Turkey has fought many internal political battles over the past few years. Now, it's at a new crossroad. Last week Turkey's top state prosecutor, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, launched a court case against the ruling AK Party. The prosecutor claims the AK Party is trying to build an Islamic state within secular Turkey. If successful, the AK Party would be banned, and 71 party members including the Prime Minister and President, face the risk of being banned from politics for 5 years.
With Europe quickly becoming a melting pot, cities and towns are starting to see mosques being built alongside churches. They generate fierce debate. And it’s not about building codes and architecture—though the talk is usually focused around that. It’s not really about the buildings themselves at all, but about the people who worship in them. We bring you stories this week about mosque building projects across the continent, and reactions to them. The programme is presented in Marseille, in the south of France, where almost a quarter of the population is Muslim, and which should soon see a grand mosque built.
A project in London has been forced to scale down its plans following bitter protests lead by a local councillor. It was originally billed as “the biggest mosque in Europe”. Now, even though the plans have changed—and it may not quite live up to the name—opposition remains strong. The Tablighi Jamaat, the conservative Muslim missionary group that’s behind the proposal is seen by Western intelligence agencies as providing a recruiting ground for extremists.
The Netherlands has nearly a million Muslims, mostly Turkish and Moroccan. There’s tension there between them and the native Dutch population. This has held up two huge mosque projects in the country--one in Rotterdam and one in the capital Amsterdam.
Critics of mosque projects often bring up the spectre of minarets eclipsing church steeples. In Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel made a comment that mosque “cupolas” shouldn’t be built “demonstratively higher than church steeples”. Work on a mosque in Cologne, whose most famous landmark is its cathedral, is set to start this spring. The plans have made people question the role of Islam and the success of integration in Germany. Most of Germany’s Muslims are Turkish who came as “guest workers” starting in the 1960s. Many stayed and settled. Peter Phillips says the reason there is resistance to mosques in Germany is because Germans don’t know much about Islam and the Muslims who live among them.
It’s hard to get an accurate figure of how many Muslims there are in Europe. France has the most—5 or 6 million people, who make up nearly 9% of the population. In the UK, they’re about 3%. But some countries, like Poland, have barely enough to make a blip on the radar. In the southern city of Krakow, some question the need for an Islamic Cultural centre because the community is so small.
Another country with a small Muslim population is Slovenia, though Islam is the second largest religion there, after Orthodox Christianity. And yet, there’s no mosque. And the story of trying to get one built in Ljubljana, the capitol, has been long and fraught with delays.
Many communities in Europe are in conflict over mosque projects. But after a while, once they’ve been around, they tend to be welcomed. In Stockholm, despite growing Islamophobia, locals seem to have accepted and even welcomed their mosque.
One of the Netherlsnds’ most controversial politicians, Geert Wilders, has thrust himself back into the spotlight this week. You may have heard of Mr Wilders, journalists usually put the word “controversial” in front of his name. He’s a parliamentarian known as an Islam-basher and it’s now emerged he is making a film denouncing Islam and arguing for the Koran to be banned. Immediately, parallels are being drawn with the film “Submission”, made by murdered Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh and writer Ayan Hirsi-Ali. That film pushed the issue of Moslem integration in Holland up the political agenda, especially after Van Gogh’s murder by an Islamic extremist.
Probably no other First Lady in the world has been at the center of so much controversy this year as Ayrünissa Gül, the wife of the new Turkish president. The fact that Mrs Gül, as an orthodox Muslim, insists on wearing a headscarf is seen by many in Turkey as a threat to secularism. So you might not expect Mrs Gül to draw extra attention to her wardrobe. But she clearly enjoys fashion - and in fact, for her latest outfits she went to a Turkish designer who's made clothes for top Hollywood celebrities.
The headscarf issue is not only controversial in Turkey. In France, Germany and other parts of Europe the question of wearing a headscarf in school - be it as a student or teacher - often raises the question of whether Muslims are integrated here in Europe. But it's the construction of mosques that's stirring up more debate than any other integration issues. Major mosque projects from Marseille, to Amsterdam, Seville, London and Cologne have met with fierce opposition. Some fear these new mosques will serve as a breeding ground for extreme Islamic views and possibly terrorism. Cologne is famous for its religious architecture, including Germany's most spectacular Gothic cathedral. But this medieval cathedral may soon share the skyline with Germany's biggest mosque. Plans are well under way to construct a mosque featuring two minarets more than 50 meters high and these plans are highly controversial.
The call by an Iraqi organization with links to Al Qaida to murder a Swedish artist and the chief editor of a provincial newspaper is still topping the headlines in Sweden. The call came in the wake of the artist's drawing of the Prophet Mohammed as a dog-like figurine decorating a traffic roundabout. Radio Sweden's Mark Cummins and Azariah Kiros compiled this story.
Crackdowns on illegal immigration by Spain meanwhile have reduced the number of migrants coming from Africa. But one sort of immigrant is coming in greater numbers: underage North Africans. Temporary shelters for the young unaccompanied migrants are overflowing and Muslim leaders are warning that they are ripe recruits for Islamic radicals.
Now, Europe's Arab heritage is not something we hear a lot about these days. Since 9/11 and the international war on terrorism - many observers would have us believe that Europe and the Arab world occupy opposing ends of the ends of a cultural, social, and religious spectrum. But as Ingemar Karlsson, a Swedish diplomat in Turkey, advocates in his recently published book Europe should reconsider its Arab Heritage.
As Turkey chews over what more it needs to do to win EU membership, the Turkish army's flexing its muscles in domestic politics. The chief of staff has warned prime minister Tayyip Erdogan that the secular state is facing a threat from fundamentalist Islam. The prime minister's in a difficult situation because conservative muslims form the backbone of his support. But the Turkish army, along with the middle class, fiercely defend the separation of state and religion - something many in the EU would applaud.
German government officials and representatives of Muslim organizations have met for the very first time in an attempt to initiate a dialogue between the state and Muslims living in Germany. The government hopes the talks will continue for at least two years and will result in a political pact with the Muslim community.
France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, estimated at between five and six million people. The majority live in the French capital, Paris, and there, Ramadan makes a real difference. The holy month is a joyous time of fellowship, worship and reflection. In multicultural neighbourhoods, such as Belleville, it’s also an opportunity for people with different religious backgrounds to mix.
Although most of the debate around intergration and tolerance focuses on the conflicts between mainly Christian Europe and its Muslims immigrants, conflicts can also arise within Muslim communites themselves. This is the experience of the Alevis in Turkey. The Alevi are a sect of Islam and are very different from the main stream Islamic faith. Along with not fasting during Ramadan, they also don’t believe in the Hajj, and men and women pray together. It is estimated that up to a third of Turkey’s population are followers of Alevi. But such differences in the interpretation of Islam, especially during the time of Ramadan, can lead to tensions.
The case of France. Feeling less under threat because seen to be less supportive of the United States than some of its neighbours, France has also seen an array of tough new anti-terror laws. And according to some opinion polls, more people are more wary of their Muslim neighbours in France in the wake of 9/11.
This webpage receives support from the European Union