Germany: The right-wing political party AfD instrumentalizes the mosque construction in Erfurt

Editor’s Note:   The article is originally in the German language. Computer translation is being used. Please forgive the computer for its ‘lapses’.


Original article here:

Thuringia election: AfD instrumentalizes mosque construction in Erfurt

Podcast “Voice Catch”

The AfD, the Mosque and the Thuringia Election Campaign

A mosque is being built in Thuringia. The AfD has been taking action against this for years. And now in the state election campaign, new protests are coming up.

A podcast from Sandra Sperber and Matthias Kirsch

Thursday, Oct 24, 2019 4:53 PM
Catch of votes #118 Thuringia election: How the AfD is instrumentalizing a planned mosque construction

The first new mosque building in East Germany is being built in an industrial area in Erfurt, between the fire station and the car workshop. There have been protests against the construction project for three years. Time and again the construction had to be stopped because companies did not want to cooperate with the Muslim Ahmadiyya community.

How hard is it to build a mosque in East Germany? That is what the new series of votes is all about. For this we went to Thuringia and talked to the participants – supporters and opponents of the mosque.

We also meet the historian Yasemin Shooman, who deals with the subject of Islamophobia, and talk to our SPIEGEL colleague Peter Maxwill, who has been observing the case of the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Erfurt-Marbach for several years.

The podcast as text to read

The full transcript

[00:00:02] Matthias Kirsch Welcome to Vote Catch, the politics podcast of SPIEGEL. I am Matthias Kirsch.

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[00:00:52] One-player “Way with it! Tear off the dirt!” – “Soon a load of pig heads will come!” – “Immediately sabotage the building!” – “As a foundation stone, please, a splinter bomb!” – “Take off the hut!” – “If the right party rules in Thuringia, you will be back in your museum and the mosque very quickly. will be demolished again!”

[00:01:06] Matthias Kirsch So it is hounded on social media just because a mosque is being built in Thuringia. Mostly with clear names, mosque opponents leave comments like this on the Facebook wall of the Muslim Ahmadiyya community in Erfurt. The plan to build a mosque in the Marbach district of Erfurt is not at all new. The debate has been going on for more than three years, but now, in the Thuringian election campaign, the issue is boiling over, especially on social media. The state election exacerbates the debate as if under a burning glass.

[00:01:35] Suleman Malik We are now right here on the future mosque plot, building site where the mosque will be built.

[00:01:43] Matthias Kirsch This is Suleman Malik. He is the spokesman of the Ahmadiyya community in Erfurt, where he represents about 70 parishioners. My colleague Sandra Sperber visited him on site a few months ago.

[00:01:55] Sandra Sperber It feels quite like the outskirts of the city and looks especially like an industrial area.

[00:01:59] Suleman Malik It is definitely a business park. But we have a plot of land that is commercial and mixed.

[00:02:10] Matthias Kirsch How difficult it is to build the first new mosque in East Germany and how the AfD in particular is trying to exploit this issue – that’s what this episode of Vote Catching is all about. For this we talk to people who are for or against the construction of mosques, with Suleman Malik, for example, whom we have already heard, but also with Stefan Möller, one of the state spokesmen of the AfD Thuringia. We also meet a researcher who deals with the subject of Islamophobia. And I speak to my colleague Peter Maxwell, who has been observing the conflict over the mosque in Erfurt for some time.

[00:02:46] Björn Höcke (AfD) AfD – no to the mosque!

[00:02:46] Matthias Kirsch April 2016. At this time there is not even a plot of land for the future mosque. But Björn Höcke, who was already the AfD’s state spokesman in Thuringia at the time, makes it clear: A mosque in Thuringia? No way!

[00:03:03] Björn Höcke (AfD) Islam, Islam has its homeland, and this homeland is not called Erfurt, this homeland is not called Thuringia and this homeland is not called Germany!

[00:03:18] Matthias Kirsch And parts of the population in Erfurt see it the same way at that time, long before the foundation stone for the mosque is even laid.

[00:03:26] Mosque opponents In Marbach, no one can identify with Islam. We Germans do not want to identify ourselves. For the time being, I do not see at all that Germany is being Islamised and alienated. And I do not see that we simply get foreign peoples, foreign cultures forced without referendums. That is simply not possible. A mosque has lost nothing in Germany.

[00:03:47] Matthias Kirsch This is the starting point, shortly after the Ahmadiyya community in Erfurt first thought aloud about building a mosque. Here again is Suleman Malik, the community spokesman.

[00:03:58] Suleman Malik Yes, we actually made a preliminary request for another property in April 2016. However, the neighbour of the property refused to sign a declaration of agreement, which was important to build on an area which was green space. And with that we had to give it up, because the neighbor did not want to participate.

[00:04:22] So it’s a difficult search for a suitable building plot – but good: that’s the way it is for most other builders.
[00:04:30] Suleman Malik By chance we found this offer on the Internet and then bought this property from the provider. And in March 2017 we submitted the building application for this property.

[00:04:44] Matthias Kirsch After that, quite extreme protests against the planned construction begin quite quickly.

[00:04:49] Suleman Malik In between there were many protests, there was a petition against this mosque construction. Then, in March, there was an attack on the site, where unknown people distributed body parts of pigs on the site. Everywhere pig heads could be seen, yes on the skewer, so to speak, docked in the ground. After that there was – immediately after this action – there was a cross action. The identitarian movement and “One Percent” in cooperation with the AfD have placed eleven-metre-high crosses on the site.

[00:05:28] Sandra Sperber Here on the neighbouring site?

[00:05:28] Suleman Malik On the neighbouring site. It looked like a cemetery.

[00:05:33] Matthias Kirsch All these actions are a clear sign: people don’t want this mosque to be built. But who is this Ahmadiyya community that is causing so much anger with its construction project? For although members of this Muslim community have lived in Germany for more than a hundred years, little is known about them. Said Ahmed Arif is imam of the Ahmadiyya community and he explains:

[00:05:54] Said Ahmed Arif This is so similar to the difference between Jews and Christians that the Jews are still waiting for the Messiah and the Christians believe that it has already appeared in the form of Jesus. And the difference here is that we believe that he has already appeared, that is, the Second Coming of Jesus. And that is also the essential difference between us and other groups in Islam. The other currents or directions that are still waiting for the fulfillment of this prophecy.

[00:06:18] Matthias Kirsch In some Muslim countries, members of the Ahmadiyya are persecuted for this reason. This is another reason why followers of the community came to Germany and opened their first mosque in 1925, at that time in the Berlin district of Wilmersdorf. Today, almost 95 years later, the construction of the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Erfurt is a bit more complicated. Because from the beginning, as I said, there has been resistance to the planned mosque. And for Suleman Malik, it’s pretty clear who’s behind it.

[00:06:46] Suleman Malik There were statements relevant to these actions, including on the Internet, where people said: “Build your mosque in Buchenwald”, yes or – also to parishioners – that one should hang it on the cross and Pour pork blood on them. So there were such statements, and the AfD did not distance itself from these actions, but actively supported them.

[00:07:11] So Does Matthias Kirsch really involve the AfD in actions that far exceed the limits of free speech? Stefan Möller is an AfD politician who has strongly opposed the construction of the mosque in Erfurt. On the anti-mosque petition that Suleman Malik addressed, Möller says:

[00:07:28] Stefan Möller (AfD) Of course we supported this to the best of our ability. We did this when we collected the signatures. And we also provided shooting assistance at the hearing. That’s clear. Of course, we also see ourselves as a bit of a protective force for those who have recognised the problem, here in Thuringia, and who take this view against the very, very strong political mainstream and, of course, must also expect repression.

[00:07:57] Matthias Kirsch Stefan Möller is one of the Two Spokespersons of the AfD in Thuringia. The other is Björn Höcke. And he, too, has been fighting against the construction of mosques in Erfurt from the very beginning. On Islam as a religion, Höcke says such sentences:

[00:08:10] Björn Höcke (AfD) Either Islam in Europe and Germany adapts to our norms, customs, values and norms. Or it must be adopted.

[00:08:21] Matthias Kirsch The AfD’s position on Islam is quite clear. This does not really have much to do with religious freedom – after all, enshrined in Article 4 of the Basic Law. In the current election programme of the AfD for the state election in Thuringia, for example – quote -:.

[00:08:37] Election programme AfD Thuringia “According to the AfD,Islam as a political religion is incompatible with central rules of our secular constitutional state. Therefore, Islam cannot belong to Thuringia.”

[00:08:49] Matthias Kirsch – Quote End. Stefan Möller, Björn Höcke and the other opponents of the Ahmadiyya Mosque fear that the presence of this church will contribute to Islamization. My colleague Sandra Sperber addressed Stefan Müller on the spot.

[00:09:04] Sandra Sperber We also spoke of Islamization on the demos. How concrete is that? That’s about 70 parishioners of the Ahmadiyya community. How do you feel that they are Islamizing society here?

[00:09:16] Stefan Möller (AfD) But, it is foreseeable. We are currently at the beginning of a process which, if we do not remove appropriate barriers at an early stage, will create barriers that take a turn for a development that will lead to a so-called Islamisation or, at any rate, significant changes under religious aspects.

[00:09:39] Sandra Sperber But are you seriously concerned that these 70 members who are building a mosque here are changing society in Erfurt, the majority society?

[00:09:47] Stefan Möller (AfD) Yes, everything starts small.

[00:09:50] Matthias Kirsch For Stefan Möller, the followers of the Ahmadiyya community are not harmless believers, but followers of a dangerous sect.

[00:09:58] Stefan Möller (AfD) Now it is relatively typical that they project a very progressive, liberal, advertising understanding to the outside world – in the inner life, in religious practice, in the practice of community work a completely different Living self-image. And so it is with this sect.

[00:10:17] Matthias Kirsch At this point it should be made clear: The nationalist wing of the AfD, of which Björn Höcke is the spokesman, is considered by the constitutional protection as a suspected case in the area of right-wing extremism. The Ahmadiyya community, on the other hand, is and has never been observed by the Constitutional Protection. In addition, it is a public corporation in Hesse and Hamburg, so it has the same rights as, for example, Christian churches. To call them a sect, as the AfD does, is not right. Nevertheless, it is also important to emphasize that science does not fully agree on how to classify the congregation. The sociologist Necla Kelek, for example, who was a long-time member of the Islam Conference of the Federal Government, once described the Ahmadiyya on Deutschlandfunk as a fundamentalist community that practises a very conservative and restrictive religion. But one thing cannot be blamed on the Ahmadiyya community: that it is doing nothing to get in touch with its critics.

[00:11:18] Suleman Malik I believe we as a community also call for dialogue. And that is the only way for us as a community to counteract the prejudices and fears that the AfD spreads.

[00:11:32] Matthias Kirsch But does this effort lead to anything? My colleague Sandra Sperber spoke about this with the historian Yasemin Shooman. Shooman is a member of the Council for Migration and the Commission on Integration Capability of the German Federal Government.

[00:11:46] Sandra Sperber What the Ahmadiyya community describes, what they do in Erfurt, is a lot of dialogue, go out, try to reduce fears, to take away fears. Does this really help to reduce this Islamophobia?

[00:12:02] Yasemin Shooman Dialogue is certainly never bad, but it has limits to effectiveness, so to speak, because one has to look more closely at the function that these prejudices fulfil. We can say that this rejection of Muslims or this anti-Muslim sentiment in society is partly linked to an integration that is actually taking place. This sounds paradoxical at first, because Muslims are being accused of the lack of integration. But if we see integration as an increased participation in society, then we can see that it always leads to conflicts of dominance. And you can see that, for example: the backyard mosques were not a problem. It was only at the moment when Muslims began to build places of worship, which they identify as members of society visible in the cityscape – that just caused such fierce defense.
[00:12:53] Sandra Sperber That means that the congregation can’t really go down a “right” path – I say – because the more present and the more open it is, it provokes it to provoke more prejudices?

[00:13:04] Yasemin Shooman No, of course, the consequence cannot be a retreat or a strategy to sort that out somehow with the city administration. There must still be an open dialogue. But it must simply be clear that these prejudices are not only based on real, so to speak, fears or ignorance, but that they have a function; that it is a question of some people viewing a diverse, plural society as a threat, because it means, of course, that minorities participate more and, in the end, it also means that we must all share the cake together – and do so on an equal footing.

[00:13:36] Sandra Sperber But I hear out there: you see a direct connection between criticism of Islam and racism, which one disguises in a way.

[00:13:44] Yasemin Shooman The borders are very fluid. Under this flag of criticism of Islam, a great many people sail along, with speeches that are clearly racist.

[00:13:56] Matthias Kirsch The criticism of Islam, i.e. also the fierce criticism of the Ahmadiyya community, is therefore in many cases only disguised racism. How this affected the construction of the mosque on the ground, for example, was seen last November. At that time, the Thuringian Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow had come to Erfurt.

Representatives of the other religious communities were also there, namely for the laying of the foundation stone of the new mosque. On the Internet there are videos of this laying of the foundation stone. Bodo Ramelow has a shovel in his hand. He smiles at the cameras – and across the street are dozens of counter-demonstrators.

[00:14:41] Demonstrators It is dangerous to spread this disinformation here through the media among the people.

[00:14:41] Matthias Kirsch Your resistance is useless. The construction could therefore begin, and with that the affair around the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Erfurt could have been over. Because at least in the past it was often the case when mosques were rebuilt, as for example in 2014 in Hesse in Friedberg – even then there were protests before construction began – but after that it became quiet. But what about Erfurt? I am still talking to my colleague Peter Maxwell about the current state of the conflict. Because Peter has been researching this story for a long time, and he was only recently back on site. Hello Peter.

[00:15:15] Peter Maxwell Hello, greet you.

[00:15:16] Matthias Kirsch Peter, you have been dealing with the case again. Can you tell us what has happened on this construction site over the last few weeks and months?

[00:15:28] Peter Maxwell Basically, you can say that so much hasn’t happened, compared to what should have happened. Actually, it should be so that now in these weeks the mosque is already completed and inaugurated. However, this will no longer happen this year, but will be delayed by at least four months, and will eventually take place sometime in 2020. And that has a lot to do with what has happened over the last few months. On the one hand, there is a relatively high amount of incitement on social media against the mosque and, above all, against the spokesman of the congregation. And on the other hand, the simple fact that the municipality has not found enough construction companies to make progress with the construction work. Apparently because many entrepreneurs are afraid or their own resentments to participate in such mosque construction project.

[00:16:15] Matthias Kirsch There were resentments, which we have already heard from the AfD, from the population. But that means there is indeed evidence that construction companies did not want to continue this construction because this Ahmadiyya community is controversial among the population?

[00:16:31] Peter Maxwell Yes, when I was there recently and also met the ward leader, Mr. Malik, he showed me, among other things, an email he received. And this mail comes from the time when it was about finding a crane company to put a roof on the mosque’s shell. And they actually tried in vain for weeks and months to find a crane company, because – and this was clear from this mail – the company, which was originally planned, refused to participate in the end because – as it was stated in the mail in any case – allegedly be afraid of attacks on their employees and on the machines. And that is, of course, an expression of a rampant Islamophobia and resentment. And the fact that this has such an impact and that it is only months delayed is, of course, quite worrying. In addition, there are other construction companies which have also refused to take part in the construction project and which, according to Mr Malik, have themselves said very clearly on the telephone: we are not putting a foot on it, we do not want to do anything about this. Ben.

[00:17:34] Matthias Kirsch There have been attacks and disgusting things that have happened on this property in the past – for example, parts of a dead pig were placed there on skewers. You have observed over the last few months that this hatred and resentment has shifted to the Internet, to social networks. How did you perceive that?

[00:17:56] Peter Maxwell Yes, that’s really quite amazing how little has remained of these manifest protests right on the building site – the demonstration and this pig’s head action and all these things. And how strong the hatred on the net still exists and with what open hostility people with their clear name, for example, post something on Facebook. It is already fierce, in what concentrated form this has occurred in recent months.

[00:18:23] Matthias Kirsch Peter, what is the current state of this work? You said that the construction work was slower, in some cases it was even stopped. What is the state of play now?

[00:18:35] Peter Maxwell The shell stands, that is, you can now see a still relatively provisional-looking skeleton. But the construction work is actually now in the final phase. Above all, according to the municipality, it is now hardly dependent on external companies. This means, for example, the minaret, which is not yet standing, and the dome, which is not yet finished, are produced by the municipality in its own work. Then nothing should be able to get in between, because the municipality is not dependent on any other companies. And at the moment it is expected that the mosque will actually be ready within the next few months over the winter. It is expected to be ready in the spring of 2020. When it is inaugurated also depends on when, for example, the caliph, the head of the Ahmadiyya community, can come to Erfurt for the inauguration. And that will happen sometime next year.

[00:19:30] Matthias Kirsch An important point that the opponents and critics of this mosque building have repeatedly made is that this mosque would somehow change the image of the district. What kind of place is this? Is it really the case that this mosque building is somehow in a neighborhood, that people have on their doorstep?

[00:19:51] Peter Maxwell This is curious that this kind of, yes, you have to call it propaganda, actually pulls and that it works and mobilizes people. This is an industrial estate. This is an industrial area – it belongs to the remote, somewhat remote district of Marbach von Erfurt. This is in nowhere, so to speak, between the district and the university campus. And the mosque is within sight of grain silos behind such a car workshop. I would say at least 50 metres from the road, surrounded by a fire station, car repair shops and other businesses and companies that are standing there. So no houses of residents. There is a residential building that you can see when you go to the roof of the mosque – which of course you will not be able to do in the future – you can see a single residential building. Otherwise nothing at all. There is no one who is actually disturbed as a resident.

[00:20:41] Matthias Kirsch Okay. You visited the construction site with Suleman Malik, whom we have already heard. Are he and the Ahmadiyya community optimistic or rather cautious-optimistic about the future of the project when it is completed?

[00:20:56] Peter Maxwell This is astonishing how much optimism Mr. Malik and the community as a whole radiate. When I was there last year, when the foundation stone was laid, I was already told that until now it had always been the case when the community built a new mosque somewhere in Germany, that there were protests and criticism and scepticism among the population at the beginning, and that later on. then everything would have disappeared and it would have developed into a good neighbourly community thing. The question is a bit of whether this is actually the same now, because such angry protests and such ugly actions – be it on social media or, for example, this pig’s head action – are very rare when mosques are built. And the mosque, which is now being built in Erfurt, is just the first in the new federal states outside Berlin. You have to see how it will actually be. But the optimism is there.

[00:21:51] Matthias Kirsch Peter, thank you for your assessment.

[00:21:52] Peter Maxwell Very happy.

[00:21:53] Matthias Kirsch For more than three years now, the mosque construction of Erfurt has been employing both the supporters and the opponents. And above all, the AfD simply cannot conclude with this issue. In the Thuringian election campaign, it is now constantly blaring – even if the occasion has nothing to do with it. In the week leading up to the election, AfD man Stefan Möller, whom we have heard several times in this episode, posted a photo on his social media. To be seen on it: a cdu polling booth with few visitors. And Möller writes without context: “Even with the guys of the Ahmadiyya there is more going on…”


2 replies

  1. The churches should thank the Muslims: Opponents of the mosque construction, who probably did not enter a church for years, all of a sudden remember that they are Christians.

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