On Saturday, thousands of Muslims in Cologne will take to the streets in a “March Against Terror.” But Germany’s largest Islamic organization, DITIB, will not be taking part. This decision has drawn strong criticism.
Aydan Özoguz, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the German commissioner for immigration, refugees and integration, cannot hide her dismay. She has no sympathy for DITIB’s decision not to take part in a Muslim anti-terror demonstration.
“To be frank, it is no longer understandable. I also believe that DITIB is hurting itself the most, especially its own members who, in part, find this call for action good,” she said, adding that these members regard the board’s decision as an affront.
Muslims plan to hold a demonstration under the motto “Not with us” in the German city of Cologne on Saturday to promote peace and show that they are against Islamic terror. Organizers who are associated with the liberal Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor are expecting tens of thousands of participants. The event was heavily advertised on social media.
DIBIT, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, Germany’s largest Islamic organization with a network of around 900 mosques and 800,000 members, regards the demonstration as an affront. In a press release, the group has accused organizers of engaging in sensationalism and expressed concerns that Muslim anti-terror demonstrations would stigmatize Muslims themselves.
Like Aydan Özoguz, Cemile Giousouf also cannot understand DITIB’s argument. She is the integration commissioner for the joint parliamentary group of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). Giousouf does not see an “objective reason to refuse to participate in the planned demonstration against Islamic terror.”
Accusations of espionage and infighting
DITIB is going through hard times. Imams from the organization allegedly spied on community members in Germany who were suspected of being followers of Fetullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric accused by the Turkish government of being behind the country’s failed coup last July. The federal prosecutor’s office has begun investigations into the imams. Trouble is also brewing within the organization itself. The entire federal executive committee of DITIB’s youth organization quit in mid-May because liberal attitudes were not tolerated.
Turkey expert Christoph Ramm from the University of Bern says the recent disputes have arisen at an inopportune moment.
“In the past, DITIB was sort of regarded as ‘everybody’s darling,’ for example, at the Islam Conference,” he said. “It was predictable and based on a secular understanding of Turkey and the people there were familiar. Contrary to other smaller, opaque Islamic associations, it was a welcome dialogue partner for politicians.”
In the course of the failed coup in Turkey in the summer of last year, DITIB became one of the “bad guys,” according to Ramm. He says that most of all, allegations of espionage and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s policies that were pursued in Germany through DITIB – like the controversial referendum campaign – cast a bad light on the association.
In Berlin, there is a cross-party consensus on DITIB’s refusal to take part in the demonstration. Cem Özdemir, co-chairman of the Green Party, agrees with Özoguz and Giousouf. He described the excuse for DITIB’s refusal as “more than flimsy,” adding: “It is beyond me why DITIB does not use the opportunity to send a clear signal of solidarity.”
To integration commissioner Özoguz the problem lies in the fact that decision-makers in associations like DITIB have never really settled in Germany, “although the members for have, for the most part.”
“By that I mean that many were born and raised here,” she said. “But the association, especially the board of directors, is still linked to Ankara in many respects and it attempts to somehow also exert its influence abroad.”
However, DITIB does not seem capable of surviving only off Ankara’s support and without help from Germany. After payments to the association were temporarily suspended because of the espionage affair, the money has been flowing into its accounts again. According to the German Ministry of Family Affairs, “It was decided that funding for projects that have already been approved would resume under consideration of all relevant aspects.” DITIB has received around 6 million euros ($6.7 million) in funding from the German government since 2012.