New Berlin Mosque Attracts Demonstrations The construction of a new Mosque in the German capital of Berlin stirs tensions. Earlier this week, demonstrators picketed the laying of the foundation stone for the mosque.
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New Berlin Mosque Attracts Demonstrations

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New Berlin Mosque Attracts Demonstrations

New Berlin Mosque Attracts Demonstrations

New Berlin Mosque Attracts Demonstrations

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The construction of a new Mosque in the German capital of Berlin stirs tensions. Earlier this week, demonstrators picketed the laying of the foundation stone for the mosque.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS: Unidentified Female: (German spoken)

HARRIS: Joachim Swietlik heads the citizens' organization that sprang up to fight the mosque. He says they are not trying to keep Muslims out of the neighborhood. But few, if any, of the people who will worship here live nearby, so he says there's not a local community to serve.

JOACHIM SWIETLIK: (Through translator) If the community had been getting so big that building a mosque had been justified, then all these problems wouldn't have arisen. Then people here would have had time to get used to them and to see them as normal citizens. But the whole thing started from the wrong end.

HARRIS: Top down, he means. The Ahmadiyya movement building the mosque has full government approval. At the ceremony this week, local officials said they hoped the tensions would now start to fade. But with polls reflecting a growing distrust of Muslims among Germans, tensions only flared as the issue developed over last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD NOISE)

HARRIS: Germany's National Democratic Party, considered by many to be supportive of neo-Nazi ideas, showed up at anti-mosque rallies around election time. But Swietlik says they were just using the issue. He says the true face of mosque opponents are ordinary people, young and old, who care about their neighborhood.

SWIETLIK: (Through translator) Not every Muslim is a terrorist and not every Christian or German is an angel. We do see them as human beings with the same worries and concerns and problems as us. But if Islam claims that it's just a religion, why does it have secular goals, too?

HARRIS: Swietlik cites material from the Ahmadiyya movement's Web site he believes show that the group is anti-democratic, intent on boosting their numbers in Germany and potentially violent. The sect isn't considered threatening, according to annual government reports on extreme organizations. Still, the East Berliners' arguments frustrate the group's local imam, Abdul Basit Tariq(ph). He says the movement is peaceful.

ABDUL BASIT TARIQ: So when I talk as the imam to the German people that Islam is a religion of peace, you know, sometime they laugh at me.

HARRIS: Tariq came to Germany from Pakistan 24 years ago, sent to serve the community here. The Ahmadiyya sect is considered heretical by many other Muslims because they believe their 19th century founder was the messiah returning. They have been persecuted and outlawed, notably in Pakistan. Tariq says few East Berliners want to know these details.

BASIT TARIQ: I think the problem is that the people have been living years long without any kind of information about religious affairs. They are not interested in religion. And they're not interested to know what is the difference between Ahmadiyya Muslim community and the other Muslims.

HARRIS: Emily Harris, NPR News, Berlin.

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