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Friday, April 18, 2008

Life in a Parallel Society

The Neukölln district is home to 300,000 people, and half of them live in the northern part that Sonnenallee runs through. One-third of Neukölln's population are immigrants -- including about 60,000 Muslims, who are concentrated almost exclusively in the northern section.

There are 20 mosques in Neukölln alone, out of about 80 in all of Berlin. Few of these houses of worship are recognizable as such from the outside. Most are reached through gates or rear courtyards, where former workshops and factory buildings have been converted to prayer rooms with colorful patterned carpets laid out on the floor. Sweets, tea and soft drinks are sold in adjacent shops.


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Neukölln, like a specimen under a microscope, is proof positive of something that is slowly dawning on the rest of the country: Islam, this mysterious religion, both fascinating and alarming, has gained a foothold in Germany, which is now home to more than 3 million Muslims. But the close proximity between long-established Germans and outlandish Muslims is also a potential source of conflict, triggering resentment and fear on both sides.

Since the religiously motivated terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, many Germans perceive the faith in Allah principally as a threat. There are growing fears that jihadists will begin launching attacks and suicide bombings in Germany, fears fueled in part by repeated warnings coming from German security agencies (more...). Amid such fears, suspicion is easily extended to include the entirety of the Muslim faithful, despite the fact that there are likely no more than a few hundred Muslims promoting terror in Germany.

These suspicions, in turn, prompt many Muslims to feel excluded and rejected by the German majority. Federal Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble sees this as one of the central challenges of integration policy. "Muslims are part of society and our common future," Schäuble, a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), stressed at a February conference on the image of Islam in Germany. The difficulty, Schäuble pointed out, lies in the public's growing tendency to equate Islam with fundamentalism and fanaticism. Life in a Parallel Society By Norbert F. Pötzl


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