Koran-Offensive in Die Welt

Who says the Germans don’t do comedy well? An article in a recent issue of Die Welt — “Koran-Offensive alarmiert Deutschlands Parteien” shows this not to be so. As I read the article, which tip-toes round the issue of radical Islam in Germany, my mind harkened back to an episode of the television series Seinfeld.

In the “Koran-Offensive” we know what Die Welt is talking about when it mentions Salafists or radical Muslims, but the paper will not say what it means. It sidles around the issue, performing a verbal silly walk that implies radical Islam is un-German, small minded, uncultured and a generally bad thing.  Die Welt knows that we know, but is reluctant to say this aloud.

What we do have is a story about the distribution of Korans that is slightly strange. The story arc tells us that freedom of religion and expression is a good thing, freedom to distribute Korans during Holy Week is a bad thing. Or, is it that those doing the distribution are the bad thing? The article is not quite sure.

It is like “The Outing” episode of Seinfeld. Whilst seated at a cafe, Jerry, George and Elaine notice that a young woman in a nearby booth eavesdropping. In a spirit of fun, Elaine speaks to Jerry and George intimating that they are a secret gay couple. The woman reappears shortly thereafter when she arrives at Jerry’s apartment on assignment from her student newspaper. During the interview, the interplay between Jerry and George strengthens her belief the two are a gay couple. They then recognize her from the coffee shop and deny they are gay, closing each of their denials with the catch phrase “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

The humor in this episode came from the interplay between George’s and Jerry’s fear of being taken for homosexuals against their fear of being homophobic. The audience knows the truth about Jerry and George, but takes pleasure in their panic.

The Die Welt article follows the same line in its Good Muslim/Bad Muslim story.

Here is the lede, taken from the English translation provided from Worldcrunch.

After more than 300,000 copies of the Muslim holy book were reportedly distributed in German cities during Christian holy week, major political parties have announced that they will push for closer monitoring of Salafist groups advocating fundamentalist Islam.

The Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union, known as the Union parties, and Alliance ‘90/The Greens, have all declared their concern about the massive free distribution of the Koran launched by Ibrahim Abou Nagie, a Cologne-based businessman and preacher with Palestinian roots. According to Abou Nagie, the 300,000 copies were distributed at information booths and over the Internet, with the purchase of one copy entitling the buyer to another Koran free.

The timing of the action is thought to be a particular provocation for Christians, as thousands of the copies of the Koran were distributed around Good Friday and Easter.

Abou Nagie — one of Germany’s most influential Salafist leaders — has been charged in Cologne with inciting the public to commit illegal acts and disturbing the “religious peace.” The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution has been monitoring Salafist groups, which is why this distribution of religious literature – normally not a cause for concern – is being seen in another light.

The article then shifts to comments from spokesmen from the major political parties, each of whom offered a version of “Not that there’s anything wrong with that (Islam).”

“I view the distribution campaign of free copies of the Koran by Salafists with great concern,” said an SDP spokesman, but added she had “fundamentally nothing against the distribution of religious literature as long as this is not associated with encouraging criminal acts or defamation.” The Green party spokesman told Die Welt. “Distributing the Koran is certainly not forbidden by the law, but this should be monitored very carefully by the police.” And a spokesman for the governing CDU/CSU parties called for “an urgent stop” to be placed on the “machinations of the growing radical Salafist movement in Germany.”

Germany’s churches were described as “maintaining a low profile”. An EKD spokesman stated that “Fortunately, in Germany it is not forbidden to distribute religious literature,”but “Of course I hope that in countries where Islam is the religion of the majority that the distribution of Bibles were allowed.” While a Catholic spokesman said the Salafists were not interested in dialogue, and view tolerance and any form of integration for Muslims as toxic.

Only the Greens seemed prepared to speak up. Its spokesman answered the question I had — why was this a problem — by saying:

the Koran campaign was “very worrisome, because calls to violence and terror have repeatedly risen from these radical Muslim splinter groups, which is why it is entirely justified for them to be watched by security authorities.”

A Green politician of Turkish descent, Cem Özdemir, added that he had a:

“problem with any religious group that puts their vision of the world above basic law, the Constitution and human rights. So that also goes for the Salafists, who do encourage violence, and whose ideology is a front for Islamic terrorism.” It was apparent, he said, “that the strategy underlying this campaign is to represent themselves as the mouthpiece of Muslims and to propagate what they would claim is the true Islam. The Salafists can’t be allowed to get away with this.”

Moderate Muslim groups said the right things in Die Welt‘s narrative.

“The Koran is not some PR flyer to be handed out like mass merchandise,” Ayman Mazyek, the chair of the Central Council of Muslims, told the Catholic News Agency. Kenan Kolat, the chair of Germany’s Turkish community, said the action reminded him of Jehovah’s Witnesses. While it was not forbidden to distribute the Koran, Kolat told Die Welt that “the question to be asked are: Are the Salafists acting aggressively? Are they disturbing people?”

And a spokesman for the group giving out 300,000 Korans said?

We don’t know as their voice does not appear.

On its face the idea that distributing 300,000 Korans is a threat to public order in an open democracy seems ludicrous. The article asserts those handing out the books are not good, or acculturated westernized Muslims, but does not say what it is about the Koran getting into the hands of Germans that makes it a danger to public order.

This question is made even more curious by the Seinfeld answer given by those opposed to its distribution. “We’re against giving out the Koran, not that there is anything wrong with that.”

The answer is not the Koran, of course, but the people handing it out. But there is a reticence to make this clear save for the Greens. The BBC’s coverage of this story managed to include the objections voiced by political leaders but offered a few words of context that cleared away the absurdist Die Welt story structure.

Last summer, the president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Heinz Fromm, said: “Not all Salafists are terrorists.  “But almost all the terrorists we know about had contacts with Salafists or are Salafists themselves.”

Is this part of the cultural cringe we see in some quarters — an ease at criticizing Western norms and culture, but a reticence to speak out about the “other”? Should Die Welt have made it clear at the top of its story the suspected link between Koran distribution and terrorism? Or would that have vilified Muslims as a whole, for the actions of a radicalized minority?

How should the press handle this? Who speaks for Islam?

What say you GetReligion readers?

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  • http://blog.chron.com/thestraightpath Ruth Nasrullah

    Perhaps the suspected link is unclear because it’s intentionally vague – let the reader respond to the scary words and fill in the “facts” himself.

    Since the Qur’an is the holy book of all Muslims, logic dictates that distribution of the book by “Salafists” should not be a cause for concern any more than it would be by other Muslim groups. It would be more meaningful to look into what translations this group is distributing.

  • http://bundesbedenkentraeger.wordpress.com Bundesbedenkenträger

    I am from Germany and I seriously don’t understand this whole media coverage of Mslims distributing their holy book.(Besides, I don’t take “Die Welt” as anything near serious journalism)
    I thik: If they want to distribute books, why not let them? As long as the Quran is not prohibited, I see no wrong in this. If they use the chance to also give out flyers about their group, check the flyers, check possible meetings they invite to, if you are unsre about whether they plan the next suicide bombings. But these have nothing to do with the distribution of a book. If they were given less media coverage, hardly anybody would care. This is all a big PR support for them, as I see it. But on the other hand: Papers need to be sold in order to pay the journalist’s bills…

  • Jerry

    Good points from the commentators. How do Germans and others consider Die Welt? And how are other German news outlets reporting the story?

    And Ruth Nasrullah’s comment about translations is very important. There are vast differences in some suras between various translations. My favorite example is 17:104. Search Quran 17:104 and you’ll see how people pick up a translation and use that in their arguments or argue about mistakes in translations because in some translations the state of Israel exists by the will of Allah because we’re living in the end times!

    Khalifa

    And we said to the Children of Israel afterwards, “Go live in this land. When the final prophecy comes to pass, we will summon you all in one group.”

    Yusuf Ali

    And We said thereafter to the Children of Israel, “Dwell securely in the land (of promise)”: but when the second of the warnings came to pass, We gathered you together in a mingled crowd.

    Pickthal

    And We said unto the Children of Israel after him: Dwell in the land; but when the promise of the Hereafter cometh to pass We shall bring you as a crowd gathered out of various nations.

    Shakir

    And We said to the Israelites after him: Dwell in the land: and when the promise of the next life shall come to pass, we will bring you both together in judgment.

    Sher Ali

    And after him WE said to the Children of Israel, Dwell ye in the promised land; and when the time of the promise of the Latter Days comes, WE shall bring you together out of various peoples.’

    “Progressive Muslims”

    And We said after him to the Children of Israel: “Dwell in the land, then, when the time of the second promise comes, We will bring you all together as a mixed crowd.”

    http://submission.org/d/x/webqt.php

  • Dave

    Buy one, get one free — how Western is that!?

    But seriously: I think the reporters should have zeroed in on the Seinfeld answers and made them address their contradiction. In dealing with the Greens’ answers they should have asked if this meant Salafists should have their constitutional religious freedoms curtailed.

  • John Pack Lambert

    I really do not feel this is offensive at all. What I want to know though is, are these copies of the Qur’an or are they interpretations of the Qur’an? If they are the former than they are in Arabic, and so would not be understandable to most German Christians. If they are the later, than they are mis-identified in the article.

    If Mormons can distribute free copies of the Book of Mormon than Muslims should be able to do the same with the Qur’an.


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