these associations] have garnered attention because of their anti-Semitic statements, EU funds continue to flow” (source). That was the opening claim of Welt journalist, Frederik Schindler, in a recent article that targeted several Islamic associations based in Germany that have been receiving EU subsidies in spite of their purportedly controversial nature. 

Organisations such as Islamic Relief Germany (IRD) have been accused by the German government and the Berlin senate of harbouring personal connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. Nonetheless, under the umbrella of the EU’s humanitarian aid division, the IRD was classified as a humanitarian partner for most recent budget cycle of the EU (2021-2027). Thus far, IRD has received in excess of €700,000 to assist with projects providing relief for victims of flooding and earthquakes. 

The IRD released a statement on its website in response to Schindler’s article. It clarifies that the EU funds have been subject to third-party review by financial auditors and verified to have been put to use according to their intended purpose of providing disaster relief. The director of IRD, Tarek Abdelalem, is quoted as stating, “we clearly stand in support of a free democratic order” (source). Abdelalem denied the accusation made by Schindler that IRD is an Islamist organisation calling it unfounded and merely the journalist’s opinion. He stated: “to accuse us of being Islamists is a monstrosity. We reject all forms of radicalism, extremism and violence, because our organisation is based on Islam and charity towards our fellow human beings in need” (source).

The current accusations are not the first run-in between IRD and the German state, or between Westen governments and the wider Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) network which IRD is a part of. In November of 2020, the German Ministry of the Interior cited “significant connections” (source) to the Muslim Brotherhood, announcing that projects with IRW had ended. Following reports from the NGO Monitor, IRW faced a series of setbacks between August of 2020 and January of 2021. Key figures resigned because of their antisemitic statements leading to the Swiss government distancing itself from the organization, the Dutch government halting subsidies and the US State Department cutting ties with IRW as well (source).

In October of 2020, the German liberal Free Democratic party, Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP), alleged that IRD harboured “significant personal connections to the Muslim Brotherhood or to organisations close to it” (source). In response, the IRD released a statement the following month: “The fact that Islamic Relief Germany and its partner organisations including Islamic Relief Worldwide take the allegations seriously is shown by the current reform process and the ongoing independent commission of inquiry chaired by renowned British security and emergency aid experts.” (source). As of the time of publication, the results of the mentioned inquiry are still pending.

Similarly, the European Muslim Union (EMU)hat has also been under political scrutiny. The EMU’s Open project, which aims at preventing Islamist radicalisation online, is said to have received a total of almost 510,000 Euros from the EU (source). The founder and president of the EMU, Andreas Abu Bakr Rieger, is according to Schindler a problematic figure. Schindler cites Rieger who, in 1993, said in front of supporters of an Islamist organisation (that was later banned) declared: “like the Turks, we Germans have often fought for a good cause in history, although I must admit that my grandfathers were not entirely thorough when it came to our common main enemy” (source). In 2007, Schindler notes, Rieger apologised for his statement in the widely circulated German periodical Der Spiegel, calling it a “dark stain on his past” (source).

Besides the EMU, Rieger founded the Weimar Institute for Intellectual and Contemporary History, in 1995, which is also a part of the EU-funded Open project. This institute has allegedly received separate funding of around 67,500 Euros from Brussels. It too has been classified as Islamist by the government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. As such, Rieger remains a problematic figure. On his own website, he mentions his “good relationship” (source) to the former prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir bin Mohamad, who has been repeatedly accused of of Holocaust denial and antisemitism (source). Rieger is also seen on additional photographs on his website with other figures known fo their antisemitic positions, such as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammed Ahmed Hussein. 

According to Schindler, the Kuwaiti news agency Kuna reported as early as November 2014 that the cabinet of the United Arab Emirates had classified the EMU, along with 82 other groups, as a terrorist organization on application of the country’s counter-terrorism law No.7 of the same year (source). When prompted about the EMU’s presence on such a list, Rieger declared that this accusation was absurd and unjustifiable, stating, “I am shocked and saddened by this reference” (source).

German members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have expressed concerns about this issue of EU fundings. Nicola Beer, Vice-President of the European Parliament and member of the FDP, said that “European funds must not fall into the hands of organisations that use them to feed anti-Semitism or other kinds of hatred” (source). Monika Hohlmeier, from the Christian Social Union (CSU) and Chair of the Budgetary Control Committee in the EU Parliament, demanded that the Commission carry out detailed screenings of all project participants: “EU funding for anti-Semites and Islamist enemies of democracy should have no place here” (source). Echoing the position of his fellow MEPs, was Austrian Harald Vilimsky, representing Austria’s right-wing populist faction, the Freedom Party (FPÖ), stating, ”it is completely unacceptable that Brussels funds Islamist enemies of democracy. The Commission must now review such funded projects as quickly as possible and stop the funding” (source).

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