Germany's parliament has rejected two legislative proposals aimed at clamping down on political Islam in Germany. The sponsors of the proposed bills argued that Islamism is subversive and must be opposed because it poses a growing threat to liberal democracy and social cohesion. Lawmakers representing Germany's left-wing coalition government countered that measures to curb Islamism would unfairly single out Muslims.
The legislative setback comes just six months after Germany's government dissolved a high-profile expert working group on political Islam — opting instead to fight "Islamophobia."
A number of German analysts (who preferred to remain anonymous) told FWI that the government's refusal to confront Islamism stems from its obsession with woke ideology, which posits that Muslims are an oppressed group and need protection. They asserted that this stance and the policies that result from it represent a security threat not just for Germany but also for the rest of Europe.
Germany's violent and non-violent Islamism problem is colossal. In its latest annual report, Germany's domestic intelligence agency (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV) estimated that the country is home to at least 30,000 hardcore Islamists, although the actual number probably is much higher.
The BfV report listed more than 20 Islamist groups active in Germany including: al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Hamas, Hezbollah, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Islamic State, Milli Görüs, the Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi Jamaat, and the Taliban. The groups have ties to — and are believed to receive funding from — governments and Islamist organizations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
BfV warned that violent and non-violent Islamists are seeking "the partial or complete abolition of the free democratic basic order" in Germany. They are "particularly opposed to the principles of popular sovereignty enshrined in the Basic Law [German Constitution], the separation of state and religion, freedom of expression, and general equality."
Despite the burgeoning threat, the German parliament (Bundestag) on March 16 rejected two legislative proposals aimed at giving German officials more power to tackle the Islamist threat. The first proposal (Antrag) — "Disclosing and Preventing the Financing of Political Islamism in Germany" (Finanzierung des politischen Islamismus in Deutschland offenlegen und unterbinden) — was submitted by the opposition center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The second proposal — "Drying Up the Financing of Islamism" (Finanzierung des Islamismus austrocknen) — was presented by Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The CDU/CSU proposal called on the federal government to require mosques and Islamic associations in Germany to disclose any foreign sources of financing to German tax authorities. It also called for expanding the BfV's powers to investigate financial and political meddling by foreign governments with respect to the practice of Islam in Germany, and to allow it to coordinate more closely with Germany's Financial Intelligence Unit, an official agency tasked with investigating money laundering and terrorist financing.
The CDU/CSU proposal further asked the government to hold talks with countries such as Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey with the aim of "terminating financial support for organizations of political Islamism from these states." It also called on the government to ensure that the Muslim community in Germany "is financed as independently from abroad as possible" which would "significantly reduce" foreign influences.
The AfD proposal called for the government to "prevent the financing of Islamist organizations from tax revenue and by means of foreign donations" and to "create a directory in which all information about the sources of funding for the existing mosque communities is collected." It further called on the government to submit an annual report to the Bundestag on the financing of Islamist organizations in Germany.
At public Bundestag hearings held in September 2022, expert witnesses overwhelmingly agreed on the need for more effective government action to counter Islamism in Germany. The head of the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Münster, Mouhanad Khorchide, warned that Islamists are attempting "a creeping takeover of power" by "exploiting or abusing the existing legal system to undermine the rule of law and its free and democratic basic values."
Another expert witness, Guido Steinberg of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said that although Germany has had an Islamism problem "since the 1990s," it has "gained importance" in recent years due to the mass immigration of Muslims "from countries where Sunni Islamism is widespread." He added that Germany's political establishment "has reacted with only isolated and sometimes ineffective measures" that focus primarily on violent Islamists. Steinberg noted that Germany currently lacks legal measures to prevent foreign governments from funding Islamists in the country.
Hans-Jakob Schindler of the Berlin-based Counter Extremism Project told the Bundestag that the dearth of information about the financing of Islamist groups in Germany is partly due to "legal gaps and hurdles, existing limitations on the powers of the security authorities, as well as a lack of transparency requirements" for mosques and Islamic associations. He said that the legislative proposals could lead to "major improvements" in filling the knowledge gap (Erkenntnislücke) about the financing of Islamism in Germany.
In a parliamentary debate before the two proposals were rejected, Bundestag Member Peggy Schierenbeck of the center-left Social Democrats branded the proposed bills as "prejudice against people of other faiths" and claimed that if they were to be approved, "people from Muslim civil society would fall victim to generalization and stigmatization."
Bundestag Member Lamya Kaddor of the Greens declared that "Islamism is nothing more than doing politics with religion." Kaddor, a first-generation German of Syrian origin known for her efforts to expand the teaching of Islam in German schools, said the sponsors of the proposals "want to determine who is a 'good' Muslim and who is a 'bad' Muslim — 'good' means 'secular,' they want Muslims without Islam." She insisted that anyone who "problematizes Islamism must also problematize Islamophobia."
German political observers consulted by FWI all said that the current government's commitment to woke ideology would prevent any meaningful action against Islamism in Germany. One analyst noted that the German government is obsessed with "semantics" and that it would "block any bill that does not conform to woke vocabulary." Another remarked that the government does not want to "tackle the issue" of Islamism because "Islamists are seen first as Muslims in need of protection" and that "under no circumstances do they want to be seen as hostile to Islam."
One of the proposals' key sponsors, CDU Bundestag Member Christoph de Vries, told FWI that he was "very disappointed" with the government's "unwillingness to unmask and prevent the foreign financing of radical mosques in Germany." He said the government has been "trivializing and neglecting Islamism" ever since it assumed office in December 2021.
De Vries also accused German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser of duplicity. "The whole hypocrisy of Mrs. Faeser is shown in the fact that she wore a 'One Love' armband for human rights and tolerance at the German World Cup opening game in Qatar, but when it comes to the money flows to Germany from Qatar, the world's largest donor to the Muslim Brotherhood, she does nothing at all."
In September 2022, Faeser discontinued the so-called Expert Group on Political Islamism (Expertenkreis Politischer Islamismus). The group, which consisted of eleven people from a variety of academic disciplines, had been established by the previous government to identify measures to counter the spread of Islamism in Germany.
De Vries said that Faeser's decision to dissolve the group of experts represents "the culmination of a policy of looking the other way and ignoring Islamism as a phenomenon that endangers democracy." He described the move as "a slap in the face to all those who work against religious extremism and for our democracy."
Soeren Kern is a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow.