Since abandoning compulsory military service last year, Germany seeks to fill its ranks with Muslims in an effort to “multi-culturize” its armed forces. The defense minister of Germany, Thomas de Maizière announced this intention for the Bundeswehr during a June 2012 trip to Turkey. In Ankara, Defense Minister de Maizière told listeners in Ankara, "I want the [German] army to be representative of a cross-section of the German population." Germany seeks to create a smaller army consisting of 185,000 professionals. Even so, the Bundesrepublik has been unable to meet the recruiting goals for its now all volunteer army, while the prospects for future manpower look dim.
Germany has now its sizeable Muslim Turkish population as a source for recruits. To attract Muslims, the defense ministry is offering unique incentives to sign up for military service. Maizière's Turkish junket aimed to persuade Turkey to waive the compulsory military service requirement in Turkey for its nationals who also possess German nationality and who serve at least 15 months in the Bundeswehr.
While Defense Minister Maizière appears to believe that Turks would rather serve in Germany than in Turkey, Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz dismissed the idea and argued that Turkish law does not permit Turkish citizens to substitute compulsory military service in Turkey for voluntary service in Germany, or any other country. Maizière insists that Turks serving in the Bundeswehr must have German citizenship, and that he does not intend to recruit non-German citizens. "The model of a German foreign legion is out of the question," Maizière told reporters.
However, as the German birthrate declines (as it is elsewhere in Europe), Germany may seek to lower its standards for military serve and thus recruit foreigners for its armed forces. France and Spain, in their respective foreign legions, already have foreigners in their ranks. Hellmut Königshaus of the Bundestag recently argued that non-citizens should be allowed to join the German military. He also proposed that immigrants who agree to become soldiers should be offered a fast-track procedure to become naturalized German citizens. The U.S. offers a similar program.
Königshaus dismissed concerns over the loyalty of foreigners serving in the armed forces. "The requirement naturally must be that foreign candidates profess loyalty to our country and our Constitution, and also speak German," Königshaus said. "But why should the integration of foreigners in the military be any different than the integration of foreigners in the national football team?"
The French Connection
The military in the French republic has faced significant problems integrating Muslim soldiers into its ranks. Muslim immigrants now represent approximately 15% of French military personnel (exact figures are unavailable since French law prohibits collecting data on religious affiliation). In real terms, there are around 30,000 active duty Muslims out of a total of 220,000 military personnel in the French military. Debate about Muslim loyalty has focused on whether Muslims serving France can be trusted in conflicts with Muslim countries. This debate has only become more intense since the riots in 2005 in the suburbs of Paris and elsewhere. Attacks by a lone Muslim gunman who killed French paratroopers and children this year only heightened concerns in France.
The riots that affect some 275 communities throughout France piqued concerns at the time that the country was posed with a Muslim insurrection. Thus, the loyalty of Muslim soldiers was placed in the balance.
According to Soren Kern of The Gatestone Institute, surveys of Muslim immigrants in the suburbs of France show that fewer than 10% of respondents consider themselves French and just 1% say they are willing to die for France. In one case, a French soldier of Algerian ancestry, when questioned about possibly making war for France in Algeria, said he could not imagine doing so. "In my head, I am Algerian, I don't feel French. For me, the army is not about standing up for a nation, it's about finding a job." According to Kern, the above quote has been removed from the website of the Cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration website, where it was first published.
Le Monde has quoted excerpts of a classified report that was prepared for the French Ministry of Defense on the topic of "Young Frenchmen of North African Origin" (JFOM, military parlance for "jeunes Français d'origine maghrébine") in the French military. The report states: "The JFOM are 3.5 times more likely [than native French soldiers] to commit desertion, six times more likely to refuse to obey orders, six times more likely to insult a superior officer, and eight times more likely to commit acts of insubordination." In the 1950s, France waged a dirty war against Algerian dissidents and its paratroopers were frequently tagged with human rights abuses and massacres in the runup to Algeria’s eventual liberation from France.
Le Monde made mention of a mutiny aboard the Foch, an aircraft carrier. The incident occurred during the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999. Some 60 seamen of North African Muslim origin kidnapped their weapons officer, supposedly to protest living conditions aboard the aircraft carrier. After being holed up in the ship's cafeteria for more than two days, French commandos managed to "restore order" by liberating the kidnapped officer and evicting the mutineers, who were quickly "repatriated" to France. The French government continues to refuse comment on the reports that the reason for the mutiny was that the Muslim sailors were opposed to French airstrikes on Kosovo, which is 90% Muslim.
Le Figaro has reported that French Muslim soldiers have refused to fight in Afghanistan, citing their faith. The newspaper reported that a spokesman for the military said that the refusal to deploy to Afghanistan represents "a misunderstanding of the meaning of their commitment to bear arms for France and to defend its interests and values at all times and everywhere." The spokesman also said, "A disciplinary procedure is systematically engaged in cases of a refusal to fight, resulting in most cases in a termination of contract."
In March 2011, former French defense minister Michèle Alliot-Marie told a hearing at the Assemblée Nationale that the French Navy was having problems with self-appointed imams – Muslim religious leaders - on board its vessels. Officers on board the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle were alarmed by the large groups of Muslims who were gathering on the ship. According to the testimony, the problem was being "resolved" by hiring professional imams to prevent self-appointed preachers from "giving [Muslim soldiers] alternative concepts of what it means to serve in the army."
The first such Muslim chaplain, the French-Tunisian named Mohamed-Ali Bouharb, has made it his top priority to organize a pilgrimage to Mecca for Muslim soldiers. France is providing two government planes, seating 220 persons each, to fly the Muslim troops to Mecca.
Even while France has long had a policy of strict secularism, albeit at time quite hostile specifically to the Catholic religion, its military is now accommodating Muslim military personnel in ways divergent from those directed to non-Muslims. Bouharb demanded and obtained Muslim meals and prayer rooms for Muslim soldiers. The Muslim chaplaincy also publishes a magazine exclusively for Muslim soldiers, featuring photos of mosques and recipes for meals to break the Ramadan fast.
In 2010, in an interview with the Huffington Post, Bouharb criticized then President Nicolas Sarkoy’s decision to ban the burqa – traditional dress for some Muslim women. Said Bouharb, "[The burqa debate] is an excellent means to keep public opinion busy and to evade the real issues of unemployment, housing and economic crisis. And just as a reminder, this issue concerns only a very small minority of French Muslim women." In the ensuing controversy, it emerged that Bouharb sympathizes with the controversial Muslim Brotherhood, which has now taken control of Egypt. In a story about Bouharb in a Muslim magazine called Salam News, it was revealed that Bouharb had studied Islamic theology at the European Institute for Human Science (EIHS), which is operated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Bouharb has also attended conferences sponsored by the Union of Islamic Organization of France (UOIF), which represents the Muslim Brotherhood in France.
In Austria, there has also been controversy over Muslim military men. Three Muslim soldiers stationed at the Maria Theresien Barracks in the Hietzing district of Vienna refused to salute their country’s flag at a parade and then turned their backs on it. They explained that doing so is incompatible with their religion. All three soldiers have Austrian citizenship and have said that they will not submit to the Austrian flag, salute it or even look at it. While the soldiers were not disciplined, an imam was eventually found to issue a fatwa (a religious ruling) that allows Muslims to salute Austria’s flag. Muslim conscripts, who amount to approximately 3.5% of the total military in Austria, are unable to do most jobs because they are allowed to pray five times per day. Some Muslims who attend Friday prayers stay away for the rest of the day.
In Spain, military commanders terminated the contracts of more than a dozen Muslim soldiers stationed in the city of Ceuta, a tiny Spanish colony on the coast of Morocco, because of a lack of trust or dubious loyalty. Spain has long been concerned about the security of Ceuta, and the other Spanish territories such as Melilla and Perejil Island, which Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has long threatened to "reconquer" for Islam. Spain once had an extensive colony in north Africa, which after pressure from the United Nations, Morocco and Mauritania, it has largely surrendered. During Spain's fratricidal civil war in the 1930s, Generalisimo Francisco Franco used Muslim Moroccan troops as shock troops against the Republican and leftist defenders. They were accused of systematic human rights abuses committed against combatants and civilians.