As Jewish communities in Europe complain of anti-Semitic acts, the fallout from the Palestine-Israel conflict has also emerged as attacks on Turkish mosques in Germany. Eyüp Kalyon, secretary-general of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), urges the German public and politicians to take the issue seriously and follow up on capturing the perpetrators.

The DİTİB oversees 858 mosques in Germany, home to the largest Turkish diaspora in Europe, and is one of the oldest associations working in this field. Though mosques have been the target of anti-Muslim and xenophobic attacks in the past, Kalyon points out that the attacks increased after Israel launched an offensive in Gaza, which has claimed thousands of lives since October 2023.

Speaking on the sidelines of a news conference in Cologne earlier this week, Kalyon said attacks targeting mosques ranged from messages of threats to burn of Islam’s holy book, the Quran, and the delivery of pieces of pork meat (a type of meat forbidden for Muslims).

“They try to damage our mosques, to challenge Muslims (to counter the attacks). The DİTİB swiftly reports such attacks to the police. We will continue standing united for our community and not responding to such provocations. But we are worried. It scares Muslims here, especially children. We expect the German politicians to view this as serious and tackle it,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA).

The DİTİB earlier expressed outcry over a notable increase in the number of hate mail it received. The Central Mosque in Cologne, where the DİTİB is based, has received at least 17 emails and letters containing threats. A graffiti scrawled on the wall of another mosque had pledged “destruction” of Gaza.

CLAIM, a network of NGOs monitoring Islamophobia, reported last month 1,926 anti-Muslim incidents registered in Germany in 2023, from attempted arson on a mosque in Bochum that had been marked with a swastika to the door of a Muslim family in Saxony shot at by a right-wing extremist neighbor, and a woman pushed onto train tracks in Berlin after being asked if she belonged to Hamas. CLAIM says such incidents increased 114% compared to the previous year and especially showed an upward trend when the new round of Palestine-Israel conflict began.

Yet authorities are paying insufficient attention to this phenomenon and even denying its existence, as mainstream parties take over policies of far-right, anti-Islam parties that have surged in popularity, Rima Hanano told a Berlin news conference last month to present the report. The Alternative for Germany (AfD), which states in its program that Islam does not belong to Germany, has jumped to second place in polls over the past year, prompting mainstream parties to talk tougher on migration.

“The streets, buses or mosques are no longer safe places for people who are Muslim or perceived as such,” said Hanano. “Anti-Muslim racism was never as socially acceptable as today and it comes from the middle of society.”

The incidents recorded, likely only a fraction of the total given a fear of coming forward and a lack of monitoring institutions, included 90 attacks on Islamic religious sites, cemeteries and other institutions, CLAIM wrote. Most attacks on individuals consisted of verbal abuse and were aimed at women. There were also four attempted murders. The Muslim population in Germany has been growing rapidly, especially since an influx of migrants in 2015-16, tallying 5.5 million in total or 6.6% of the overall population.

The CLAIM report tallies with a 140% increase in Islamophobic crimes last year recorded by the Interior Ministry, and a survey showing one in two Germans hold Islamophobic views.

In a country that is particularly sensitive about anti-Semitism due to its responsibility for the Holocaust, German authorities have been more vocal in denouncing that problem than anti-Muslim incidents.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck, in an emotive video, accused some Muslim community groups in Germany of being “too hesitant” in distancing themselves from Hamas or anti-Jewish hatred.

The government last year published its first-ever independent report on Islamophobia by experts it commissioned, with a series of recommendations for tackling discrimination. Family Minister Lisa Paus has said the recent rise in both anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents was “dramatic,” and the government was trying to do prevention work from an early age by funding civil society projects working on the issue. CLAIM’s Hanano said, however, that insufficient action had been taken so far. “Despite the fact … that we have been warning about this situation for years, it is still barely acknowledged,” she said. “What we really need is the political will to fight anti-Muslim racism truly.”

Neo-Nazi attacks

Mosques in Germany reported an increase in vandalism, harassment and threats throughout 2023, particularly letters and packages signed with the neo-Nazi alias “NSU 2.0.”

“NSU 2.0” refers to the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi terrorist group uncovered in 2011 that murdered 10 people and carried out bomb attacks targeting Turkish and Muslim immigrants.

In an address to the Turkish diaspora in Europe in May, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointed out that the level of hatred against Turkish and Muslim people reached levels that threatened the lives and property of people.

Lamenting that instances of Islamophobic and racist attacks have not been given the same sensitivity afforded anti-Semitic acts, he asserted that those who “issue human rights report cards left and right watched as 35,000 Palestinians, including 15,000 children, lost their lives.”

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