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Cablegate: Successful Start to Islamic Conference

DE RUEHRL #2893 2721432
R 291432Z SEP 06




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Summary. Germany's Sept. 27 Islam Conference of
government and Muslim representatives has been widely hailed
as a successful and historic occasion. Interior Ministry
contacts report the event was better than expected, even
though there were differing views among the Muslim
participants and two organizations have hinted they might not
continue in the process. The Conference, envisaged as a
two-to-three year process, continues in November with a
second full session as well, perhaps, as working group
meetings. End Summary.

2. (U) Reports from Interior Minister Schaeuble's closed-door
Islam Conference on Sept. 27 describe a respectful and
orderly, if not always harmonious exchange of views among the
30 participants -- 15 from German officialdom, 10 independent
Muslims, and five representatives from the largest Muslim
religious organizations. Any lack of harmony arose,
reportedly, from differing views within the Muslim half of
the conference as much as from differences between the Muslim
and official participants. Necla Kelek, a frequent critic of
many Islamic practices, reportedly called for a ban on
headscarves in public schools, which provoked criticism from
other Muslims. Whether Muslim girls should join in co-ed
sports classes was another controversial intra-Muslim issue.
Between (some) Muslims and the government, the conflict over
the participants (Ref A), who were chosen by the Ministry,
continued -- both the Central Council of Muslims and the
Muslim Council suggested they may drop out of the dialogue
process. The press made much of the agreement by Muslim
participants, on the grounds of freedom of opinion, that the
controversial staging of Mozart's opera "Idomeneo" should not
have been canceled.

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3. (U) On the day of the Conference, Schaeuble published a
full page article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine, putting as
the central task for the participants: "How can we arrive at
the point where as many Muslims in Germany as possible feel
themselves to be German Muslims, who identify with this
country, its language, its culture and its laws, without
perceiving these as in contradiction to their religious
conception." Despite the bumps, at the end of the session,
which ran almost an hour longer than scheduled, Minister
Schaeuble pronounced himself pleased, especially with the
unreserved agreement by all participants that the German
constitution would serve as the basis for the dialogue.
Senior Interior Ministry staff told us they Conference had
gone off better than they expected. Bekir Alboga, spokesman
for Ditib, the Turkish-government affiliated largest Muslim
religious organization in Germany, pronounced himself "a
happy man, on the one hand because of Ramadan, the month of
fasting, and on the other because of the Conference." Even
the General Secretary of the somewhat critical Central
Council described the day as "historic." A Central Council
official told us the Council "might perhaps" issue a
statement, but had not done so by September 29.

4. (U) Media reaction was positive and congratulatory, though
many outlets seemed to believe that the suggestion that all
participants (except the Islam Council) planned to attend a
performance of Idomeneo (if revived) was the major outcome of
the event. The Frankfurter Allgemeine (FAZ), while hoping
that the Conference could begin to end mutual ignorance and
suspicion between the general ethnic German and Muslim
communities, also predicted a "long and painful path" for
Muslims who have bound their religious practice to cultural
tradition. The liberal "Frankfurter Rundschau" regretted
(but accepted) that it was necessary for the government to
deal with Islam "as an organizing political body and
structural factor in social life" and that it would be
successful when, in this regard, it was no longer needed.
The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" welcomed the dialogue in a brief
editorial, but chose to focus, under the headline "Fear of
Islam" on the Idomeneo story as an example of dangerous

Next Steps

5. (U) The Sept. 27 Conference initiated a planned
two-to-three year process of dialogue, structured in three
working groups with intermittent plenary sessions. The
second meeting of the Conference, perhaps in conjunction with
the first working group sessions, is scheduled for November 8
and 9 in Nuremberg, where a secretariat for the Conference
will also be established at the federal Office for Migration
and Refugees.

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