The Hamburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution has had the Islamic Center Hamburg (IZH) in its sights for a long time and classifies it as extremist and an outpost of Tehran. But it was only in connection with the most recent events in Iran that the IZH came into the focus of German politics as a whole.
The federal government wants to use sanctions to increase the pressure on the leadership in Tehran, which has been using violence against demonstrators for weeks. The protests were triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini. The 22-year-old had been arrested by the so-called vice squad, allegedly for not strictly following dress codes, and died in police custody on September 16.
The Bundestag debated Iran policy on Wednesday. An application by the traffic light groups SPD, Greens and FDP was also accepted. In it, the federal government is asked “to examine whether and how the ‘Islamic Center Hamburg’ as the hub of the operations of the Iranian regime in Germany can be closed”.
The application comes too late for the CDU/CSU opposition. The CSU MP Thomas Erndl, for example, said in the debate on the IZH: “The situation is clear; I don’t have to check anything.” According to him, a closure would “also send a signal to those who practice hatred and hate speech here in our country; because we have to show this criminal regime a clear edge on all sides.”
It is this connection that politicians see between what is happening in Iran and the IZH that bothers Mohammed Ale Hosseini. He is chairman of the Islamic Community of Shiite Communities in Germany (IGS), which also represents the IHZ.
He told DW: “What cannot be is that the intelligence agency has been heating up allegations and insinuations here every year since 1993 and the security agencies are doing nothing and now, with the demonstrations in Iran, pressure is suddenly being felt to close the IZH. For us, this is activism at the expense of the Shiite Muslims here in Germany.” He sees an “attack on the practice of religion by the Shiites”.
The compulsion that is exercised on women in Iran to comply with certain dress codes is “incompatible with our understanding of religious freedom,” Hosseini writes on his association’s website, but emphasizes: “For us as the umbrella organization, Iranian politics is not relevant. “
He told DW that it was “an unreasonable demand for the Shiite communities (…) that we should always position ourselves with regard to developments in Iran,” especially since only a small proportion of the community members actually come from Iran.
But the IZH is also criticized independently of the Iranian government’s actions against demonstrators. In early November, its deputy head, Seyed Mousavifar, was expelled for supporting a terrorist organization.
“Anyone who demonstrably supports terrorist organizations or terrorist financiers poses a serious threat to our security and has no place in Germany,” said Interior Senator Andy Grote (SPD) at the time. According to the interior authorities, the Hamburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution has information that Mousavifar had connections to two fundraising organizations that work for the Islamist-Shiite terrorist organization Hezbollah.
The allegations against the IZH are not new. Green party leader Omid Nouripour had called for the center to be closed months ago, describing it as “the regime’s most important spy nest in Germany.”
The Islamism expert and psychologist Ahmad Mansour tweeted on October 18 that the IZH was an “outpost of the Tehran regime” and “co-organizer of the anti-Semitic al-Quds Day”.
The Berlin branch of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has written a brochure about the IZH. Its director Remko Leemhuis writes in the foreword that there is no doubt that the IZH “wants to spread the anti-Semitic, Islamist, homophobic and misogynistic state doctrine of the ‘Islamic Republic of Iran’ in Germany and the entire EU; The accommodating and friendly demeanor of its representatives in intercultural or interreligious events and dialogue formats does not change that.” Leemhuis demands that the Hamburg authorities should stop all cooperation with the IZH.
Ale Hosseini from the Shiite umbrella organization IGS rejects the allegations against DW: “We are a religious community here based on the Basic Law.” The IZH “never had a political orientation or political objectives.”
Lamya Kaddor, Green Party politician and founding chair of the Liberal-Islamic Association, doubts that. She told Deutsche Welle: “It is no longer clear that the IZH is primarily a religious meeting place for Shiites in Hamburg, but increasingly a propaganda center with a very problematic political influence.”
However, the distinction is important to her: “I believe that most Shiite Muslims in Germany stand firmly on the ground of the Basic Law. But this is about the organizational form and the IZH itself as an extended arm of the Tehran regime, so to speak. You have to separate that from each other.”
In any case, closing the IZH would not be so easy. Hamburg’s second mayor, Katharina Fegebank from the Greens, like many federal politicians, has distanced herself from the centre, but has also pointed out the high legal hurdles for a possible ban. It should also be borne in mind that the IZH belongs to the Schura, the Council of Islamic Communities in Hamburg. This works together with the city and, among other things, helps to organize Islamic religious education in the schools. A closure would have an impact on the board and its composition.
Lamya Kaddor confirms that it is “complex and difficult” to close a religious house, and that an examination must be carried out beforehand. “My assessment is, however, that there are definitely enough indications to initiate and advance such an examination now (…) We know, for example, of espionage activities against Iranian exiles that were controlled from there.”
Mohammed Ale Hosseini is relaxed about an examination: “The Islamic Center Hamburg has already filed a complaint with the Office for the Protection of the Constitution because there are disputed allegations there.” He believes that “overly motivated politicians” do not want to wait for the court verdict and sees a “political motivation “ behind the call for the IZH to be closed. He concludes: “The problem is not the facts and the relationships that the IZH has, but the perception.”
The task of the examination will now be to put facts on the table about the IZH and its connections to Tehran. A possible ban procedure would fall under the responsibility of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and should take a few months to complete.
Author: Christoph Hasselbach, Peter Hille
The original of this article “Islamic Center Hamburg is threatened with closure” comes from Deutsche Welle.