Saturday, May 18, 2024

Will Tehran’s ‘Strategic Outpost’ in Germany Finally Be Closed?

ResearchInvestigationsWill Tehran's 'Strategic Outpost' in Germany Finally Be Closed?

Germany’s parliament, outraged by the Iranian government’s deadly crackdown on anti-regime protesters, has called for the permanent closure of a controversial mosque in Hamburg that is used by Iran’s theocratic regime to export its Islamic Revolution to Europe.

The Islamic Center of Hamburg (Islamischen Zentrum Hamburg, IZH), described by German intelligence officials as a leading “propaganda center” of the Islamic Republic in Europe, is well known for spreading anti-Western, anti-Semitic, and anti-Israel extremist ideology.

There is no state treaty to be made with extremists. Stop looking the other way.

CDU lawmaker Dennis Thering

The mosque’s closure, when combined with Germany’s recent ban on the Iranian terrorist proxy Hezbollah, would represent a rebuke to the Iranian government and could significantly curb Tehran’s power and influence in Europe. Other European governments might also be encouraged to follow Germany’s lead and close Iranian-controlled mosques in their jurisdictions.

On November 8, Germany’s Bundestag, the federal parliament, approved a comprehensive package of measures to support the protest movement in Iran and apply pressure on the regime in Tehran. Among the 25 measures is a call for the German government to determine “if and how the IZH, a hub of the Iranian regime’s operations in Germany, can be closed.”

The move comes as a growing number of lawmakers and representatives of civil society organizations in Germany have called for the mosque to be closed. “The IZH is the extended arm of the mullah regime, which uses the center to spread its inhuman propaganda in Germany,” the chairman of the classical liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), Bijan Djir-Sarai, said in an interview with the newspaper Bild. “The IZH should definitely be closed.”

Green Party leader Omid Nouripour described the IZH as the Iranian regime’s “most important nest of spies in Germany” responsible for “spying on the opposition in exile.” He said that it was high time to end the IZH’s “hustle and bustle.” Bundestag Member Linda Teuteberg agreed. “We must do more to prevent the enemies of the open society and the free constitutional state from pursuing their extremist goals,” she said.

Green Party leader Omid Nouripour says that the Islamic Center of Hamburg has spied on the Iranian opposition in exile. Photo by Alliance 90/The Greens Parliamentary Group/Stefan Kaminski via Wikipedia.

The IZH, also known as the Imam Ali Mosque or the “Blue Mosque” (Blaue Moschee), was built in the early 1960s by Iranian merchants residing in Hamburg and served as a meeting point for Shiite Muslims living in the city. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the IZH developed into a “strategic outpost” of Iran’s regime, which is accused of using the mosque to exert religious and political influence on Shiites in Germany and across Europe.

The latest annual report from the Hamburg division of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, BfV), states that “the IZH is an important instrument used by the regime in Tehran to establish within Europe an anti-democratic and anti-Semitic orientation according to Shiite Islam and Iran’s state ideology.”

The report adds that although the IZH — well known for sending busloads of pro-Hezbollah activists to Berlin for the annual al-Quds (Arabic for Jerusalem) march whose participants regularly call for the annihilation of Israel — portrays itself as a purely religious institution that does not engage in political activities, its “understanding of the state and society is characterized by the primacy of religion over democracy and the rule of law.”

In July 2021, the BfV, which has monitored the IZH for three decades, revealed that it had obtained new documents confirming that its director, 56-year-old Mohammad Hadi Mofatteh, is the “official deputy” of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and is “bound by the instructions” of the Iranian regime.

In November 2022, the IZH’s deputy director, 46-year-old Seyed Soliman Mousavifar, was deported to Iran after Germany’s Interior Ministry said that he had proven connections to Hezbollah and shared the terrorist group’s propaganda on social media. He had been ordered to leave the country in June but appealed his deportation order several times until the Hamburg Administrative Court (Hamburgischen Oberverwaltungsgericht) ruled that he was required immediately to leave Germany and was banned from re-entering the country. “Anyone who demonstrably supports terrorist organizations or terrorist financiers represents a serious threat to our security and has no place in Germany,” said German Senator Andy Grote.

In January 2020, the IZH held a memorial service for Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq by an American drone strike. The ceremony during which he was honored as a “martyr,” was attended by hundreds of mourners whose grief turned to anger against the West. The event was greeted with outrage by German lawmakers, who called for the termination of controversial “treaties” that were reached in 2012 between Olaf Scholz (then Mayor of Hamburg, now Chancellor of Germany) and four local Muslim umbrella groups.

One of the agreements, which grant special privileges, including the recognition of Islamic holidays and the teaching of Islam in public schools, was concluded with the Hamburg Schura Council (Rat der islamischen Gemeinschaften in Hamburg), an association of Muslim organizations that represents around 60 mosques and other Islamic institutions in the city including the IZH. At the time, Hamburg’s deputy mayor, Katharina Fegebank, refused to terminate the treaty because, she said, it could have weakened “progressive Islamic forces.”

No one in Hamburg would think of cooperating with right-wing extremists. Why a different standard applies to the IZH has yet to be clarified by the responsible authorities.

Remko Leemhuis, Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Berlin

Fegebank has since changed her tune as Iran’s lethal repression of protesters has now revived the debate over the status of the treaties, which are currently subject to their first ten-year review.

She now insists that Hamburg’s treaty with the Schura Council will only be extended if it expels the IZH. “For me, a participation of the IZH in the city’s contracts with the Islamic communities is no longer conceivable,” Fegebank said in an interview with Norddeutscher Rundfunk, a public radio and television broadcaster. “The IZH is the antithesis to our free-democratic basic order and — as can currently be seen — stands for repression and disregard for human rights. That is why it is not a contractual partner for me.”

Remko Leemhuis, the director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Berlin, noted, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Muslims representing their political and religious interests or with state institutions ensuring their equal participation in society. “Questionable, however, is when representatives of a totalitarian regime sit at the table and try to influence Muslims living in Germany by using democratic institutions to push their socio-political ideas,” he wrote in an opinion essay published by the newspaper Die Welt.

Leemhuis is calling for the IZH to be banned. “Dealing with the IZH is about political credibility,” he wrote. “No one in Hamburg would think of cooperating with right-wing extremists. Why a different standard applies to the IZH has yet to be clarified by the responsible authorities.”

During a November 3 debate in the Hamburg Parliament (Hamburgischen Bürgerschaft), the center-right Christian Democrats argued that Hamburg should suspend its treaty with the Schura Council as long as the IZH is a member. “There is no state treaty to be made with extremists,” said CDU lawmaker Dennis Thering. “Stop looking the other way.”

Soeren Kern is a contributor to Focus on Western Islamism.

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