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GERMANY: Antisemitism in Germany : « As Muslims, we must tackle this »

In Germany, protests about the Israel-Gaza conflict involved antisemitic outbursts. Local Muslim communities have distanced themselves from these.


By Kersten Knipp


DW(19.05.2021) – https://bit.ly/3wcjKEa –  He knew exactly why he was going to the demonstration. Mazen, a 30-year-old Syrian refugee, wanted to protest against the violence he believed Israel was inflicting unjustly. And he explained his motivation for attending the demonstration like this: “My friends and I are opposed to the illegal expulsion of people from their homes. We say no to the killing of children and the unnecessary bombing of buildings and vital infrastructure.”


Mazen, who did not want to use his full name, displays a position that the general German public finds controversial. Not least because the parties to this conflict and their supporters present crucial details in different ways.


Israel explains its evictions in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah as property disputes. As a result of the 1949 peace agreement, the law says Jews who were pushed out of east Jerusalem during fighting may reclaim their lost property. The Palestinians say this is illegal expropriation.


With regard to the victims of the armed conflict with Hamas, the Israeli military says that the Islamist terror organization places military assets in the midst of civilian populations and that Israel warns civilians before planned attacks. At the same time, Amnesty International is demanding that such Israeli attacks be investigated as war crimes by the International Criminal Court.


Mazen has a strong opinion on Israel: “I would be a liar if I said that we want to be friends with the state of Israel. But it’s there, it exists. We must deal with it.” This attitude did not prevent him from joining a protest that was planned jointly by Palestinian and Israeli organizations that are critical of Israel’s stance on the Palestinian Territories.


“The whole protest is not antisemitic”


Although Mazen did not see any at the demonstration he attended, he concedes that there had been antisemitic actions at others. “You can’t control everyone,” he pointed out.

There are always a handful of people at demonstrations who will behave badly, he says. “It was the same in Syria. We would all be demonstrating for democratic values but there would always be some guy in the crowd calling for an Islamic state. In Germany, you get some people calling out antisemitic things. But you cannot say that the whole protest is antisemitic because of that.”


At the same time, it is impossible for Germans to ignore the antisemitic utterances from some larger groups at other demonstrations. Participants at a demonstration in Gelsenkirchen yelled out “shit Jews.” This has triggered a debate about antisemitism among Muslims and migrants and the community has come under pressure to justify itself.


Referring to a video from the Gelsenkirchen protests, Aiman Mazyek, who heads the Central Committee of Muslims in Germany, made his opinions clear: “(I) definitively condemn such disgusting scenes,” he wrote on Twitter. “Those who deplore racism but then spread antisemitic hatred themselves have forfeited everything.”


Naming the problem


Eren Guvercin, the founder of the Muslim Alhambra Society in Germany, which promotes international understanding, isn’t surprised by the video. Antisemitism among Muslims in Germany becomes visible occasionally, and most commonly when violence in the Middle East escalates. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist in quieter times as well,” he said.


Antisemitism is a central ideological component for a number of extremist Islamist organizations, Guvercin explained, and these also try to promote it in more moderate Muslim communities. “This is something we have to deal with as Muslims first and foremost. But often this fails because the problem cannot even be named.”


Clearly antisemitic slogans were shouted in some cases, conceded Bulent Ucar, a professor of Islamic theology at Osnabrück University. “There are good arguments against Israel’s policy of occupation and dispossession, which is against international law,” he told DW. “But there are also polarizing actors, who are loading this political dispute in the Middle East with antisemitism, and then trying to transfer it to Europe. This is not at all acceptable. There is no justification for Jews in Germany to be threatened and harassed. That’s inexcusable and a total no-go.”


Legitimate criticism or antisemitism?


Orkide Ezgimen, who heads the Discover Diversity project at the Kreuzberg Initiative against antisemitism in Berlin, agrees that different motivations were on display at the demonstrations. There was criticism of Israel’s actions against the Palestinians but also a lot of potential for aggressive behavior, some of which include antisemitic sentiments.


“These reference German history, such as the Holocaust,” she said. “That is clearly antisemitic. Of course, in a democracy one has the right to demonstrate against the policies of another country — but not in all forms. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you have to distinguish very clearly between legitimate criticism and antisemitism.”


Problematic reactions


Islamic scholar Lamya Kaddor makes another important point: “The attacks on synagogues are terrible, they are a disgrace,” she emphasized. But the reactions to them from German society are also problematic, she added. “We have been dealing with this [antisemitism] for a long time in this country. But we should not be pitting one minority against another minority. That will only divide our communities further.”


As a Muslim, Rachid Amjahad, head of the Düsseldorf-based Society for the Culture and Science of the Maghreb, believes it’s crucial to speak out clearly against antisemitism. At the same time, he is opposed to collectively blaming local Muslim communities for the antisemitic attacks. It has always impacted him deeply when mosques are attacked in Germany. “Of course, we wish for solidarity then,” he said. “On the other hand, we also have to provide this solidarity when other denominations’ institutions are attacked. Solidarity is not a one-way street.”


Not acceptable


Guvercin of the Alhambra Society goes a step further. He deplores what he calls the “double standards” among some of the participants of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Germany: “Those who chant ‘shit Jews’ in front of synagogues and reject Israel’s right to exist are antisemitic and have no interest in peace,” he said. “Those who romanticize nihilistic terror organizations like Hamas and who justify their terrorism with reference to the Israeli government’s policies, are only accepting the destructive tendencies of a terror organization. This is not acceptable to me as a Muslim.”


Theology professor Ucar says that antisemitic tendencies are not all the same. The origin of the families and personal experience also make a difference. “A Muslim from Bosnia, for example, usually has a very different relationship to Israel than a Syrian, for example,” he said. Irrespective of this, there is a need for more dialogue, personal exchanges and encounters between Muslims and Jews.


Religious conflicts


In the long term, there is something else to consider, Ezgimen of the Kreuzberg Initiative, said. On one hand, Germany’s historical responsibility because of the Holocaust is “completely correct,” said Ezgimen, who works mostly with refugees. “But German politics has not yet succeeded in spreading that message to all parts of the population equally,” she explained. “A lot of people who have a non-German origin story are dealing with a German culture of remembrance that confronts them with the suffering of others.” Sometimes this gives refugees from war and crisis zones the impression that their own experiences are seen as less important. “This quickly leads to a struggle for recognition,” she suggested.


In the short term, the focus should be on keeping the impact of the Middle East conflict on Germany in check, said Maghreb Society activist Amjahad. “If protests are being held in front of synagogues, that becomes very dangerous,” he concluded. “Because then it turns a territorial conflict into a religious one. And that will be very difficult to resolve.”


Photo : Christian MANG – REUTERS

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Germany: Anti-Semitic attack at Hamburg synagogue

A German man dressed in military fatigues attacked another man outside a synagogue in the German city of Hamburg, according to police. Germany’s foreign minister said anti-Semitic attacks are not isolated incidents.


DW News (04.10.2020) – https://bit.ly/3iASrvU – A man attacked a Jewish citizen outside the Hohe Weide synagogue in Hamburg on Sunday, according to police.


The man swung a foldable shovel, injuring a 26-year-old before the synagogue’s security personnel were able to restrain him. He was later taken into custody by Hamburg police. Germany’s DPA news agency reported the 29-year-old suspect was carrying a piece of paper with a swastika in his pocket.


The victim, reported to be a Jewish student, suffered serious injuries to the head and was admitted to a local hospital for treatment, according to the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. His injuries are serious though not life-threatening.


Police said the attacker, a German with Kazakh roots, was accused of causing grievous bodily harm and appeared to be acting alone. A police spokesperson said the motive for the attack was still under investigation and that the suspect was “extremely confused” leaving investigators unable immediately to question him.


Members of the city’s Jewish community were at the synagogue celebrating Sukkoth.


‘Why does this keep happening?’


German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas denounced the attack as anti-Semitic and called on people to show more civil courage.


“This is not an isolated incident, this is disgusting anti-Semitism and we must all oppose it!” Maas wrote in a tweet.


“As we mark the one-year anniversary of the Yom Kippur attack in Halle, Germany, which left two dead, I am saddened to learn that once again, this time on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a German Jewish community is confronting a violent, antisemitic act of terror,” World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder said in a statement.


“We must ask ourselves, and German local and national authorities must address the question – why does this keep happening? Why is anti-Semitism thriving, and why does anyone believe there is room for such hate?” Lauder added. “Our young people must not learn from those who hate. The German government must take responsibility in strengthening education so that the next generation understands that hatred of any kind is never permissible. The long-term viability of Jewish life in Germany depends on it.”


Jewish community shaken


The German Orthodox Rabbinical Conference (ORD) has described the attack as “another shock to the Jewish community in Germany.”


“It is unbearable to see hatred and violence against Jews erupt again and again on German streets, and this comes during the holiest Jewish holidays and one year after the terrible attack in Halle,” said ORD chairman Avichai Apel on Sunday.


Apel added “Jewish life as a whole must be better protected in this country,” and demanded that German society “take even more decisive action against hate and incitement on the internet, against right-wing extremist agitators, against the Neo Nazi scene and crude conspiracy theorists, and do more for prevention, education and the promotion of civic courage.”

Nearly one year since Halle attack


The attack in Hamburg came ahead of the one-year anniversary of a deadly Yom Kippur synagogue attack in the eastern German city of Halle. In that attack, a man armed with a gun attempted to break down a door to a synagogue as worshipers gathered for the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Though he was not able to enter the synagogue, two people were shot dead and others were injured.


Germany has recently seen an increase in anti-Semitic crimes, leading Chancellor Angela Merkel to declare some Jews do not feel safe in Germany.


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PAKISTAN: Coronavirus and Islam: Pakistani clerics refuse to shut down mosques

As Islamic clerics refuse to stop allowing religious congregations, Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to downplay the coronavirus threat to his country. Could this be a “recipe for disaster” for Pakistan?

By Haroon Janjua


DW News (31.03.2020) – https://bit.ly/2UCvsbm – Last week, Pakistani President Arif Alvi and provincial governors held a meeting with Sunni and Shiite clerics to convince them to close mosques for congregational prayers across the country amid rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases in the country. The clerics, however, rejected the request.


“We can in no way close mosques … It is not possible in any circumstances in an Islamic country,” said Muneeb-bur-Rehman, a cleric who attended the meeting.


The clerics’ blatant refusal to shun collective prayers has raised doubts about Pakistan’s resolve to fight the pandemic, which has killed at least 25 people in the country and infected nearly 2,000.


Earlier in March, when coronavirus cases in Pakistan were relatively lower, the federal government allowed Shiite pilgrims from Iran to return to the country through Baluchistan province.


The pilgrims were not properly quarantined, which resulted in a spike of infections. Also, the government allowed thousands of Sunni worshippers to go ahead with the “Tablighi Jamaat” congregation in Pubjab province. Many of the new COVID-19 cases have emerged from that mass gathering.

Health experts say the government’s measures are inadequate, fearing that the number of coronavirus cases in the South Asian country could increase exponentially in the coming weeks.


Civil society activists say that Pakistani authorities continue to appease Islamists even when the country is facing a worsening public health crisis.


Clerics’ defiance


Many Pakistanis have refused to offer their prayers inside their homes, saying that religion is more important than anything else.


“I offered prayers in the mosque on Friday. More than 300 people were in attendance and it looked like a routine Friday prayer,” Muhammad Ashraf, a kiosk-owner in Islamabad, told DW.


“The mosque is a safe place. I don’t fear coronavirus,” Ashraf said, adding that he intended to attend the next Friday prayer as well.


Many Islamic countries have shut down mosques and banned mass prayers after the emergence of coronavirus cases. Saudi Arabia even closed down Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba, and other sacred mosques to contain the spread of COVID-19. But even these examples did not deter many Pakistanis.


“The pandemic is spreading due to our sins and because we are not following the teachings of Islam,” Ejaz Ashrafi, a senior cleric belonging to the Tehreek-i-Labaik (TLP) Islamist party, told DW.


Ashrafi leads the Friday prayer at a mosque in the eastern city of Lahore. “People are still going to super markets, yet the state only wants to shut down mosques. We will continue to offer prayers in the mosques,” he said.


Fawad Chaudhary, the federal minister of science and technology, told media that the coronavirus is spreading in Pakistan “due to the ignorance of religious clerics.” Islamist groups decried Chaudhary’s statement.


Rights groups say the government must act strictly against the clerics who are defying its orders.


“The laws clearly state that anyone who deliberately spreads diseases should be imprisoned or fined. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government seems to be completely helpless,” Osama Malik, an Islamabad-based legal expert, told DW.


Khan reluctant to impose a lockdown


On Monday, Prime Minister Khan spoke to the nation in a televised address (his third in the past three weeks) and argued that the country did not need a complete lockdown. He said that his government could have shut down entire cities but chose not to do it because at least 25% of the country’s population would have died of hunger.


Khan’s own dislike for a lockdown has emboldened those who are downplaying the virus threat to Pakistan, say experts.

Health experts say there is lack of awareness about COVID-19 among people who are not taking the disease seriously.


In contrast to Khan’s “strategy,” provincial chief ministers have favored the lockdown. Sindh’s CM Murad Ali Shah of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has successfully implemented it to contain the virus’s spread in the province. Political analysts say that the powerful Pakistani military is assisting provinces in enforcing the partial lockdown.


“Lockdown is the only way to stop the virus from spreading. The cases are expected to rise in the coming weeks if religious gatherings are not banned across the country. Clerics should understand the seriousness of the situation,” Dr. Qaisar Sajjad, secretary general of Pakistan Medical Association, told DW.


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Germany’s Catholic Church struggles with women and power

Catholic women are demanding change in the church and giving Germany’s bishops an earful as they meet in Fulda. The bishops are under pressure — from the progressive grassroots at home and from a reluctant Vatican.


By Christoph Strack


DW (23.09.2019) – https://bit.ly/2n5MS1u – They won’t let up. Catholic women protested in the central city of Fulda ahead of the plenary assembly of Germany’s Catholic bishops on Monday afternoon. “We want to be visible and audible. And I believe that we owe it to the women and men of the Catholic Church that we are heard more,” said Mechthild Heil, head of the Catholic Women’s Community of Germany (kfd). With 450,000 members, the biggest Catholic women’s group in the country is pressing for women to gain access to all church offices — including the priesthood.


Heil and around 150 kfd members demonstrated in Fulda, making their way through downtown with a group of drummers, banners, placards and big pink crosses on their way to the seminary next to the cathedral. There they issued their demands to the bishops and spoke with the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx.


The lead-up to this protest has been long: Nearly 10 years ago the scandal over sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Germany broke as numerous cases at a Berlin Jesuit school came to light. New information, as well as increasing numbers of cases and reports from victims, has continued to emerge since then. In the past decades, well over a thousand priests committed tens of thousands of offenses against thousands of victims. They were hushed up and ignored until a study in autumn 2018 revealed the magnitude of the scandal. That prompted a growing discussion about patriarchal thinking in the male-dominated church and the relationship between abuse of power and sexual abuse.


But the issue is also about women. “We can’t avoid the question of women,” said Osnabrück Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, vice chair of the German Bishops’ Conference. Bode and other bishops have been calling for a debate about allowing female deacons in the church.


Many prominent nuns go further still. Women should “pose the power question,” said Sister Katharina Ganz, mother superior of the Oberzell Franciscan convent, and underlines that no pope has said that excluding women from the ministry — as deacons, priests or bishops — is part of church dogma.


Post from the pope


Bishops and laypeople in Germany want to embark on a “synodal path” and tackle fundamental questions. On the subject of women in church office, a preparatory working group found that as women and men are equal in legal terms in most countries, women’s position in the Catholic Church does “not reflect the societal expectations of equitable participation in leadership services.”


But there is a deep chasm in the church. In late June, Pope Francis wrote a letter to German Catholics that was interpreted as being as encouraging as it was admonishing. Ten days ago, important cardinals of the Roman Curia joined in and admonished the German bishops, while Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Marx’s most important opponent in the German Bishops’ Conference, declared the discussion about women becoming priests over.


It remains unclear what will happen with the “synodal path.” Marx spoke to Pope Francis late last week in Rome and will discuss those talks when he meets with the bishops, who are divided over “the women question.”


“Somehow it harks back to the old days when Woelki says: ‘The debate is over,'” said Heil of the Catholic Women’s Community. Woelki’s rejection is out of tune with the times. “It is the last attempt to say: ‘I am putting my foot down,'” she told DW. There are issues of power and historical arguments for excluding women from the priesthood but there is no theological argument, she said.


That’s why they’re demonstrating. Every September for the past 10 years, Heil’s group has rallied under the slogan “Stand up for a gender-equitable church!” But this is the first time there’s been a full-throated demonstration like in Fulda.


Compensation for abuse victims


There has been some movement when it comes to dealing with cases of sexual abuse. For the first time ever, a prominent representative of the victims will be allowed to speak to the assembly of bishops. Matthias Katsch, spokesman for the Eckiger Tisch victims’ initiative, said he will present the 69 men with his group’s recommendations for redress on Tuesday, which include financial compensation of €300,000 ($330,000) for victims of sexual abuse. So far, the bishops have consistently rejected across-the-board settlements.


Monday’s women’s demonstration won’t be the only protest during the four days of discussions. On Thursday, the group Maria 2.0 plans to demonstrate under the slogan “Now it’s time: Women fight for their church,” while the Catholic Youth Community (KjG) will push for “courageous” structural change in the church.

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