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Mosque stirs racial passion in Germany

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  • Zafar Khan
    Mosque stirs racial passion in Germany While Muslims see a £20m building for Cologne as test of a nation s tolerance, critics fear the rise of a parallel,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 15, 2007
      Mosque stirs racial passion in Germany

      While Muslims see a £20m building for Cologne as test
      of a nation's tolerance, critics fear the rise of a
      parallel, repressive society

      Jason Burke in Cologne
      Sunday July 15, 2007
      The Observer


      This weekend the mosque is overcrowded, the cafe
      grubby, the social centre and offices scruffy and
      uncomfortable. Not for long, hopes Kilic Iqbal, 27,
      who works for the Turkish religious and cultural
      association that runs the complex. 'It will be
      beautiful, but much more too,' said Iqbal. 'The
      Muslims of Germany have been here 40 years, there are
      more than 120,000 in Cologne, it will show we are part
      of society.

      'It' is Germany's biggest Islamic centre, to be built
      in a suburb of the cathedral city. Costing £20m,
      raised through bank loans and donations from 884
      Muslim associations, its focal point will be a huge
      mosque complete with 183ft-high minarets, a glass dome
      and enough space for up to 4,000 worshippers. Next
      week the plans for the project will be finalised and
      submitted to the city council.
      But though almost every party has approved the project
      in theory, the construction is still controversial.
      'People are scared,' said Fritz Schamma, the Christian
      Democrat mayor. 'But the mosque will be built, that's
      certain. For me it is self-evident that the Muslim
      community needs a prestigious place of worship.'

      Not everyone is of the same opinion. Last week the
      mosque project hit the headlines again against the
      background of a major row over a government-organised
      conference of 'national integration', the main plank
      of Chancellor Angela Merkel's strategy to integrate
      Germany's 15 million immigrants. A prominent survivor
      of the Holocaust said he feared the creation of a
      'parallel [Muslim] society' where women were
      repressed. A writer pledged to read chapters from The
      Satanic Verses inside the mosque.

      Bekir Alboga, the 45-year-old cleric who heads the
      mosque, was surprised by the resistance to the plan.
      'We live in a democratic state,' he told The Observer.
      'The right to worship is protected. Given recent
      German history, we thought extremism was a thing of
      the past.'

      Serious opposition has only come from the far right
      and church figures. Cardinal Joachim Meisner, the
      leader of Cologne's Catholics, said the project gives
      him a 'bad feeling', alleging the minarets would
      'change the skyline of the city', although they would
      be far smaller than the spires of the massive
      12th-century Gothic cathedral. For his part Alboga
      accuses the churches of stirring up anti-Muslim
      sentiment to boost dwindling congregations. The
      fiercest resistance has come from Pro-Koln, an
      extreme-right group with five seats out of 90 on the
      city council. Manfred Rouhs, a leader, said Islam's
      'social model' was not one 'that has any place in the
      middle of Europe'. Pro-Koln has called on right-wing
      allies such as the Austrian Freedom Party and Vlams
      Belaang, a Belgian extreme party. Right-wing
      demonstrations against the mosque turned violent last
      month with 100 arrests in running battles with police.

      Coverage of the 'national integration summit', meant
      to be a triumphal launch of £500m of measures ranging
      from compulsory language and culture training for
      immigrants to sports and educational funding for
      marginalised youth, focused instead on the boycott by
      groups representing many of Germany's Turkish
      community. They were protesting against a law
      decreeing that foreign spouses must be over 18,
      proficient in German and have solid financial support
      before being granted entry. Kenan Kolat, chair of the
      Turkish Community in Germany, claimed the legal
      provision, aimed at stopping forced marriages, was
      'discrimination'. In Berlin, unemployment in the
      Turkish population is 40 per cent. One study found
      that only 80 people of Turkish origin held political
      office in Germany. Ehrenfeld, where the mosque is to
      be built, bears little trace of ethnic tensions,
      however. 'We get along fine,' said office worker
      Christoph Becker, 35. 'There's never any trouble.'

      For Alboga, the stakes are high. 'This is not just
      about Cologne. It is a test for Germany, Germans and
      German democracy,' he said. 'The world is watching.
      This is about setting an example for Europe and for
      the Islamic world too.'

      Turkish groups snub Merkel's bid to improve
      By Melissa Eddy in Berlin
      Published: 13 July 2007


      The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, defended her
      government's programme to improve the integration of
      immigrants after Turkish groups boycotted a meeting on
      the issue.

      Three immigrant groups snubbed Ms Merkel's invitation
      to yesterday's "integration summit", saying planned
      changes to immigration law were discriminatory. Ms
      Merkel hailed the summit, attended by about 90
      participants, as "a milestone in integration policy"
      and insisted that in follow-up talks the government's
      "hand remains outstretched" to all groups - including
      those who took part in the boycott.

      Efforts to integrate Germany's estimated 15 million
      citizens and foreign nationals with an immigrant
      background have been a focus of Ms Merkel's coalition
      government. She held the first "integration summit"
      last July and another, to check the progress on goals
      laid out yesterday, is planned for 2008.

      On Wednesday, the cabinet committed itself to spending
      €750m (£510m) a year on measures, including language
      and culture classes, youth sports and education

      But representatives from key Turkish groups insist the
      measures are little more than window dressing. They
      argue that a recent immigration law, requiring that
      foreign spouses already have a basic knowledge of the
      German language and proof of solid financial support
      before they are granted a visa, discriminates against

      They said they would not participate in the summit
      unless the law was changed, a demand that prompted Ms
      Merkel to say: "The German government does not respond
      to ultimatums."

      Roughly 2.6 million people of Turkish origin live in
      Germany, which has a total population of 82 million,
      many of them now second and third generation German
      citizens. In the past, the government has made little
      effort to try to integrate them into German society,
      leading to large, predominantly Turkish-speaking

      "Simply Racism" screamed the Turkish daily Hurriyet on
      its front page, under a picture of Ms Merkel, in a
      comment on the new legislation.

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