The Triumph of Reason
It is a triumph of reason. On Thursday, 28 August 2008, the council of the City of Cologne voted that the mosque that has been at the centre of an intense and bitter row over the past few months should indeed be built.
Maybe now the matter can be taken off the agenda. Maybe now everyone can get back to business. Maybe now everyone will realise that the oft-cited "downfall of Western society" will neither be accelerated nor promoted by the building of this mosque.
However, after the storm that has swept through the city over the past few months, such calm is in all probability wishful thinking, especially as right-wing groups and like-minded people from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Austria are planning to hold a major demonstration against the mosque, which they consider to be the expression of a supposedly creeping Islamicization of Europe, in Cologne in a few weeks time. In their demagogic zeal, these groups are determined to keep the debate alive.
And when they do, simple-minded citizens will be intimidated by their arguments. To do so they have no need of a heretical flyer such as the one distributed by right-wing groups showing the spires of Cologne cathedral disappearing behind a massive mosque. News bulletins on German television also showed images of an equally sized mosque and cathedral and spoke about the proximity of the mosque to the cathedral.
Needless to say, neither of the portrayed messages is correct: the planned mosque is kilometres away from the cathedral, will not even be one-third as tall as the cathedral, and will be hidden by the office buildings around it.
That being the case, what is it that moves the demagogues and the frightened citizens? The first group has obviously found the ideal focus for its hatred of all things different.
No, they have nothing against foreigners, and they certainly don't mind that they hold different beliefs − as long as they don't show it in public. They should go on hiding themselves away in basements, sheds, and disused factory halls where they can easily be suspected of harbouring conspirative ambitions and cultivating a parallel society.
And while they do, simple-minded citizens will in their ignorance be intimidated by such stories. For decades, they avoided making contact with "persons of migrant origin" − or whatever the preferred term for people who used to be known as "guest workers" now is − and all of a sudden they want to play a role in everyday life, in society, in the city skyline.
Education was and is necessary
Thank goodness the vast majority of people in Germany do not share the opinions of such airheads and the fanatics that goad them on. Thank goodness most media have long since decided to come out in support of plans to build mosques (Cologne is not the only city where such plans are afoot) and to declare such plans to be the exercising of the citizen's right to free manifestation of his/her religion.
Educating people in this way was and is necessary. Maybe it will also do something to defuse the mistrust surrounding the opening of a community centre on the grounds of the mosque. Shops, coffee-houses, and other such spaces could serve as places of encounter − encounters that until now have taken place much too rarely and certainly did not take place in mosques hidden away in back streets and alleyways.
As already mentioned above, Cologne is not the only city where the construction of a mosque is planned. There have been debates about the building of mosques in other German cities too. Similar arguments were put forward. In most cases, the authorities approved the construction project. Politicians demonstrating reason … now there's a new concept.
© Deutsche Welle / Qantara.de 2008
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan