Cologne mosque gets go-ahead

Moschee-Neubau in KölnAfter much controversy, Cologne City Council finally voted in favor of building Germany’s largest mosque in the city.

All parties except the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the extreme right anti-mosque initiative Pro Cologne voted in favor of building the mosque, which will be Germany’s largest. Cologne Mayor Schramma, who has gone back and forth on the issue, in the end voted against his own CDU party in favor of the mosque’s construction Thursday.

The new mosque will now be built on a site in Ehrenfeld, an industrial section of Cologne where there is currently a working mosque operating out of an old factory.

“They can start tearing down the old factory building tomorrow,” Josef Wirges, the local council member for Ehrenfeld and member of the Social Democrats (SPD) told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “I think the new mosque will be such an architectural masterpiece that tour buses will take people to see it after they visit the Cologne Cathedral,” enthused Wirges.

But far-rightists have made a racket about this particular mosque since plans to build it were announced last year. The extreme-right Pro Cologne has held 5 of the 90 seats in the city council since 2004. They launched a vociferous campaign against the mosque – drumming up support from as far away as Austria and Belgium. Jörg Haider, head of the right-wing Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) supports the Cologne protesters and has launched an attempt to ban mosques in his native Austria.

The anti-mosque campaign has been under observation by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, because of its “sweeping defamation of foreigners is suspected of violating human dignity.”

Although mosque supporters have won this battle, the war over integration in Cologne is not finished. Pro Cologne has planned a controversial “Anti-Islamization Congress” for Sept. 19. The city expects an influx of prominent far-rightists from around Europe – and 40,000 counter-protesters.

Spiegel Online, 29 August 2008