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?

Where does religion have its strongest foothold?

Indonesian Muslims pray at Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque during Ramadan, 5 Sept 2008/Supri SupriThe answer is Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. At least that was the conclusion of the latest Pew Research Institute survey of attitudes about religion around the world — a look at 24 countries based on thousands of interviews. Indonesia came in first with 99 percent of the population rating religion as important or very important in their lives — and it topped everyone else in the “very important” slot at 95 percent. Beyond that 80 percent of those surveyed in Indonesia say they pray five times a day every day — adhering to one of the five pillars of Islam.

Indeed Islam is well represented in the top five countries where religion is valued in life — with Tanzania, Jordan, Pakistan and Nigeria following Indonesia.

At the bottom of the chart was France, where only 10 percent saw religion as very important and 60 percent said they never pray.

Pope’s students to launch Ratzinger Foundation in Munich

The sun rises over Munich’s cathedral, 9 Feb 2008/Alexandra BeierThe Ratzinger Schülerkreis, the group of Pope Benedict’s former theology students, plans to launch a foundation bearing his name this November in Munich. The group, which held its annual meeting with its former teacher at Castel Gandolfo last weekend, aims to promote theological studies “in the spirit of Joseph Ratzinger”. Reflecting the international character of the Schülerkreis, the Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI foundation has a board of trustees with former students from Germany, Portugal, Ireland, Benin and the United States.

The Schülerkreis itself, which has been meeting for 30 years, is slowly taking on a more organised feel. For years, the closed-door meetings of several dozen former students and their professor went on below the radar screen of the outside world. That changed, though, when Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict and the meetings were switched to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo. There was still no media access, but diligent telephoning to participants yielded a rundown of the discussions. The 2006 discussion on creation was considered so interesting that the Schülerkreis decided to publish the proceedings the following year in a book Creation and Evolution.

Now they’ve even started issuing press releases after their talks. Rev. Vincent Twomey, an Irish Schüler who has written Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age, was the author and he’s sent me the text. Since we didn’t cover the meeting this year for the wire, here’s the press release:

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.

Another Pius XII controversy as Vatican prepares commemoration

An image depicting Pope Pius XII is displayed at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem April 15, 2007This November, the Vatican will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of wartime Pope Pius XII. There will be a photo exhibition and a conference on his teachings. That’s the official agenda. Although not be part of the program, there will also be controversy.

Vatican officials at a news conference presenting the initiatives appeared to be making a pre-emptive strike against what will most likely resurface during in November — the seemingly never-ending debate about about what Pius did or did not do, what he did or did not know about the Holocaust and whether he could have done more.

“Pius XII never failed to make his voice heard in a clear and explicit way in different circumstances, when needs called for it, and when there was precise information on facts and their consequences could be seen,” said Monsignor Rino Fisichella, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University.

Euro 2008: do Catholic countries have the edge?

The Euro 2008 flag flutters near Zurich’s Grossmünster church, 25 May 2008/Arnd Wiegmann“Do Catholic countries have better football players?”

I was surprised to see this headline on the Austrian Catholic website kath.net today… and even more surprised to see they seemed to mean it seriously.

“A look at the participants in the final round of the European football championship in Switzerland and Austria suggests this,” kath.net writes in a report from Vienna. “In seven of the 16 participating countries, Catholics are clearly in the majority: Poland (95 percent of the population), Spain (92 percent), Italy (90 percent), Portugal (90 percent), Croatia (77 percent), Austria (69 percent ) and France (51 percent). Only one Protestant stronghold confronts them, Sweden. Of the 8.8 million inhabitants of the northern European country, 80 percent are Lutherans.”

Poland’s team with coach Leo Beenhakker (C) attends Mass in Bad Waltersdorf, 6 June 2008/stringerThere’s no hint of analysis of why this should be relevant, or mention of the personal faith — or lack thereof — of the players on these national teams. This purely statistical view (sports fans love stats, don’t they?) goes on to point out which participating countries have large numbers of both Catholics and Protestants (Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands).

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.”