September 15, 2022 – Germany’s coalition government has disbanded a working group of experts on political Islamism – opting instead to fight “Islamophobia”. The move has angered and alarmed those who warn that Islamism is spreading unabated in Germany, especially among young people in schools and on social media. Germany’s apparent self-deception about the danger of Islamism could end up being even more damaging to the country’s future than its catastrophic mistake of becoming totally energy dependent on Russia.
In early September, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser quietly ended the so-called Expert Group on Political Islamism (Expertenkreis Politischer Islamismus). No reason was given for the move, but since taking office in December 2021, Faeser, of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD), has been repeatedly accused of ignoring or downplaying the threat that the Islamism weighs on German democracy.
The expert group, made up of eleven people from various academic disciplines, was established in June 2021 by then Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to identify measures to counter the spread of Islamism in Germany. “We must take decisive action against any ideology directed against the values and norms of our free democratic fundamental order,” he said at the time.
The initial mandate of the working group was for one year, but its members had asked to be allowed to continue their work. A written proposal called for expanding “quantitative and qualitative” research on nonviolent Islamism because, “despite many efforts and preventive measures, it is not possible to curb the lure and attraction of Islamism politics (especially for young people)”.
Member of the Bundestag Christoph de Vries of the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said the government’s decision to disband the expert group represents “the culmination of a policy of turning a blind eye and ignoring the Islamism as a phenomenon that endangers democracy”. He added that Faeser’s decision was “a slap in the face to all who work against religious extremism and for our democracy.”
In its latest annual report, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV) warned that threats from violent and nonviolent Islamism in Germany continue unabated. The report estimates that Germany is home to around 30,000 highly radicalized Muslims, although the actual number is certainly much higher. (The BfV admitted it lacked data on at least ten Islamist groups operating in Germany.)
The BfV report identifies Salafism, which rejects democracy and the separation of state and religion, as the largest and most influential Islamist movement in Germany. Its approximately 12,000 members are said to be increasingly heterogeneous and carry out their activities underground to avoid detection by the German authorities.
The second largest Islamist organization in Germany is Milli Görüs (Turkish for “National Vision”), a Turkish nationalist political and religious movement that strongly opposes the integration of Muslims into European society. Although Milli Görüs, which is estimated to have at least 10,000 adherents in Germany, has been monitored by German intelligence services for its unconstitutional activities, it continues to operate freely throughout the country.
The report lists more than a dozen other Islamist groups active in Germany, including: al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood. The groups have ties to Islamist groups in Africa, Asia and the Middle East and are believed to receive funding from them.
“Despite some successes, such as the banning of Islamist associations, the foiling of Islamist-motivated terrorist attacks in Germany and the prevention of many departures to jihad areas, the threat posed by Islamist terrorism in Germany and to the interests and German institutions in the world persists”, concluded the BfV.
Shortly after the BfV published its report, the director of the Frankfurt Center for Global Islam Research, Susanne Schröter, accused the German government of ignoring the problem of Islamism. “The coalition government is constantly sweeping the problem of Islamism under the rug,” she said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag. “Neither the high potential for violence, nor the problems with Islamists in schools, nor the oppression of girls and women seem to worry the government.
The German government has acknowledged that its priority is to fight “Islamophobia”, not Islamism, according to documents leaked to Welt am Sonntag. The German Interior Ministry has more than doubled funding for an Independent Expert Group on Anti-Muslim Hostility (Unabhängigen Expertenkreis Muslimfeindlichkeit, UEM), from €162,000 in 2021 to over €473,000 in 2022. In contrast, the now-disbanded Political Islamism Expert Group had a budget of just €112,000 in 2021 and requests to increase that funding in 2022 have been rejected.
“The coalition government has so far largely ignored the danger of Islamism in Germany,” Bundestag MP Andrea Lindholz told Welt am Sonntag. “By doing nothing, Ms. Faeser and her coalition partners are creating a security hole.”
Islam expert Rebecca Schönenbach, in an interview with Bild, noted that the coalition government seems determined to fight all forms of discrimination except discrimination perpetrated by Islamists. “The federal government must take action against Islamic extremists,” she said. “So far, however, he has canceled all measures to do so.”
Schönenbach warned that disbanding the expert group on Islamism would end up denying protection to those who urgently need it. “In addition to women, vulnerable groups like young people are left to Islamists who will try to radicalize as many of them as possible,” she said.
Bundestag deputy Alexander Throm accused Faeser of “neglecting the fight against political Islamism in the most criminal way”. In a statement, he said that the representatives of political Islamism “reject our basic democratic order” and “with their unconstitutional ideology create an intellectual breeding ground for terrorists”. Throm added that the activity of the expert group was an “important step in the fight against extremism and terrorism” and that “with its unilateral policy” Faeser “endangers the safety of citizens”.
The director of the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Münster, Mouhanad Khorchide, said the dissolution of the expert group on Islamism indicates that the government does not fully understand the danger of Islamism. “Officials are always caught up in the idea that only violent ideologies like jihadism are dangerous,” he said. “There is a lack of awareness of the danger of the ideological foundation of violent Islamism.”
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Soeren Kern contributes to Focus on Western Islamism.