Cablegate: Council of Ex-Muslims Challenges German Government's Islam

DE RUEHDF #0032/01 1791154
R 271154Z JUN 08



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Sensitive but Unclassified -- Not for Internet Distribution

1. (SBU) Summary: At its first conference May 31-June 1, the
German "Council of Ex-Muslims" challenged the annual Islam
Conference hosted by Federal Interior Minister Schaeuble,
criticizing him for approaching the question of integration of
immigrants in terms of religion and attempting to strengthen
their "religious identity." The organizers, whose leader is a
controversial Iranian exile activist, argued that integration in
Germany cannot be achieved by encouraging the supporters of
conservative Islam, whom they consider overrepresented in the
Interior Ministry's Islam Conference, but rather by affirming
the democratic values of individual freedom, freedom of
expression, equality of sexes and adherence to universal human
rights. Panelists and audience members expressed concern that
the focus on religion as key in the integration process was not
only counterproductive to integration but a threat to democracy
and free public discourse.

2. (SBU) Summary continued: The conference's closing statement
reiterated the Council's criticism of Islam and conservative
Muslim groups in Germany and called for a stronger emphasis on
secular education, the freedom to criticize Islam and human
rights violations perpetrated in its name, as well as diplomatic
advocacy with Muslim countries for improved human rights in
those countries. While the Council raises important issues
about the German government's approach to integration, its often
uncompromising stance may limit its appeal to a broader German
audience. End Summary.

3. (U) PA Cultural Specialist attended the first "Critical
Islam Conference" ( which took
place in Cologne May 31-June 1, 2008. The conference was
attended by about 150 people, mostly concerned citizens,
activists affiliated with critical Islam or left-of-center
political groups, students and journalists. About 20 percent in
the audience had an immigrant background. It was hosted by the
German "Council of ex-Muslims," founded in February 2007 and
claiming about 500 members. The chair, Iranian-born Mina Ahadi
(51), explained in her opening speech that her purpose was to
criticize the focus on religion and the predominance of what she
called "orthodox" Muslim community leaders in the public debate
about integration, especially at the Islam Conference hosted by
Federal Interior Minister Schaeuble. Ahadi, author of the book
"I Have Renounced Islam: Why I am for Freedom and against
Islam," argued that western societies must become more active
when human rights are violated in the name of Islam. Religion,
she emphasized, was a private matter while integration was a
question of "integrating people rather than religion." (Note:
Ahadi, a former refugee and Iranian exile communist activist,
has been criticized in the Iranian community for her
uncompromising stances on both political and religious issues
and has been accused of publicity-seeking. In press interviews
prior to the conference, Bundestag MP Omid Nouripour (Greens)
said that while he respects Ahadi's biography, he regrets that
she "defames an entire religious community." Representatives of
the Iranian Dialogue Circle, a secular Berlin-based Iranian
organization, called Ahadi a "Stalinist hardliner" who is
"surfing on the wave of current Islamophobia" in order to gain
attention. End Note.)

4. (U) In his keynote speech, Ralph Giordano (85), the
prominent German Holocaust survivor, author, public
intellectual, and opponent of the Cologne Mosque project, argued
that German integration efforts at the state and federal level
had "clearly failed." He proceeded to deliver a passionate plea
affirming democratic values and human rights against what he
called "opportunistic kowtowing" by his government to Muslim
leaders at the expense of democracy and a free civil society.
He also faulted intellectuals and proponents on the Left for not
facing up to the threat to liberal democracies and women's
rights by Islamic orthodoxy. Seeing inequality of the sexes and
"authoritarianism" as "inherent in orthodox Islam that must be
confronted by the public," Giordano claimed that in his
experience many Muslim community leaders "pay lip service to the
value of secular liberal democracy while propagating different
values in their communities." In a provocative flourish,
Giodarno accused the Secretary General of the German Central
Council of Muslims, Aiman Mazyek, of "doublespeak" and said that
Mazyek (a German citizen) is free to leave Germany if he does
not care for the German system.

5. (U) A panel of mostly ex-Muslim women from Great Britain,
the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany examined the situation of
Muslim women in their respective countries, offering specific
details of inequality and repression. The speakers sought to
establish counterpart organizations in other countries, pointing
to the U.S., Canada, Australia and other European states as
having potential. They reiterated that it was essential to "put
people first and not religion" in the integration debate and
that religion should be considered a private, not public, matter.

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6. (U) Referring to difficulties in finding a conference venue,
members of the Council acknowledged that they are regularly
confronted with charges of Islamophobia and racism, which they
said they completely rejected. They considered it "indicative
of the lack of democratic conviction" that Muslim leaders in
Germany often denounce them in this manner "while avoiding a
rational critical debate of Islam" and even threatening
ex-Muslims for speaking out.

7. (U) The conference's closing statement, passed by
participants, outlines both its commitment to guaranteeing
individual freedoms and continuing its critique of Islam and
conservative Muslim-German organizations. Building on its
approach of integration as an individual process, the statement
calls for a commitment to secularism in education; the right to
free speech, including to criticize patriarchy and anti-Semitism
in Muslim communities, as well as human rights violations
committed in the name of Islam; increased diplomatic efforts by
the German government in advocating against human rights
violations committed in Muslim countries. The resolution makes
no reference to the possibility of a progressive or reformed
Islam; instead, it criticizes references to Islam as a
peace-loving and tolerant religion and refers to Islam as a
"two-faced" political religion. The resolution also condemns
the Interior Ministry's attempt to grant conservative Muslim
organizations a meaningful role in integration, as these
organizations "want to prevent real integration."


8. (SBU) The German Council of ex-Muslims raise important
political and philosophical issues that reflect views and
concerns represented in various parts of German society
(Christian conservative, parts of the Lutheran Church, as well
as Germany's largely secular moderates and left-wingers) about
how best to integrate immigrants with Muslim backgrounds.
However, the Council's relatively small membership and, at
times, strident and uncompromising rhetoric may hinder their
attempts to mobilize larger portions of the German public.
Ex-Muslim leaders at the conference strongly rejected hints or
accusations of racism or Islamophobia, arguing that the
integration debate focuses too much on Islamic faith rather than
on the development of individual identities. Interior Ministry
officials at the federal and state levels are well aware of this
challenge. There is value to monitoring the Council and its
evolving presence on the German sociopolitical stage.

9. (U) This message has been coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

© Scoop Media

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