Germany: intelligence services target Muslims

Germany: intelligence services target Muslims


Written by: Liz Fekete

As the UK government publishes new proposals to combat violent Muslim extremism, we examine two reports critical of the German approach.

Since September 11, European security services have been given unprecedented powers to define which Muslim organisations are ‘legitimate’ and which ‘illegitimate’. Two new publications from internationally-respected bodies are critical of the crude way in which German intelligence services have been evaluating the ‘Islamist threat’.

The International Crisis Group, in its report ‘Islam and Identity in Germany’, has criticised the Verfassungsschutz (German Intelligence Service) for adopting a ‘slippery slope’ view of Islamic extremism.[1] And the Open Society Institute EU Monitoring and Advocacy Programme, in a briefing paper on Muslims in Germany by cultural anthropologist Nina Mühe, has similarly criticised ‘the role and power of definition’ that has been given to German intelligence services to distinguish between ‘real’ and ‘misguided’ Muslims.[2]

How religious profiling works

The extensive religious profiling adopted by the Verfassungsschutz deems any ‘Islamist’ group an automatic ‘threat’ to the German state. The Crisis Group points out that this has led the intelligence services to lump together the many non-violent organisations with the ‘few potentially violent’ groups. It terms this a blunt instrument that leads to ‘stigmatisation’. The Crisis Group cites a pyramid structure, which appeared in a 2005 interior ministry publication on ‘entry ways into radicalisation’, with the lowest level being Muslims in Germany (3.2 million) followed by ‘Sporadically religious Muslims’, then ‘Muslims who live religiously’, followed by ‘Moderate Islamists’, then ‘Islamists’, and, finally ‘Those who tolerate violence’ and then at the tip ‘Those who are ready to commit violence’. Groups in the upper three echelons which merit ‘constitutional observation’ include supporters of the Caliphate State, Hizbullah, Hamas and Hizb Ut-Tahir (banned in Germany in 2003). Among Iranian organisations under observation are the Islamic Centre Hamburg and the Imam Ali mosque.

Milli Görüs stigmatised by security services

Both the Crisis Group and the Open Society Institute single out the intelligence services treatment of Milli Görüs (IGMG), which, though it represents a large number of Turkish-Germans, is being marginalised from mainstream debate. Milli Görus has been the target of investigations for anti-constitutional activities at the federal level as well as in nearly every region where it is active. Also several clerics linked to it as well as ordinary members have been prosecuted. Nina Mühe, author of the Open Society paper, points out that Christian organisations, which have attempted to work with Milli Görüs at a grassroots and practical level, are being discouraged from so doing. In December 2006, the Evangelische Akademie Loccum planned to host a conference to promote its charitable aid work in East Africa – which is based on inter-faith cooperation in the region. The ministry of interior initially promised to fund the event. But funding was withdrawn when it was discovered that a participant- and one of the initiators of this inter-faith project – was Mustafa Yoldas, a member of Milli Görüs. The organisers from the Evangelische Akademie could not let the ministry’s action go unchallenged. And it refused an offer by Yoldas to withdraw from the Conference on the basis that his work was far too respected and it could not just ‘uninvite’ him through fears that the funding would be cut. (Yoldas had already lost his job as a translator for the federal refugee service after the intelligence services denounced him as a member of Milli Görüs.)

In fact the intelligence services’ approach is beginning to be scrutinised and challenged. Milli Görüs members themselves have successfully launched lawsuits against the intelligence services in North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria – showing that Verfassungsschutz reports have sometimes included basic translation errors, defamatory material or unfair innuendos and accusations. Successful legal actions have led to court orders preventing officials from reprinting ‘falsehoods and hearsay’ against the organisation.

Harassment through local authority administrative measures

According to the Crisis Group, in the absence of legally actionable offences, local authorities are relying on administrative measures bordering on harassment to deny Milli Görüs’ members and officials legitimacy. The rejection of naturalisation applications, the refusal of visas for imams and expulsion orders for activists, ‘translates into an exclusion policy from which only a handful of administrators have dared to deviate’. The director of an IGMG branch in Cologne says that 200 cases of IGMG-employee naturalisation requests have been turned down, with most cases cited in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Hessen.

Liberals join the Right

Opposition to Turkish-Muslims connected to Milli Görüs is not confined to Conservative and Christian Democrat officials. When an administrative court in Hessen ruled that four IGMG members could keep German citizenship even though they were members of an organisation under observation by the Verfassungsschutz, local Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Green officials proposed a new procedure to prevent ‘extremists’ from becoming citizens. For as Nina Mühe points out, though centre-left and left parties may have more liberal views when it comes to immigration, when it comes to the Muslim community they can fall prey to Islamophobia, as they have ‘stronger resentments … nourished by a mixture of feminism and secularism’.

Related links

Read the International Crisis Group report on Germany

Download the Open Society Institute report on Germany (pdf file, 667kb)

Open Society resources: Muslims in the EU: Background research reports

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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