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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Imams, Germany and Turkey

I have been following the attempts of Germany both to lobby for a seat on the UN Security Council and to expand trade ties with Turkey. Germany is currently considering giving or selling some tanks to Turkey, and is apparently now supporting Turkey's bid for EU membership. One can't help but suspect that economic concerns dominate a lot of Germany's recent moves - if you can't build cars economically, you probably can still build tanks. At a guess, the plans to develop the new EU battle groups will mean additional arms and aircraft sales for Germany and France. (According to this Washington Times article, the current EU forces are dependent upon NATO for transport.) Germany would like to expand its arms industry and secure its access to oil.

Turkey is a good option, and so are Middle Eastern states. Not only that, but Turkey is sitting on the northern border of Iraq casting a hopeful eye in the direction of Kirkuk. Turkey is trying to get the census count of "ethnic Turks", Turkmen or Turkomen, as high as possible in that region, and has sponsored a coalition party of various Turkomen groups in Iraq. One suspects that any tanks Turkey gets from Germany will wind up somewhere near the Iraqi border, and not necessarily on the Turkish side of it. Of course, Turkey does have legitimate security concerns relating to the Kurdish population, who can and apparently do cross back and forth the country boundaries positioned within "Kurdistan". More on that later.

The question I've been pondering is whether Islamist forces will obstruct this alignment. Within Turkey there is resentment of Germany, and Germany's current strategy seems likely to produce small groups of radicalized Islamists within its borders, not reduce them:
Germany's leaders are also now realizing that the country's approximately 2,000 Muslim congregations and houses of worship are the key to peaceful coexistence. If the imams preach reconciliation and distance themselves from terrorism, it will force militant Muslims to the periphery. At the very least, this approach will help separate the radicals from peaceful, law-abiding Muslims. However, if the imams preach hatred, Germany is likely to face the same kinds of conflicts that are now happening in the Netherlands.

and
Should the Muslims distance themselves more decisively from radical elements in their ranks, as German President Horst Koehler is demanding? Koehler believes that "something has gone wrong" between Christians and Muslims. Interior Minister Otto Schily, echoing the sentiments of politician Guenther Beckstein, the Interior Minister of Bavaria, was a little more direct when he said that "tolerance doesn't mean tolerating intolerance."

The chancellor has also made his thoughts clear on the matter. In a speech over the weekend, he said, "We in Europe must defend the principles of the Enlightenment as the cornerstone of our policies." The Muslims, according to Schroeder, must "clearly and unmistakably declare their support for our legal system and our democratic rules of conduct."

and
The approach the Germans now plan to take is one the French have been using for some time. Last year, French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin had about a dozen imams deported. In many cases, however, the agitators are not immigrants, but traveling preachers from Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia who enter the country on temporary visas. To help prevent this from happening in Germany, a delegation of German members of parliament visiting Turkey last summer asked the Turkish prime minister to prohibit these radical imams from leaving the country.

and
Because organizations such as the Islamic Council and the Central Council of Muslims represent only a fraction of Muslims, Peer Steinbrueck, a member of the left-of-center Social Democrat party and premier of the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia, is calling for a "legitimate representative for political negotiation." He wants Muslims to become more organized.

Members of the Green Party in North-Rhine Westphalia would like to see a "mosque registry" based on the Austrian model. They want all congregations that honor the German constitution to be documented, so that their members can elect a governing body. Johannes Remmel, Green Party chairman in North-Rhine Westphalia, believes that this would give Muslims "more rights, but also more obligations," and that the best way to institutionalize these commitments would be for the government to enter into an agreement with mosques similar to that entered into with churches.

and finally
Agents have also been noticing an interesting phenomenon in recent months: The tone in mosques is becoming more moderate. "The problem is, we don't know if this is a sign of caution or a changing attitude," says one intelligence agent. Agents have discovered that, in radical mosques, small groups have taken to meeting privately.

Does a policy which will inevitably lead to the creation of a religious "underground" within your own country seem likely to be successful at limiting extremism and terrorist cells? To me it seems more likely to nurture them. Europe, as a whole, does not have the same institution of religious freedom the way Americans understand it. One benefit of our system is that everything, including churches, competes loudly in the marketplace, and public ridicule and distaste tends to limit the success of extreme rhetoric. This has forced the evolution of our churches toward moderation in their practices, and their beliefs have followed.

If our government were to suppress Unitarians, for instance, only the most committed Unitarians would stay within their groups. A correspondingly fervent and secretive expression of Unitarianism would develop. Those who were repelled by it would simply drift away from the group, and each Unitarian underground congregation would be progressively filtered to select those who were more and more extremist in their outlook. Since Unitarianism would be illegal, no public comment or criticism of its doctrines would occur, and if the government were to try to publish the pernicious nature of the conspiratorial Unitarian doctrine, curiosity would probably lead a lot of younger people to seek out these underground Unitarians. Within 20 or 30 years I would bet you'd get a very small group of Unitarians committed to the idea that Unitarianism was the only true faith, etc.

Now, back to the Turkish resentment of Germany's policy. I can not recommend enough this article from the Turkish viewpoint. It is long and detailed, and it addresses the underlying issue - will Germany be allowed to create a "German" controlled Islamic religion, in the same way that its other churches are largely funded and controlled by the state? I am going to give you a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite, although they cannot convey the overall sense of it:
The German efforts to divide the Turkish minority into different segments are not limited to Alevi or Kurdish issues. Islam, as one of the most important parts of the Turkish culture, has already been added to the list of separatist activities. Udo Steinbach, head of the Orient Institute financed by the German Foreign Ministry, explained the necessity of Germanising Islam, on February 21, 1998 at Bavaria State Parliament. Steinbach stated that ‘obtaining German citizenship should be made easier for young Muslims; Islam should be “tamed” by allowing azan and establishment of minarets; and Turkish Muslims’ ties with Turkey should be broken off’. [72]

In accordance with Steinbach’s suggestion, with the decision of the Berlin High Administrative Court, leaving Turkish state and Prime Ministry-Department of Religious Affairs outside, a project was approved on November 4, 1998. This project would ‘allow’ Turks to take Islam classes ‘in German’ organised by the Islam Federation that is bound to National Vision (Millî Görüş). The classes would be held under the supervision of German authorities and the lecturers would be graduates of departments of Science of Islam of ‘German’ universities. [73] The education language is identified as German because otherwise German authorities would not be able to supervise them. Besides, this decision was taken to fight against the ‘danger of Turkification of Islam’. [74] Otto Schily supported the project that envisaged the teaching of Islam by people who belong to a different religion, and in German at that time as today. Schily expressed that the ‘Islam religion needs to have an official statute. Teaching of Islam in German at schools would encourage integration of the Muslim children’. [75]

German media also supported the project. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s comment regarding the issue was striking: ‘Islam classes under the control of the German state is a very important step in removing this issue from Turkish monopoly’. [76]

Note the timing of these suggestions - these topics were being discussed in 1998 and 1999. The Spiegel article suggested that the current attention to the question of integration was forced by recent events. This can't be totally true. It was also the ZDF that recently taped the imam preaching that Germans were dirty people who stunk because they did not wash or shave the hair under their armpits, which seems to have riled the German people greatly.
and:
Germans perceive Turks as threats and this was openly broadcasted on a German TV channel, the ZDF. The programme prepared by ZDF presented some interesting results concerning Islam, Turkey, and Turkish people. The findings were as follows:

- Germans appreciate countries with a similar culture and life style.

- Islamic cultures are incomprehensible for Germans.

- Turkey is a strange country for Germans. Turkish people seem strange and ‘threatening’ for Germans. [77]

In his interview, the Social Democrat Minister confessed that he would not recognise any minority group other than those already recognised linguistic minorities such as Sorbs, Frisians and Danes. When the journalist reminded him that ‘the proposal to add articles to the German Constitution aiming to protect the minorities was refused’, Schily answered ‘yes, and it will remain like that’.

One of the most striking statements of Schily is about the language issue. In the interview Schily declared ‘use of more than one language would, after a period of time, lead to great tensions and conflict’. While, on the other hand, German governments put pressure on Turkey to recognize languages other than Turkish and to allow them to be used in the media, publication, and education.

All through the article the Germans are portrayed as being intolerant, insecure and hypocritical. ( Turkey has been something of a secularized society by law - for instance, it was Attaturk that banned head scarves for women. An internal Islamic party has formed demanding more religious rights, and it has met with some success.) In light of the internal tensions within Turkish society, it is very possible that enough hostility could be generated to obstruct the de facto German/Turkish alliance I think is developing. That does not, of course, mean that Turkey will refuse the tanks - but it does mean that Germany may not reap the long-term benefits it hopes for in supporting Turkey's military and political position.


Comments:
What a great article. I learned so much from it I going to link to right away. Keep up the good work.
 
Very interesting. I was especially interested in the stuff about different interpretations of religious freedom-- the line "tolerance doesn't mean toleration of intolerance" is a classic example of the creeping betrayal of liberal principles that characterizes Europe-- but the foreign-policy implications of this are also intriguing. Europe-- not in the sense of Europeans as individuals, but rather the Euro-elite, i.e. the journalists, bureaucrats and mainstream politicians of the Brussels bureaucracy and the inner EU countries, which have a large amount of sway over policy and public opinion throughout the continent-- wants to become a superpower, to win "a place in the sun," but they don't know exactly how to go about it. And they are fanatically anti-American. I suspect they'll make their entrance on the world stage in a clumsy and rather noisy manner, making rather unprincipled alliances. Their schemes will come to naught, but they might make a big mess of things in the meantime. Read my article about it here. And keep up the good work. This was great reporting and news analysis.
 
Lancelot - I have already read the article you linked to three times! I have been thinking about it, and I think slowly and not too well. At some point when my gears have ground to some sort of conclusion I was planning to post about that article.

I admit to being obsessed by both the parallels and differences between the history of the American federation and the confederation of the EU. China has always interested me because of its long history and its way of reforming itself into the same pattern again and again.

I think your article may miss one key question - that is the cultures of the nations in question. Will China be forced by economic capitalistic forces to develop a bottom-up political system? Will the EU ever truly be able to wag the tail of the dog, or will it merely bark itself into a series of vaguely hilarious Falkland-like adventures?

My hunch on China is a "not quite". Just as China's communism seems to have mutated rapidly to a Mandarin-like pattern, I suspect its capitalism will tend to be more Mandarin in form than the anarchic American continents could ever have supported. But certainly India and China are the inheritors - the question is which one of them is Jacob and which Isaac? My guess is that India will grab the ball in one way or another. The slow erosion of the traditional caste system is liberating its creative forces.

Another difference might be the economic models. Britain was far more of a hegemonic trade force than it ever was a military empire, as Gandhi recognized. The US is so anarchic it has not even recognized itself culturally as a superpower, much less an empire. True, our elites *talk* about super-power status, but the bulk of our population has never identified with that concept, and probably never will.

To our national consciousness, these military excursions into world politics are always a temporary condition. In the 70's the majority of the US population perceived us to be a declining military and economic power, outmastered by Germany and Japan. They were succeeded by Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. We are now being whomped by India. The US doesn't have the flavor of Rome, and it doesn't believe in itself as Rome.

The only real strength the US has is its mutability, formlessness, and a type of abstracted friendliness to the growth of other cultures. It is no wonder that we are so deeply repulsive to Europe; our economic system is terrifying to the status quos in Germany and France. But I'll get back to this later, after I've looked up a bunch more stuff. I would love references to any insightful resources on China. I want to know what China thinks about itself.
 
Quality blog, enjoyed it. I will comeback.
I wanted just to mention an interesting site regarding: Religions, with more than 500 pages, Religion News and Articles Religion Universe: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism (Daoism) and many others
 
Hi. After suffering through the tree-busting, home-wreaking destruction of Hurricane Wilma, and being away from the Internet for well over a week because Adelphia broadband blew away in the wind, it’s nice to read your blog. Even though I really am searching for real estate information, which I might be able to use in my Boca Raton, FL, site ... thanks for a fascinating read.
 
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