Dialogue with Extremists?
The latest report by the Bundesverfassungsschutz, Germany's domestic intelligence agency, once again states that groups such as the Islamic Association Milli Görüs (IGMG) promote the "creation and expansion of Islamist milieus in Germany." The agency reports to the German Ministry of the Interior and is charged with observing every kind of politically extremist group with all the means at its disposal.
The IGMG is part of the Milli Görüs movement, led unchallenged by its Turkish founder and once Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, and which sees Islam as a system offering both political and societal order, while excluding other points of view.
Although the IGMG speaks publicly in favor of the integration of Muslims in Germany, it nonetheless avoids government-sponsored efforts towards integration by labeling such attempts as mere assimilation.
In addition, the IGMG has continuously attracted negative attention on account of anti-Semitic tendencies. The Muslim association, though, has not been accused of being behind individual acts of violence.
With over 26,000 members, primarily of Turkish origin, the IGMG is the second largest Islamic organization in Germany. Its influence via numerous mosques and its work with young people should not be underestimated.
Not politically radical
For years now, the IGMG has naturally denied its official classification as "Islamist." Oguz Ücüncü, the Secretary General of the IGMG, demands to know, "What activities among the wide range found within our infrastructure are directed against the German constitutional order?"
According to Ücüncü, the answer is not to be found in the latest report. The German intelligence agency and the corresponding authorities in the federal states have yet to provide an answer. "What have we been concretely accused of in order to have our association named in the intelligence agency report? There is a need for hard facts! And, just as in the past, I don't see them."
In fact, it is not so easy for the authorities to prove that the IGMG harbors extremist tendencies. Official statements made by the IGMG are anything other than politically radical. The organization not only openly and explicitly professes support for the free and democratic political order in Germany, but also holds it up as a model for Islamic countries.
The IGMG has demonstrably made an effort to engage in dialogue with Christian and Jewish organizations. It regularly condemns terrorist attacks by Islamic groups. It also encourages its members to learn German, to socially integrate, and to take up German citizenship.
No anti-democratic agitation
In contrast, the security agency views all this to be a façade created to obscure the true goals of the organization. German courts have frequently confirmed this assessment both directly and indirectly. Yet, in one case, the IGMG managed to attain a victory.
In November 2005, after a legal battle lasting many years, the security agency of the largest German federal state, North Rhine-Westphalia, was ordered to cease publishing certain accusations against the IGMG for the time being on account of lack of evidence.
In the case, the security agency had to admit that their offices had erroneously translated contentious statements from Turkish into German. They also had to retract the sweeping claim that the IGMG leadership did not expressly distance itself from anti-democratic or anti-Semitic comments.
The fact is that there have been no public statements by the IGMG expressing anti-democratic or anti-Semitic sentiments. Rather, the opposite is true.
Milli Gazete – the mouthpiece of Milli Görüs?
According to the security agency, a number of books with "explicit anti-Semitic and, in some cases, inflammatory content" were seized during a search of an IGMG mosque in 2004 in Munich.
This kind of provocative material, however, can be found regularly in the pages of the Milli Gazete newspaper, which the security services view as unequivocally belonging to the Milli Görüs movement as well as serving as its mouthpiece. In 2003, for example, the paper claimed that the terrorist attack of September 11 was part of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy.
In 2005, the chairman of Milli Görüs' youth organization in Turkey condemned western democracy as a "false civilization."
The IGMG protests that it is not responsible for such articles. They claim that it is not a simple matter of equating the Milli Gazete with the IGMG. Nonetheless, the newspaper can be found lying about the IGMG European headquarters near Cologne for all to read. In addition, the paper is available at IGMG mosques as well as at many IGMG sponsored events.
Herbert Landolin Müller, head of the Islamic Competency Group of the Baden-Württemberg state security agency, assesses the controversial paper as follows.
"Succinctly put, the paper could be characterized as the mouthpiece of the organization, in which one is able find out everything one wants to about Milli Gorüs. It has to be said that the organization is responsible for the content. The political columns, which serve to shape opinion and provide moral guidance, are directed at sympathizers and members of Milli Görüs. As long as this influence exists and anti-democratic, totalitarian, and anti-Semitic views are propagated or practiced, then I won't believe a word of their declarations of innocence. A certain degree of continuity is clear."
Necmettin Erbakan – the "spiritual father"
A further accusation against the IGMG by the security services is that the organization has not distanced itself sufficiently from its "spiritual father," the Islamist leader and former Turkish Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan.
In Turkey, Erbakan is subject to a court ordered life-long political ban, which prevents him from holding any political office. Oguz Ücüncü, the Secretary General of the IGMG, rejects all accusations that his organization has not properly distanced itself from Erbakan.
"It just isn't the case that we all quake whenever we hear the name Erbakan and that we don't have any influence over our own work. The complete opposite is the case! Of course, Erbakan is an influential figure – as the founder of this movement. But we determine the content of our work here locally. We set the priorities ourselves."
The security agency, in any case, admits that there are strong efforts underway within the IGMG to loosen the bonds of Erbakan's influence. They have yet to prove successful, though.
Difficult to classify
For years, even experts on Islam in Germany have been at variance over the question of whether the IGMG is an extremist organization, which, in accordance with the Koran, is permitted to practice dissimilation (takiye) under certain circumstances, thereby keeping its secret aims hidden from the public.
Or is the IGMG an association, which under the influence of young reformers is gradually attempting to distance itself from its fundamentalist roots and, as a result, is facing internal resistance?
Nevertheless, even in this latest security agency report there is a small, inconspicuous footnote, which states that "it cannot be assumed that all members and supporters of the IGMG follow Islamist aims." The agency doubts, however, that the bonds between the IGMG and the Milli Görüs movement will break any time soon.
© Deutsche Welle/Qantara.de 2006
Translated from the German by John Bergeron