FaithWorld

Far-right anti-mosque rally flops in Germany

Poster for anti-mosque protest surrounded by Cologne police, 20 Sept 2008/Ina FassbenderA far-right movement opposed to the construction of a large mosque in Cologne, Germany planned a “Stop Islam” rally there on Saturday. About 1,500 protesters were expected from across Germany, but also from France, Belgium and Austria. Muslim and left-wing groups mobilised. Iran and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference protested. Cologne deployed about 3,000 police. It looked like a major clash was looming.

As it turned out, only a few dozen anti-mosque activists turned up for the rally in central Cologne’s Hay Market square. Waiting for them were 40,000 demonstrators who blocked their way, sometimes violently. Among their tactics was blocking trams to keep them from arriving at Hay Market square (as in picture below). There was so much sporadic violence that police finally banned the rally altogether.

Left-wing demonstrators block tram line to anti-mosque rally, 20 Sept 2008/Ina FassbenderThe Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the country’s leading serious newspaper, thinks this was like using a sledge hammer to kill a fly. “Maybe the most sovereign answer to the rally would have been to ignore it, like Lord Mayor Schramma said early last week when he suggested closing down Hay Market square — close your windows and doors, roll down the shutters and show the right-wing populists the cold shoulder.”

Agitation against new mosques is seen around Europe (we blogged on Italy here last week) and a recent survey said anti-Muslim feelings were on the rise.  The anti-mosque group has announced it will appeal the ban. Are the media giving too much attention to these groups? Is this the time to simply ignore this agitation or should governments take stronger steps against it?

Split decision in Germany’s “kosher anti-Semitism” case

Berlin’s reopened New Synagogue, 10 Oct 2005/Amanda AndersenGermany’s “kosher anti-Semitism” case has ended with a partial victory for the defendant. A court in the western city of Cologne has upheld an injunction banning the prominent German-Jewish writer Henryk Broder from calling another German Jew an anti-Semite. But it said the ban only applied to his blistering personal attack on Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, daughter of the deceased former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Heinz Galinski. If it had been expressed in a more factual way, it said, the statement would have been protected as free speech.

The dispute, which the Jerusalem Post dubbed a case of “kosher anti-Semitism,” started back in May when Broder posted a letter on the website Die Achse des Guten (The Axis of Good) complaining to WDR radio in Cologne for interviewing Hecht-Galinski for a programme on Israel’s 60th anniversary. In her comments, Hecht-Galinski compared Israel’s policy towards Palestinians to Nazi policy towards Jews. Broder wrote: “Mrs EHG is an hysterical, egoistic housewife who is talking for nobody but herself and is uttering nothing but nonsense anyway. Her speciality are thoughtless anti-Semitic and anti-Zionistic statements, which are a fleeting fad once again.”

Hecht-Galinksi obtained a court injunction against him calling her an anti-Semite (which explains why the adjective “anti-Semitic” has since been xxx’ed out of Broder’s letter on the web). She argued that Broder, an active defender of Israel who has written a series of books dealing with the relationship between Germans and Jews, was trying to silence criticism of Israel. “Especially in the face of our common past, critical comments on committed injustices must be possible, also if they concern Israel,” she wrote in a letter to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Why do Jews want Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” published in Germany?

Mein Kampf in English translation, Educa Books, 2006It sounds counter-intuitive. German Jews want Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf — the 1925 book that spells out his plan for a Nazi state and gives expression to his extreme anti-Semitism — to be published in Germany. The Central Council of Jews in Germany would be ready to help edit the new edition and pressure the Bavarian state government (which owns the rights and blocks publication) to issue it. As our Berlin correspondent Dave Graham reported, Stephan Kramer, the Central Council ‘s general secretary, made the suggestion in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio (here are the DLF text report and audio in German).

Kramer said things had changed since Bavaria banned its publication in the initial post-war years as a way to thwart a revival of Nazi ideology. “Through the Internet and other media, the book is widely available abroad. Especially in far-right wing circles, there has been what you might call a romanticising of the book Mein Kampf, so I personally and we in the Central Council now feel a publicly available version of Mein Kampf with critical commentaries would now be much more helpful. It would make clear to readers who access it what crude stuff was written there,” he said.

Meanwhile in Austria, work has begun on a spoof biopic of Hitler called — what else? — “Mein Kampf.” It’s based on a play of the same name by the late Hungarian-Jewish playwright George Tabori and will premiere in Germany next year.

Is the pope planning another trip to Germany?

Bild logoWhen journalists are all looking one way, a good reporter loves to find a scoop somewhere else. Most religion journalists (uncluding us) are naturally gearing up for the first papal visit to the United States, coming up April 15-20. The popular German daily Bild seems to have scooped us all with its report today that Pope Benedict is planning to visit his native Germany next year.

Pope John Paul II at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, 23 June 1996/Reinhard KrauseWe’ve asked at the Vatican and they said the pope’s 2009 travel schedule had not yet been worked out. They don’t usually confirm trips until a few months before them anyway, so it is unlikely we’ll hear anything firm from them anytime soon. Reuters wouldn’t put out a story on this without official confirmation, but we can tell you here about this report.

Bild, which is often very well informed, has quite a bit of detail, a telltale sign they probably got this from German officials involved in the planning. It says Benedict is due to visit Berlin and Erfurt in the ex-communist east on his third trip to Germany as pope (after the Cologne World Youth Day in 2005 and Bavaria in 2006). The Eichsfeld region near Erfurt is one of the few Catholic areas in eastern Germany.

Evangelical Church in Germany knocks creationism, ID in school

EKD logoThe Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has just published a booklet for school teachers urging them not to advocate creationism or intelligent design (ID). That’s “evangelical” as in the German evangelisch (meaning Protestant, mostly Lutheran), and not “evangelical” as it’s more commonly used in the United States. Still, it’s interesting to see that the EKD in Germany, where there are few U.S.-style evangelicals and almost no dispute about the theory of evolution, felt it necessary to issue a 22-page booklet about teaching evolution. It’s called “The Origin of the World, the Theory of Evolution and the Belief in Creation in School” (here in German).

EKD Chairman Bishop Wolfgang Huber (pictured below) writes in the introduction that there is “an intense debate” about these issues but that “it is being conducted in Germany in a different way from, for example, the United States of America. Still, a fundamental clarification is of considerable practical importance.” He doesn’t elaborate.

Bishop Wolfgang Huber, 5 Nov 2003//Vincent KesslerThe daily Die Welt gave a bit more background. “This dispute is increasingly spilling over from the USA to us and has already led to political debates. The Hesse state culture minister (and Protestant synod member) Karin Wolff spoke last year of a “surprising agreement” between evolution and the Bible. With that she sparked a dispute within the Church in which the reasonable faction of the EKD found itself confronted with the growing strength of evangelicals loyal to the Bible. This “orientation aid” should now calm the dispute by setting limits towards both sides.”The “orientation aid,” as the booklet is called, criticises Richard Dawkins and other atheists for thinking science can disprove the existence of God. It compares the books of the “new atheists” to the communist textbooks in East Germany: “The new atheism propagated by Dawkins and others today fits seamlessly into this ideological scheme.”

Andi versus al Qaeda — in Germany

Andi comic coverIt seems a bizarre tool in the hands of security officials, but German authorities believe a cartoon comic strip can help them get their message across to young people who might be tempted to flirt with militant Islamism. The unusual experiment in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), Germany’s most populous state, has stirred international interest from as far away as the United States and Japan, according to the team behind the idea.

The comic is aimed at 12-16 year-olds and has been distributed in mosques and to every secondary school. “The reactions are almost entirely positive,” said Thomas Grumke, the interior ministry official who first thought up the hero Andi, his Muslim girlfriend Ayshe and the rest of the characters, including a militant imam and two young men who fall under his influence.

The story, which can be downloaded here in German, is interspersed with short passages of text addressing key issues and terms like sharia, jihad and the difference between Islam and Islamism. On that last point, it says: “Islam is a monotheistic religion (a belief in one all-embracing God), which is closely related to Judaism and Christianity. By contrast, Islamism is a political ideology which poses as ‘true Islam’ and wants to realise this as a binding, guiding principle for state and society. This ideology is directed against the free democratic order and thus is unambiguously extremist.”

Germany opts not to ban children’s “anti-religious” book

Are German authorities right to have decided against banning a children’s book about religion which critics say is subversive and promotes atheism? The book “How do I get to God? asks the little pig” follows a little pink pig and a hedgehog in their quest to find God. In the end, the two creatures decide God would not like any of the religions.

Cover of the book “How do I get to God? asks the little pig”But what has angered some readers, including Germany’s Family Ministry, is that the priest, rabbi and mufti are all depicted as being crazy. That, argues the ministry, ridicules relgion and should not be allowed.

The ministry, which also argued the book was anti-Semitic, had tried to get it added to Germany’s list of literature which is dangerous for children. The book cover looks harmless enough, with its picture of a cute little pink pig in blue and white chequered dungarees and his hedgehog companion in Wellington boots, gazing quizzically upwards.

Germany on collision course with Scientology

Scientology in HamburgGermany has sought to nurture tolerance as a national characteristic since World War Two, but it doesn’t stretch to the Church of Scientology. A new Forsa poll shows 74 percent of Germans think Scientology should be banned. The survey comes hard on the heels of a declaration from federal and regional ministers that the movement is unconstitutional. That announcement, the culmination of a row with Scientology dating back to the 1970s, opens the way for a possible ban.

Germany is not alone in refusing to recognise the Church of Scientology as a religion, but it goes further than many other countries in its rejection of the body. It see Scientology as a cult masquerading as a church to make money, a view Scientologists reject.

Agents of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, a kind of German FBI, are already gathering information on Scientology and a whole chapter is devoted to it in the intelligence agency’s 2006 report. It describes the movement as having a “totalitarian character” because it seeks to exert control over its members. But the agency is not sure the government will be able to get enough evidence to ban it.

Islamic State ‘brand’ gains ground among Asian Muslim militants

(Filipino soldiers gather at a seized camp of Abu Sayyaf militants on Jolo island in southern Philippines September 21, 2009. Philippine troops killed more than 30 Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and overran the rebels' main base on a remote island in the south of the country, a top military commander said on Tuesday. Picture taken September 21, 2009. REUTERS/Handout/Western Mindanao Command )

(Filipino soldiers gather at a seized camp of Abu Sayyaf militants on Jolo island in southern Philippines September 21, 2009. REUTERS/Handout/Western Mindanao Command )

A threat by Philippine militants to kill a German hostage in a show of solidarity with Islamic State is the latest sign that the Middle East group’s brand of radicalism is winning recruits in Asia and posing a growing security risk in the region.

Over 100 people from Southeast Asia’s Muslim majority countries of Indonesia and Malaysia and the southern Philippine region are believed by security officials and analysts to have gone to join Islamic State’s fight in Iraq and Syria. Malaysian and Indonesian militants have discussed forming a 100-strong Malay-speaking unit within Islamic State in Syria, according to a report from a well-known security group released this week.

German Muslims condemn Islamic State in nationwide day of prayer

(Muslims perform Friday prayers on Skalitzer Strasse (street) in Berlin September 19, 2014. More than 2,000 German mosques have invited Germans of all religions to join their Friday prayers to present a united front against the Islamic State to try to dissuade young Muslims from travelling to fight with radical Islamists in Syria and Iraq. REUTERS/Hannibal )

(Muslims perform Friday prayers on Skalitzer Strasse (street) in Berlin September 19, 2014.  REUTERS/Hannibal )

German Muslims have condemned the actions of Islamic State in a nationwide day of prayer  and vowed to stem the tide of youngsters heading to join radical militants in Syria and Iraq.

In Berlin, where Friday prayers spilled out onto a busy central street, politicians and non-Muslims joined about a thousand faithful to protest against the radical Islamists.