"I consider the planned construction [of the mosque in Koln-Ehrenfeld] as deeply hostile to integration…. Together with critical Muslims I have brought into discussion a problem which cowardly politicians have suppressed …. "
Ralph Giordano, born in 1923, is a well known German writer who argues strongly that the integration of German Muslims has failed. This, he explains, is due to the very nature of Islam. It would therefore be inappropriate for Germans to allow the construction of too many mosques.
In an open letter published in August 2007 Giordano wrote about the "Fata Morgana of a reconcilability of the two cultures" (i.e. Western culture and Islam). In 2007 he emerged as one of the leading voices fighting the construction of the future central mosque of DITIB (Turkish-Islamic Union of the Office for Religious Affairs) in Cologne. He is one of the founders of the "Critical Islam Conference", which held a first congress in May 2008.
The city of Cologne is home to a about 64,000 Turks. The previous main mosque could only hold up to 600 worshippers. The plans for the whole mosque foresee space for more than 2,000 people.
Design of new Cologne mosque
Giordano regards the mosque as a symbol of "a creeping Islamisation" of the country. In an open letter to DITIB he argued:
"The problem is not the mosque, it is Islam. The essential question is: is Islam compatible with democracy, human rights, pluralism, enlightenment and the critical method? … I read the Koran and was left speechless. … I am wondering how anybody for whom the Koran – this text founding an archaic shepherd's culture – is holy, can adhere to [Germany's] constitution … One excludes the other and lip service remains lip service, even when it is repeated. …
Is there a realistic perspective for an integration that merits the term? I doubt it. What will happen in the end is the permanence of a status that forces the majority community and the Muslim minority to get along with each other peacefully even without integration."
Giordano also argues that there are already many mosques in Cologne and therefore no need for a big central mosque (in fact, most of the 31 registered mosques are prayer-rooms). He considered the project as a "declaration of war." However, in Cologne the political leadership of the city, including the CDU mayor, has not budged and has continued to support the construction in a multi-party alliance. Throughout Germany there are currently around 180 ongoing construction projects of mosques.
On 7 November 2008, the city of Cologne officially permitted DITIB to begin construction works. Exactly one year later, on 7 November 2009, the foundation stone was laid in a ceremony with around 2,000 guests, including the Turkish state minister Faruk Celik, Diyanet president Ali Bardakoglu, architect Paul Bohm, as well as the current and former mayers of Cologne, fritz Schramm and Jurgen Roters.
Giordano has also emerged as a vigorous critic of Islamic dress, calling women wearing burkas "human penguins". He explains that he regards the history of Islam as a history of the degradation of women. Fully veiled women as well as the Muslim call to prayer "disturb my aesthetic sensibilities".
Giordano's comments about Islam and the Cologne mosque have brought him the (unwanted) support of right-wing NGOs and political parties such as the regional movement Pro Koln. In January 2007 and again in autumn 2008 there have been demonstrations organised by Pro-Koln against the construction of the mosque, drawing support from right-wing leaders from across Europe. Giordano has criticised these groups, but his arguments have been quoted by right-wing leaders, including Austria's Hans Christian Strache.
Pro-Koln Demonstrators with a citation from Giordano. Photo: pro-koeln.de
One journalist, Eberhard Seidel, wrote in Tageszeitung:
"For Giordano, Islam is responsible for parallel societies, for insufficient German language skills of migrants, for the oppression of women and for honour killings … Ralph Giordano, whom we have to thank for important books and interventions, today presents an undifferentiated friend/foe thinking, and his outpourings are dangerous hate speech …. An important moral instance destroys itself. This is regrettable."