A Small Step in Germany
A Small Step in Germany
Report / Europe & Central Asia 4 minutes

Islam and Identity in Germany

The experience of Germany, with the largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France, shows that a significant Muslim population at the heart of Europe need not produce either violent Islamist groups or destabilising social unrest.

Executive Summary

The experience of Germany, with the largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France, shows that a significant Muslim population at the heart of Europe need not produce either violent Islamist groups or destabilising social unrest. Politicians now acknowledge it is a country of immigration, with a large and permanent Turkish and Muslim component. Citizenship is at last on offer, if still under difficult conditions. Neither political nor jihadi currents of Islamism have had much appeal for those of Turkish origin, three quarters of the Muslim population, and the handful of terrorist suspects that have been found have been either German converts or dual nationals of Arab origin. But there are issues that must still be addressed more effectively if the genuine integration that will ensure social peace and stability is to be created. While the political system has been preoccupied with finding, or creating, a single Islamic interlocutor for itself, more important are practical issues, especially education and jobs, which matter to the many still disadvantaged among the more than two million of Turkish origin and the hundreds of thousands of others of Muslim background.

This report is part of a series undertaken by Crisis Group on Islamism generally, and its impact in Europe. The German case is heavily influenced by the fact that the Muslim population is dominated by individuals from an avowedly secular country – Turkey – that has experience with democratic norms, and that religion for this population is only one element of identification. While the report discusses jihadi elements, greater attention is given to issues more relevant to the fundamental question of what remains to be done if this population is to be truly integrated, as Germans now agree it should be.

The relationship between Germany’s largely Turkish Muslim population and the German national community was until recently conditioned by the political class’s refusal to acknowledge that the “guestworkers” were there to stay. German rather than Turkish attitudes were the primary factor precluding effective integration. Turks’ own uncertainty over whether they would eventually return “home” and a tendency toward linguistic and social segregation were reinforced for two generations by German administrative practices. Since 2000, however, German outlook and policy have changed; the reality of immigration and permanent settlement is now recognised and a new willingness, in principle, to extend citizenship has developed. However, the view that integration should precede naturalisation – the requirement that Turks and other Muslims should first integrate and demonstrate their “German-ness” before they may acquire that citizenship – remains a formidable brake on the process.

It is unrealistic to expect those of Turkish origin to become fully integrated into German society while citizenship and full participation in public life are withheld. By placing almost all the onus of adjustment and evolution on the immigrant population, this unrealistic expectation tends to encourage the authorities and political class to evade their responsibilities to facilitate this evolution and inhibits the emergence of a political party consensus on the principles that should underlie the integration process.

The emphasis on ideological correctness, illustrated by the proposed use of demanding naturalisation questionnaires requiring applicants to agree with current German public opinion on certain questions, leads the authorities to stigmatise as inherently “un-German” immigrant opinion that subscribes even to entirely non-violent varieties of Islamist thinking. It also entails intensive surveillance of certain organisations and their members even if those organisations are law-abiding. This policing of thought is experienced by Turks and other Muslims as discriminatory, hostile in spirit and frequently provocative in practice.

This complicates consultations between the authorities and Muslim religious leaders on management of Muslim religious life and practice. So, however, does the Turkish government’s effort to monopolise the representation of Muslims in Germany, through an organisation, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), that is legally a German association but is in reality a satellite apparatus of the Turkish state and an instrument of its attempt to guard against the possible growth of opposition in the Turkish diaspora. This is in conflict with the plural nature of the German Muslim population, notably the presence of Arab Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds as well as supporters of alternative currents of Turkish Islamism represented in particular by the Islamic Community of the National Vision (Milli Görüş, IGMG) movement. The dilemma for the German authorities is that they need Ankara’s cooperation in certain practical matters but cannot afford to yield to DİTİB’s monopolist pretensions without prejudice to the integration of all legitimate (constitutional) currents of religious and political opinion within the immigrant population.

The authorities need to ensure at both federal and provincial (Länder) levels that whatever institutional arrangements are made for consulting religious leaders these respect the plurality of outlooks and organisations that exist, but also that such consultations do not exceed their proper remit: consensual management of Muslim religious practice. It is primarily for the parties – not a government-sponsored religious forum – to provide political representation for Turkish Germans on social, economic and political issues, and they need to raise their game. They should not just represent them as Turks or Muslims but as members of German society with a variety of interests. They need to address general questions of special importance to that population, notably educational opportunities, but also need to establish their relevance by maintaining a grass-roots organisational presence in Turkish neighbourhoods and involving Turks (as well as other Muslims) in mainstream party debates and activities.

Success or failure in such political efforts will ultimately be the primary determinant in whether Germany continues to enjoy social peace as the integration process proceeds. And the course of that process over a decade will in turn inevitably have much to say about the attitude Germany adopts to several of Europe’s vital security issues, including Turkey’s application for EU membership and efforts to secure Middle Eastern peace.

Berlin/Brussels, 14 March 2007

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