The Triumph of Reason

The city council has made up its mind and given the go-ahead for the construction of Cologne's controversial mosque. In his commentary, Peter Philipp, who feels that the building of mosques in Germany should be supported, writes that ultimately, this is a victory of sense over ignorance

Paul Böhm, architect of the Cologne mosque (photo: AP)
With its 55-metre high minarets and striking design, the new Cologne mosque, which was designed by the German architect Paul Böhm, stands for transparency and mutual acceptance

​​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.

Distorted pictures

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.

photo: dpa
The "Pro-Köln" movement is using the planned construction of the mosque as a vehicle for its brand of right-wing populism. In June 2007, Pro-Köln opponents of the mosque and supporters of the project held simultaneous counter-demonstrations in Cologne-Ehrenfeld

​​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.

Peter Philipp

© Deutsche Welle / 2008

Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan

German Architect To Build Mosque
"Muslims Should Not Try to Hide"
In order to find an architect for their mosque, a Muslim community in Germany conducted an open tender process. Now the German non-Muslim Paul Böhm was awarded the first prize for his model. Thilo Guschas interviewed the architect

Islam in Germany
The Call of the Muezzin Is No Longer to Be Overheard
The battle for official recognition will change Muslims in Germany. Society will demand more from them in exchange for their becoming part of the official structures than merely obedience to the laws. By Jörg Lau

Mosque Controversy in Germany
The Freedom to Practice One's Religion Is a Constitutional Right
Controversy reigns in debate over the building of Cologne's new mosque. If the majority population stands in the way of religious freedom, it must bear responsibility, too, for the failure of integration, says Peter Philipp