German conference on Islamic veil sparks controversy

All depends on the range of speakers and views that are being expressed, along with how they are expressed:

Islamic veils and headscarves remain the subject of heated public debate in Germany. Some view them as part and parcel of religious freedom; others as a symbol of women’s oppression in Islam. The German court system has already taken up the issue of whether school teachers should be banned from wearing a partial headscarf or full veil — or any other openly religious symbols — in class. To complicate matters further, not all of Germany’s 16 states see eye-to-eye on the matter, which is gaining in visibility due to the country’s changing demographics.

Germany’s Muslim population, which has rapidly increased in recent years due to immigration from Muslim-majority countries, was estimated at between 4.4 and 4.7 million people or approximately 5.5% of the country’s total population in 2015, according to the Federal Statistical Office. The number is doubtless higher now, according to the agency, but updated official figures exist.

With these demographic changes come societal debates — one of which, that of the Islamic veil, has been a continual source of discussion. The latest veil controversy, which made headlines all across Germany, has occurred over a planned academic conference — something that even its organizer did not expect.

Academic accused of peddling ‘anti-Muslim sentiments’

Professor Susanne Schröter, who has been researching Islam in Europe at Frankfurt University since 2008, has planned a conference titled “The Islamic veil – Symbol of dignity or oppression?” for May 8. A small group of students has criticized the conference, accusing her of wanting to spread Islamophobic sentiment and calling for her resignation.

Zuher Jazmati, a member of the “Uni gegen antimuslimischen Rassismus” (“University against anti-Muslim racism”) initiative told DW: “We do not believe a value judgment ought to be made on whether or not someone wears a veil. Making such a judgment is annoying for and a burden on any woman wearing one.” Jazmati believes that such discussions even encourage violence against Muslim women.

He also opposes several of the invited conference speakers. Jazmati takes issue with the attendance of German journalist Alice Schwarzer, who publishes Emma, a feminist magazine. He also opposes Islam critic Necla Kelek, whom he accuses of having expressed highly contentious statements in the past and of perpetuating a racist discourse. “When we discuss this topic we should do so with women in attendance who wear a veil so they can speak for themselves,” Jazmati underlines.

‘Just a regular conference’

Schröter is adamant that the event will go ahead as planned. She told dpa press agency: “I assumed that this would be just a regular conference that would not stir controversy. After all, we have been discussing the Islamic veil for nearly 20 years now.” While she said the Islamic veil had indeed become a hotly debated topic, she underlined that the conference had been planned merely to contextualize the controversial “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” exhibition at Frankfurt’s Museum of Applied Arts. The professor noted that proponents of the veil, like theologian and Quranic expert Dina El-Omari, who herself wears the covering, have been also been invited to the conference.

Still, Schröter is known for her critical view of Islamic veils. In August last year while attending a conference of the nonprofit women’s rights organization Terre des Femmes, she reportedly stated that the covering impedes women’s freedom and is often “tied to a whole bundle of restrictions.”

In early April this year, she published an article in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung titled “What does God have against showing hair? Those who favor Islamic fashion should be aware of its repressive nature.”

Freedom of speech under threat?

Meanwhile, the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers (DHV) warned that freedom of speech was under threat at German universities. “Dissenting opinions must be respected and tolerated,” insisted DHV president Bernhard Kempen. Differences of opinion must be resolved through debate and not by boycotting, bashing, mobbing or violence, he stressed.

Birgitta Wolff, the president of Frankfurt University, has backed Schröter, stressing that it is part of her job as professor to organize academic conferences at which differing opinions are voiced.

German advertising has increasingly oriented itself toward the Muslim market segment, as shown in this gummy candy ad

Schröter says that universities should be about freedom of speech and a plurality of opinions: “Universities are a place for discussions, not a place where small lobby groups decide what can and cannot be said.” In an interview with German daily Die Welt, Schröter said critics have tried to “intimidate” and “defame” her, and that they were attacking the principle of free speech, adding that they were accusing her of “anti-Muslim racism” because they reject all criticism of Islam.

At present, it looks unlikely an amicable solution to the conference dispute will be found. Jazmati says that the list of invited speakers means neither he nor other members of his organization will attend the event, though he says he will look at conference excerpts released afterwards to see if the things his organization expected did happen. So far, there has been no direct communication between Schröter and the group Jazmati represents.

Source: German conference on Islamic veil sparks controversy

Germany: Blood sausage at Islam conference stirs controversy

While accommodation generally should work both ways (i.e., as long as food is labelled and choice of alternatives), it does seem a lack of sensitivity at a national Islam conference. Would the Interior Ministry serve pork at an antisemitism conference?

When Canada organized an international antisemitism conference in 2010, all the food served was kosher:

Germany’s Interior Ministry has come under fire for serving blood sausage at a national Islam conference last week, despite pork being forbidden for practicing Muslims.

The issue has stirred a heated debate — one that touches on the fault line issues of integration and respect for different religions — between critics of the ministry and right-wing groups who justified the decision to serve the dish.

The ministry has defended its decision to serve the sausage consisting of pig’s blood, pork and bacon at the evening buffet on Wednesday. It said the serving reflected the “religious-pluralistic composition” of the event, which brought together Muslim associations and leaders with officials from the federal and local governments.

The ministry added that there was a wide range of food at the “clearly excellent” buffet, with vegetarian, meat, fish and halal dishes available. “If individuals were still offended for religious reasons, we regret this,” it said.

Nonetheless, some have viewed the choice of blood sausage as a deliberate provocation by hardline Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

In March, Seehofer caused a stir when he said in an interview that “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany” and that “Germany has been shaped by Christianity,” a comment he partially dialed back last week at the Islam conference.

#BloodSausageGate

Turkish-German journalist Tuncay Ozdamar, who first reported the “#BloodSausageGate” scandal, questioned on Twitter what message Seehofer had intended to send with the culinary decision.

“A little respect for Muslims who do not eat pork would be appropriate,” wrote Ozdamar, who himself claims to eat pork.

In comments published on the website Watson.de, Ozdamar said he had no objection to offering pork in schools with Muslim children because Germany is a multi-cultural country.

“But if I convene an Islam conference and invite Muslims to engage in dialogue, solve the problems of religion that arise in everyday life, then I have to be a bit sensitive, tactful and respectful,” he said.

Green Party politician Volker Beck also slammed the Interior Ministry, writing on Twitter that “appreciating diversity means also considering different habits.”

No clear markings?

Ali Bas, a Green Party spokesman for religious issues, told Watson.de that the blood sausage was not clearly identified at the buffet, but was rather served on appetizer trays. The Interior Ministry had said the food servings were clearly marked.

Many Muslims abstain from eating meat if it is unclear whether it is halal. Blood sausage could potentially be confused with sucuk, a halal sausage widely consumed in Turkey and the Arab world.

The Interior Ministry reportedly served ham in the first year of the annual Islam Conference in 2006.

Far-right AfD sees threat 

The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) quickly entered the discussion, accusing critics of the Interior Ministry of launching an attack on German culture.

“Tolerance starts at the point where the blood sausage is seen simply for what it is: a German delicacy  that no one has to like, but that, just like our way of life, cannot be taken away from us,” AfD lawmaker Alice Weidel wrote on Twitter.

The post was accompanied by a picture of Weidel smiling in front of several blood sausages topped with basil leaves.

Ozcan Mutlu, a Green politician of Turkish descent, responded to the hysteria with a jab at the far-right.

“While the Twitter Nazis are fighting for the survival of the blood sausage and getting riled up over #BloodSausageGate, I’m drinking a beer at a German beer garden in Brooklyn to honor those sensible compatriots back home,” he wrote on Twitter, using the hashtag “#87percent” to refer to the percentage of voters who did not back the AfD in the 2017 general election.

Source: Germany: Blood sausage at Islam conference stirs controversy