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In Germany, suspicion follows growing Muslim population - Kansas City, USA

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  • Zafar Khan
    In Germany, suspicion follows growing Muslim population BY TOM HUNDLEY Chicago Tribune http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/world/8486416.htm?1c
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 23, 2004
      In Germany, suspicion follows growing Muslim
      Chicago Tribune


      BERLIN - (KRT) - In the converted loft that serves as
      his studio, architect Mehmet Bayram unrolls the
      blueprints that give form to the new demographic
      reality of the German capital.

      Bayram has no less than eight new mosque projects on
      his drawing board.

      "It's better to call them cultural centers since only
      about 25 percent of the floor space is for the
      mosque," he tells a visitor.

      Whatever one chooses to call them, they are
      brick-and-mortar markers of a changing urban
      landscape. Germany's 3 million Muslims - second only
      to France among West European nations - are making
      their presence felt in ways that not all Germans find

      The past decade has witnessed a surge in the number of
      mosques across Germany and other European countries.
      Germany has about 2,400 mosques, but more
      significantly, Germany's mosques have been emerging
      from nondescript storefronts and inconspicuous
      basements into more visible and recognizable quarters.

      Last year the number of mosques readily identifiable
      as such by domes and crescent-topped minarets nearly
      doubled from 77 to 141, according to the German
      Central Islam Archive, a research group. Most of the
      mosques serve Germany's large Turkish population.

      "I personally feel it is important that mosques get
      out of the backyards and into the open," said Gunter
      Piening, who heads the Berlin city office that deals
      with integration and migration issues.

      "If a group builds a mosque, it shows a will for
      integration. When people build their house of God, it
      means they feel at home," he said.

      But other public officials and many ordinary Germans
      worry that the elaborate new mosques will turn Muslim
      communities inward and give encouragement to
      fundamentalists and radicals.

      "The mainstream opinion in this country is still
      influenced by Sept. 11," said Stefanie Vogelsang,
      deputy mayor of the Berlin borough of Neukoelln.

      She was referring to the fact that Mohamed Atta and
      the al-Qaida cell that carried out the Sept. 11 terror
      attacks hatched their plans in a Hamburg mosque.

      Those anxieties were heightened in the wake of the
      Madrid train bombings last month. German media
      recently reported that an apparent al-Qaida cell
      operating out of a small Neukoelln mosque was planning
      an attack a year ago with a bomb nearly identical in
      design to the ones used in Madrid. Police foiled the
      plot and arrested the ringleader, a Tunisian national.
      Also, Spanish police last month arrested a Moroccan
      resident of Darmstadt, Germany, as a suspect in the
      Madrid bombings.

      Neukoelln, one of Berlin's most ethnically diverse
      districts, has a Muslim population of 75,000. In some
      of its neighborhoods, according to Vogelsang, the
      number of foreigners enrolled in schools has risen to
      98 percent, even though many of the "foreigners" have
      German passports.

      Vogelsang said she had observed a dramatic increase in
      the number of women wearing headscarves over the past
      three or four years and said she feared that mosques
      were creating a kind of parallel society outside the
      German mainstream.

      "I support the idea of bringing the mosques out of the
      backyard, but these people have to respect that
      Germany's roots are Christian," she said.

      "Everybody in Germany has the right to pursue
      happiness in his own way. You can have sex with whom
      you want and practice religion as you like," she said.
      "But the goal of these Islamic fundamentalists is to
      use the legal ways of our democratic country to
      actually do away with liberalism and democracy."

      Three of the new mosques that Bayram has designed are
      planned for Neukoelln, but Vogelsang, who oversees
      building projects in the borough, says she will block
      construction until she receives more information on
      who is funding the projects.

      Piening, the immigration official, agreed that the
      source of funding was a legitimate concern.

      "It's not easy to define who is behind each individual
      project. This is where transparency is required. It
      has to be similar to the Catholic Church or Protestant
      Church," he said.

      But he also worried that there was a "xenophobic
      aspect" to some of the objections concerning the new

      "It has become clear that some people do not want
      visible Islam to be integrated into the architecture
      of the city ... (and) the effect of this is that the
      Muslim community will draw back into itself and not
      integrate," he said.

      One of the most impressive new mosques in Berlin is
      found in a parklike area of Neukoelln adjacent to an
      old Turkish cemetery. With its distinctive dome and
      towering minarets, it is a replica of the 18th century
      Ottoman mosques found throughout Turkey.

      Tarkan Akarsu, an engineer who donated his services to
      the nearly finished project, said the construction was
      paid for entirely by the Turkish community of Germany.
      Akarsu is an immigrant from Turkey who came to Berlin
      13 years ago.

      Bayram, the architect, was not involved in this
      project, and his praise is only polite.

      "It's very nice, a unique thing for Berlin. People
      don't have to travel to Istanbul anymore to see
      Ottoman architecture. They can see it here in Berlin,"
      he said.

      Bayram's designs attempt to integrate with the
      existing urban landscape.

      "The idea is that these buildings are not just for
      religious purposes but for social and cultural
      purposes also. I see them as a bridge between two
      cultures," he said.

      Bayram, 41, who immigrated to Germany from Turkey when
      he was 10, said that moving mosques out of the shadows
      would foster a sense of self-confidence and belonging
      among Berlin's 220,000 Muslims.

      "Their identification won't be with their (previous)
      nationality; it will be a healthy, self-confident
      identification with Islam," he said.

      "My theory is that every immigrant, sooner or later,
      gets into this conflict of two cultures. If he knows
      where he comes from, knows his identity, then I think
      it is much easier to present himself in the host

      More news about Islam and Muslims in Germany at:

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