Government backing of Islam in the public space debated further in Germany
The public role of politically-backed Islam in Europe has been the subject of a long-standing debate in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. This commentary, by Benedict Neff, the Features Editor of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), once again draws attention to this issue.
The focus here is the huge new Cologne mosque, equipped with 55-metre high minarets and space for 1000 worshippers, and the permission granted to the muezzins to broadcast the call to prayer once a week on Fridays. Neff’s covering headline reads,
Self-deception in the name of tolerance gradually assumes grotesque features. In Cologne, muezzins may make the call to prayer once a week. The Mayor sees this as evidence of freedom and diversity. In fact she is advancing Political Islam. The Swiss ban on minarets seems in hindsight a clear-sighted decision.
Neff compares the current situation in Cologne unfavourably to that in Switzerland, which controversially banned minaret constriction after a referendum in 2009 precisely in order to avoid amplified calls to prayer. This was not a ban on Islamic worship, which is freely allowed. It was, rather, a safeguarding of the neutrality of public spaces.
The Mayor of Cologne – who, after the gang-style sexual assaults on women in central Cologne at Christmas in 2015, notoriously advised women to preserve an arm’s length distance from people they did not know – has made a comparison with church bells. Neff argues that this comparison is false: bells carry no message of triumphalism or supremacism in religion, as the Islamic call to prayer specifically does.
And behind all this, writes Neff, is not a quest for equal treatment but a politically-inspired agenda. The call to prayer is allowed – with certain conditions about amplification, local consent and so forth – elsewhere in Germany. But the size and location of the Cologne mosque makes it unique.
In addition it is essentially a DITIB (Turkish Faith Community) initiative, pushed through with the strong support of President Erdogan. DITIB is affiliated to the AKP-controlled Turkish Office of Religious Affairs (the Diyanet), which has allegedly been used extensively to promote AKP control of Turkish populations throughout Europe.
In 2018 the German domestic security service (the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz) intensified its surveillance of DITIB on suspicion of activities “inimical to the Constitution” (“verfassungsfeindliche Aktivitäten”). Promises made during the mosque’s construction to preach in German and provide a prayer space open to all have been quietly forgotten. The author sees in the affair Turkish Islamist triumphalism and German political weakness. He writes, ”DITIB promotes Turkish Islamism and Erdogan’s variety of nationalism.”
Neff goes on to observe that the (Muslim) State-Secretary for Integration in North Rhine-Westphalia has herself said that she does not need the call to prayer: there are apps and alarms which alert practising Muslims to the obligatory prayer times. There have also been protests against the mosque and its call to prayer involving other liberal German Muslims. Neff writes that anyone who thinks that the mosque will be satisfied with its current permissions, in spite of all its earlier promises, is living in fairyland.
Cologne, of course, was one of the key sites for the establishment from the early 1960s onwards of early Muslim Brotherhood networks in Europe (alongside Aachen and Munich).