The İ.H.H. in Germany
by Stephen Schwartz
The provocative anti-Israel posture of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the AKP firebrand, appears to have lost some favor within Turkey itself. But how about among the two and a half million Turkish immigrants and their descendants in Germany? Could Turkish Muslims in Western Europe, under AKP influence, become a major, new focus of radicalism?
Nine hundred mosques in Germany are controlled by a branch of the Turkish government, the DiTiB or Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, which serves the Diyanet, Turkey's state Islamic administration. Through the Diyanet and DiTiB, Turkey finances the construction and maintenance of mosques in Western Europe, and trains and employs their imams. The Diyanet and DiTiB also set the curriculum and pay for teachers delivering classes on Islam in the public schools of three German states. (Clerics brought from Turkey to Germany by the Diyanet and DiTiB are frequently criticized for failing to learn German adequately and thereby obstructing the integration of their students.)
As long as Turkey hewed to secularism and moderation in religion, so did the German mosques under official Turkish control. Of course, not all the immigrants followed their line. Nearly half of the German Muslims from Turkey are Alevis, who adhere to a fusion of Shia and Sufi Islam with traditional Turkish and Kurdish practices. Alevis are considered apostates by many Sunni Muslims, and complain of discrimination against them by the Diyanet and DiTiB. Anti-Turkish nationalism among the large Kurdish group from Turkey living in Western Europe has presented the other serious problem to the Diyanet and DiTiB.
With Erdoğan and the AKP opting to directly oppose Israel over Gaza, will Turkish loyalists in Germany and Holland follow them? After the recent clash with Israel by Turkish-led maritime blockade-runners, German branches of the İHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, which organized the anti-embargo flotilla, held demonstrations in German-Turkish communities. But their numbers were small, mobilizing only around 6,000 participants. Demonstrations by German Turks against Israel's "Cast Lead" intervention in Gaza, at the beginning of 2009, were much larger.
Still, German Turkish community activists I have interviewed consider many Turks in Germany to be more susceptible to the AKP's anti-Israel orientation than people in Turkey, where many may see Erdoğan as merely grasping for a place as a global player, to maintain his power at home. But in Germany, nationalist Turks have been conditioned to obey Ankara. German Alevis and Kurds, both of whom mistrust the AKP no less than they did past Turkish governments, notably refrained from the anti-Israel chorus over the Gaza blockade raid (as did, for the record, the DiTiB.) Yet İHH has a constituency among Turks in Germany.
İHH and the radical Milli Görüş (National Vision) movement with which it is allied are pressing an anti-Jewish agenda among Turkish immigrants in Western Europe. Milli Görüş has participated in the so-called European Council for Fatwas and Research (ECFR), headed by radical fundamentalist preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (and overwhelmingly composed of Arab and African clerics). ECFR has issued fatwas supporting gender separation at social events, introduction of the Saudi principle of "male guardianship" over women, polygamy, and other limits on the rights of European Muslim women. These retrograde attitudes are accepted by Milli Görüş and İHH, along with ECFR's aim to introduce "shariah for Muslim minorities" in Western Europe, with the approval of non-Muslim governments. Worst of all, however, is that İHH has in place a substantial European auxiliary for Hamas.
Germany has begun to take notice. Just today, the German government banned donations to the İHH from its citizens. The Jerusalem Post reports: "German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in a statement that the International Humanitarian Relief Organization was banned Monday because it has used donations to support projects in Gaza that are related to Hamas — while presenting their activities to donors as humanitarian help. De Maiziere said organizations that directly or indirectly work against Israel's right to exist lose their right to be active in Germany. The İHH, a Turkish charity that was one of the main planners of the Gaza flotilla, is widely considered a terrorist organization by a number of bodies - including the Israeli government - and has been accused of maintaining ties with a number of terror organizations."
Germany has previously had to deal with internal Turkish political problems spilling onto their territories, but notwithstanding the aggressive agitation of Milli Görüş, most of these issues involved social pathologies such as so-called "honor" murders, conventional crime, right-left rivalries and Kurdish extremism. The activities of İHH have an obvious and newly-sinister import: Turkish radical Islam can affect events at home, in the wider Middle East, but also in the core of Europe, if Turkish Muslims in Germany opt to follow Erdoğan's anti-Israel turn.