In Munich, Provocation in a Symbol of Foreign Faith

December 8, 2006


Source: The New York Times

MUNICH — Helga Schandl says she has nothing against Muslims. For three decades, she worked in Munich’s wholesale food market, where many of her colleagues were immigrants from Turkey. “I have experienced integration firsthand,” she said.

Yet Mrs. Schandl, a 67-year-old Bavarian, is leading a fierce campaign to halt plans to build a mosque in a working-class district here. “It is a provocation,” she said of the mosque, which would sit across a graceful square from her Roman Catholic church — its minarets an exotic counterpoint to the church’s neo-baroque steeples. “The mosque doesn’t have anything to do with religion,” she said. “It is a power play.”

Of the many ways that Christians and Muslims rub up against each other in this country, the construction of mosques has become one of the most contentious. Symbols of a foreign faith, rising in German cities, they are stoking anti-foreign sentiment and reinforcing fears that Christianity is under threat.

Why, Mrs. Schandl asked, do the Turks want to build their mosque right here, on a site opposite St. Korbinian? Like churches everywhere in Germany, hers is struggling to survive in a secular society. A few empty churches are being converted into banks or restaurants.