On March 29, 2021, six Islam and integration experts will meet with representatives of the Berlin state government for an online conference. It is the second meeting of the “Expert Commission on Anti-Muslim Racism” convened by the Senate Department for Justice, Diversity and Anti-Discrimination.
According to the announcement by the state of Berlin, the committee should “deal intensively with anti-Muslim racism as a specific form of racism”. The aim is to develop a prevention strategy to combat discrimination against people who are perceived as Muslim.
But this Monday, another topic is on the agenda: the composition of the commission itself.
For days there has been criticism of the appointment of the state chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Berlin, Mohamad Hajjaj. Shortly before, WELT reported that Hajjaj was accused of being close to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood originated in Egypt. Its militant offshoots like Hamas are considered terrorist organizations. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution is monitoring the movement because it is striving for an “Islamist form of government” that is not compatible with basic democratic principles.
Experts are alarmed that an Islamist group of all people could – indirectly – propose strategies against racism to the government. For years, organizations have been founded from among the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood that are primarily dedicated to combating discrimination against Muslims – but, according to researchers, are pursuing other goals in the background. Lorenzo Vidino, program director for extremism at George Washington University, once described it in the “NZZ” as follows: There are actors who use gender asterisks and meet LGBT activists. “Then the next day they invite a preacher who advocates violence against women and justifies stoning gay men.”
Hajjaj was also an official for several years in an organization that says it fights against discrimination and Islamophobia: Inssan. From 2007 to 2009 the association was listed as close to the Muslim Brotherhood in the Berlin Office for the Protection of the Constitution. Nevertheless, more than one million euros in tax money has flowed to the organization to date.
On this March 29, Hajjaj takes part in a meeting of the Berlin expert commission for the last time. He does not appear on the following dates. As WELT has now learned, he will completely suspend his membership from November 2021 – for personal reasons, as the Senate Administration has now announced on request. It is conceivable that the public headwind became too great. Hajjaj himself had denied ties to several organizations within the Muslim Brotherhood network to the media.
Not only because of the dispute over Hajjaj, the commission’s work is getting off to a slow start. The experts appointed by the state government want to develop and publicly present recommendations for action against anti-Muslim racism by February 2022. Actually, the work of the committee was only scheduled until then.
In March it was said on request: A presentation of the report is not expected until May. Now, in May, the Berlin Senate Administration replies: “It is currently planned to present the recommendations of the expert commission to the public at the end of August 2022.” Due to the restrictive working conditions in the context of the corona pandemic, it was necessary to extend the time frame.
What this limitation consisted of, however, remains nebulous. The minutes of the meetings available to this newspaper show that there were ten meetings, online and in person, by March 2022, largely according to plan. Three workshops were also held face-to-face and one online. It is not the pandemic that seems to stand in the way of the expert panel, but rather its lack of orientation in terms of content.
The commission took a long time to define what anti-Muslim racism actually is. In the first meeting in February 2021, the participants agreed to “view definitions and create a synopsis” within six weeks. An external service provider should be won for this. But no offers came in. In March, the experts therefore decided that the “Claim” network “should be asked about recommendations for service providers”.
In addition to Hajjaj’s Inssan association, the group of delegates of the “Claim” association also includes the Muslim youth in Germany, which was listed in the Federal Constitutional Protection Report until 2019 and attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Within the expert commission, there were apparently different opinions on “Claim”. A record of a proposal to include “Claim” states: “However, the committee does not (yet) have a unified position on this.”
Ultimately, the Islamic scholar Anne Schönfeld was commissioned to create a synopsis. Schönfeld had already created a similar overview of the definition of terms and the state of research for “Claim” in 2019. The commission of experts paid 4,200 euros for the new definition.
The planned six weeks to create the synopsis turned into more than six months. In August 2021, the Berlin experts sent the author requests for improvement. For example: “The fact that the term racism is not used by some projects in order not to offend white people is the author’s assessment, but not scientifically proven. Appropriate wording should be inserted here.”
The synopsis is not intended for the general public. The state government refuses to send it to WELT. In any case, the commission of experts does not seem to care much about their public relations work. To date, around fifteen months after its constitution, not a single statement has been made by the body.
In December there were considerations to break the silence. A study by the Association for Democracy and Diversity in Schools and Vocational Training sparked discussions at the time. Together with the Neukölln district office, the association had asked students and teachers about religious conflicts at ten Neukölln schools. The result: Muslim girls in particular suffer from pressure to conform, religiously based sexual hostility and toxic gender roles. The left described the survey as anti-Muslim. “Claim” criticized that the study was contrary to their goal of “contributing to school peace”.
The Commission of Experts on Anti-Muslim Racism also had heated discussions internally about the survey. And decided to keep quiet. No statement is currently being made because this process should not be the first announcement by the committee, according to a meeting minutes from January.
Even after that, the expert commission did not appear in public. Nevertheless, the Berlin state government is satisfied with its work. The commission has “identified important issues and problem areas for dealing with anti-Muslim racism in Berlin,” said a spokeswoman. “In this respect, the work of the committee can already be considered a success.” A longer-term continuation of the order will be “examined in due course”.