Migration Heritage and Cities: the Cologne mosque controversy

In 2006, the Turkish Muslim organisation DITIB publicly presented a plan for a large new mosque in Cologne. Members of the conservative CDU party criticised the architecture, which was closely linked to the Ottoman traditional style and thus, in their opinion, excluded non-Turkish Muslims. In that same year, the right-wing populist organisation Pro Köln started a petition for a referendum against the building of the mosque.

In 2007, the author and Holocaust survivor Ralph Giordano appeared in a TV debate with Bekir Alboga, the mosque’s commissioner for intercultural dialogue. Giordano demanded that construction of the mosque be stopped. He defended his position by arguing that the mosque was ‘not an expression of the Muslim will to integrate, but a centre of an anti-integrative maintenance of identity’ and symbolized ‘an attack on our democratic way of life’. In the media debate surrounding the mosque project, issues of integration and prejudices towards Islam abounded.

Giordano expressed similar ideas to those of the right-wing movement Pro Köln. Basically, they argued that a Muslim minority with an ‘alien’ religion was creating a parallel society that was not able to integrate into German society. It was suggested that Muslims did not respect the German constitution, that their veiled women offended the aesthetic sensibility of ordinary people, and that they had more general difficulties adapting to modernity.

Unlike many of his fellow party members in the conservative CDU, Cologne’s mayor, Fritz Schramma, defended the ‘constitutional and moral right’ of the city’s 120,000 Muslims to have their own place of worship. He expressed the hope that the mosque would also be ‘eingekölscht’ soon, meaning that it would be embraced in the local environment.

In 2008, the Cologne mosque conflict became a rallying point for a group seeking to hold an international congress against the ‘Islamisation of Europe’ in the city. Pro Köln tried to organise a demonstration against the mosque’s construction, but their effort met broad resistance from the people of Cologne. The counter-demonstration against the right-wing movement was so strong that the Cologne police finally forbade the demonstration against the mosque, which had in any case been blocked by thousands of Cologne citizens and officials. Many of the international leaders of right-wing populist movements who had come for the anti-Islam congress were unable to leave Cologne airport because taxi drivers refused to transport them. These visitors also had difficulty finding lodging because hotel owners declined to accommodate them, and the owners of bars refused them drinks.

When the issue was finally settled, the mayor of Cologne proudly proclaimed: ‘With strong commitment, humour and intelligence we fought against this racist nonsense.’

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This article is from the free online course:

Cultural Diversity and the City

European University Institute (EUI)