A study by Turkish experts revealed poor political participation of Muslims in the UK, France and Germany as a proportion of the population.
Muslim minorities living in Europe are not proportionately represented in European politics, say the findings of a study conducted between 2007-2018 and published by Cambridge University Press last July.
Speaking to TRT World, Authors Sener Akturk, associate professor for international relations at the Koc University in Turkey, and PhD candidate Yury Katliarou, concluded that the representation of Muslim minority groups in mainstream politics varies significantly across 26 European countries.
According to the study, “on average, Muslim minorities have the highest levels of descriptive representation in Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands…In contrast, Muslim minorities in France, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Germany are the most under-represented.“
Demographic data suggest Muslims make up around seven percent of Germany’s population, or 5.5 million out of a population of 83 million.
But in the German parliament, also known as the Bundestag, there are only two Muslim members of parliament out of 709 – well below one percent political representation.
In comparison, the UK has 18 Muslim members of parliament out of a total 650 seats, that’s 2.7 percent, also well below the over 5 percent that Muslims represent in the overall population.
Discrimination and low social mobility
May Zeidani Yufanyi, Project Coordinator at Insaan, a non-governmental organisation working towards improving political and social participation of Muslims in Germany says discrimination, criminalisation and low social mobility are behind the lack of Muslim involvement in German politics.
Yufanyi prefaces her arguments with a cautionary statement about the country’s census data collection methods: “German statistics should be taken with a pinch of salt, census data here doesn’t ask about faith so it’s difficult to assume the number of Muslims that live in Germany.”
She adds, “discrimination is widespread, and the class system is very much prevalent. Belonging to the wrong socio-economic class can mean low social mobility which in turn hinders a person’s chances of climbing the political ladder in Germany.”
A young student’s future is decided at a young age, often in Grade 5, when teachers decide, based on overall competency, whether the child is good enough to go through the Gymnasium system, or the Realschule system.
The contrast between the two often sees children leading very different lives; the Realschule is more of a vocational school, preparing children for blue collar jobs, whereas the Gymnasium system is often the first steps towards university, teaching them mathematics, sciences, arts, history, and foreign languages.
In the past, teachers would often discriminate against children of migrant backgrounds, particularly those of Turkish origin, and push them through the Realschule system. Although Germany doesn’t require a university degree requirement to enter politics, Yufanyi says “if you don’t go to the Gymnasium system, your chances of entering politics are fairly low.
Criminalisation of belief, Yufanyi says, is another problem.
“If you are an outspoken Muslim person, then there is a very active trail to criminalise your actions, you can be labelled an Islamist – which has no definition – and therefore you are ostracised. It’s very easy to link a Muslim political aspirant with some form of extremism, or guilt by association, and blacklist them,” she says.
Abdassamad El Yazidi, Secretary General of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, says that Muslim candidates are not easily electable.
“A political party could risk perhaps losing a constituency if it were to field a Muslim candidate in Germany. We saw this in the state of Bavaria where a Muslim candidate stood for election and that created a serious problem. It was like a storm of threats and abuse from the far-right, that he had to step down from the candidacy,” says El Yazidi.
El Yazidi is referring to Tareq Alaows, who fled from Syria to Germany six years ago and wanted to be the first refugee in the Bundestag. In February 2021, he ran on the left-wing Green party platform only to pull out of the race three weeks later due to a series of threats and abuse directed at him.
Tareq hasn’t spoken much to the media after that but he recently told a local newspaper that he expected to be attacked (by the far-right), but not to the extent to which it happened. Tareq has since gone back to working with migrants in the social sector.
“This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened, in recent years, the rise of the far-right and the pressure it has put on the political system has discouraged many Muslims from entering politics,” says El Yazidi.
Secondly, El Yazidi adds, years of disenfranchisement of Muslims has taken its toll.
“Our youth do not feel a part of this community, they do not feel like they are citizens of Germany, they link themselves back to their parental roots. That for one reason is because their parents bring them up in a certain way, certain cultural habits, but also the anti-Muslim sentiments that you find in Germany, they don’t feel accepted in Germany as citizens so they don’t involve themselves in the political process,” says El Yazidi.
The Central Council of Muslims is campaigning to encourage better political participation of Muslims in German politics.
“We are trying to encourage more Muslims to enter politics and represent their societies and shape the political process. How can you not be part of the political process and then complain that your voices are not being heard?” says El Yazidi.
He calls on not just the government, but also the media and wider society to work together to foster better cohesion not just between Muslims and non-Muslims, but all ethnic and religious minorities.
The Federal elections in September this year will be a litmus test for the dozen or so social organisations calling for greater Muslim participation in German politics.
According to the latest opinion poll by a German public broadcaster, the old cohorts of the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Socialists (CSU) are leading the race to the Chancellor’s office, with the left-wing Green party not too far behind.