A senior German politician has called for an "Islam law" that would limit the influence of foreign imams and prohibit the foreign financing of mosques in Germany.
The proposal — modelled on the Islam Law promulgated in Austria in February 2015 — is aimed at staving off extremism and promoting Muslim integration by developing a moderate "European Islam."
The move comes amid revelations that the Turkish government is paying the salaries of nearly 1,000 conservative imams in Germany who are leading mosques across the country. In addition, Saudi Arabia recently pledged to finance the construction of 200 mosques in Germany to serve migrants there.
In an interview with the newspaper Die Welt, Andreas Scheuer, the General Secretary of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), said that Berlin should restrict Turkish financing of mosques in Germany and begin training and certifying its own imams. Otherwise, he argued, Muslim integration will be difficult or impossible to achieve. He said:
"We need to become more critical in our dealings with political Islam, because it hinders Muslim integration in our country. We need an Islam Law. The financing of mosques or Islamic kindergartens from abroad, e.g. from Turkey or Saudi Arabia, should be banned. All imams need to be trained in Germany and share our core values.
"It cannot be that we are importing different, partly extreme values from other countries. German must be the language of the mosques. Enlightened Europe must cultivate its own Islam.
"We are still at the beginning of our efforts. We must start now. We cannot on the one hand enact an Integration Law and on the other side close our eyes to what is being preached in mosques and by whom."
Scheuer's comments come amid reports that the Turkish government has sent 970 clerics — most of whom do not speak German — to lead 900 mosques in Germany that are controlled by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), a branch of the Turkish government's Directorate for Religious Affairs, known in Turkish as Diyanet.
Successive German governments are responsible for this state of affairs. An essay in Der Tagesspiegel states: "Over past decades, the federal government has welcomed the fact that the Turkish religious authority exercises a great influence on German mosques. Turkey was considered a secular state, and their influence was viewed as a shield against religious extremism."
This was before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan embarked on a mission to turn the formerly secular nation an Islamic country.
According to Die Welt, Erdogan has increased the size, scope and power of the Diyanet, which now has a budget of 6.4 Turkish lira ($2.3 billion; €1.8 billion), which is more than the budgets of 12 Turkish government ministries, including the interior ministry and the foreign ministry. The Diyanet now has 120,000 employees, up from 72,000 in 2004.
The Turkish clerics in Germany are effectively Turkish civil servants who do the bidding of the Turkish government. Critics accuse Erdogan of using DITIB mosques to prevent Turkish migrants from integrating into German society.
German politician Cem Özdemir, co-chairman of the Green Party, said that DITIB is "nothing more than an extended arm of the Turkish state." He added: "Rather than being a legitimate religious organization, the Turkish government has turned DITIB into a political front organization of Erdogan's AKP party. Turkey must let go of the Muslims in Germany."
Erdogan has repeatedly warned Turkish immigrants not to assimilate into German society.
The Cologne Central Mosque, run by DITIB, is used as a key base in Germany for Turkey's intelligence agency, where they run a local "thug squad" to mete out "tough punishments" to Turkish dissidents in Germany. (Image source: © Raimond Spekking/CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
During a trip to Berlin in November 2011, Erdogan declared: "Assimilation is a violation of human rights." In February 2011, Erdogan told a crowd of more than 10,000 Turkish immigrants in Düsseldorf: "We are against assimilation. No one should be able to rip us away from our culture and civilization." In February 2008, Erdogan told 16,000 Turkish immigrants in Cologne that "assimilation is a crime against humanity."
For his part, Saudi Arabia's King Salman recently announced a plan to finance the construction of 200 mosques in Germany to provide for the spiritual needs migrants and refugees who arrived there in 2015. The mosques would, presumably, adhere to Wahhabism, the official and dominant form of Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism is an austere form of Islam that insists on a literal interpretation of the Koran.
On April 11, Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency (BfV), expressed alarm at the growing number of radical Arab-language mosques in Germany. "Many mosques are dominated by fundamentalists and are being monitored because of their Salafist orientation," Maassen said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag. He added that many of the mosques were being financed by donors in Saudi Arabia.
It remains uncertain, however, whether Merkel will back the "Islam Law," which is certain to antagonize Erdogan, who effectively controls the floodgates of Muslim mass migration to Europe. If Merkel were openly to support a ban on foreign financing of mosques in Germany, Erdogan likely would threaten to pull out of the EU-Turkey deal on migrants, a deal Merkel desperately needs to stanch the flow of mass migration to Germany. It is yet another indication of the tremendous leverage Erdogan has gained over Merkel and German policymaking.
Germany's coalition government has, however, reached a compromise deal on a new "Integration Law."
On April 14, Merkel announced the broad outlines of the law, which will spell out the rights and responsibilities of migrants in Germany. Under the law, the text of which will be finalized by May 24, asylum seekers must attend German language classes and integration training or have their benefits cut.
The government pledged to make it easier for asylum seekers to gain access to the German labor market by promising to create 100,000 new "working opportunities." The government will also suspend a law requiring employers to give preference to German or EU job applicants over asylum seekers.
In an effort to prevent the spread of migrant ghettoes in Germany, the new law, which is expected to enter into force this summer, will prohibit refugees from choosing where they live until they have secured asylum. Migrants who abandon state-assigned housing would face unspecified sanctions.
The new law also includes a counter-terrorism provision, which would allow German intelligence agencies to work more closely with their European, NATO and Israeli counterparts.
"We will have a German law on integration," Merkel said. "This is the first time in post-war Germany that this has happened. It is an important, qualitative step."
But critics say the proposed law does not go far enough because it does not threaten with deportation those migrants who refuse to integrate. In his interview with Die Welt, Scheuer insisted that Muslim immigrants must integrate or be deported:
"Anyone who fails to attend integration and language courses attests that they are not prepared to integrate and accept our values. Moreover, it is important that people who want to stay in Germany register with the Federal Employment Agency [Bundesagentur für Arbeit] and provide for their own livelihood. The message is clear: Those who are not integrated cannot stay here. We need to cease having romantic views of integration. Multiculturalism has failed. Those who are not integrated must count on deportation."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. His first book, Global Fire, will be out in 2016.