Germany’s Muslims claim harassment

They say they are being unfairly scrutinised as post-Sept 11 security measures drive awedge between them and non-Muslims

BERLIN – A community that had been left to its own devices in Germany has, since Sept 11, 2001, become an object of scrutiny.

It is a political U-turn that is building a wall of distrust between Muslims and non-Muslims which, some say, could fuel extremism.

‘The state has a duty to look after security,’ said Dr Nadeem Elyas, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), the most politically active of the four large federations of Muslims in the country.

‘But it must be done in a way that does not push the large majority of law-abiding Muslims on to the other side.’

Two Bills adopted in the past two years have boosted security. They include the legalisation of racial profiling and the capacity to shut religious organisations.

Since their enactment, the ZMD says, 80 mosques and 400 offices and apartments have been searched. Three nationwide organisations were banned between December 2001 and January this year, the Interior Ministry said.

‘We are being observed and harassed,’ said Dr Elyas. ‘The general sentiment for many loyal citizens is one of increasing discomfort.’

For Dr Cornelie Sonntag-Wolgast, the Social Democratic chairman of parliament’s Interior Committee, the feeling of estrangement is reciprocal.

‘A lot of efforts went into the Muslim-Christian dialogue right after Sept 11. But we have grown disillusioned. I would like to see clearer gestures coming from our Muslim partners,’ she said.

Since 1961, when the first Turkish workers arrived to help power the country’s economic renaissance, Islam has become Germany’s third largest denomination after Protestantism and Catholicism.

A debate about Muslim headscarves in state schools threatens to further harm relationships.

In September, Germany’s highest court ruled that a Muslim woman teacher had the right to wear a headscarf in the classroom.

Five states have since said they will legislate to ban Islamic headscarves while continuing to allow yarmulkes, or the Jewish skull caps, crucifixes and habits.

Critics say the Bills will probably be struck down for being discriminatory.

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Financial Times, USA
Nov. 5, 2003

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday November 5, 2003.
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