The morality of pope bashing

Members of The Left party are boycotting the pope's speech to the German parliament during an official visit to Berlin later this month. For Der Tagesspiegel’s Malte Lehming, leftist attitudes toward Catholicism are no different from right-wing populist bigotry against Islam.

The morality of pope bashing

When Dutch politician Geert Wilders talks about Islam, it doesn’t just sound like he’s engaged in rabble-rousing, he actually is. The list of remonstrations Wilders makes against Muslims is long: terrorism and Sharia, headscarves or mosques, homophobia or anti-Israel sentiment. He’s fighting them all, and he’s fighting Islam. Wilders’ protégés, including the candidate for Berlin’s populist Freedom party, René Stadtkewitz, do the very same.

In return, Wilders and his lot have been rightly criticised by many.

The indignation is especially strong among members of Germany’s socialist party The Left. It’s about “extreme-right parties” conducting an “election campaign on the back of Muslims living in Germany,” according to a press release from the office of The Left parliamentarian Ulla Jelpke. She says that “Islam is being attacked” and “fears stoked about Islamisation.” In a short letter to the government, she bemoans the “rising levels of Islamophobia” in Germany by which “social harmony, the peaceful co-existence of people and the basic right to religious freedom” in the country is endangered.

Of course, one should be able criticize Islam freely, just as one should be able to disparage other religions, whether Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism or various forms of Christianity. Catholicism’s highest representative, Pope Benedict XVI, is set to arrive in Germany next week on an official visit. Among his activities is a planned address in front of the German parliament. And it’s this speech that one-half of the 76 members of the Left party’s parliamentary group intend to boycott. Instead they will join demonstrations against the Bavarian-born pontiff once known as Joseph Ratzinger.

The reasons behind this have been expressed in various publications. The pope is the “head of the only explicitly anti-democratic state in Europe”; the Vatican “cooperated closely with German and Italian fascists” in the past; the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Ratzinger headed for many years, is “the successor of the Inquisition, which in the Middle Ages was responsible for the persecution of witches”; and the position of the Catholic Church is anti-sex, anti-woman and homophobic while its stance on condom use in the era of AIDS is “criminal.”

No, when it comes to rabble-rousing, there’s really no difference here at all. German leftists stir up fears about Catholicism in almost the exact same way that right-wing populists do against Islam. Whether it’s Ulla Jelpke or René Stadtkewitz, The Left party’s Andrej Hunko or Geert Wilders, on both sides you will find the same eagerness for insult, scorn and hate. If someone like Stadtkewitz is guilty of breaching public order and flouting religious freedom, his critics from The Left party might want to look in the mirror. Islamophobia and an equally irrational fear of Catholicism are two sides of the same coin.

Now it might be argued that Islamophobia in Germany is directed at a minority which needs special protection. But it’s not as simple as that. In many parts of Germany, Christians are also in the minority. In Leipzig, they make up mere 12 percent of the population, in the Hamburg district of Veddel, 15 percent. In Berlin as well there are now neighbourhoods that have more Muslims than Christians.

Criticizing religion is fine, but damning Catholicism while at the same time denouncing critics of Islam reeks of hypocrisy.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday

The mayor of Cologne has announced a two-year pilot project that will allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer on the Muslim day of rest each week.

Mosques in Cologne to start broadcasting the call to prayer every Friday
The DITIP mosque in Cologne. Photo: dpa | Henning Kaiser

Mosques in the city of the banks of the Rhine will be allowed to call worshippers to prayer on Fridays for five minutes between midday and 3pm.

“Many residents of Cologne are Muslims. In my view it is a mark of respect to allow the muezzin’s call,” city mayor Henriette Reker wrote on Twitter.

In Muslim-majority countries, a muezzin calls worshippers to prayer five times a day to remind people that one of the daily prayers is about to take place.

Traditionally the muezzins would call out from the minaret of the mosque but these days the call is generally broadcast over loudspeakers.

Cologne’s pilot project would permit such broadcasts to coincide with the main weekly prayer, which takes place on a Friday afternoon.

Reker pointed out that Christian calls to prayer were already a central feature of a city famous for its medieval cathedral.

“Whoever arrives at Cologne central station is welcomed by the cathedral and the sound of its church bells,” she said.

Reker said that the call of a muezzin filling the skies alongside church bells “shows that diversity is both appreciated and enacted in Cologne”.

Mosques that are interested in taking part will have to conform to guidelines on sound volume that are set depending on where the building is situated. Local residents will also be informed beforehand.

The pilot project has come in for criticism from some quarters.

Bild journalist Daniel Kremer said that several of the mosques in Cologne were financed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, “a man who opposes the liberal values of our democracy”, he said.

Kremer added that “it’s wrong to equate church bells with the call to prayer. The bells are a signal without words that also helps tell the time. But the muezzin calls out ‘Allah is great!’ and ‘I testify that there is no God but Allah.’ That is a big difference.”

Cologne is not the first city in North Rhine-Westphalia to allow mosques to broadcast the call to prayer.

In a region with a large Turkish immigrant community, mosques in Gelsenkirchen and Düren have been broadcasting the religious call since as long ago as the 1990s.

SEE ALSO: Imams ‘made in Germany’: country’s first Islamic training college opens its doors