Germany aims to create Islamic body disconnected from Turkey - analyst

Amid high Turkish-German tensions, Berlin intends to create an Islamic body to oversee Turkish mosques that would operate autonomously, with no ties to Ankara, and help increase the integration of Turkish communities in German society.  

“Today, it is possible to state that the bilateral relations between Turkey and Germany are perhaps the most strained that they have ever been,” Yaşar Aydın, instructor at the Evangelical University for Social Work and Welfare in Hamburg, wrote on Wednesday for Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.

He pointed to German citizens held in Turkish prisons, German journalists denied visas, and particularly issues regarding the Turkish diaspora in Germany, which is home to more people of Turkish origin, about 3 million, than any country outside Turkey.

Because 1.2 million Turkish nationals in Germany are eligible to vote in Turkish elections, this community has become a crucial concern for Ankara, said Aydın. As a result, Ankara has used the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), which oversees some 900 mosques in Germany and is run by the Turkish government, to shape the views of Turkish Germans.

As the Turkish government has worked to mobilise the Turkish diaspora on its behalf, DITIB has come under increasing criticism for slowing integration and deepening polarisation, such as between Turks and Kurds in Germany, according to Aydın.

Germany’s domestic intelligence service has considered putting DITIB under official surveillance for pursuing anti-state goals, which would end its state funding. In 2017, the attorney general investigated 19 DITIB imams who reportedly shared intelligence with Ankara about expatriates in Germany who had criticised Turkey’s government.

In recent months, the German government has raised the idea of cutting all foreign funding for German mosques, begun training their imams and proposed a “mosque tax” to help fund Germany’s Islamic communities. These are just smaller steps toward a bigger goal, according to Aydın.

“Berlin seeks to form a new DITIB-like body that will have no ties with Ankara but will be solely accountable only to itself,” said Aydın, as this could moderate the political activities of German Turks and enhance their integration into society.

“Given Ankara's usage of DİTİB as an indispensable instrument for its diaspora policy, and as a propaganda tool to increase (the ruling Justice and Development Party) AKP's public approval in the diaspora, it seems that bilateral relations with Germany will not be improved until” Turkey makes DITIB autonomous, said Aydın.

“Otherwise, Berlin will most likely increase the amount of political pressure that it places on DİTİB in order to redesign it. This will ultimately harm the political participation of Muslim Turks in Germany as well as the future prospects of positive bilateral relations with Ankara.”