Mosque Debates in Germany: Media Presentations and Right-Wing Propaganda
Politics University Cologne Köln, Germany
For a long period mosques have been located predominantly in industrial areas and "backyard-districts" of German cities; But in recent years, an increasing number of Muslim associations attempted to step out of the hidden backyards and initiated representative mosque-projects. These projects are highly contested in German public and in almost every case the wish to build a visible mosque ignited fierce debates. Most often the central question is not whether a mosque should be built at all but it is rather the mode of the building that is contested. High minarets and domes are frequently interpreted as visual signs of Islam and its alleged claim to power. Understandable provisos of local residents against a mosque in their neighbourhood and expected traffic problems thereby intertwine with islamophobic prejudices against a supposedly atavistic Islam. In the course of these discussions, Islam is often presented as a monolithic, hostile entity and mosques are depicted as architectural symbols of power in a "clash of civilizations". Drawing from the example of the recent mosque debate in Cologne and its media coverage, it will be shown how mosque-conflicts are overloaded with cultural and religious interpretations and closely linked to common pictures of "the Muslims", providing an ideal ground for populist forms of right-wing extremism. The example of 'Pro Köln' ('Pro Cologne') shows how right-wing populists try to intervene into mosque-debates by presenting themselves as legitimate representatives of all citizens who are opposed to a mosque in their neighbourhood. Experience has shown that this 'populist threat' can be successfully countered if local media refrain from dramatizing the conflict. Moreover, if residents are successfully included into a transparent planning process, mosque projects may contribute to the integration of Muslim minorities by providing opportunities for intensive dialogue between local residents, Muslim Associations and county officials.