David Crawford, Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2010
Germany’s stepped-up efforts to ban some Islamic groups for promoting radical views have sparked a national debate over whether the government is violating the free-speech protections of the constitution it says it is aiming to protect.
The German government’s latest move to crack down on groups that promote extremist Muslim teaching came earlier this month, as dozens of police raided homes, offices and religious schools in the western German cities of Bremen, Braunschweig and Mönchengladbach. The security forces were seeking evidence that could lead to the banning of two organizations that officials say are calling for imposing Islamic law in place of German law.
Interior ministry officials allege that the groups, called Invitation to Paradise and the Islamic Culture Center Bremen, seek to undermine Germany’s parliamentary democracy by supporting the establishment of an Islamic theocracy within the country. A security official said the groups also allegedly support a strict form of Islamic justice, such as the execution of Muslims who convert to other religions or the amputation of a hand as a punishment for theft.
Sven Lau, deputy chairman of Invitation to Paradise, rejected the allegations, saying that his group hadn’t done anything illegal and that it calls on its members living in Germany to abide by German law. He described the group as a peaceful fundamentalist organization that believes in a strict interpretation of Islamic law, but said it advises members who want to live by its more extreme forms to live in Muslim-governed countries.
But the latest investigation marks a departure from previous crackdowns by German security and justice officials. German security officials are pursuing a ban of these two Islamic groups primarily because of the principles they espouse, rather than a suspicion of a link to terrorism.
The investigation has spurred questions over whether the effort could run afoul of German free-speech protections and further alienate pockets of Germany’s Muslim population.
The debate underscores the difficulty that Europe’s democracies face in trying to curtail Islamic extremism without violating their own constitutional principles.
Until now, such laws have mainly been used to curtail neo-Nazi activism. German authorities will “need to consider whether those restrictions apply” in the case of the Islamic groups under investigation, said Manfred Gnjidic, a lawyer who has raised German constitutional-law challenges to defend terrorism suspects.