Dec 18 2018

It is job of Turkish imams in Germany to counter Gülenists - Daily Sabah

The main objective of Turkish imams in Germany is to strengthen Muslim faith, but a secondary mission is to battle the Gülen movement, columnist Beril Dedeoğlu wrote in the Turkish pro-government newspaper Daily Sabah.

It was one of the first acknowledgements from Turkish government circles that countering the Gülen movement, which Turkey accuses of organising the July 2016 coup attempt, is among the responsibilities of the hundreds of Turkish imams in Germany. 

“For some time now, Turkish imams sent to Germany have had another very important mission: to fight the Gülenist Terror Group's (FETÖ) propaganda and campaign,” Daily Sabah wrote. “They try to protect the local Turkish-Muslim community from this bloody group's vicious activities.”

Germany has the second-largest Muslim population in Western Europe after France. Among the country’s nearly 4.7 million Muslims, around 3 million are of Turkish origin, more than any country outside Turkey.

Germany is endeavouring to eliminate foreign funding and support for imams at the country’s mosques, as a way to reduce foreign influence and encourage a “German Islam”.

But the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), the largest Islamic umbrella organisation in Germany, runs some 900 mosques and is largely overseen by the Turkish government.

In early 2017, DITIB admitted that a few of its imams had provided information to Turkey on Gülenists in Germany, but said it had not instructed them to do so.

"We have repeatedly told Turkey that something like this is unacceptable," then-German Interior Minister Thomas De Maiziere said at the time. "No matter what position someone may have on the Gülen movement, here German jurisdiction applies and citizens will not be spied on by foreign countries."

Since the 2016 coup attempt, thousands of alleged Gülenists have fled Ankara’s crackdown on the group and sought exile in Germany, where they have received support from the media, political figures, and even churches.

In October, the German government announced it would no longer fund DITIB projects. The German domestic intelligence agency, BfV, is considering putting DITIB under official surveillance for the Gülen spying, for refusing to take part in a recent anti-terrorism march, and for DITIB imams urging worshipers to pray for a Turkish military victory in Syria.

European countries often criticise Turkish authorities because of the way they treat non-Muslim populations who live in Turkey, said Daily Sabah, but now Germany is doing the same thing regarding its Muslim population.

“The German government's interventions into religious practices has the potential to provoke reactions,” Daily Sabah wrote. “Those who try to prevent radicalisation may be the ones who will, at the end, provoke it.”