German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière [də mɛˈzi̯ɛːɐ̯] and a member of the Islam Conference, Hamideh Mohagheghi, meet the press after talks in Berlin on May 17, 2010.
A major round of government-sponsored talks with the intention to integrate Germany's Muslims into mainstream society opened at the German Historical Museum in Berlin on Monday. The Second Islam Conference, which will entail regular meetings between Muslim representatives and government officials until 2013, was opened by interior minister Thomas de Maizière, who urged a "strengthened participation of Muslims in Germany". "To strengthen the sense of belonging: That is our goal," de Maizière stated.
The conference is supposed, among other things, to draw up plans on how best to train imams and to teach the Islamic faith in schools. It would also support Muslim congregations' right to put them on a more equal footing with other religious bodies, such as churches, something which has far-reaching implications in Germany.
The First Islam Conference, which took place between 2006 and 2008 had "laid the groundwork for our dialogue," the over-optimistic minister said. However, it is making nobody happy, neither in its run-up, nor in its course, let alone in its aftermath.
"I am a bit sad that the state is marching ahead. In fact, I would have wished for the churches to lead this dialogue," de Maizière had stated at the recent oecumenic church congress (Kirchentag) at Munich. And: Christian churches need to make more efforts to come to terms with Islam, a view shared by many. "The churches are doing too little and the state is doing too little", staunchly Protestant canon- and constitutional law professor Gerhard Robbers said during the discussion. According to the law expert, Muslims are not fully recognized as German citizens. "There are too many religious policy jibes," he added, with reference to a ban on headscarves in German schools. "Such bans do not really take Muslims seriously as citizens of this country," Robbers said, and nobody laughed.
The conference includes 17 state representatives and 17 individuals and groups from the Muslim community. But only two of the country's four largest Muslim umbrella groups were at the table on Monday, namely the Turkish Islamic Union (Ditib) and the Union of Islamic Cultural Centers.
A row over the agenda and guest lists prompted Germany's Central Council of Muslims, an alliance of Sunni mosques throughout Germany, to boycott the talks, with its head, Ayyub Axel Köhler, a German convert, denouncing the conference as being "decreed by the government" and saying Muslims had been ignored. Köhler said the conference needs to include discussions about "Islamophobia" and discrimination against Muslims.
The Central Council of Muslims' general secretary, Aiman A. Mazyek, and chairman Axel Ayyub Köhler are considered moderates, while another member of the executive board, Ibrahim Faruk al-Zayad, is regarded with something almost bordering on suspicion. He heads the Islamic Community of Germany (IGD) as well, which is, by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (inland security) considerered to be the biggest organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Germany. Al-Zayad lost the election as chairman of the Council to Köhler, but is not without influence: His company is reportedly involved in more than 100 mosque building projects in Germany, also, he is married to a niece of Necmettin Erbakan and therefore has excellent contacts with extremist group Milli Görüs. He was as a guest at the Second Islam Conference.
Amazingly, de Maizière had already banned another group, the Islamrat, from the Conference, due to links with the same Milli Görüs. Leaders of Milli Görüs are under investigation for tax fraud and misuse of funds, plus, it has been accused of supporting a fundamentalist brand of Islam.
"These talks have been ill-fated under de Maizière," Green Party Co-chairman Cem Özdemir, the son of Turkish immigrants and paragon of Turko-German (or is it Germano-Turkish?) virtues, the first Muslim elected to chair a German party and considered entirely secular, was quoted as saying. He stressed that it ought to be aiming at full participation of Muslims in society, with all the rights and obligations that others have. "We need a road map with concrete requirements that Muslim organizations must fulfill in order to obtain recognition as a religious community," totally secular Cem said.
Another Greens leader and homosexual lobbyist, Volker Beck, accused de Maizière of having botched the conference: "The new meeting of the Islamic conference has failed before it has begun". He is particularly concerned, because the Islamic world is known to be specifically tolerant towards homosexuals.
Berlin's governing mayor and deputy head of the Social Democrats declared, in the same spirit and equally full of the endearing, if a bit misplaced, concern and care homosexual men seem to feel towards Islam, the Conference to be something of a stillborn child and de Mazière not to be sufficiently interested in it.
Monday's meeting was designed to turn some of the dialogue into practice, said de Maizière. "The working programme encompasses central questions related to the cooperation of minorities and Muslims in Germany." And: "The aim is to come up with defined tasks linked to the subjects on the discussion list."
"To turn some of the dialogue into practice" translates, of course, to: "To sell out our culture and values even more shamelessly to Muslims."
Who will, in turn, feel even more, among other things, misunderstood, excluded, hurt, insulted, overlooked, discriminated against, irgnored and marginalised. Here we have 5 percent of the population who totally dominate our discourse, mind, awareness, peace of mind and everyday life, and nobody seems to notice or to care.
De Maizière is the man who says that he would tolerate a headscarf as an expression of a religious conviction in his office, but not, should it be an "expression of a rejection or even aggressive stance targeted at what the German Ministry of the Interior stands for". The German Interior Minister, who set out and is supposed to protect our constitution, doesn't even know that this always, invariably, inevitably comes as a pair.