Turkish-Islamist’s covert action in Germany

MESOP 4.6.2013 – A Turkish cabinet minister’s recent eyebrow-raising meeting with extremist Muslims from Germany’s Salafist scene raises fresh concerns about increasing Turkish-Islamist infiltration of Germany. Another Turkish ministry already trains imams and determines sermon content for 880 mosques in Germany, while a radical Turkish imam operates a private school network across the country.

The Facebook page of the German Salafist website Die Wahre Religion (The True Religion) recently published a photo of the meeting. The man in the middle donning business attire with a purple tie is Suat Kiliç, Turkish Minister for Youth and Sport. To the right of Kiliç is Ibrahim Abou-Nagie. To Kiliç’s left is Abu Abdullah, and to Abdullah’s left is Abu Dujana.

One of Die Wahre Religion‘s founders, Abou-Nagie, is a Palestinian Arab who has resided in Germany for the last 30 years and currently lives in Cologne. Abou-Nagie’s statements on Die Wahre Religion led to an ultimately unsuccessful criminal prosecution for incitement to criminal acts and disturbance of the religious peace in September 2011. Later Abou-Nagie achieved prominence with a spring 2012 campaign to distribute German-language Korans throughout Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. A Youtube video threatening journalists who reported critically on the campaign briefly appeared at this time. Following this campaign, individual accusations arose that Abou-Nagie had conspired to murder a German critic of Islam, Zahid Khan. It became known in June 2012 as well that Abou-Nagie had illegitimately drawn German social welfare benefits even though he lived well from unreported income. Abu Abdullah and Abu Dujana, meanwhile, are associates of Abou-Nagie at Die Wahre Religion.

The Turkish-born Hessian parliamentarian Ismail Tipi from Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union or CDU) expressed his concerns with the photo in an open letter on his website. Tipi, a Muslim who advocates a clear separation between secular and sacral matters, “clearly rebuked” Kiliç’s “seemingly friendly interaction with extremists.”

Tipi expressed being “greatly disconcerted” by a “leading Turkish politician” meeting with “hate preachers” who were “empirically involved in fundamentalist and violent-prone activities.” Such “Salafisten” sought “to abolish German democracy and to replace it with a sharia system.” These individuals were similarly “responsible for a number of severe societal problems with which we in Germany have to fight in the area of integration.” Tipi cited “good reason” for these individuals having “long been watched by our security and constitutional authorities and rated as extremely dangerous.”

Tipi warned that any “possibly friendly tie to Salafists in Germany would have thoroughly negative consequences for the traditionally very good diplomatic relations between Germany and Turkey.” Tipi expressed to Kiliç the assumption that “it was not known to you, who at this moment stood opposite you.” “I expect and demand, however,” Tipi added, “a public clarification from you, that you do not support and have not supported at any time radical Salafist extremists in any form whatsoever.” Otherwise the Facebook photo would continue to be “misused as propaganda material” online.

Tipi’s invocation of “German-Turkish friendship” involved a belief in mutual rejection in the two countries of repressive religious forces. Tipi, for example, considered it unthinkable for Turkey, a “secular state according to the example of Ataturk…to offer a platform in public for extremists.” Tipi, meanwhile, claimed that the “greatest part of the Turkish Muslims in Germany did not want…hate preachers” to “poison the thoughts of our children.” “As a Muslim, native Turk, and active German provincial politician,” Tipi saw it is as his “duty” to protect his home against “extremists” and expected the same from Turkish politicians.

Yet the troubling questions raised by this photo for Tipi remain. What prompted a Turkish cabinet minister to greet such disreputable extremists? Could a minister, accompanied apparently by his entourage in the photo, not have known with whom he was meeting during a prepared foreign trip?

Kiliç’s meet-and-greet can only heighten existing concerns in Germany about Turkish-Islamist influence there. Many Germans, for example, find unsettling Turkey’s sponsorship of the Turkish Islamic Union of the Institute of Religion (Diyanet Isleri Türk Islam Birgili or DITIB). As the conservative German newspaper Die Welt explains, this organization of Turkish Muslims, founded in 1984, is the largest Muslim entity in Germany, claiming to represent 880 mosques. Lacking an income source similar to Germany’s church taxes raised by the state from individual denomination members, DITIB is financially dependent upon Turkey’s Diyanet or ministry of religion. This government body trains Muslim imams, including those regularly loaned to DITIB while in the Diyanet’s pay, and even determines sermon content in Turkey. Complimenting this Turkish state support, Turkish consulate religious attachés in Germany work closely with the DITIB and its chairmen are usually Turkish minister counselors.

The DITIB, for example, opposed German immigration restrictions introduced in 2007 and accordingly refused to participate in a government-sponsored conference on Islam in Germany that year. DITIB’s Turkish- and Arab-speaking imams, moreover, do not allow for easy monitoring by German authorities even as accusations have arisen that the Diyanet trains these imams to deny the Armenian genocide.

Reservations as well exist in Germany concerning the global network of schools and foundations founded the Turkish imam Fethullah Gülen. Described by an English online Der Spiegel article as an “ultraconservative secret society, a sect not unlike the Church of Scientology,” the Gülen movement has advanced in conjunction with Kiliç’s AKP party an Islamist agenda in Turkey and abroad under a façade of Muslim moderation.

For observers worried about the rise of Islamist forces in Germany and in Turkey, this photo is yet another bad sign.

This article was sponsored by Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.