Germany Awakens: Opposition to East German Mosque

Here’s an article by the Boston Globe on opposition to a planned mosque in East Berlin.

east berlin mosque protest
Residents of Berlin’s Heinersdorf neighborhood protested the foundation laying ceremony last week. Residents have also filed legal complaints to block construction of the mosque. (Johannes Eisele/ Deutsche Press Agency)

As a mosque rises, a dispute flares in Berlin
By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff | January 9, 2007
BERLIN — A squabble over construction of the first mosque in formerly communist East Berlin is becoming the latest flash point between Muslims intent on asserting a strong identity in Europe and Europeans increasingly fearful that their secular societies are threatened by Islamic fundamentalism.

Last week, in a foundation laying ceremony that faced protests, members of the small, conservative Ahmadiyya Muslim group watched with pride as a patch of concrete was poured on the site of a razed sauerkraut factory in Heinersdorf, a neighborhood of modest businesses and tidy houses where no one is Islamic. The Ahmadiyyas picked the 5,200-square-foot lot because it was cheap. Members will commute to worship services from elsewhere in Berlin.

I don’t know the details here, but the idea that they picked it because it was cheap and they’ll commute to services — five times a day?!?! — strikes me as implausible to say the least.

Men wore turbans and flat top pakul hats to the ceremony. Women, wearing traditional scarves or covered head-to-toe by burkhas, were relegated to their own tent separate from the Muslim males and local government dignitaries, a segregation that did not endear them to their prospective neighbors. Even communism celebrated the equality of sexes.

“No mosque!” opponents chanted from the street.

Members of the Muslim congregation hope the soaring minaret of the planned mosque will become a local landmark. “People should not fear us,” Iman Abdul Basit Tariq, the Pakistan-born leader of a flock of 200, said in an interview. “They should open their hearts to the beauty of Islam.

Instead, the neighborhood has fought the mosque with marches, candlelight vigils, and petitions. Residents have also filed legal complaints that could block construction.

The protests have been resolutely peaceful. But bureaucrats responsible for promoting integration have chided objectors for failing to embrace “cultural diversity,” while self-described “anti-racist” activists have staged noisy countermarches through Heinersdorf. Mosque opponents — who include teachers and tradesmen, pensioners and young professionals — are angered by the charges of bigotry.

“Ideas of suppressing women and hatred for democratic values will soon be disseminated in the heart of our community,” said Roland Henning, a musician who lives half a block from the planned mosque. “And those of us who ask, ‘Why?’ are the ones being called intolerant and xenophobic. Europe isn’t just surrendering its culture. It’s surrendering any sense of logic.

Words many of us have been waiting a long time to hear.

The controversy over the mosque is in some ways purely local, involving arcane zoning issues.

But the fight also highlights a new willingness to confront Muslims emerging not only in Germany but across the continent. Spain and Italy have been the scene of similar attempts to block mosques. Mistrust of Islam, once the provenance of cranks, is becoming mainstream.

Note that this article appears in the Boston Globe, which as a newspaper whose coverage of the controversial Boston Mosque has mostly sided with the building of a large mosque and community center in Roxbury. Nary a mention here of the issue at home.

Even such strongholds of tolerance as the Netherlands and Sweden are seeking to ban some contentious Muslim garb, such as veils and scarves, in public schools and government buildings.

For decades, Europe largely ignored its fast-growing Islamic population. No one knows the precise numbers of Muslims of Middle Eastern, African, and Asian descent living in Western Europe, but some estimates put the figure at 20 million, including at least 3.2 million in Germany and about 6 million in France.

Aside from a few right-wing groups railing against the influx, however, Europeans have for decades proudly hoisted the banner of multiculturalism, even as fundamentalism spread in Muslim communities and Islamic zealots preached against core democratic values.

“Europeans have used tolerance as the excuse for not confronting intolerance,” said Bassam Tibi, a German political scientist who is a Muslim of Syrian heritage. “Europeans have stopped defending the values of their own civilization.”

But a series of events is causing a shift in sentiment among many Europeans.

Europeans were stunned by the Sept. 11 , 2001, attacks in the United States and the deadly bombings of public transit systems in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005 , respectively .

In some ways, however, they seemed more rattled by the bloody protests that exploded last year after a Danish newspaper published political cartoons that mocked the Prophet Mohammed. The cartoons, while offensive, fell within the bounds of commentary protected by free speech in the West. For Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is considered blasphemous.

European politicians and ordinary citizens in recent months have seemed willing to forgo political correctness in favor of a more hard-knuckled stance toward some Muslim practices and attitudes. “The time of cozy tea-drinking” with Muslim groups has passed, Rita Verdonk , the conservative Netherlands immigration minister, said in October.

Jack Straw, a prominent leader of the British Parliament, garnered international headlines last fall when he said he did not believe Muslim women should wear full-faced veils, calling such coverings “a visible statement of separation and difference.”

When Pope Benedict XVI made an address in September that criticized Islamic concepts of holy war as “evil and inhuman,” he was denounced across the Muslim world. But Europeans, generally, applauded the pontiff’s forceful words — or at least defended his right to utter them. Last month, Germany’s prestigious Tuebingen University honored his remarks with its “Speech of the Year” award.

At least eight of Germany’s 16 states, meanwhile, have forbidden female teachers from wearing headscarves in public schools, arguing that the attire imparts ideas of submission to girls.

In some ways, the dispute over the mosque in East Berlin is a similar sign of the new confrontational mood in Europe.
Opposition to the mosque comes not just from ultra-rightists, but from apolitical residents who see no reason why they should welcome a Muslim sect that preaches subservience of women and the supremacy of religious law.

Of the 6,500 registered voters in the Heinersdorf neighborhood, 6,000 have signed a petition opposing construction of the mosque, according to German media reports. That’s a surprising percentage even in Eastern Germany, where mistrust of outsiders is more pronounced than in the west, reflecting old communist paranoia.

Residents seem genuinely disturbed by the notion of embracing a religious congregation whose leaders vociferously oppose, for example, such ordinary aspects of German life as allowing girls to participate in school sports or field trips. They also dislike Muslim preaching against infidels.

“Why should we be giving welcome to a group that hates German values and considers Christianity to be its enemy?” asked Joachim Swietlik, spokesman for the group opposed to the mosque. “Our concern isn’t based on their skin color or their countries [of origin]. It’s based on their contempt for the ideals of our liberal-democratic society.”

The Ahmadiyya sect, although deeply conservative in social customs and theology, rejects holy war and other violence espoused by radical Islamists. Born in South Asia, it claims 30,000 members across Germany.

We come in peace and hopes of acceptance,” said Tariq, the iman who will live at the mosque and hold prayer services five times each day. “I don’t think this conflict is really about our mosque. It’s about fear of Muslims.

“Germans, like so many Europeans, associate Islam with terrorism,” he said. “It will be decades, even generations, before we overcome such attitudes.”

I’m not sure why the Globe gave the last word to imam Tariq. Either he is a pure demopath — as if Europeans have no reason to fear Islam, and as if decades, even generations of Islam’s spread won’t contribute still further to the fear of Islam — or he is a naif of fairly astounding proportions. In either case, this comment begs for rebuttal from someone defending what the Globe itself thinks of itself as defending — progressive values. But I guess we can’t expect everything all at once. In any case, this is good news. Signs of awakening, and not too late.

Question: If Europeans begin to fight back, as these Germans have, with the weapons of civil society — peaceful protest, petitions, legal maneuvers — how will European Muslims, who until now had an unimpeded road of expansion before them, respond?

16 Responses to Germany Awakens: Opposition to East German Mosque

  1. Jeyi says:

    Actually, it is the Ahkmadiya themselves who have fair grounds to fear Islam. Unmentioned, regretably, in this article is that the Akhmadiya sect, the leader of which is the Aga Khan, is predicated on the 19th century teachings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam, considered by his acolytes as the manifestation of a “post-Mohammed prophet”: a concept which is completely anathema to orthodox Islam.

    Followers of Akhmadiya are regularly beaten, or worse, by non-Ahkmadiya Muslims accusing them of apostasy, and Akhmadiya mosques are not-infrequently burnt down by mobs –even in such relatively moderate Muslim countries as Bangladesh. Or more often refused permission by the authorities to be built in the first place.

    Under the circumstances, those amazingly un-photogenic East Berliners should maybe have cut the Akhmadiya a little more slack.

  2. RL says:

    you’re right. when i participated in a Jewish-Muslim dialogue in the USA, the most interesting and sincere of those I met were Pakistanis of this teaching. it’s really hard to understand what’s going on. could Europeans wake up and attack the wrong people? could Ahkmadiya Muslims, like Arab Christians, buy their tolerance by being front men for aggressive Islam? so little clarity.

  3. coach says:

    The Ahmadia sect may well be peaceful and somehow harmless but it is still Islam, it is still following the teachings and barbaric ways of their prophet Mohammad.

    Their is no place for Islam in free democratic countries. To believe that we can accomodate “them” among “us” is pure suicide.

    I applaud the actions of those who openly oppose the building of mosques – it’s never too late to reverse the infiltration of this cancer in our societies.

    is this based on some evidence? or just an opinion?

  4. Abu Nudnik says:

    Their [sic] is no place for Islam in free democratic countries.

    I wonder if you know the meanings of the words you use.

  5. Jaleel says:

    The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him) came to give that highly civilized teaching which civilizes humans from the barbaric state to the civilized state. Islam unites man with his Creator into a mutual relationship of love and worship. One who loves and submits to God also loves God’s creation and works for the betterment and welfare of all mankind. Islam was revealed by God to give life to mankind. It up to each person to accept or not, but only after being personally convinced of the beauty and truth of the faith given by God. By sending the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him), God made him a mercy for all mankind.

  6. Zephyr says:

    In response to Comment #3
    by coach — January 10, 2007 @ 4:16 pm

    I will agree with you as far as saying that Islam and democracy (capitalism to be more precise) cannot coexist in the same society. Just like communism and democracy being incapable of existing in one society.

    Islam and capitalism as a theology or political order cannot coexist. But that does not mean that Muslims as individuals cannot exist in a democratic country.

    Your claim is like saying someone who believes in the political system of communism cannot exist in a democratic country.

    Moreover it’s like saying someone who holds opinions that are not the statues quo cannot exist in a democracy. This clearly contradicts the idea of living in a “FREE” democratic country.

    Does living in a democracy mean you cannot hold your own opinions and belief?

    Your sense of democracy is clearly rusting.

  7. Zephyr says:

    Everyone will agree that Islam is in the forefront of media and is linked to negative sentiments. IN our western worlds there are always an ongoing HOT debates about issues related to Islam or muslims. One day it’s terrorism, the next day it’s oppression of women. Islam is seen by many as a barberic backward religion.

    But why is it that this same religion is the fastest growing religion in the world in the 21st century.

    And how are most of the converts to this “barberic” religion that “oppress women” women themselves??

    And I am talking about people within this cosy realm of our “FREE” democratic world.

    Why do they choose to turn to this religion?

    I propose the same ordeal that the blogger of this site is proposing to you. Lets consider the other side of the coin.

    You may passionately hate anything remotely to do with Islam or muslims. But why are so many people living within democratic countries like yourselves, embracing Islam?

    Is what you know really the reality of Islam?

  8. Alidina says:

    Jeyi,

    His Highness, Prince Karim Aga Khan IV is the spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslims not the Ahmadiyyas.

  9. RL says:

    Response to Zephyr (RL in italics)

    Everyone will agree that Islam is in the forefront of media and is linked to negative sentiments. IN our western worlds there are always an ongoing HOT debates about issues related to Islam or muslims. One day it’s terrorism, the next day it’s oppression of women. Islam is seen by many as a barberic backward religion.

    But why is it that this same religion is the fastest growing religion in the world in the 21st century.

    There’s a fascinating book called White Muslim, that describes the impact of 9-11 on inspiring conversions to Islam. I was amazed as I read it, that 9-11 had inspired so many to convert to Islam. I’ll not go into the various motivations, but I’m not sure I’d jump to the conclusion that they’ve converted because Islam is an enlightened religion.

    And how are most of the converts to this “barberic” religion that “oppress women” women themselves??

    This is an extremely interesting point. Do you have evidence of this? Could you bring it forward? I’m unaware of this argument. It’s also possible that the forms of Islam to which these women are converting are not the one’s that express such ferocious attitudes towards uppity women who talk back (a sign of the coming of the end of the world in Islam by the way).

    And I am talking about people within this cosy realm of our “FREE” democratic world.

    I’m not sure I’d describe our “free” democratic world as cosy. If you have a chance, read Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm. Freedom is an acquired taste. It causes a great deal of anxiety (responsibility for the consequences of free choice), and demands high levels of self-imposed discipline. The implications for a conversion to modern “Islamism” are interesting to ponder.

    Why do they choose to turn to this religion?

    I propose the same ordeal that the blogger of this site is proposing to you. Lets consider the other side of the coin.

    You may passionately hate anything remotely to do with Islam or muslims. But why are so many people living within democratic countries like yourselves, embracing Islam?

    Is what you know really the reality of Islam?

    I’d say that the “reality” of Islam, like any such phenomenon, is beyond the realm of anyone to encompass or reduce to words. Are there tendencies, characteristics (including contradictory ones)? Yes. Is there one “reality of Islam” we can know? No. Does that mean we can’t talk about the tendencies and characteristics of Islam that concern we infidels? No. Nor does that mean that we passionately hate anything remotely to do with Islam or Muslims.

    Maybe I misunderstand you. Can you clarify?

  10. Kashif says:

    To add to the post by Alidina, the current leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community is Mirza Masroor Ahmad. He is considered a caliph in the community. I urge people to simply educate themselves. Historically these types of conflicts are the result of assumptions.
    Go to alislam.org to learn more about the Ahmadiyya Muslims and Islam. Just like some evangelical Christians have interpreted there religion in ways other Christians disagree with, so do some Muslims interpret Islam in ways which are disagreed with. Again, educate yourselfs. I must warn you though, that most people who dislike Islam have confirmation bias.

  11. Justin says:

    Does anyone else notice the similarities to this current time period and that before the Nazi nightmare had begun?

    Open your eyes people, it’s the same exact thing happening again.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=786048453686176230&q=terrorstorm

    Watch it!

  12. Kacey says:

    ““We come in peace and hopes of acceptance,” said Tariq, the iman who will live at the mosque and hold prayer services five times each day.”

    That is what he says now, but if muslims get to be a majority, they will use force.

    ” “I don’t think this conflict is really about our mosque. It’s about fear of Muslims.”

    This conflict is about self-preservation. We have every right to fear the encroachment of islam, an oppressive, aggressive religion. Muslims are lambs when they are in the minority, foxes when they are equal in numbers and tigers when they are the majority.

  13. G says:

    AHamdiyyat is suppposed to be and is peacefull and the violence of Sunnis and shiites only proves that the Promised MEsiah (Jesus SPirirtually) had come in the 19th century. There is no AHAMDi terrorist in the entire world! If u Christians, Jews or Muslims want to know the true story of JESUS peace on him visit tombofjesus.com! In short Jesus had servived the cross and travelled to the east to gather the rest of the scattered tribes of Israel (his mission!)and eventually died at the age of 120 years in Kashmir. There is even a town in modern day Pakistan called ” Murree” in english that is Mary (mother of Jesus)

  14. Hayee says:

    I beleive that German nation is much tolerant and accepts cultural diversity.There are certain groups in every country, who have their pertinent thoughts and points of view, so in Germany too. Because of Islamophobia in some of the europeann groups, media used it in a negative way and causes more turbulance in some societies. To me, this is a sociological warfare to create a new drama or a new story for the so-called media.
    Ahmadiyya Muslim community has a history of more than one hundred years, based on one slogan – Love for all hatred for none.
    If anyone, including some of the comments writers, have such type of phobia, then get help from a professionals or read some literature of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
    Hayee

  15. Robert Lang says:

    ahmadiya’s are not really moslems from what i have learned. they have taken on another apostle instead of Muhammad and therefore have been outcast as a much more inferior brand of Islam. Its like how the Mormons have beautified Joseph Smith rather than Jesus Christ and his disciples. im very surprised why they are even calling themselves Moslems when they clearly are not following the basic creed of it.

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