Germany’s coalition government has dissolved an expert working group on political Islamism — opting instead to fight “Islamophobia.” The move has angered and alarmed those who warn that Islamism is spreading unabated in Germany, especially among young people in schools and on social media. Germany’s apparent self-deception about the danger of Islamism may end up being even more detrimental to the country’s future than its catastrophic error to become totally energy dependent on Russia.
Germany’s Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser, quietly discontinued the so-called Expert Group on Political Islamism (Expertenkreis Politischer Islamismus) in early September. No reason was given for the decision, but since assuming office in December 2021, Faeser, of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD), has repeatedly been accused of ignoring or downplaying the threat Islamism poses to German democracy.
The expert group, which consisted of eleven people from a variety of academic disciplines, was established in June 2021 by the then interior minister, Horst Seehofer, to identify measures to counter the spread of Islamism in Germany. “We must take decisive action against any ideology that is directed against the values and norms of our free-democratic basic order,” he said at the time.
The working group’s original remit was for a period of one year, but its members had requested that they be allowed to continue their work. A written proposal called for expanding “quantitative and qualitative” research into non-violent Islamism because, “despite numerous preventive efforts and measures, it is not possible to curb the appeal and attraction of political Islamism (especially for young people).”
Bundestag Member Christoph de Vries of the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said that the government’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 added that Faeser’s decision was “a slap in the face to all those who work against religious extremism and for our democracy.”
In its latest annual report, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV) warned that threats from violent and nonviolent Islamism in Germany continue unabated. The report estimated that Germany is home to roughly 30,000 highly radicalized Muslims, although the actual number certainly is much higher. (The BfV admitted that it lacks data on at least ten Islamist groups operating in Germany.)
The BfV report identifies Salafism, which rejects democracy and the separation of state and religion, as the largest and most influential Islamist movement in Germany. Its roughly 12,000 adherents are said to be increasingly heterogeneous and carrying out their activities underground to avoid detection by German authorities.
The second-largest Islamist organization in Germany is Milli Görüs (Turkish for “National Vision”), a Turkish nationalist political and religious movement that is strongly opposed to Muslim integration into European society. Although Milli Görüs, which is estimated to have at least 10,000 adherents in Germany, has been monitored by German intelligence for anti-constitutional activities, it continues to operate freely throughout the country.
The report listed more than a dozen other Islamist groups active in Germany including: al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood. The groups have ties to, and are believed to receive funding from, Islamist groups in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
“Despite some successes, such as bans on Islamist associations, the thwarting of Islamist-motivated terrorist attacks in Germany and the prevention of numerous departures to jihad areas, the threat posed by Islamist terrorism in Germany and for German interests and institutions worldwide persists,” the BfV concluded.
Shortly after the BfV published its report, the head of the Frankfurt Research Center on Global Islam, Susanne Schröter, accused the German government of ignoring the problem of Islamism. “The coalition government persistently sweeps the problem of Islamism under the rug,” she said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag. “Neither the high potential for violence, nor the problems with Islamists in schools, nor the oppression of girls and women, seem to worry the government.”
The German government has acknowledged that its priority is to combat “Islamophobia,” not Islamism, according to documents leaked to Welt am Sonntag. Germany’s Interior Ministry more than doubled funding for an Independent Expert Group on Anti-Muslim Hostility (Unabhängigen Expertenkreis Muslimfeindlichkeit, UEM), from 162,000 euros in 2021 to over 473,000 euros in 2022. By contrast, the now-dissolved Expert Group on Political Islamism had a budget of only 112,000 euros in 2021 and requests to increase that funding in 2022 were rejected.
“The coalition government has so far largely ignored the danger of Islamism in Germany,” Bundestag Member Andrea Lindholz told Welt am Sonntag. “By doing nothing, Mrs. Faeser and her coalition partners are creating a security vulnerability.”
Islam expert Rebecca Schönenbach, in an interview with Bild, noted that the coalition government appears committed to fighting all forms of discrimination, except for the discrimination perpetrated by Islamists. “The federal government must take action against Islamic extremists,” she said. “So far, however, it has canceled all measures to do so.”
Schönenbach warned that dissolving the Expert Group on Islamism would end up denying protection to those who urgently need it. “In addition to women, vulnerable groups such as young people are left to Islamists who will try to radicalize as many as possible,” she said.
Bundestag Member Alexander Throm accused Faeser of “neglecting the fight against political Islamism in the most criminal way.” In a statement he said that the representatives of political Islamism “reject our basic democratic order” and, “with their anti-constitutional ideology, create intellectual breeding ground for terrorists.” Throm added that the activity of the expert group was an “important milestone in the fight against extremism and terrorism” and that “with her one-sided politics” Faeser “endangers the security of the citizens.”
The head of the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Münster, Mouhanad Khorchide, said that the dissolution of the expert group on Islamism indicates that the government does not fully understand the danger of Islamism. “Those in charge are still caught up in the thought that only violent ideologies like jihadism are dangerous,” he said. “There is a lack of awareness of the danger of the ideological underpinning of violent Islamism.”
Soeren Kern is a contributor to Focus on Western Islamism.