The construction of a new mosque in the western German city of Wuppertal shows that it is not only the right-wing populist circles that criticize new mosque projects. In the discussion about the new construction of a mosque in the west of the republic, financed by the Turkish-Islamic association Ditib, it is the left in particular who dislike the project.
Similar to the current asylum debate in Germany, it is the local people who criticize the naivety of politics. The example in Wuppertal shows that left-wing groups that are not suspected of using right-wing populist rhetoric are at the forefront. They criticize the influence of Ditib on the Turkish community in the city and the political ignoring of the dangers posed by the control of the Turkish people living in the city by the state religious authority Diyanet, which is controlled by Erdogan and his AKP party.
Three months ago, the city council voted by a large majority in favor of a resolution that would allow the city government to conclude the contract for the construction of a new mosque for the Turkish-Islamic community. Public funds are not to be used for the project, only a smaller piece of municipal property is to be transferred to the community so that the construction site is complete.
According to the municipal council, it is actually the geological situation in Wuppertal that makes a new building necessary: many of the city’s buildings are located on extreme slopes, including the old mosque. In an emergency, fire brigade and emergency services would not be able to intervene quickly. Despite the positive political decisions, the municipality now fears further delays, because meanwhile a citizens’ initiative is against the construction project of the Ditib municipality in the street.
It’s nothing new. Even with the new construction of the Ditib main mosque in Cologne, it was the public protests that delayed the project for a long time. The opening was celebrated all the more, with a very special main guest: the Turkish President Erdogan. In the case of the mosque in Wuppertal, however, the resistance is not coming from right-wing populist or right-wing extremist circles, as is usually the case, but from the far left. “We don’t want to and won’t fuel an Islamophobic discussion, and we would also distance ourselves immediately if right-wingers were to interfere in our protest,” says the representative of a left-wing autonomy center, located near the building site. “We are both against gentrification and against ditibisation”. But it is simply scandalous that an association like Ditib should have such an immense influence in our district.” For the old leftist, Ditib is Erdogan’s extended arm and therefore dangerous for everyone who has connections in Türkiye and does not fit into the “deeply reactionary, patriarchal and national chauvinist worldview” of Erdogan’s AKP party and its extreme right-wing coalition partner MHP.”
Ditib, with its headquarters in Cologne and around 900 mosques in Germany, reports directly to the state religious authority Diyanet in Ankara, which in turn is assigned to the Turkish government. For decades, political actors of all stripes in Germany were very happy that Ditib organized the religious concerns of the Turks in this country. At the latest after the failed coup in Türkiye in the summer of 2016, it became clear how consistently President Recep Tayyip Erdogan uses the Ditib as an instrument of power. Some of the Ditib imams in Germany who are paid by the Turkish state even obligingly acted as informers, compiling lists of alleged enemies of Türkiye. Another low blow was that the Cologne Central Mosque was not opened by the German President in 2018 – as Ditib never tired of proclaiming – but by Erdogan. The event was de facto a Turkish state act on German soil.
In the city parliament of Wuppertal, the parties represented there point out that the city has been working together with the community in a spirit of trust for many decades. “After all, the around 60,000 Muslims belong to Wuppertal with their religion,” said the conservative CDU city chairman at the council debate on the target decision at the beginning of March. According to the freedom of religion enshrined in Article 4 of the German constitution, there is a right to build a mosque. The “open architecture” planned by Ditib demonstrates transparency and a willingness to engage in dialogue, making it clear that this is not about a place of isolation, but about turning to urban society. “The project has what it takes to become a place of modern German Islam,” the conservative said, quoting the German then President Johannes Rau, born in Wuppertal: “Anyone who builds a house wants to stay.”
The CDU is very aware that the Turkish religious authority Diyanet could exert influence. But after numerous discussions, soundings and above all because of the good experiences with the local Ditib community, one is “firmly convinced that theoretical influence is becoming less important than it is increasing”. The Social Democrats say that according to its own statutes, the municipality is a politically free area – and that’s how it is lived there.
Volker Beck, who for a long time was spokesman on religious policy for the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen parliamentary group in the German parliament and member of the Islam Conference, warns against naivety. “Ever since the espionage affair, everyone can know what to think of Ditib. Contrary to what was claimed, it never drew any conclusions from this scandal.” In addition, Ditib regularly acts as an election campaign agency in Germany for Erdogan. So too in the past few weeks. In view of this character, nothing should be done to promote the structure of Ditib. “I therefore find it absurd to hand over or sell municipal property to Ditib,” says Beck in an interview with the German “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. After the elections in Türkiye, the German Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, has to travel to Ankara to negotiate that the Turkish state should grant independence to Muslims of Turkish origin. “The cutting of the cord from the Diyanet and the founding of an independent Muslim religious community cannot be achieved with German statutory law, that is only possible if Ankara wants it. That would be an incredibly important act for the arrival of Muslims in Germany.”
But Beck’s party friends in Wuppertal also have no reservations about the project. The speaker of the Greens commented on the fact that a Turkish historian recently gave a lecture that downplayed the genocide of the Armenians on the Internet and in a book described “Zionists and “Evangelists” as enemies who had set the world on fire in the decisive council meeting with the succinct words that it was “not the best idea” to “invite this historian”.
The proponents of the project make no secret of the fact that they also aim to upgrade an entire district without cost to the city. They want to find a new home for the autonomous center. The former Wuppertal nightlife area has been in a downward spiral for many years. It is characterized by empty shops, more than a dozen gambling dens and betting shops. “Hopefully, a massive deficit in urban planning will soon be a thing of the past,” says the SPD. The liberal FDP is also certain: “The new building plans with a café, kindergarten and open space design will definitely enhance the area.” However, it is important that the daycare center and the retirement home are really open to everyone, the liberals warn.
The community center and mosque alone will cost between four and six million euros, a large sum for a community with only 600 members. The Ditib board says that the Turkish religious authority Diyanet will not invest a single cent in the construction of the mosque. Financing through donations is identical in Muslim communities in Europe. “As soon as the first excavator rolls, we will put together a donation committee that will be on the road Friday after Friday in mosques in Germany, Austria, France, Holland or Denmark.”
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