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– Twenty-First Century Crusades?

Prediction 1: Continued tension and backlash against Muslims in Europe

Analysis: Europeans wary of increase in Mosques
By Stefan Nicola

BERLIN-- Plans to double number of mosques in Germany.

Europeans are alarmed by a rise in mosques that may become catalysts in another round of a cultural conflict, further hampering the integration of Muslims in Europe.

The Sehitlik Mosque in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, near the Tempelhof Airport, is a beautiful and impressive building, complete with a traditional dome construction and two lavishly adorned minarets that stretch some 100 feet into the air. The mosque is open to anyone who wants to see it, and guided tours in multiple languages explain its architectural and religious peculiarities.

The building is one of only 159 in Germany that can be recognized by passersby as a mosque; for their sermons, the country’s more than 3 million Muslims still venture to more than 1,000 so-called backyard mosques, community halls and buildings in industrial districts. No wonder communities are updating existing buildings or constructing entirely new mosques: "It’s very normal and good that a big religion presents itself all over the world," Boris Groys, a philosophy professor and cultural expert at Karlsruhe’s State University of Design whose family hails from Russia, said Tuesday at a discussion forum on mosques in Berlin.

Yet some have warned of a mighty wave of mosques that is about to sweep Europe: In Germany, the Muslim community is planning to more than double the number of mosques, with 184 projects in the planning. Groups in Saudi Arabia and Turkey finance many of these projects, large and prestigious buildings that critics say are intended as power symbols, rather than prayer houses. Often, its imams are sent directly from Turkey and don’t speak any German, and Islam, sidelining traditional Christian churches, has long turned into the fastest-growing religion in Europe.

"No one has anything against a mosque," Ralph Ghadban, a Lebanese-born Islam expert at Berlin’s Protestant University of Applied Sciences, told United Press International Wednesday in a telephone interview. "But the large projects are Islamic centers that also do social work and child education on the basis of the Sharia (Islamic law). These centers don’t help to integrate people, they foster parallel societies."

In Cologne, a traditional Catholic stronghold in western Germany, a Muslim group linked to Turkey’s Ministry of Religion is turning its existing community building in the center of town into a lavish, citadel-adorned full-scale mosque. While the local Christian churches and the city support the construction, citizen groups have voiced their opposition to the project.

"One has the feeling that it is easier today to build a nuclear power plant than a mosque," Ali Kizilkaya, the head of the German Islam Council, said in a newspaper interview with Berlin-based daily taz.

Yet Germany isn’t alone: In England, Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands, people have in the past rallied against controversial mosque projects in the center of their cities. Often, people are driven by a mixture of xenophobia on the one hand, and anxiety over what they see as an Islamist intrusion on the other hand.

The problem is that far-right groups have recognized the capital they can squeeze from the Islamophobia being waged in Europe: In Switzerland, a country with some 300,000 Muslims, the far-right SVP party has campaigned with posters playing on xenophobic images that will hand them an overwhelming victory in next Sunday’s elections. One SVP lawmaker, Ulrich Schluer, even rallied support to bring about a referendum to write a new clause into the Swiss Constitution that would forbid the building of minarets in the country. He already has more than 40,000 signatures, and observers expect that Schluer will get the necessary 100,000 next year to launch a referendum.
 

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