Germany: Angst about Islamist groups goes mainstream

Germany: Angst about Islamist groups goes mainstream

Via Washington Post:

The 200 robed and bearded men gathered at dusk on the market square, rolled out their prayer rugs and intoned Allah's praises as dismayed townspeople looked on.

It was Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, and the group that calls itself Invitation to Paradise was mounting a defiant response to weeks of public protests against plans to construct a religious school to teach its austere, militant interpretation of Islam.

In Germany, where the racial crimes of the Nazis have bred extreme sensitivity toward the rights of minorities, such confrontations would until recently have been limited to the far-right margins. But the weekly rallies in this city of 250,000 near the Dutch border these days look decidedly mainstream.

It's part of a trend seen across Europe. Spooked by what many see as a terrorism threat, ordinary people are becoming increasingly vocal in opposing radical Muslims. They are ditching traditions of tolerance and saying no to cultures that do not share their democratic values. Some lament the decline of multiculturalism - "Utterly failed," in the words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel - and others say Europe is defending its way of life against those who would destroy it.


The man leading the opposition to the religious school in Moenchengladbach is Wilfried Schultz, 60, an Internet consultant. His organization, Citizens for Moenchengladbach, points to online videos of the Muslim group that call for the execution of secular Muslims, demand that women never leave home without male chaperons and say people who have sex before marriage will go to hell.

"We are not going to tolerate that these Islamists undermine our liberal German values," Schultz said.

Some Muslims in Germany also are dismayed and are trying to recruit community leaders to blunt the hard-liners' appeal.


The Invitation to Paradise group says it has about 400 adherents, a mere scattering among the 9,000 Turks in Moenchengladbach, some of whom have been here since the 1960s and are likely to dress in Western clothing and speak good German.

Schultz said the hard-line group began arriving about five years ago, robed men and veiled women who stood out in sharp contrast to other Muslims of Moenchengladbach.

The problems began in July when news came of the planned school for 200 students not far from the city center.

"That's when we decided we had to take action," Schultz said.

Schultz and about 250 others staged weekly protests on the market square. They collected thousands of signatures and formed alliances with local lawmakers, church leaders and moderate Muslim imams.

Last fall the city banned further construction on the school, citing security concerns. The congregation is suing to have the decision reversed.