Merkel muddles mosques and minarets

December 4, 2007

from Madeline Chambers in Hanover, GermanyGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel at CDU party conference, 3 Dec. 2007

Chancellor Angela Merkel suffered a slightly bumpy landing at the annual conference of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Hanover this week when she jumped on a popular bandwagon by saying that mosques shouldn’t stand higher than churches in Germany.

Mosque-building is a sensitive subject in Germany. Her fellow conservatives in Bavaria have been saying for some time that minarets should not dwarf church steeples. Local residents are up in arms about plans to build several mosques across Germany – in Berlin, Munich and Cologne.

However, Merkel — a Lutheran pastor’s daughter who grew up in communist East Germany — seems to have got mixed up with her terminology for sacred architecture.

“We must take care that mosque cupolas are not built demonstratively higher than church steeples. Tolerance also means defending ones own values,” she told the party conference.

Right-wing protest against Cologne mosque building plans, 16 June 2007Surely she means minarets rather than cupolas? That’s what Germans have been getting worked up about for months (and their Swiss neighbours to the south, too). Christians in Cologne do not want the city’s skyline – now dominated by one of the world’s largest cathedrals — to be spoiled by two tall Ottoman minarets. Blueprints for the controversial Cologne mosque show the minarets are far higher than the cupola.

Even Merkel’s one-time rival Edmund Stoiber, former leader of the CDU’s Christian Social Union (CSU) sister party in traditionally Catholic Bavaria, knows the architectural distinction between a cupola and a minaret.

“Church spires, not minarets, should be what you see when you look out across the state,” he told his party in his last speech as its leader in September.

Germany’s roughly 3.2 million Muslims, over half of whom are Turkish, might well feel perturbed that Merkel is getting confused over her Islamic architectural terms. It doesn’t bode well for all that mutual understanding she propagates.

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