Berlin (CNSNews.com) – The German government is under fire for funding an allegedly Iranian-linked Islamic non-governmental organization (NGO) as part of a program designed to draw German-based Muslim communities away from extremism.
According to the Interior Ministry the program aims to signal to local Muslims that they play an essential role in the prevention of extremism.
But critics claim the Islamic Community of Shi’ite Communities in Germany (IGS), an umbrella organization, has links to pro-Iran and anti-Semitic extremism.
The Bild newspaper reported early this week that a first payment of 19,739 euros ($23,500) has already been processed for transfer to the IGS.
The head of the Frankfurt Global Islam Research Center, Prof. Susanne Schröter, criticized the government support for the IGS, telling the paper that “the decision reveals the fatal consequences of an uncritical attitude towards a Muslim association that is connected in many ways with the Iranian leadership in Tehran and disseminates their positions.”
Bild noted that the government itself has classified the IGS as an “extremist influenced” group, citing the 2016 annual report of the state of Hamburg’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a state-level domestic security agency.
The report itself states that the IGS is one of many groups that represent the pro-Iranian organization The Islamic Center of Hamburg (IZH).
While considerably more moderate than Sunni Salafist groups, the report says the IZH nevertheless supports Islamic revolutionary goals and Iranian state doctrine, and takes part in such activities as the annual anti-Israel demonstrations in Berlin known as “Quds Day” (Jerusalem Day).
(Quds Day is an annual event held on the last Friday of Ramadan, instituted by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the 1979 Islamic revolution in support of the Palestinians and intended to provide an opportunity for protestors to demonstrate their opposition to Israel’s existence.)
German-Iranian journalist and scholar Nasrin Amirsedghi, who fled to Germany from Iran, told the Jerusalem Post that the “IGS is directly supported by the mullahs. All Shi’ite communities in Germany are dependent on Iran.”
Amirsedghi said she found it puzzling that the German authorities would use taxpayers’ money to sponsor associations “which support Islamic extremists and terrorists across the world.”
An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said Wednesday the funds are provided to the IGS to “support a strong Muslim engagement against Islamic extremism.”
Sonja Kock said the funding is part of a collaborative effort with the IGS in support of extremism prevention and deradicalization.
She said the IGS was one of five associations with whom the government has joined forces to form the network. A total of 283,150 euros ($336,000) has been earmarked for the period from 12 October 2017 to 31 December 2019.
Kock said the government was aware that the IGS is an umbrella organization “of highly heterogeneous composition,” and said individual associations, including those within the
IGS, are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based watchdog of civil society groups, said the incident demonstrates a lack of diligence in E.U. government funding decisions.
“Every year, the E.U. and individual state governments throw hundreds of millions annually at fringe NGOs without due diligence,” NGO president Gerald Steinberg said in a statement provided by the group. “In this case, the money appears to be going to a radical Iranian front group.”
“Officials who channel money to a radical Iran-linked NGO for ‘deradicalization’ must be held accountable.” he said.
The Israel-Palestinian conflict has raised recent tensions in Germany, where Israeli flags were burnt during protests in Berlin after President Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Reaction to that event, government spokesman Steffen Seiber said “one has to be ashamed when hatred of Jews is put on display so openly on the streets of German cities.”