The eternal struggle for a fair election game

Laws and regulations for political parties

‘It is better that a citizen has his or her ideas introduced into elections by a small political party than not to have them introduced by any political party at all.’

In this story we take a look at the ways in which other countries deal with political parties in their constitutions, electoral laws and party laws.

We focus on countries in Europe and Latin America, because their historical experience is on some fronts similar to that of Iraq: in the recent past, next to ‘Westminster-style’ liberal democracies, these continents have also known one-party systems outlawing other parties or severely limiting new parties’ access to official registration and participation in elections.

On both continents such authoritarian times were followed by democratization and changes in party laws to allow not only an influx of new parties but also of social movements, unions and high profile independent individuals to participate in elections. Inevitably new party laws were critically followed and sometimes needed dozens of drafts or mass protests before anything was agreed. Was the old guard trying to keep newcomers out with the help of clever ‘gatekeeper’ provisions or not? That was the Big Question in those days.

Let us bear in mind that every country has a unique history. Parties everywhere face unique challenges by voters to their power over elections. Very similar-looking laws to regulate the behavior of parties can have very different consequences on the ground, in that complex reality in which parties operate. What works well for democracy or the struggle against corruption in one country, might have unwanted effects in another.

Necessary conditions

Everywhere in Europe and Latin America, despite the liberalization, laws to regulate the life of political parties ‘are far exceeding what would normally be acceptable for private associations in a liberal society’. Many regulations were introduced or were substantially extended in the wake of the introduction of government funding. Inevitably the provision of state subsidies demanded a more codified system of party registration and controls over the parties’ income and expenditure.

But there were also worries about the lack of democratic standards inside new parties. Mafia families or companies posing as parties to get hold of tax advantages for parties needed to be prevented from entering the political system.With separatist movements or certain neighboring countries in mind new constitutions sometimes asked explicitly of parties to respect national sovereignity and territorial integrity, basic human rights or the rejection of the use of violence.

Both continents have in this way become champions in experimenting with new regulations for parties. How far do you go? Should the law prescribe how parties are organized internally? Determine that they must hold primaries to elect candidates in public? Should the law prohibit that candidates have two paid political jobs, double nationality or a foreign father or mother? Should there be a limit on money they spent on television advertising? Should parties be obliged to have bylaws clarifying which leaders are responsible for what?

Registration hurdles

Whatever the country, its history, the strategies of governing parties to weaken newcomers, the radical dreams of social movements that want to participate in elections, there is no state in the world that doesn’t demand that parties must be registered. Everywhere, a party must at least register what is its name (with certain names sometimes being forbidden), who will be their candidate(s), and pay a small administrative registration fee that in most cases doesn’t exceed a few hundred dollars.

During the global democratization wave that began by the end of the 1980’s, many prohibitions of parties were lifted. Bans of leftist, ethnic, religious and regional parties disappeared, one-party-systems and multi-party-cartels collapsed or governing parties grudgingly accepted to loose their monopoly over elections. The ‘protection model’ against new parties seemed gone.

But old habits die hard (and, of course, in some cases as in Eastern Europe, to help democratization, new bans were pronounced on certain ideologies, old parties or programmes, like what happened with the Baath Party in Iraq).

It often took some time and much popular pressure to adjust the legal rules, to begin with the rules of registration, a favorite sporting ground of incumbents. With the help of quantative requirements it seemed possible to delay the democratic tsunamis lurking on the horizon and raise party formation costs. Making trouble for newcomers already during their first steps consisted for example in demanding that a new party had at the moment of registration at least 30,000 members (Mexico), or at least hundreds of members paying a regular contribution to the party, or thousands of voters declaring officially their support.

Elsewhere a new party’s life was made very hard by the obligation to have local members committees around the country (Peru), in other states a new party had to put forward a minimum number of candidates or it had to have won already at least one seat in parliament in previous elections. In another case (Argentina) a party had to have been registered for three years before it had the right to participate in elections.

Other examples of requirements aimed at promoting democratic standards or excluding outsiders were the obligation to prove that a party was truly democratic in its internal organization, for example by candidates being elected in a public assembly that should be open to non-members too.

Such were the days.

What old regimes had been trying to do in the past, namely to carve into stone rules favoring their hold on power, turned out to be counterproductive, especially in Latin America. ‘Elites that build their power merely on the formal rules of the game, risk eating away at the political legitimacy of the system that these rules seek to uphold.’

The problem then is not only that voters understand who legislated these manmade, non-divine rules and that they are not ready any longer to defer to the decisions of ‘the authorities’. The voters who contest the party system, also believe that the inertia, passivity of the political system leads to the continuation of economic and social problems, or continuation of malignant meddling by foreign powers, institutions, banks and companies, or, worse, the end of their private foreseeable future. In Argentina, the lack of real reforms even led to a long-lasting, wide popular protest movement with the slogan ‘They all should get out’.

Too many parties?

Of course some proof of popular support is not unreasonable to ask when a party registers. But when authoritarian regimes had to be transformed into democratic governments and registration was made very easy with minimal rules and minimal costs, the result was often a plethora of new parties and a paucity of appealing, solid political programmes – so many parties sprang into life that stable government became impossible or the party system threatened to collapse. So, for a while, anarchy and chaos ruled and dissent couldn’t be channelled any longer through a representative process: that wasn’t exactly the aim or promise of democratization, or the wish of the opposition.

In a few instances in history an army of small parties was created by the old regime – or they were believed to be organized by the old guard – in order to splinter the opposition and waste the votes of millions of citizens. Algeria by the end of the 1980’s might have been a case in point, while a similar situation in Italy in the 1990’s was actually the result of very big egos of men who, during the chaos after Italy’s five-parties-cartel had collapsed, all dreamed of becoming president without a decent party behind them (in some cultures, megalomania seems an eternal trait).

Other small parties in Europe and South America are of the type of ‘disposable parties’ that promote one person for one election, with fancy names, catchy slogans but no serious program. Bolivians called the tiny parties that registered after the end of dictatorship ‘taxi parties’ because their national founding convention could be held in a taxi.

The registration condition that a party must have local member committees around the country, or that it must have representatives or candidates in every election district, was often dropped in transition periods – with no other aim than to break the power of local bosses. New parties or new presidential candidates would have had to negotiate with them, promise them some rewards, but didn’t like to do that or were unable to make credible promises.

The elimination of the influence of traditional local power brokers was also the hoped-for result of measures turning a country into one big election district, with national lists for parliamentary elections. The real result on the ground was often that more seats in parliament than ever before went to individuals and small parties and that there was less support for the party or presidential candidate who had hoped to benefit from the new rules (for ex. president Fujimori in Peru).

Iraq and the Netherlands belong to those rare exceptions in the world that demand high registration fees. In Holland the aim hasn’t been achieved: small parties (of one or two MP’s) continue to enter the parliament. The Iraqi High Election Commission (IHEC) asks a crazy, high registration fee, indirectly justifying it by saying people might get a fine for election fraud. That is like asking certain citizens to pay in advance a year’s wages in case they might commit some crime – strange if not ridiculous.

Tougher threshholds

When does a country have ‘too many parties’? Mexico after the end of one-party-rule had 11 parties and adopted new legal regulations to stop the ‘fragmentation’, Brazil counted 30 parties in the same time but did nothing.

The argument for creating tougher threshholds for parties to be part of government, is a hundred years old and especially well-developed in France, by the famous sociologist Maurice Duverger. The idea is: if the government always consists of a coalition of parties, the small parties in the cabinet, expressing the sometimes extreme wishes of minorities, become much too powerful, and the risk of such extremists voting against their own cabinet all too real (Holland, Italy and Israel are cases in point).

Maurice Duverger sarcastically remarked that, of course, instable coalition governments are the delight of the media, always speculating how and when the cabinet will fall, watching out for plots, incidents getting out of hand, revengeful ministers, political blackmail, all kinds of secrets from the corridors of power. But such ‘unmodern governments’ as Duverger called them, don’t lead to efficient government and neither to good news about the economy in the media.

I think his argument might be valid in some periods but not always: nobody makes ‘stability’ the most important criterion when revolutions or deep reforms have to take place. Big change and stability is impossible. And we must also not forget that ‘saving the stability’ has been an excuse for coups d’états and foreign interventions, as well as bans on political parties.

Nevertheless, democratic states with extraordinarely tough threshholds do exist, such as Germany. The ways to make the threshhold higher are mostly these: only parties that obtain a certain percentage of the vote, can obtain seats in parliament; in Germany a party needs at least 5%, otherwise it can go home. The other method is the introduction of a district system, as in the UK, that basically works like this: the candidate who gets most votes in an electoral district, goes to parliament, as MP of the biggest party that is going to govern or as MP for the opposition.

Political scientists usually are no big friends of political parties, always suspecting parties of not wanting to share power or trying to make cartels. But their own research shows that legal provisions for registration and other ‘gatekeeper’ laws for new parties have often more to do in our century with efforts to combat corruption and enhance transparency than with controlling access to the political system. Examples such as Bulgaria and Estonia show that tough party regulations can coexist with a high rate of ‘permeabiblity’ of party systems.

Judges in action

In a few states judges are not allowed to be member of a political party, for a very precise reason: when new parties are refused registration or otherwise discriminated against, they can go to court and ask the opinion of judges. In Germany, ‘the heartland of party law’ in Europe, new local parties went to the Constitutional Court because they were refused their part of public funding. They won as the law was so clear on that point (and then those parties still had to be patient for months).

The United States has an exceptional history of many cases in the courts concerning the application of party law and electoral law. In the rest of the world, bringing government institutions to court, because they discriminate against a political party, doesn’t happen frequently. It is a rare moment in a country’s history when judges become full political actors and it is interesting to see how they argue their decisions.

In Australia for example, a daughter of British-style democracy, a party tried to challenge a new legal rule that a party needed to have at least five hundred members to be registered. This leftwing party was registered but threatened to loose its registration because it couldn’t prove it still had the required 500 members. The party brought the electoral commission to court arguing that the parliament by introducing the 500-rule had infringed on the right of voters to elect directly whom they want. In other words, parliament had no right to create filters. The judges however concluded that the new 500-rule was ‘not unreasonable or irrational’. Parliament had the right to legislate for its own affairs, they added, and the right to determine the electoral system, as well as to adapt it ‘to developments in public opinion and changing democratic standards.’

Until 2003, Canada required a political party to run candidates in at least 50 electoral districts in order to qualify for registration – a tough requirement not seen elsewhere in western democracies. The Communist Party of Canada had been registered for over a quarter of a century, but then lost its registration, as it wasn’t able to field enough candidates. The consequences were dramatic because the party was forced to liquidate its assets, pay its debts and remit the outstanding balance of state subsidies to the government. Its leader, Miguel Figueroa, brought the government to court. The Supreme Court took up the case and held the 50-candidates-rule unconstitutional. The court noted that ‘all political parties, whether large or small, are capable of acting as a vehicle for the participation of individual citizens in the public discourse that animates the determination of social policy. For example, marginal or regional parties tend to dissent from mainstream thinking and to bring to the attention of the general public issues and concerns that have not been adopted by national parties. They might exert less influence than the national parties, but still can be a most effective vehicle for the participation of citizens whose preferences have not been incorporated into the political platforms of national parties. It is better that an individual citizen has his or her ideas and concerns introduced into the open debate of the electoral process by a political party with a limited geographical base of support than not to have his or her ideas and concerns introduced into that debate by any political party at all.’ Eventually, the parliament rushed through new legislation just before new elections. It replaced the old 50-rule by a regulation requiring parties to run at least one candidate (to be sure they are serious about competing in an election) and to show they had at least 250 members (previously, the number had been 100).

In many discussions about party law, it is often forgotten how crucial it is that laws affecting parties can be arbitrated and interpreted by judges who take their decisions based on their worldview, interpretations of party law in the past, their ideas as to the functions parties play in their democracy and their understanding of democratic practices. Especially their view on the practices is important, in those cases – too many – when electoral law and party law is based on a kind of ideal-type parties that actually don’t exist in reality. Judges look, should look at the complete picture, how laws, constitutional rights and the aims of regulations play out in reality.

As the examples of Australia and Canada show, judges can tend to follow the parliamentary majority’s point of view but also defend voters’ interests. But whatever is the outcome, court interventions show the moral nature of laws affecting parties, even very technical ones, and the discussion needed therefore of all elements involved when people call on a judge.

The moral background is also often expressed in the severe penalties for parties who try to place themselves above the law. In Belgium for example, a party will loose its generous state funding when it shows itself ‘to be hostile’ towards the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In Poland politicians can incur a fine but also two years prison if they lie in certain obligatory financial statements.


In general, being registered officially as a political party or conquering seats in parliament, brings certain benefits and privileges: public funding of election campaigns and other activities, access to state mass media to spread the message of the party, tax advantages, salaries for certain party employees. Perks differ per country but if the regulations are very permissive, it usually means that substantial benefits are nonexistent. But not always: France was an exception in recent years, when it tried to be fairer with new small parties. Some clever Frenchies founded parties only to get hold of the public funding and then did nothing to win elections. Needless to say that the law was soon made less lax and less generous.

Financial duties

All countries in Latin America and Europe provide their parties with public funding. It is actually the main reason for more and more regulation of party life on both continents, as the voters have a right to know where all this money is going. Reporting and disclosure duties are part and parcel of party law everywhere. Party laws nowadays often demand sound accounting, annual financial reports and information about donations and member fees.

Party laws put limits on donations from companies or other specific sponsors such as foreign powers, as well as limits on money spent for electoral advertising. They sometimes prohibit the use of commercial media for election advertising during election time as the state is offering equal access to state media to all registered parties. Buying votes is of course off limits everywhere, but parties are really creative in getting around it. We will not provide the long list of these underground activities, to give no one fresh ideas…

To live from politics

State funding for parties fits into a trend: parties count less and less on their members, their links with civil society have become weaker while their relations with the state have been strengthened – to say the least. A clear line between state and parties doesn’t exist and sometimes the parties simply are the state, not only because party leaders occupy all important positions of power, with no room for party-less individuals, but also because tens of thousands of party members are employed in the bureaucracy, army, police and dozens of other government institutions such as councils and committees, universities and hospitals. In a way, politicians and party members nowadays often form a class that has one big advantage over other social classes: it legislates about itself, for itself. It has become very doable everywhere not to live for politics as a kind of moral calling but to live off politics.

So, it’s no wonder parties around the planet say they deserve public funding because, they say, we provide essential services to democracy, such as educating and selecting candidates and running elections. Where would democracy be without us?

It’s also no wonder that while criticism of party systems is widespread and virtually universal nowadays, new parties are born every day. Political scientists are often amazed about the ongoing rush of new parties to get aboard of what most researchers consider to be sinking ships. Let us not be too cynical about new parties’ motives, such as great salaries and pensions. There are still also not so selfish reformers, rebels and revolutionaries who need a fair chance.

The quotes in this article come from studies published on the website of the Dutch university of Leiden:


Van het anti-Buma front: journalisten zetten zich in voor afschaffing van het Wilhelmus

Er is een nieuwe tekst voor het Wilhelmus. En hoewel ik daar al bijna een halve eeuw naar uitkeek, heb ik nu de pee in.

Waar kunt u de tekst lezen? U heeft er als jongere op middelbare leeftijd nog geen abonnement op wellicht, maar ik wel, want ik steun nieuwe media-initiatieven: Argus, tweewekelijks blad vrijwillig onbetaald volgeschreven door gepensioneerde journalisten. Ik reproduceer het nieuwste anti-Wilhelmus zo meteen hieronder.  Even geduld, en wel onmiddellijk.

Enige tijd geleden schreef Argus (dat mij al langer een beetje tegenvalt eerlijk gezegd) een wedstrijd uit voor een nieuwe tekst voor het Wilhelmus. Dat er al – soms zelfs obscene – leuke teksten op de wijs van het Wilhelmus bestaan, bijna allemaal van onbekende makers, was de redactie blijkbaar ontgaan.

De hele discussie draait om niet meer dan drie standpunten: 1. de tekst van het huidige Wilhelmus begrijpt geen enkele tijdgenoot spontaan, gaat over iets van honderden jaren geleden wat amper nog onderwezen wordt; 2. de stompzinnigheid van de tekst is juist het aantrekkelijke, andere volksliederen zijn stompzinnig nationalistisch (Brittania, rule the waves e.d.); 3. who gives a shit?

Uit de vijftig inzendingen koos de jury, onder wie o.a. John Jansen van Galen, die Nederlandse poëzie altijd zo prettig gepromoot heeft als afzakkertje in het onvolprezen  radioprogramma in Met het oog op morgen, de volgende volksliedtekst van ene Peter de Hoog.

Mijn land van zee-ee e-en wolken,

Mijn land van We-estenwind.

Een thuis voor ve-e-ele volken,

Een plek voor ie-ieder kind.

Laa-aat mij, je schoonheid delen,

Oh Nederland, zo klein,

Een Ko-o-o-oninkrijk voor velen,

Zal je eeuwen lang zijn.

Waar ik ook hee-een ma-ag varen,

Waar ik ook rei-eizen zou.

Jouw beeld zal i-ik be-ewaren,

Je fiere Roo-ood Wit Blauw.

Een land om van te dromen,

Mijn Nederland zo klein.

Een la-a-a-and om t’rug te komen,

Waar we vrij kunnen zijn.

Ik weet niet of u onze nationale voetbalploeg dit ziet zingen maar ik niet echt. Om de een of andere reden bevat elk volkslied leugentjes om bestwil. Dat was ook de reden waarom ik mijn eigen, soortgelijke alternatieve Wilhelmus niet heb opgestuurd (zie de uitroeptekens van deze waarheidsliefhebber). Maar oordeel zelf.

O land van zee en stromen

van groen en wolken zo rein [!] 

Zo vlak en toch vol [!] hoge [!] dromen [!] 

dat dit ons [!] land mag zijn. 

Als een kind van wet en rede [!] 

ben ik vrij, onverveerd [!].

wil ik trouw zijn aan de vrede [!]

die tijd ons heeft geleerd [!].

Zeg nu zelf, had ik die niet naar de redactie moeten sturen?



Historische films willen niet weten dat we vroeger gemiddeld niet ouder dan 40 werden

Vroeger – zeg tot en met 1918 – werden mensen in het westen gemiddeld niet ouder dan rond de veertig en dat al sinds de Babyloniërs, de Romeinen en de Aardappeleters van Van Gogh. Hoe ze dat berekend hebben voor volkeren van vóór en vlak na Jezus Christus, zonder Centrale Bureaus voor de Statistiek, weet ik niet. Onderzoekers zullen wel de overlijdensregisters van kerken e.d. erop nagevlooid hebben. Het getal zou ook wel eens kunnen voortkomen uit misplaatste superioriteitsgevoelens over onze eigen tijd, nu bijvoorbeeld Nederlanders gemiddeld twee keer zo oud worden.

Maar mocht het waar zijn dat van die 40 jaar, dan is wel duidelijk dat onze voorouders totaal anders geleefd moeten hebben dan wij. Jong trouwen en seks, kinderen krijgen, als tiener al keizer worden, weinig gevallen van ouderdomsvet en -suikerziekte, studeren overlaten aan monniken en dergelijke types want daar hebben levenslustigen geen tijd voor.

In de gemiddelde historische film is dat perspectief op een leven van korte duur nog steeds niet doorgedrongen. De hoofdrolspelers zijn voornamelijk dertigers en veertigers. Kinderen zien we weinig in volwassen rollen, natuurlijk ook omdat in de VS een 14-jarige kindactrice niet de rol van ontrouwe tienermoeder en echtgenote van een minderjarige warlord met levensgevaarlijke puberhersens mag spelen als zogeheten ‘expliciete scènes’ vereist zijn (in de Amerikaanse film Lolita is de hoofdrolspeelster ook stokoud). Het lijkt me geweldig de research te doen voor een film waarin het gewoon is rond je veertigste het hoekje om te gaan. Het scenario voor zo’n film kun je zelfs niet afkijken van de werkelijkheid in bijvoorbeeld Irak omdat het gemiddelde daar ook al op 63 jaar ligt.

Cleopatra regeerde samen met haar papa op een leeftijd dat je in Nederland en ver daarbuiten nog niet eens mag stemmen, trouwde omwille van de politiek 18 jaar oud met haar broertje van twaalf en begon drie jaar later aan een affaire, niet met een buurjongen met puistjes, maar met Julius Ceasar. Elizabeth Taylor was al de dertig gepasseerd toen ze de hoofdrol speelde in de Amerikaanse speelfilm Cleopatra. Geschiedvervalsing waar je beroemde filmcritici nimmer over hoort klagen.

Johan Goossens: een voorbeeldige leraar voor de 21e eeuw?

Ik las een bundel van Parool-columns van Johan Goossens en was verbijsterd over hoeveel er is veranderd in ‘het’ onderwijs, meer specifiek het gedrag van leerlingen en van onderwijzers – en de methodes!

Wat me het sterkste opviel: de gesprekken die leerlingen voeren met Goossens. Het zijn vaak echte gesprekken. Een leerling bekent iets, meldt dat hij zijn gedrag gaat veranderen, doet zijn levensverhaal uit de doeken, een meisje laat haar romantische liefdespoëzie (richting Allah) door de docent lezen. Soms weet Goossens wat zijn reactie ‘moet’ zijn, nog vaker improviseert hij, maar hij geeft het tijd en ruimte. Niet alle docenten zullen zijn als de empathische Goossens, maar toch.

Ook geeft Goossens spreekbeurten weer in speciale versies van het Nederlands waarin leerlingen een intens persoonlijk verhaal afsteken over bijvoorbeeld de abortus van een familielid. Eerst maakt het hilarisch, later voel je respect. Wij moesten vijftig jaar geleden spreken over nogal abstracte onderwerpen. Wel kwam ik bij sommige leraren thuis en we spraken dan vooral over hun vak. Ik was een ernstig meisje.

Ik herinner me niet dat er bij onze diploma-uitreiking na zes jaar gymnasium kinderen onder het publiek waren die rondrenden en niemand in bedwang hield. Nu zijn dat de kinderen van de meisjes die zijn geslaagd voor hun eindexamen en op het podium staan.

Ik denk ook niet dat er in mijn tijd geregeld werd vergaderd over wie er van school gestuurd moest worden wegens te frequente afwezigheid, slechte cijfers en een onuitwisbare indruk op docenten van een hopeloos geval te zijn. Alleen bij bepaalde misdrijven werd je van school gestuurd; voor de rest bleef je zitten en moest een jaar over doen als je erg slecht presteerde. Er was geen enkel mededogen met kinderen in moeilijke situaties (allebei de ouders ziek of omgekomen of zo), die daar overigens met hun medeleerlingen zelden over spraken.

Ook al die inmenging van de overheid op de school van Goossens was het onderwijs vreemd in mijn middelbareschooltijd (1967-1973). Van de invoering van de zogeheten Mammoetwet voor het voortgezet onderwijs in 1968 heb ik totaal niets gemerkt. Sindsdien is die wet volgens Wikipedia zo’n 230 keer veranderd. Aandoenlijk dat ministerie. Het wantrouwen tegen leraren en leraressen die conservatief zouden zijn en kampioenen in leervermijdingsgedrag moest nog opgestookt worden. Scholen deden wat hun was opgedragen en dat helemaal gratis. Sommige leraren voerden geen klap uit maar lanterfanters heb je overal. Schoolboeken liepen doodgemoedereerd twintig jaar achter op de wetenschap. Nu lijkt het onderwijs soms gebaseerd op het laatste nieuws.

Leraren werden geregeld gepest, medeleerlingen nooit of ik moet niets gemerkt hebben. Over de wreedheid en eenzaamheid van het onderwijzersbestaan in mijn tijd schreef Jan Siebelink De laatste schooldag. Ik wist niet dat zo erg was, anders hadden wij eens met die suicidale types gepraat.

Dan de tweedelingen. Er was geen enkel buitenlands kind op onze school (toch een scholengemeenschap met 1400 kids), wel wat kinderen van ‘Indo’s’ die zo nooit aangesproken werden, terwijl nu de helft van de Amsterdamse kinderen van Goossens de wereld, Nederland, als racistisch ervaart. De sociaal-economische verschillen tussen ons kinderen waren beperkt tot wel of geen vakantie op een vreemde plek, een rijtjeshuis met drie of vier slaapkamers, wel of geen bezoekjes aan de Bijenkorf, wel of geen auto voor de deur. Concurrentie op hebbedingetjes was ons vreemd. De telefoon hing nog aan de muur. De leraar Grieks nodigde al zijn klassen op zijn bruiloftsfeest uit en werd zonder ons dronken.

Af en toe komt tegenwoordig de debatvraag voorbij of social media rebellie niet onmogelijk maken (zoals in het boekje Ik kom in opstand, dus wij zijn van Eva Rovers). De scholierenbeweging die ik op het laatst tegen mijn zin leidde, was al na enkele maanden volhouden met sit-ins en massameetings een succes. Over de inhoud van het onderwijs kregen we niets te zeggen, maar idiote straffen werden afgeschaft, evenals de censuur op de schoolkrant. Niemand zeurde meer over wel heel erge minirokjes en niet roken deden we al uit onszelf. Na een jaartje werd het schoolparlement opgeheven bij gebrek aan wantoestanden.

Andere tijden. Onderwijs was een weinig journalistiek onderwerp.

De verrukkelijke columns van Goossens zijn gebundeld onder de titel Jongens, ik wil nu toch écht beginnen, en zijn uitgegeven door Thomas Rap.

Van het anti-Buma front: bejaarde journalisten offreren nieuwe tekst voor Wilhelmus-melodie

Er is een nieuwe tekst voor het Wilhelmus. En hoewel ik daar al bijna een halve eeuw naar uitkeek, heb ik nu de pee in.

Waar kunt u de tekst lezen? U heeft er als jongere op middelbare leeftijd nog geen abonnement op wellicht, maar ik wel, want ik steun nieuwe media-initiatieven: Argus, tweewekelijks blad vrijwillig onbetaald volgeschreven door gepensioneerde journalisten. Ik reproduceer het nieuwste anti-Wilhelmus zo meteen hieronder.  Even geduld, en wel onmiddellijk.

Enige tijd geleden schreef Argus (dat mij al langer een beetje tegenvalt eerlijk gezegd) een wedstrijd uit voor een nieuwe tekst voor het Wilhelmus. Dat er al – soms zelfs obscene – leuke teksten op de wijs van het Wilhelmus bestaan, bijna allemaal van onbekende makers, was de redactie blijkbaar ontgaan.

De hele discussie draait om niet meer dan drie standpunten: 1. de tekst van het huidige Wilhelmus begrijpt geen enkele tijdgenoot spontaan, gaat over iets van honderden jaren geleden wat amper nog onderwezen wordt; 2. de stompzinnigheid van de tekst is juist het aantrekkelijke, andere volksliederen zijn stompzinnig nationalistisch (Brittania, rule the waves e.d.); 3. who gives a shit?

Uit de vijftig inzendingen koos de jury, onder wie o.a. John Jansen van Galen, die Nederlandse poëzie altijd zo prettig gepromoot heeft als afzakkertje in het onvolprezen  radioprogramma in Met het oog op morgen, de volgende volksliedtekst van ene Peter de Hoog.

Mijn land van zee-ee e-en wolken,

Mijn land van We-estenwind.

Een thuis voor ve-e-ele volken,

Een plek voor ie-ieder kind.

Laa-aat mij, je schoonheid delen,

Oh Nederland, zo klein,

Een Ko-o-o-oninkrijk voor velen,

Zal je eeuwen lang zijn.

Waar ik ook hee-een ma-ag varen,

Waar ik ook rei-eizen zou.

Jouw beeld zal i-ik be-ewaren,

Je fiere Roo-ood Wit Blauw.

Een land om van te dromen,

Mijn Nederland zo klein.

Een la-a-a-and om t’rug te komen,

Waar we vrij kunnen zijn.

Ik weet niet of u onze nationale voetbalploeg dit ziet zingen maar ik niet echt. Om de een of andere reden bevat elk volkslied leugentjes om bestwil. Dat was ook de reden waarom ik mijn eigen, soortgelijke alternatieve Wilhelmus niet heb opgestuurd (zie de uitroeptekens van deze waarheidsliefhebber). Maar oordeel zelf.

O land van zee en stromen

van groen en wolken zo rein [!] 

Zo vlak en toch vol [!] hoge [!] dromen [!] 

dat dit ons [!] land mag zijn. 

Als een kind van wet en rede [!] 

ben ik vrij, onverveerd [!].

wil ik trouw zijn aan de vrede [!]

die tijd ons heeft geleerd [!].

A Mosque in Germany

Two books have recently unearthed an important story about the origins of political islam* in Germany and the West. One is A Mosque in Germany by Stephan Meining and the other A Mosque in Munich by Ian Johnson. The subtitle of the first book could be: How the CIA and other western intelligence agencies made a catastrophic mistake long ago but can’t be really blamed for the unforeseen consequences. This series in 4 parts was originally written for the Iraqi newspaper Al-sabah al-jadeed (


A Mosque in Germany (1)

Long before Germany in the 1960’s began to recruit Turkish workers by the hundreds of thousands, the city of Munich had a small community of a few hundred muslims who originated from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Albania . Most of the Soviet men had served in the Red Army and had been locked up as prisoners of war in 1941, in horrible death camps, until they were offered a chance to fight with Hitler’s army on the Eastern front. This was an unexpected chance, because Adolf Hitler considered the Soviet muslims as ‘Mongols’ belonging to ‘the trash of mankind’ who shouldn’t be given a chance to fight with soldiers of the German superior race and then demand some reward. Luckily for those muslims, the superior race was soon loosing the war it had started in 1941 in the East. They were needed as cannon fodder and in the German radio studios broadcasting messages in regional dialects to religious minorities in the Soviet Union.

Captured again by American or British troops in 1945 at the end of World War II, these muslims had to fear deportation to the Soviet Union as Stalin had demanded his western allies to do. But some men escaped that death sentence thanks to the interventions of German intellectuals and officers who had served in Hitler’s war and propaganda machines and who had been their comrades or sponsors. And then the cowboys of the still young Central Intelligence Agency (CIA, established in 1947) and other more veteran western intelligence agencies discovered these muslims as a potential weapon to undermine communist rule in the Soviet Union by fostering dreams of independence of the non-Russian states. Promotion of religion might also help, so the pragmatic philosophy of the intelligence communities went, to distract students from the elites of islamic countries studying in the West from the promises of communism and anticolonialism.

‘The 6th of March 1960 was a wet and cold day. (…) But precisely on this uncosy Sunday evening a small group of muslims had decided to meet in the old center of Munich. Their faith had brought the seven men together a little while ago. Together they entered by ten o’clock the Wienerwald, a restaurant in Odeon Square, a chicken grill room that would close soon, so the men were in a hurry. The muslims pursued the same dream. Later that evening they agreed to found an association with the ambitious name <<Mosque Construction Commission>>.

The seven men couldn’t possibly suspect that at that late hour at a restaurant table they were laying the foundations of political islam in Germany and in a good part of the rest of the western world. Nowadays, more than half a century later, the Mosque Construction Commission is called <<Islamic Community of Germany>> and is considered the most influential organization of political islam of Arab origin on German soil. (…)

Around this organization nowadays exist numerous associations and mosques (it has some 600 members); in many German cities exist islamic centers that have their roots in the Munich initiative. International careers of officials belonging to political islam began near the Isar, Munich’s river, and prominent personalities from the Arab world came here as guests. (…)

A few weeks after 9/11 (the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York) the United Nations published a list with the names of numerous men suspected of terrorism. One of these men was the president of the <<Islamic Community of Germany>>, Ghaleb Himmat. The UN Security Council put him and his friend Youssef Nada (a member of the Munich group since 1971) for many years on a sanctions list of persons and companies suspected of links with Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.

Why these two people of Arab origin came to Munich of all places? (…) In the beginning of the sixties Munich was not yet the wealthy, pulsating metropolis in the south of Germany it is now, and it was far away from the Islamic world. The city and its countryside were at that time still deeply rooted in centuries-old catholic traditions. …

But, nothing of what happens these days came into existence in a void, a space without history.’

These are some quotes from Meining’s introduction to his book, published in 2011. In 2009 Ghaleb Himmat and Youssef Dana might have been taken from the UN’s sanctions list, but the <<Islamic Community of Germany>> was put on a long list of terrorist organizations made public by the Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates in November 2014, while Himmat and Nada remained on Washington’s list of terrorist suspects. On the Emirati list, it was the only German organization mentioned.

* “Political islam” is an American term used widely, also by European scholars and researchers such as Stefan Meining. It is a nonscientific, very vague, unprecise notion, but we use it here and define it as the Arab, Iranian, Pakistani, Saudi, Turkish, Malaysian or whatever nationalist-islamic ideology whose purpose it is to conquer or maintain power in a modern state on earth, not just give learned and practical advice to the sheep and their shepherds on how to reach heaven by living a decent life and following some old rules. Sometimes this ideology rests on backward-oriented dreams about a kind of new Sunni caliphate/dictatorship unbothered by modernity (IS / Daesh), sometimes it feeds on forward-oriented urgent human needs for social justice (Iran, Egypt), sometimes it is just part of the still necessary anticolonialist, anti-imperalist reflex (Malaysia), sometimes it wants to smash the perceived power of christian, jewish, hindu, buddhist or whatever nonislamic religious institutions and cultures. So political islam is all about political rivalry in the real world.

A Mosque in Germany (2)

The aim of the offensive launched in 1941 by the Germans in the East was clear: conquer the Soviet Union, including its originally muslim republics, exterminate not only the Jews living there but also the rest of the population and put German colonizers and others of the ‘Arian’ race such as farmers from Holland in their place. Hitler had explained it in his book ‘My Struggle’. It was an old idea, Hitler was hardly original. Turning the vast territories of the Soviet Union – the biggest country on the planet – into German colonial possessions like other western powers had done in Africa and Asia, that was an idea already promoted before World War I (1914-1918) although without a racial mass extermination policy.

It was a pipe dream though.

In 1941 the German offensive in the East soon bogged down, the expected Blitzkrieg that would bring the Germans in a few weeks to Moscow, proved to be a total phantasy of Hitler’s generals. Instead, the Red Army of the Soviets demonstrated formidable power and the people incredible resilience. Although by the end of 1941 the German army had taken 3,5 million Soviet men prisoners of war, the resistance remained fierce. Hundreds of thousands of German soldiers had already been killed in the fighting.

German officers, some of whom belonged to the old generation that had served in World War I, began to think of using those prisoners of war that were anticommunist in heart and soul: the muslims. Hitler was against it but he was ignored for a change, also because the war machine needed spies in the East who spoke the local languages. One of the advocates of this policy was admiral Wilhelm Canaris, an intelligence officer closely connected to immigration circles in Germany, orientalists, Russia experts and high ranking officers on the eastern front with foresight, men who knew the mass slaughter would continue.

After a few experiments tens of thousands of muslim prisoners of war were selected to serve in usually mixed army divisions. They were fondly referred to as ‘our Mohammedans’. Even Hitler changed his mind about them and after a while agreed they were loyal, trustworthy and brave. They were of course never informed about the extermination plans of the nazi’s and instead were made to dream about independence and ‘liberation from Stalin’. Behind their back they were considered a kind of primitives ‘living close to nature’. Another aspect that the Germans discovered about their ‘Mohammedans’ was that, with the help of religious propaganda, it was much easier to keep them loyal, despite the endless German defeats on the Eastern front, than for example Russian christians. The military was so happy with that: ‘Faith and praying cost nothing but are enormously motivating’. The muslim fighters were given their day off on Fridays, their holy days were respected and some were even offered a course by German orientalists to become imam in the army. All this helped, apart from the experience of fighting together, to secure that friendships between these muslims and their German comrades survived for decades after the war.

In 1941 the nazis gave political asylum to the mufti of Jeruzalem, Amin al-Husseini, an important political gesture aimed at rallying Arab nationalists to the German cause. Attitudes towards muslims in the Soviet Union also changed temporarily because the Germans were planning to occupy the oil fields of Azerbaijan and were still hoping to bring Turkey over to their side. By that time the Germans had already killed tens of thousands of muslims on Soviet soil because they thought they were jews, or didn’t care to make a difference. Being circumcised was enough to be murdered.

After the war British and American troops separated the muslim volunteers from the German troops they captured. They were to be deported to the Soviet Union, an explicit demand of Stalin agreed to by his western allies. Also, there were over nine million foreigners on German soil: prisoners, young men forced to work in German factories and on farms, as well as foreign fighters. The Allies, let alone the bombed-out Germans, couldn’t provide food and other care for them, so the Allies were in a hurry to get rid of these people. A terrible episode of the aftermath of the war began. Of course many foreigners loved to go back to their countries (like my father who simply walked back hundreds of kilometers to Holland with some friends), but most of the muslim volunteers refused to return and a lot of violence was used to force them. There were mass suicides, men drowned themselves, burned themselves in their barracks. But in the end, for example, only some 800 of the 267.000 volunteers of the <<Turkestan Legion>> managed to


escape deportation. They had often succeeded to have false ID’s that showed they were from Turkey, provided by Turkish students and some German orientalists. Deportations were stopped in March 1946 after the UN counted less than 800.000 ‘stateless’ persons on German soil. Everyone who had managed thus far to escape deportation, obtained the right to stay in occupied Germany – and many went to live in huts and shacks in the countryside near Munich.

Why Munich? One reason was surely that many American military institutions and American aid organizations for refugees had their offices in the city and its province Bavaria. Cities in southern Germany were often not as devastated as cities in the North that had been victims of allied carpet bombing and firestorms. There were some useful buildings left standing in the South. The Americans also wanted to show that in cities where the nazi party had its origins (Munich) and had celebrated its triumphs (the military parades in the city of Nuremberg), they now were the masters of the hour. An American consulate was based in Munich, providing generously visa for foreign refugees and Germans to emigrate to the U.S.

But more importantly in a few years, was the fact that the Cold War had begun. Stalin’s Soviet Union was not longer considered an ally but a danger comparable to nazi Germany. Again former Soviet muslims could make themselves useful, could be used, or were supposed to agree that they were used. Indeed, some made themselves useful, some were used, but others used the freedoms granted to them in Germany for their own agenda.

A Mosque in Germany (3)

In March 1953 the poor and small islamic community in Germany’s South created an association, <<Religious Community Islam>>. The initiative came from its first president, the pious but tolerant Ibrahim Gacaoglu (1903), an animal doctor and former volunteer, who was married to a German woman.

Eight years after the end of the war everyone had forgotten about the muslim volunteers. They didn’t pose a problem. An earlier request by a self-appointed imam to Munich’s local government to introduce religious education for muslim children in the schools was answered, after six months, with a simple no: religious education could only be christian.

But the Cold War was in full swing (NATO was already established in 1949). That same month in 1953 <<Radio Liberation>> began to broadcast its programs for non-russian speaking peoples in the Soviet Union. For more credibility it was presented as a private, independent station, not as what it was: a branch of American government propaganda, set up by the CIA. The radio station was linked to the <<American Committee for the Liberation of Bolchevism>>, AMCOMLIB, that would soon start to help financially Gacaoglu’s association. The task of this committee and the radio was “to provoke discontent between the Soviet people and the government in the Kremlin”. The radio was assisted by the German <<Institute for Research on the History and Culture of the Soviet Union>>. The CIA had to search for German experts on non-russian minorities to fill dozens of posts in the radio station because America had none. Inevitably it found Gerhard von Mende, a language expert who had also assisted the


nazis in their propaganda efforts, and who had escaped being sent to court for it. After a short and well-paid stint with British intelligence and the CIA and then during his years of cooperation with German nationalists, Von Mende would again become the spider in a network, this time of academics, former nazis and muslim volunteers, and western intelligence services. He did this from a modest office called <<Bureau for Foreigners Exiled by their Home Countries>>.

It didn’t escape Washington that Stalin was putting his relations with Soviet muslims on a new footing. Selected men were given a chance to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. In nine Soviet cities regime-loyal muftis were present again. For 1952 Stalin even planned an international conference for muslims. The CIA too began to send its willing muslim agents to Mecca – to make contact with the muslims sent by Moscow to Saudi Arabia.

Under American occupation German government institutions were not active in the anti-Soviet propaganda field, espionage or diplomacy. But this changed soon after the occupation was formally ended in May 1955, when “the old elites, tainted by national-socialism, were given a new chance to take political decisions in the name of Germany”. Already in March 1956 the Interior Ministry discussed with officials of the German churches how to keep the stateless muslim masses away from communism. “Their religious interests should be settled in a satisfactory way,” was the conclusion. The idea of the Ministry was that muslims should defend German interests in the islamic world, in exchange for financial and political support of their organizations. Subsidies to them tripled in three years and would have sufficed to create a thousand jobs.

In that time Germany also had a particular <<Ministry for the Deported, Refugees and War Victims>>. It was responsible for over sixteen million people, about one third of the people living in West-Germany. This mighty power house was headed by a man who already in 1923 had joined Hitler in his failed putsch, Theodor Oberländer. It was the same man who once had selected muslim fighters in the POW camps of the nazis and put them to work in his <<Bergmann batallion>>.


He might be considered by some as a kind of intellectual precursor of the genocidal nazis because of his ideas on ‘the new order for the East’, but he can’t have been a fanatical racist, because his friendships with the muslims of the Bergmann batallion lasted for years after the war.

Under his leadership the German government began te develop its own Islam policy. Also here, a former nazi, this time an ex-SS officer, Gerhard Wolfrum, ran the show. Wolfrum’s notes make clear that the officials’ first priority was to eliminate “the unwelcome American influence” because the Americans “try to run their own policies among Arab, Turkish, Pakistani and Iranian students and trainees” in Germany. Those young people could be “abused for all kinds of intrigues” of American politicians and secret services and that could possibly damage the image of the new German republic. It was high time to create “a real religious community” to get a political grip on the muslims. We need “an orderly situation”, the officials said.

But Wolfrum and his colleagues didn’t like natural leaders like Ibrahim Gacaoglu, although he had refused over time several American offers of well-paid assignments. He detested to be involved in politics and had kept his distance. He would have loved to become the imam of the former volunteers and their families, people he had so long taken care of in times of utter despair and poverty. And he would have been elected, if not for Wolfrum and friends.

When the “real religious community” of muslims needed to appoint their imam in 1957, Wolfrum and friends tried to get rid of popular candiate Gacaoglu and get a certain Nureddin Namangani elected, a protegé of Gerhard von Mende. This drama took place during the annual Eid festivities, organized after Ramadan every year by Gacaoglu in the German Museum in Munich. But Namangani lost unexpectedly the election because of the resistance by Bosnian and Albanian muslims.

So it was time to replace Gacaoglu’s association. In 1958 a rival of his <<Religious Community Islam>> was born, the <<Religious Office for Muslim Refugees>>, again populated with many former muslim volunteers, among whom was Hassan Kassajep, a liberal muslim married with a German novelist who became the secretary of the new apparat. Kassajep would become later on the secretary of the Munich Mosque Commission. During its fifth meeting it discussed the idea of constructing a mosque in Munich. It held the first islamic conference in the federal republic of Germany.

And then came along Said Ramadan, the famous Muslim Brotherhood intellectual; son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; an Egyptian academic persecuted by Nasser, a protegé of the king of Jordan.

A refugee too intelligent to be used.

* We can’t deal here with the Middle East policies of Dwight D. Eisenhower, president of the United States from 1953-1961, but if we are talking about catastrophic mistakes, we have to mention these too. He is known for the “Eisenhower doctrine”, a strategy especially developed for Iran and Arab countries, where the appeal of communism among ordinary people should be halted or military cooperation with the Soviet Union prevented. In this logic fitted the coup d’état of 1953 against the government of Mohammed Mossadeq (a secular democrat) in Iran, as well as halting US financial support for the construction of the Aswan Dam (as a punishment for Egyptian president Nasser’s beginning love affair with the Soviets). Also the coup of the CIA in 1963 against Abd al-Karim Qasim (who decided to leave the pro-western Baghdad Pact) with the help of the Baath Party, is one of those mistakes with very longterm consequences that even today sometimes seem irreparable.

A Mosque in Germany (4)


Said Ramadan (1929-1995) was already a well-known islamic intellectual when he became involved with the Munich Mosque Commission. As a teenager and ardent believer he was honorably called ‘ little Hassan al-Banna’ but in the Egypt of president Nasser this wasn’t a recommendation. Nasser wasn’t ready to share power with the Muslim Brotherhood, which had hundreds of thousands of members after the Second World War and managed hundreds of institutions such as schools. The brotherhood had already been once banned under king Faruq and it would suffer the same fate under Nasser. As an eternal refugee, Said Ramadan became a famous face in islamic internationalism, probably his favorite habitat after the proliferation of various alliances of islamic states since the Sixties. He enjoyed diplomatic immunity thanks to the king of Jordan, who had provided him with a passport (‘at the request of Washington’, the German secret service wrote) and the title of cultural attaché of Jordan in Bonn, with a nice house to live in Geneva, only a few hours drive from Munich.

Said Ramadan was a member of the <<Mosque Construction Commission>> from the beginning, together with Nureddin Namangani of the <<Religious Office for Muslim Refugees>>, the new islamic association that worked in tandem with German and Munich authorities. Officials in Germany including Gerhard von Mende, were not interested in Ramadan. They were busy gathering information about people in or from communist countries.

Stefan Meining looked into American archives to find out what Ramadan’s relations with Washington might have been, as he was already received in 1953 in the White House by president Eisenhower, during a colloquium in the American capital. The CIA considered Ramadan as a reactionary, probably also because of reports on the dislike the muslims in Munich developed towards him. The young Ramadan constantly criticised these older men for not following stringently islamic rules and in the end they tried to kick him out of the Mosque Construction Commission, where he was to be replaced by a seventy years old German convert, a sailor named Mohammed Abdul Karim Grimm.

Despite the CIA’s judgment, American officials in 1959 showed interest in the idea of Said Ramadan to create an organization “for all muslims in Europe”. Ramadan had always understood the importance of structures, of organizations. Gerhard von Mende, one of those ex-nazis busy with pushing back American influence in Germany, was outraged when he heard about the plan. He always suspected Ramadan of secret dealings with the Americans but was unable to figure out with whom exactly. It will not have been the CIA, that had lost interest by then in the refugee associations as they were becoming clubs for the elderly. But Ramadan was an interesting figure for Washington, for he fitted into the US strategy to have good relations with “states that understand islam as political program against Arab nationalism”, especially the pan-Arab nationalism of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1962 Ramadan was present at the founding ceremony of the Islamic World League in Mecca. Halfway the 1960s, Ramadan had become, for Egypt, ‘the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in exile’.

In Germany the terrain was gradually left open for new actors. Minister Oberländer had to confront his nazi past because of a show trial in East Germany where he was convicted in absentia for the murder of thousands of Jews and Poles. Gerhard von Mende died in 1963, his office closed. It seemed German politicians had lost their interest for the small islamic minorities. When Turkish workers were imported, their religion and cultural traditions were considered unimportant, their presence was thought of as temporary, they would return, so no action needed. The <<Religious Office for Muslim Refugees>> was dissolved. Its old chairman Namangani became one of the first to care for the religious needs of Turkish workers. Hassan Kassajep retired and became a painter. Many men of the old guard were buried in the islamic graveyard in Munich, friends and foes next to each other.

In 1961 the Mosque Construction Commission ‘was little more than a file cabinet with a bank account’, writes Stefan Meining. Said Ramadan was supposed to become chairman of the Mosque Construction Commission that year, thanks to the promise of his good contacts with Arab states that felt threatened by Nasser’s popularity. Ramadan didn’t win the election, nevertheless the refugees critical of his behavior left the commission. In 1963, after Ramadan had created an islamic center in Geneva, he turned the Mosque Construction Commission into a new association, the <<Islamic Community in Southern Germany>>, with only a few dozen members, most of them students and academics. It had political aims now: promote understanding of islam and create a dialogue with all churches, to struggle together against ‘atheist materialism in every form, for freedom and human dignity’. Ramadan himself did most of his missionary work from his islamic center in Geneva, that had become ‘the most important headquarters of the Egyptian opposition’, according to historian Christina Phelps Harris.

In 1968 Ramadan had more important things to do than begging foreign governments for subsidies for the mosque in Munich. He left the Association that he had created in Munich. He had enough authority to head a delegation of leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood who had found refuge in Saudi Arabia and were going to negotiate with Nasser about their position. Years later, in 1976, he became member of the executive committee of the Saudi Islamic Council for Europe. By then muslim students, muslim workers, and mosques were organizing themselves everywhere in Europe and creating national, European and international alliances and federations. Sponsoring the construction of mosques became a sport of foreign Arab governments, as well as those of Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, as a means to exert political influence over useful moslims far away: petitions against Iran, collections for Afgani orphans, demonstrations in support of the Palestinian cause. Gilles Kepel, the well-known expert on the history of islam in France, once said sarcastically in an interview about the Saudi sponsoring of mosques: ‘Hadn’t the managers of the French mosques been so corrupt, there would now be standing a mosque on every square meter in France.’

The dream of building a mosque in Munich had remained. The German state adheres to the principle of separation of religion and state, so it was out of the question that it would pay a contribution for the construction of a mosque in Munich. The commission had to find other sponsors. Already in 1960 Namangani had been dispatched to Saudi Arabia, together with the Uzbek historian and orientalist Baymirza Hayit. The Saudis had told them they were happy to see “that a christian government shows goodwill towards islam” and promised them aid. The Islamic World Congress promised to build a school and library next to the mosque. Not much of these promises materialized.

A few years later, Fazal Yazdani, a Pakistani medical student, proved succesful with the Saudis, who promised one million D-mark. As a thank you he became the chairman of Ramadan’s organization. The mayor of Munich ignored protests in his city against the mosque. The German ambassador in Baghdad mixed in the battle too. He wrote that activities of muslims in Germany should not be hampered because “communist activities are much more free in Europe than in most of the countries of origin”. Communism was still the bogey man, but of course most European employers simply didn’t like the idea that their muslim employees would become members of trade unions and worse. In France, trade union activists from the Maghreb countries were even regularly assassinated – and such young social leaders began to turn to the kind of islam preached in homes.

With the first contributions that had arrived, some 350.000 D-mark, Ramadans association purchased a piece of land for 120,000 D-mark in 1964. It would take three years before the first stone was laid in a ceremony that saw the flags of many islamic countries waving. Also, for the first time in Germany, the call of a muëzzin was heard.

In February 1969 the money ran out and the mosque was still not finished. Business men from Libya, then still a kingdom, came to the rescue with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Colonel Gaddafi, although no friend of the Muslim Brotherhood, followed their example by the end of 1970 and together with Saudi Arabia put another 1,6 million on the table. The mosque opened its doors in 1973. Master of ceremonies was Libyan sheikh Mahmoud


Souby, shaking hands with another most prominent guest, the president of the Saudi Islamic World League, Nagib al-Rawi.

The <<Islamic Community of Southern Germany>>, the owner of the mosque, remained loyal to its founder’s roots: Arab, intellectual. Arab students, academics and German converts were the dominating force in the association. What was important was “class not mass” writes Meining. The board of the mosque decided against letting Turkish workers become a member, because, Meining writes, they feared this would mean the end of their political action. (Turkish organizations would open many years later, in 1989 and 1999, their own mosques in Munich).

During the first general assembly of the mosque in 1973, Fazal Yazdani, the Pakistani, lost the vote for the presidency and had to make place for Ghaleb Himmat, born in Syria, who had lived for years in the US.

The 1980s are the turning point in the long story of muslim organisations in Europe – and the link with the war in Afghanistan and American financing of muslim anti-Soviet forces cannot be denied. But in those same years it became clear that muslim immigrants and exiles were going to stay in Europe, build families and live their religion.

In 1982 Said Ramadan’s organization translated its expansion over all of Germany by a change of name, it became the <<Islamic Community in Germany>>. It was never presented as a daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood, understandably perhaps, in view of its history of repression. The Munich base was the first to obtain recognition of its islamic school and receive full government funding. Young German men who refused military service and had to work in Germany’s civil service, were allowed to serve in the islamic center in Munich. Military personnel from American bases nearby in Bavaria province, flocked to the center to study Arabic or the Koran, or went to the mosque to pray. Mosques everywhere in Germany began to hold ‘open days’ for non-muslims.

In 1989 the <<Islamic Community in Germany>> became a member in the <<Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe>>, that would create the <<European Council for Fatwas and Research>>, now headquartered in Brussels. Relations with foreign religious organizations or islamic states began to have the attention of journalists, but still not of government circles. The Pakistani Jamaat-e-Islami could build a network of islamic universities in Europe and promote courses in islam for the youth. No secret service read their teaching materials, or the books published by the islamic publishing house SKD-Bavaria, claims Stefan Meining, even when the official aim of some preachers became ‘converting all Germans to Islam’. Some German politicians and journalists treated Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, that first class religious extremist from Afghanistan, as a hero. The Soviet Union was still the enemy and inside the Islamic world Iran was their problem, not Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or the Muslim Brotherhood.

A decade later came 9/11, the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York. Meining regrets that “until 2001”, authorities had ignored “the uncontrolled growth of islamic structures”. He writes about the many stages of muslim mobilization in Germany: the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Rushdie affair, the war between Iran and Iraq, the war in Kuwayt, the embargo against Iraq. Gradually, with every new issue, the idea of jihad or financing jihad as a religious duty was spread among ‘a new generation of young muslims not afraid of conflict’. In the same time muslims and islam became presented much more often as victims, of wars, of conspiracies, of wrong policies.


Stefan Meining is a German and wants to tell the history of political islam in Europe since the establishment of the Munich Mosque Commission through his German looking glass and his focus on the Muslim Brotherhood and Said Ramadan (father of Tariq Ramadan btw). It creates a good story line, one can’t mention all the details, all the connections, every coincidence. But it is not fair. There are many other authorities, organizations, states and personalities in and outside Europe to blame for unwanted extremism on European soil and elsewhere than just German security institutions and the politicians who ran them. Meining would agree. Perhaps it is better to pinpoint at the Cold War as a horrible factory of enormous mistakes that have produced such hot dangers to our societies. We will be busy correcting the effects of old politicians’ stupidities for decades to come. If we can.


Fidel Castro’s alphabet

(this article was originally written for the Iraqi newspaper Al-sabah al-jadeed (, therefore it refers also to things in Iraq)

Alexander the Great

Fidel’s great example, although Alexander died young. Fidel called three of his five sons from the marriage with Soto Delvalle after his idol: Alexis, Alejandro, and Alexander. The other two were Angelito and Antonio or “Tony”, the man who became vice-president of the Swiss-based International Baseball Federation.


One of the countries where Fidel sent thousands of Cuban fighters to help the independence struggle of the MPLA against the Portuguese. Despite NATO support, the MPLA won. It is still in power and now importing Portuguese engineers who became unemployed after the financial crisis of 2008. But things went bad in Ethiopia where Fidel sent fighters to support dictator Mengistu. He lives since 1991 in exile in Zimbabwe.


Fidel never shaved his beard. Why? Because he made a promise on American television, one month after the revolution in 1959: “When we fulfill our promise of good government I will cut my beard.”


The “Blackbook on Communism” published in 1997 contains a chapter on Cuba. The treatment of political prisoners in the beginning of Fidel’s rule was not much better than in Iraq under the Baath.


Cubans became famous for repairing old American cars, Iraqis should be too since the embargo of the 1990s. Cars that survived the Revolution of 1959 have become expensive collectables in the US. Cubans can make a nice living out of them. Unfortunately, the Cuban government still has not lifted all the bans on importing spare parts from abroad.


Famous words of Fidel in 1991 after the Fall of the Berlin Wall: “We have to stick to the facts, and simply put, the socialist camp has collapsed.” Right, but also true: “Capitalism neither has the capacity, nor the morality, nor the ethics, to solve the problems of poverty.” What does?

Che Guevara

Fidel’s best friend perhaps. He died young. A poster hero until today for the Facebook generation so fond of pictures, and other things you don’t have to read. Recently a film was made about Che’s life which did little to explain how the heck you can start a revolution with 83 men and win, as happened in Cuba.


Probably the most important reason why Americans were so angry that they ‘lost Cuba’. It wasn’t Cuba though that installed a complete trade boycot, but their own government. The Cuban Havana cigars remain the most famous in the world, even in Erbil where they sell fake ones. Cuban cigars don’t kill you, although Fidel himself quit smoking in 1985: “The one last sacrifice I must make for public health is to stop smoking.” (see health)


Unfortunately, while searching for gold and silver to pay the bills of the Spanish royal family, Columbus ‘discovered’ Cuba too. Arawak Indians had been farming and hunting on the island for over six thousand years. Life was good: historians think they numbered around 150,000 when Columbus came. They were wiped out mainly by epidemics imported by the Europeans, historians mercifully believe, not by colonialism.


Cubans use some words of Arawakan, African, and English origin. Cubans use Arawakan nouns to identify many mountains, rivers, and towns. The name “Cuba” comes from the word cubanacán, meaning “a center” or “central place”, according to one expert.


“Cuba Libre” is a drink that you can order anywhere in the world and that would let you fraternize immediately with complete strangers at the bar. Because they thought it was invented by Fidel himself. But no. It was invented by the Americans who liberated Cuba from the Spanish, which explains the high percentage of Coca cola in this cocktail. It is still popular around the world, except in some muslim countries, a group to which Iraq has added itself recently and, even worse, the Indian state of Kerala! Taxes on alcohol provided 25% of Kerala’s budget in 2015. Now, who is going to take care of the sick, elderly and addicts?

Eighty-three. See Che.


Fidel married several times and made quite a lot of children also outside marriage. Biographers have counted a total of nine. It is the Latin American way: Fidel’s father Angel Castro, who migrated from Spain’s Galicia region to build a farm on Cuba, was still married to his first wife when he started a family with Fidel’s mother, Lina Ruz, the family maid. Most of Fidel’s children remained loyal to Cuba and lived there. But his daughter Francisca Pupo left dissatisfied for the US. His eldest daughter, Alina Fernandez, blasted her father on exile radio from Miami, where Fidel’s sister Juana, also resident in Florida, was already calling Fidel a “monster”. His eldest son Fidelito was a nuclear scientist in Cuba. Fidel’s brother Raúl is now president of Cuba, other relatives became anti-Cuba politicians in America.


Will Fidel get an enormous grave to attract tourists? It is not sure. He has asked to be cremated.


One thing socialist Cuba did achieve was a good public health care system (see cigars). Poor Americans used its doctors and hospitals in Michael Moore’s famous documentary film “Sicko” (2007), about health care in America compared to other states. Moore brought a group of rescue workers to Cuba who had survived 9/11 but didn’t get proper medical treatment in New York. Police in the US seized the film material but clever Michael had of course a copy.


Capital of Cuban exiles. The Miami Herald newspaper is also available in Spanish. Decades ago only a few dozen people sniffed cocaïne there and it wasn’t a problem. The Cold War has ended but the War on Drugs goes on.

Missile crisis

Washington never seems to learn this lesson: if you cut financial aid to or impose sanctions on a poor country, it will look for other friends (e.g. Egypt under Nasser). In the case of socialist Cuba one of the friends was the Soviet Union. In 1961 the US and in January 1962 the Organization of American States (OAS) imposed santions on Cuba. Ten months later the world was on the brink of a nuclear war after the Soviets had shipped some nuclear missiles to Cuba.


Catchy pre- and post-revolutionary Cuban music remains popular all over the world while the revolutionary songs that were able to stave off hunger feelings, have been forgotten.


Even half-socialist countries cannot function without oil. For a long time Cuba received gratis oil from Mexico and Venezuela, next to 4-6 billion dollar annually from the Soviet Union says Wikipedia.


Fidel didn’t peel his oranges, but cut them in four and sucked them. It shocked some bourgeois admirers of his who came from Europe to see their idol.

Organization of American States

In January 1962, Cuba was suspended from the  Organization of American States (OAS). But some countries in South America ignored its sanctions against Cuba. So, in 1975 the sanctions were lifted. Washington is still busy doing the same even if in Cuba too, the sanctions only hit the ordinary people.


Cuba was catholic and communist so there was no ban on breeding and eating pigs. It had a lovely Bay of Pigs where a bunch of American amateurs and 1400 Cuban refugees tried to invade the island in 1961. It failed (see Che and 83). After that the CIA became obsessed with Fidel. They devoted more assassination plans against him than any other perceived enemy of Washinton. In every organization one finds bad losers.


Pope Francis went to Cuba last year. Almost 800 prisoners were freed after the pope made an appeal to the Cuban government. Why can’t a muslim leader do the same somewhere?


You can almost swim from Cuba to Miami but refugees preferred small boats until these were stopped by the Cuban government. If Fidel could do this, why not Erdogan or some Libyans?


A terrible experience shared by Cubans and Iraqis. Under president Obama the US sanctions became less and almost symbolical. In March this year Obama went to see personally on Cuba how this worked out but didn’t meet Fidel.


Fidel is famous for his long speeches. His record at the United Nations General Assembly remains unbroken: four and a half hours. One of his last speeches during an international climate conference in Rio de Janeiro lasted twenty minutes. Historians think that’s why the applause afterwards was overwhelming.


Where people drink coffee and rum, the farmers grow sugar. Despite US sanctions the European Union imported Cuban cane sugar.


Socialism, even when half-failed, doesn’t stop tourism, while sectarian strife stops it completely. Instead of foreign tourists, one gets foreign troops.

Trump on Cuba

Predictably he says one day this, next day something else.


Nothing in Fidel’s life started with Y, except the Spanish word for I, “yo”.


A place on the coast of Cuba where socialists built a fine sweet water reservoir to irrigate surrounding farm lands. Not everything is black and white in history.