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German Muslims and the Israel Question
Last uploaded : Thursday 19th Mar 2009 at 14:17
Contributed by : Mehmet Daimaguler


12 March 2009


There is fear that anti-Semitism is rising among Europe’s Muslims, transforming Europe into the new centre of hate against Israel. But Europe’s 56 million Muslims are an exceedingly heterogeneous group, and the situation varies greatly from one Muslim community to another.

The case of German Muslims, for example, is very different from that in other parts of Europe. Although they are a diverse group comprised of Sunnis, Shi'a, Alevis and "cultural Muslims", more than 90 percent are of Turkish heritage, which may help explain the relatively good relations between Muslims and Jews in Germany.
Anti-Semitism exists in Turkey and has even been growing in recent years. But it has been much less part of the culture in Turkey than elsewhere. Jewish communities have been respected in Turkish society since the beginning of the 16th century when Turkey embraced Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. Even as late as the 1930s, the Turkish leader Kemal Atatürk, who is still widely revered by most Turks, welcomed Jewish refugees escaping from Nazi terror in Europe.

Turkey also has a special relationship with Israel. As the first Muslim-majority country to formally recognise Israel, it has played an active role in mediating between Israel and Syria. Although there is certainly widespread sympathy for their Palestinian co-religionists, military and economic relations between Israel and Turkey remain strong despite anger over Israel’s actions in the recent Gaza conflict.

Recognition of Germany’s historic responsibility for the crimes of the Shoah (Holocaust) is the basis for the special relationship between Germany and Israel. Muslims who have integrated into German society and regard Germany as their home are no different from other Germans in this manner; they adopt a sense of responsibility for German history in its entirety, without cherry picking, even if they arrived in Germany after the Third Reich. Interestingly, a group of German Muslims organised festivities to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel.

None of this implies that these German Muslims should not have the right to criticize Israel. During the recent war in Gaza, the overwhelming opinion in this community was that Israel had been extremely heavy-handed, and that the violence against women and children was simply indefensible — an opinion that I share. But it is crucial to understand that this criticism does not bring Israel’s right to exist into question, nor does it in any way reflect anti-Semitic sentiments.

Of course there are anti-Semitic tendencies in the Turkish community in Germany, too. Those who are not integrated, but marginalized, in German society are especially susceptible to nationalistic and other radical ideologies. The issue of successful integration — learning the German language and adopting basic German values (while keeping their own cultural heritage) — is also particularly mirrored in the quality of relations with German Jews. As a rule: the better the integration, the less rancour vis-à-vis Israel.

Integration is the best remedy against anti-Jewish sentiment by Muslims in Germany. How the majority population deals with this issue is extremely important. Integration is not a one-way street and many problems need to be tackled. These include the fact that large portions of the native German population and decision-makers still have not yet fully accepted the fact that Germany is now indeed a country of immigrants. Racism remains an everyday issue. It impacts Turkish immigrants in particular and has been on the increase since 9/11, which many Germans have used as an excuse to camouflage their racism and fear of Islam.

Although anti-Jewish sentiment by Muslims is less prevalent among Turkish Muslims in Germany than in other European Muslim communities, it nevertheless does exist. The key to battling this phenomenon is fuller integration of Muslim communities into German society. Our political leaders need to welcome immigrants by saying: immigration, and religious and cultural diversity are both our past and our future. We want to open our society to immigrants and would like our immigrants to open themselves to our society.


*Mehmet Daimaguler was born in Germany of immigrant parents. Educated at the Universities of Bonn, Harvard and Yale, he was the first parliamentarian advisor of Turkish origin in the German Federal Global Parliament and is a Yale University World Fellow. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service, 12 March 2009,

http://www.commongroundnews.org. .

Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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