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Germany: Muslim Groups Denounce Terrorism

Two Muslim umbrella organizations in Germany have issued a statement condemning all forms of terrorism as un-Islamic. One group represents Muslims of varied backgrounds, the other mostly ethnic Turkish Muslims. Both in recent years have denounced terrorism repeatedly, but this is the first time they have issued a joint statement. A spokesman for the groups told RFE/RL that they hope with one voice to make their distaste for terrorism abundantly and finally clear. But at least one expert critic said she remains unconvinced.

Prague, 7 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Abdul Hadi Hoffman sounds almost plaintive when he tells of the demands piling from all sides onto Islamic religious leaders in Germany to condemn terrorism.

"Ever since 9/11, practically, the Central Council and the Islamic Council have condemned every single act [of terrorism]," he said. "And, still, when we go out to panel discussions and other discussions the public, the clergymen, the politicians say, 'Why don't you condemn?'"

Hoffman is the Berlin representative of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, one of two large umbrella organizations for German followers of Islam. The Central Council has a broad membership of ethnic Arabs, Bosniaks, Germans, and Turks. The other group, the Islamic Council, represents mostly German Muslims of Turkish origin.

This week, the two associations united to issue, for the first time, a joint statement condemning all forms of violence and saying that those who support terrorism have no place in their ranks. It was a general statement, but cited specific incidents -- namely, the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States and the 11 March Madrid train bombings.

The statement reads in part: "Whoever perpetrates such bloody acts will find no justification in Islam. Islam forbids murder, hostage taking, anarchy, and terror."

Sometimes, Hoffman said, the public complaints are that Muslim leaders are slow to denounce terror. "You know, whenever something happens in the world in the name of Islam, the Western public always urges Muslims to condemn it," he said. "And ever since Rushdie, the Islamic associations in Germany have done it. And sometimes they didn't do it right away because they thought that everybody knew that they condemn terrorism."

His mention of "Rushdie" refers to author Salman Rushdie, whose 1988 book "Satanic Verses" drew widespread condemnation and a number of death threats from some in the Muslim world.

The people behind this week's statement in Germany evidently intend it to be definitive, eliminating any further doubt about their attitude toward terrorism. It laments that Muslims were behind what the statement called "atrocities" that indiscriminately killed "young and old, Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike."

Speaking from Berlin, Hoffman said that there is special significance in the two groups' publishing their statement together. "Now once again, they [the Muslims of Germany] have done it [taken an antiterrorism stand] and the important thing is that the Central Council and the Islamic Council -- which are kind of two competing organizations on the federal level -- joined forces just to make it clear that nobody in the name of Islam could commit violent acts," he said.

Hoffman said Islamic leaders as well as Muslims generally are finding tiresome the continuing calls for condemnation of behavior that they already have unstintingly denounced. "We're a little bit angry about this because, I mean, there are over 3 million peace-loving Muslims in Germany and yet, still, every time something happens the question is, 'Are they a threat?'"

It remains to be seen whether the joint statement will satisfy those concerned about possible links between Muslims and terrorism.

Christine Schirrmacher is a staff member of the Institute for Islamic Studies, an organization of Protestant churchpeople, theologians, and Islamic scholars founded 3 1/2 years ago by the German Evangelical Alliance. Schirrmacher, who holds a doctorate in Islamic studies from Bonn University, said this week's declaration by the Central Council and Islamic Council is welcome, but fails to address what she feels are key concerns about Islam and terrorism.

"What is missing, in my eyes, is, 'What about the fight of jihad?' Because it mentions only murder and taking people to assassinate them or anarchy and terror, but it doesn't mention jihad as such," she said. "So the next question I would ask the Central Council or the Islamic Council is, 'What about jihad and the people who die in jihad? Are they martyrs or are they still appreciated as martyrs and praised?'"

"Jihad" means "holy struggle." Although jihad can be waged in a nonviolent context, it has been increasingly associated with armed conflict and militantism. Palestinian militants have declared jihad against Israel, as have Islamic elements in Iraq against the U.S.-led coalition there. Al-Qaeda has also declared jihad against the West.

Schirrmacher said that her organization is not hostile toward Islam, nor does it oppose the Islamic community in Germany. But she holds that what she called "Christian values" should prevail in the West. "[The institute] is not opposed to [Islam]. Not at all. Several people on our board are in close contact with Muslims and Muslim organizations. We understand the Muslim concern very much in our society," she said. "But at the same time, we think that Western values -- which are based on Christian values, and our culture and history are based on Christian values -- are not able just to accept Islamic values without criticism."

Last week, the Muslim Council of Britain issued its own denunciation of terrorism. It called on British Muslims to assist the police in dealing with any terrorism threats. The British Muslims' declaration attracted criticism of its own. Some activists charged that the British Council was urging Muslims to spy on each other.