Cablegate: A Tale of Two Mosques: A Snapshot of Muslim Integration In

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1. (SBU) Summary: The ongoing dispute surrounding the
construction of a new mosque in Cologne in North
Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), the "capital of Islam" in Germany, has
become a symbol for the challenges that continue to exist
between Muslims and mainstream German society. While all the
main political parties and most leading civic organizations
support the mosque, the plans have sparked a controversy that
continues to make national headlines. In contrast, a mosque in
Duisburg, another major center of Muslim life in the state, is
nearing completion and has gone up virtually without
controversy. This dichotomy illustrates that Muslim integration
in NRW is moving forward, but not without a few bumps along the
road. End Summary.

Out of the Factory and into the Limelight

2. (U) A new mosque, which will be Germany's largest when
completed, is scheduled to be built in the Ehrenfeld district of
Cologne. The mosque will replace one that grew out of an old
factory and that has been a place of worship for Muslims for
over 20 years. It has also served as the national headquarters
of the Turkish Islamic Union of the State (Turkish) Agency for
Religious Affairs (DITIB). Described by Marlis Brederhorst,
Cologne's senior integration official, as something "the Muslim
community can be proud of," current plans include a dome at over
113 feet and two minarets at 180 feet each, 1/3 the size of the
Cologne Cathedral -- the most important monument in NRW. With a
capacity of 2,000 worshipers (almost ten times as many as now),
it will accommodate a large community center, shops, and
continue to house DITIB headquarters. The largest Muslim
organization in Germany, DITIB (which operates approximately 900
mosques in Germany), will fully fund its construction. All
mainstream political parties, including Lord Mayor of Cologne
Fritz Schramma (CDU) and NRW Minister-President Juergen
Ruettgers (CDU), have unanimously supported the plans for the
mosque. Plans had moved forward virtually without conflict or
controversy -- until recently.

Far-Right Political Group Tries to Highjack Debate
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (U) A small, vocal, far-right populist group "Pro Koeln,"
(which won five seats on the Cologne City Council with an
anti-immigrant platform in the 2004 local elections) has stepped
up its opposition to the mosque in recent months, exploiting the
concerns of local residents about traffic and noise problems and
trying to frame the mosque as an "attack on German cultural
values." Pro Koeln has organized various forms of protest,
including a petition, collecting 23,000 signatures against the
mosque (of which some 7,000 signatures were fraudulent), trying
(unsuccessfully) to disrupt a recent town hall meeting, and
holding a demonstration in Cologne on June 16 (which suffered
from low participation (ca 150 participants)). In response,
supporters of the mosque, including political parties, church
groups, and trade unions, have mobilized various forms of
support, including a counter demonstration June 16 which drew
more than three times as many participants as the anti-mosque

Angry Rhetoric Makes National Headlines

4. (U) While Pro Koeln has not succeeded in stopping the
project, Ralph Giordano, a Holocaust survivor and well known
liberal German author, has joined opponents, bringing the
controversy further -- and national -- attention. His strong
criticism of the project has demonstrated that not all mosque
opponents are on the right margins of society. Giordano has
managed both to offend Muslims and to call into question his
credibility within the German intellectual community. Calling
the project "a false signal of successful integration," he has
charged that it represents "liberal western values being put on
the defensive." His message, however, has been clouded by
offensive comments, including a reference to women wearing
burkas as "human penguins," for which he has also received death
threats. Political and religious leaders have condemned these
threats. NRW Minister for Family, Women, and Integration Armin
Laschet (CDU) has said publicly that he disagrees with Giordano
on these points "but he should be able to criticize the mosque
without threats to his life."

Some Local Citizens say they are Overlooked and Overshadowed
--------------------------------------------- ---------------

5. (SBU) Neighborhood residents have criticized politicians and
DITIB for not involving them in the proposal and decision-making
process from the start. A senior Integration Ministry official
described DITIB as being "arrogant" in this case, telling us

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"Because DITIB wants to build the new mosque at the site of its
present headquarters they didn't see the need to involve local
residents. It was a major mistake made by a group that should
know better." A senior Turkish diplomat in Cologne recently
conceded to the CG that "the consultation process began very
late." DITIB only recently informed neighbors about the plans,
immediately prompting concerns about traffic and noise. While
these concerns have been dwarfed by the publicity around the
statements from Pro Koeln and Giordano, attempts have been made
to address the more practical concerns, including a town hall
meeting at a local school and public relations campaigns. A
recent meeting drew approximately 800 citizens -- many more
spoke in favor of the mosque than against it.

The Numbers Have It: Idea of Mosque Supported, its Size
--------------------------------------------- --------------

6. (U) The residents' criticisms have also resonated within the
district and city CDU, whose leaders support the mosque in
principle, but unlike the state party leadership, do so with
reservations. In an effort to placate their constituents, local
CDU leaders have drafted a list of demands, in particular about
the dimensions of the mosque, to be presented at a local party
convention to be held in August. Faced with the growing public
awareness and concern about the size of the mosque, Lord Mayor
Fritz Schramma, who initially supported the mosque without
reservation, recently stated that the size of the mosque ought
to be reconsidered. A recent poll in Cologne showed that 35.5%
of respondents support the mosque without reservation, with an
additional 27% in support of the mosque if it is built on a
smaller scale.

Muslim Community Tries to Address Concerns

7. (SBU) Mehmet Guenet, a lawyer and spokesman for DITIB, told
the press recently that the organization understands the traffic
concerns and is willing to work to resolve them. He also stated
that sermons will be in Turkish, but that a German summary will
be given at the end and that on special occasions there will be
simultaneous translations. Furthermore, a senior Turkish
diplomat in Duesseldorf told the CG that in an effort to address
noise concerns there will not be a call to prayer, adding that
he would not be surprised if the dimensions of the mosque were

The Selection of the Architect -- an Open and Transparent Process
--------------------------------------------- --------------------

8. (SBU) While DITIB and city politicians neglected to inform
local residents of their plans and solicit their feedback early
in the process, local media have reported that the architect was
selected in an open and transparent manner. DITIB followed the
procedures for the erection of public buildings without being
required to do so, and an architectural competition was held
with a prominent and representative selection committee,
including an individual from the Cologne Cathedral. The
committee selected the famous German architect Paul Boehm whose
progressive design symbolizes openness and transparency. Boehm
has traditionally designed churches and this is his first mosque
design. The senior Turkish diplomat in Duesseldorf observed
that the committee wanted to send a strong message to the host
city and host culture by choosing a German architect.

Duisburg Mosque: A Mosque Without Controversy ...
--------------------------------------------- -----

9. (SBU) Just forty-five minutes away by car from the proposed
mosque site in Cologne, another DITIB mosque is being
constructed in Duisburg, home to over 100,000 Muslims. When
completed (est Dec 2007), this mosque will be the largest in
Germany, at least until the Cologne site is complete. This
project, however, has experienced notably less controversy,
despite its size. In fact, the only major news surrounding this
project followed reports that the construction company building
the mosque is partly owned by a sympathizer of the right wing
extremist NPD party. Several senior officials at the Ministry
of Integration attribute this lack of controversy to the fact
that DITIB did its due diligence and involved the community. In
addition, of the estimated 7.7 million Euro construction cost,
NRW and the EU are funding 3.2 million to finance the large
attached community center.


10. (SBU) Despite the controversy, few observers doubt the
Cologne mosque will be built. The right to build a mosque at
this site is undisputed, the decision cannot be appealed, and

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the project has overwhelming political support. It remains to
be seen, however, whether the mosque will be built as designed.
The debate surrounding this mosque is not unique; mosques in
other parts of Germany have experienced them as well. Of the
over 750 operating mosques (many of which have been converted
from previous buildings) in NRW, virtually all have been
established without dispute. Aside from the lack of
consultation in the Cologne case, location has also been a
factor in the different public reactions in these two cases.
The mosque in Duisburg is being built in a predominantly
industrial neighborhood on the outskirts of town, while the
mosque in Cologne (though not in the city center) will occupy a
much more prominent site in a district of the Rhineland's
ancient capital. These cases demonstrate that Muslim
integration is moving forward in NRW, but not without bumps
along the way.

11. (U) This message was coordinated with Embassy Berlin.

© Scoop Media

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