Merkel warns against bowing to fear of Muslim violence
By Madeline Chambers
Wednesday, September 27, 2006; 12:39 PM
BERLIN (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans on Wednesday not to bow to fears of Islamic violence after a Berlin opera house canceled a Mozart work over concerns some scenes could enrage Muslims and pose a security risk.
“I think the cancellation was a mistake. I think self-censorship does not help us against people who want to practise violence in the name of Islam,” she told reporters. “It makes no sense to retreat.”
Merkel's comments, which echoed those of other senior German politicians, fueled a row over the cancellation of Mozart's “Idomeneo” that overshadowed a government-sponsored conference to promote dialogue with the country's 3.2 million Muslims.
Berlin's Deutsche Oper said on Monday it had pulled performances of the opera, which features a scene depicting the severed heads of the Prophet Mohammad, Buddha and Jesus, after police warned it could pose an “incalculable” security risk.
The row comes two weeks after Pope Benedict enraged Muslims by quoting from a medieval text linking the spread of Islam to violence. Last year's publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper triggered violent Muslim protests.
The opera, first performed in 1781, tells the story of Cretan king Idomeneo. The controversial scene was added by the director, Hans Neuenfels, and is a departure from the score.
Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told reporters after the conference the participants were united in their call for the opera to restart performances of “Idomeneo.”
“To send a signal, we could all go to the performance together,” Schaeuble, who has no authority over the opera house, told reporters after the conference.
He said it was just as important to defend freedom of expression as to ban torture. “We must not blink. We must be self-confident enough to guard our freedoms,” he said.
The meeting, which had 15 central and local government officials and an equal number of Muslim representatives, discussed issues such as equal rights, the building of mosques, Islam lessons and imam (prayer leader) training.
Schaeuble said there had been an open but harmonious debate. Working groups set up to look at specific questions would come up with concrete suggestions in two to three years.
“This is a historic moment for us, it is a milestone and we will work hard in the next two years to achieve results,” said Bekir Alboga of the Turkish Islamic Union, DITIP.
The organisers were not immediately available to comment on media reports that all participants had been invited to a snack after the meeting even though it is Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.
Integration has become a priority for the government as concern grows about Islamic radicalisation across Europe and the emergence of an underclass of disillusioned young Muslims, mainly Turks, in Germany.
A recent outbreak of violence at a Berlin school where the bulk of pupils are immigrant children and last year's “honor killing” of a Turkish woman have highlighted the challenges faced by the government and Muslim communities.
Germany brought over unskilled labourers from Turkey after World War Two to help drive its economic boom. There are now about 1.8 million Turks in the country.