Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was in Berlin and was received by the head of state and had a working lunch with the Chancellor. The fans of the Sultan of the Bosphorus living in Germany enjoyed the visit of their great idol at the end of last week. Then there was the sporting triumph of the Turkish national football team, which defeated the Germans 3-2 in front of their home crowd in the Berlin Olympic Stadium the day before yesterday.
A very large Sword of Damocles hung over Erdoğan’s visit to Berlin, the Turkish president’s position that the terrorist militia Hamas, which emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, was a liberation army, would sooner or later also have to be a topic in his talks with the political leadership in Germany. Erdoğan was allowed to silence a German journalist without being contradicted at the press conference with Chancellor Scholz, who had asked him what his statements meant and whether he stood by Israel’s right to exist: a journalist “is not allowed” to ask such questions, according to Erdoğan. This is also the case in Turkey. It was a bizarre event and, because it was completely unnecessary, deeply shameful for the host.
Since Erdoğan and his colleagues not only have indirect control over the German mosque congregations of the Turkish community, but also a very direct one, the Germans quickly became aware of the dangers that could arise from this connection. Above all, the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institution for Religion (Ditib), an offshoot of the Turkish religious authority Diyanet and the largest and most influential Muslim association in Germany, is currently demonstrating that there are red lines when it comes to publicly turning away from Hamas’ terrorist acts and anti-Semitism, which one is obviously not willing to exceed. The only question is how German politics will deal with it.
The story began with a good intention. After Hamas’ attack on Israel, German politicians were dissatisfied with the reluctance of Muslim associations. So calls were made to the associations and people met for discussions. Ditib made it clear from the start that it doesn’t think much of receiving tutoring on reasons of state from German politicians. The calls give the impression “that the Islamic religious communities first have to be warned to take the correct position” and “suggest untruths,” wrote the Ditib angrily. “We – the Muslim associations – are part of the solution, not the problem.” The association grudgingly took part in a meeting anyway. This was followed by visits to synagogues and return visits to mosques. After that the climate became frosty. The Ditib apparently did not want to comply with the express wish of the Islamic associations to carry the common message about criticism of Hamas’ murders and kidnappings to the communities and to the grassroots.
Why does German politics still believe that it can persuade Ditib, which is financed by the Turkish state, to credibly distance itself from the atrocities of Hamas, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan never misses an opportunity to rail against Israel and declare Hamas a “liberation organization”? What is almost even more serious when it comes to Ditib: Ali Erbaş, religious leader of the Turkish religious authority Diyanet, has also made it clear where he stands in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Since the terrorist attack on October 7, he has repeatedly openly agitated against Israel and spread anti-Semitic messages. Israel is “like a rusty dagger stuck in the heart of Islamic geography,” he said in a recent sermon. As head of the Diyanet, Erbaş has significant influence on the German branch: he sets the theological line, he helps decide on the composition of the Ditib board, and he watches over the 1,000 imams that the association has sent to Germany to work in the mosques to teach Sunni Islam.
The upheavals with Ditib in recent years are numerous. And this time too, German politicians are demanding that the association not be allowed to go unpunished. Many say that Ditib cannot continue as usual. Volker Beck, President of the German-Israeli Society, also said with regard to the Ditib that one should no longer be satisfied with “flat-out lip service” and “cheap gestures” from the associations regarding the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel. The Jewish representatives who actively sought contact with Ditib are also gradually losing patience. During a visit to a mosque in Bochum, they explained to the general secretary of the Ditib that they had “made it unmistakably clear that the gaffes of President Erdoğan, those of the Diyanet boss Erbaş or the Diyanet’s disturbing, anti-Israel Friday sermons have no place here in Germany.” Erbaş’s statement was described as “forgetful of history, inhumane and simply disgusting.”
Ditib representatives leave unanswered why a clear commitment against anti-Semitism and Hamas terror is not published on the Ditib site and whether it distances itself from the inflammatory tirades of its religious leader in Turkey. On the one hand, this may be due to the obligatory loyalty to Erbaş, but on the other hand, the reasons could also be found in one’s own convictions. Back in 2016, for example, leading Ditib representatives shared a speech by the former Turkish Prime Minister and Millî Görüş founder Necmettin Erbakan. In it, the politician talks about Turkey being exploited by “Zionist US banks” and promotes his Islamist concept of a “just world order.”
Other Ditib officials have long since made their dislike of Israel public. Another Ditib community leader in Germany, for example, shared a video in Turkish of a pro-Palestinian demonstration on Facebook two days after the Hamas bloodbath. Below there is a sentence decorated with a Palestinian flag that translates as: “Damn Israel, my God!”
When dealing with Ditib, the German state has been in a dilemma for many years. With more than 900 communities and thousands of members, Ditib is the largest and most influential Muslim association in Germany and therefore the most important dialogue partner when it comes to topics such as integration, Islamic religious education in schools and influencing the Muslim population. But with Erdoğan’s increasing power expansion in Turkey, the association in Germany was also becoming more and more loyal to the line. Ankara replaced the federal executive board based in Cologne numerous times. Most recently last fall. The background is still unclear today. Since then, the chairman has been Muharrem Kuzey, who previously served Turkey’s interests as a religious attaché in the consulate general in Hürth near Cologne. He hardly ever appears in public.
Change through proximity, that was the strategy of German politics for many years to get the Ditib to reform and cut off the cord from Ankara and the Diyanet and open them up to life in a liberal society. These efforts, says Güvercin, failed resoundingly. Especially against the background of the unwillingness to make its own communities more resistant to anti-Semitism through education and a credible stance, it is now the task of the German government to increase the pressure on the Ditib. “Politicians must formulate clear demands and also threaten consequences if Ditib does not change its behavior.” One possibility is to question and, if necessary, even suspend the issuing of visas for the Diyanet imams.
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research Center.