Religious education in Germany

God and Berlin
Mar 26th 2009 | BERLIN
From The Economist print edition

A referendum next month may import religious teaching into Berlin’s schools

BY AMERICAN standards, German culture wars are mild affairs. A spat in Berlin over teaching religion in schools may be an exception. Next month the city will vote on whether schools should teach the subject as an alternative to an ethics course. The debate is only partly about how God fits into the classroom; it is also about how Muslims fit into Berlin.

In most of Germany, the constitution already makes religious instruction part of the curriculum (secular students can opt out). But Berlin and two other states are exempt. The city’s godlessness was shaken in 2005 by the “honour killing” of a young Turkish woman. As an antidote, Berlin’s government brought in a non-religious ethics course a year later.

For Berlin’s beleaguered believers, this was both threat and opportunity. Enrolment in (voluntary) religious classes outside school hours dropped. But some religious folk spotted a chance to sneak in more traditional teaching. Thus was born Pro-Reli, a movement that has festooned Berlin with red-and-white posters demanding “free choice between ethics and religion” and collected 270,000 signatures to force a referendum.

The debate is over whether religious teaching fosters or hinders tolerance. Pro-Reli’s critics fear that separating schoolchildren by religion may undermine social peace. Supporters retort that people with strong religious convictions respect faith, whatever its form. …

The battle lines are not sharp. Stephan Frielinghaus, a Protestant pastor, supports ethics classes as a “space where different traditions can learn to live together”. … he has joined a pro-ethics movement. Berlin’s ruling coalition of Social Democrats and the Left Party is anti-Reli, but some Social Democrats are pro, including the foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

What everyone shares is an obsession with Muslims, who account for over half the students in parts of the city. The ethics course is partly meant to snuff out incipient violent radicalism. But it leaves many children learning the Koran from teachers who have little stake in German society. Better, says Pro-Reli, to bring it into school, where German-speaking teachers can impart Islam under the state’s watchful eye.

That Pro-Reli has got so far is a success in a city one sociologist calls “the world capital of atheism”. Some 60% of Berliners profess no religion, a tendency stronger in the ex-communist east than in the bourgeois west. Even if Pro-Reli wins a majority, the referendum will fail unless a quarter of the 2.4m-strong electorate says yes. Teaching of religion in schools may be undone by sloth, not atheism.

This women is why I know the West will prevail

Nahed Selim, born in Egypt and living in the Netherlands, is an author and interpreter. This article appeared in Trouw on 30th of august 2008.

Translation Maggie Oattes

This strange negativism

Were the old days all that good? Nahed Selim consciously chose to live in the Western world she fervently defends. „No civilization in the history of mankind has brought so many good things to so many people at the same time, as the modern, Western, capitalist society.”

(HH: Ooh, if a Westerner said that they would be called arrogant and racist!)

Why is it that my contemporaries are so mercilessly critical about themselves and the age in which we live? Hearing them, one would think our society has not even one redeeming quality. Cynicism and discontent prevail. But was life really that much better in the past?

I am a so-called baby boomer, part of the generation born roughly between 1945 and 1955. It benefited like no other from the increasing post-war wealth and could therefore afford to make radical choices. It was a generation that thought it knew everything better than all previous generations. They were going to do everything differently.

I got to experience the last bit of this era when I came to the Netherlands in the 1980s at age 25. And I joined in enthusiastically.

The late Pim Fortuyn, born in 1948, was not impressed with the accomplishments of his contemporaries. In his book ’Babyboomers’ (1998) he reproached them for having dealt irresponsibly with the social institutions they were put in charge of.

Perhaps he was right. But I do not like to complain, not even about the people who complain all the time. I merely observe that I lack the mental attitude of people who remember the past nostalgically, a past when everything was supposedly much better.

I believe there is no point in focusing on the past. Today is the only reality, and we should love this real reality. The past and the future are merely memories or utopias. The only real life is now, here, today. And it is my job and my moral duty to focus on the present. Everything else is childish. Irresponsible escapism.

I personally have an unbridled confidence in our time and at the same time a deep aversion to the current cynicism and the discontent I observe all around me. This cynicism often takes the shape of anti-Western feelings, both in westerners themselves and in people with different cultural backgrounds.

In those years there was a kind of cultural rebellion against everything that was ’old-fashioned’ and authentic in the Netherlands. One might call it an exaggerated enthusiasm for the modern capabilities In any case it was totally different from what I was accustomed to in my own Arabic culture where everything modern and new was synonymous with wrong, evil and therefore undesirable.

Yet I felt very happy here. I was also rebellious at the time; I needed that to distance myself from many traditions and cultural conventions. My own attitude facilitated my interaction with Dutch people. Back then they were very open to foreigners and they immediately made you feel you belonged. You even felt an eagerness in the way they embraced you. In England and France, where I had briefly lived before, it took much more effort on my part to make contact with the people. Here I instantly formed close friendships with Dutch women and men. I also fell in love all the time.

This strange negativism about the own Dutch culture still has not disappeared completely. However, a large part of the population is in the middle of a revaluation process. I think that is healthy, nothing to get worked up about.

Revaluation of the national identity should not be taken to mean a sign of hate towards migrants. Every civilization has the right to defend itself and safeguard its survival; and you may expect from newcomers that they adjust. This, in my opinion, also explains the immense popularity of the political parties of Geert Wilders and Rita Verdonk. They are erroneously referred to as extreme right-wing parties. What they want has nothing to do with extremism. They want to put a stop to the snobbish disdain for everything indigenous and Dutch.

The current revaluation of the cultural heritage is an appropriate correction.

Even though I was not born here, I feel very connected with the West. Even though it is not the culture I grew up in, it is the culture I have chosen. That is why I feel entitled to defend and protect this culture. Even more than someone who just happens to have been born here, I am aware of the advantages of the Netherlands and the West. And there is nothing to stop me from going back if I did not like it here.

No civilization in the history of mankind has brought so many good things to so many people at the same time, as the modern, Western, capitalist society. Other civilizations were and are good to the small elite that holds all power. They took little notice of the rest of the population, least of all the weak, the infirm and the disabled.

The most frequent complaint about this era is the hurried pace. People supposedly don’t have time or room for fun things and for each other anymore.

People who complain about a lack of time often forget that the eight-hour working day is a fairly recent phenomenon. In the first half of the twentieth century it was quite normal to work six or seven days a week and ten or eleven hours per day. In the rest of the world civil servants are the only people who work short hours. In all other professions people work long days, that rarely have a maximum number of hours.

Never before have we had as much time at our disposal in the West as right now. And then we also have clean running water for all, heating that simply comes out of pipes, electricity everywhere, household appliances that save lots of time, and food you can buy almost-ready-to-eat. All things that save huge amounts of time.

Many people argue that ’materialism’ is a major drawback of current Western civilization. People supposedly only care about money and material things. That is nonsense. Nowhere in the world is more money given to culture, the arts and charities as in the West. Global organizations like Amnesty International, the Red Cross and environmental organizations all started in the West and are funded primarily by Western donors. Other rich countries such as the oil states give almost nothing to charities.

We often hear that ’materialism’ is less prevalent in other parts of the world. The opposite is true. Money is hugely important elsewhere also. Weddings, funerals, and other events that may reflect people’s social status cost a fortune there. People want to show others they have money, even if they don’t.

In addition the rich people in other parts of the world are much more arrogant. A wealthy man who does the household himself, gets his own groceries, tends to his garden or drives his own car is unheard of in third world countries.

I think the only difference between the West and the rest is the fact that many people have the opportunity to earn a lot of money. In countries like India, Russia, China, or Egypt this is the privilege of a small elite. In that respect the majority of the world’s population would trade places with the West in a second.

The quality of life of women in the West is another major advantage. Thanks to the feminism of previous generations – in spite of excesses such as the open hostility towards the male – women here have rights and freedoms that women in other cultures can only dream of. Every time I go on holiday to Egypt this is brought home to me again.

So why do we complain so much about the modern time and modern civilization?

Complainers are cultural pessimists. I would like to distinguish two groups.

One category is unhappy about the West for ideological reasons. What they want is to see the realization of heaven on earth, if possible before they die. Their utopia cannot endure or tolerate violence, poverty, or unfairness. They have often distanced themselves from believing in a heaven after death, but they do want to see this same heaven here on earth.

They forget that all contrasts go together. On earth they coexist: wealth and poverty, love and hate, humanism and barbaric behaviour. Striving for improvement is a good thing, and we must continue to do that. But letting your own life go sour because you aim for the impossible is a waste.

A second category of complainers are the socialists, communists, anti-globalists, and environmental activists. They would have us believe that the ideal life can be realized by choosing a different political system or making different political choices. They believe in a government that takes care of and controls everything; that is the only way to make total equality between people possible.

I too believe this once. Fortunately I don’t any longer.

As far as I am concerned it is a good thing to remain critical, in order to improve things insofar as that is possible. But complaining and striving for the impossible – while we already have so much, are capable of so much and we have so much freedom – verges on ungratefulness.

Our job is to be happy in this world. We have opportunities and possibilities that so many people can’t even imagine. If we let discontent turn our lives sour in spite of all that, how will that make those other people feel?

Well GO GIRL!!! Read the rest by clicking on the title

Dr. Sami Alrabaa: a Muslim voice of reason

Wilders Prosecution is a Welcome Opportunity to Expose Islam

Dr. Sami Alrabaa

Prosecuting Geert Wilders, member of the Dutch Parliament, is a welcome opportunity to expose fascist Islam and radical Muslims. Wilders and his lawyers do not need to go far away to fetch crystal clear evidence that Islam, i.e. the Koran and Hadeeth, incite to violence and hatred, and radical Muslims are behind numerous crimes against humanity.

Ali Gom’a, the grand mufti of Egypt, the highest Muslim religious authority in the world, supports murdering non-Muslims. In the daily Al Ahram (April 7, 2008), he says, “Muslims must kill non-believers wherever they are unless they convert to Islam.” He also compares non-Muslims to apes and pigs, not only the Jews.

Muhammad Sayyid Al Tantawi, president of Al Azhar University also approves of killing and maiming Christians, Jews, and other infidels. He added, “This is not my personal view. This what the Shari’a Law says, the law of Allah, the only valid law on the earth.”

Yousef Al Qaradhawi, the spiritual leader of the fundamentalist organization, the Muslim Brothers, urged on Al Jazeera TV (Jan. 9, 2009) Muslims to kill the Jews, not only in Israel but also worldwide. He added, “No peace can be made between us (Muslims) and the non-believers. This what our holy book says. This what Allah says.”

Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin Abdullah Bin Mohammed al Sheikh said on Iqra’ TV channel, “Killing producers who show women unveiled is legal.”

The Saudi Sheikh Saleh Al-Lehadan, head of the Supreme Judiciary Council, told Al Watan daily, (March 25, 2008) “After getting rid of the Jews in our Arab land, we must turn to the Christians. They have three options: either they convert to Islam, or leave, or pay Jizia (protection taxes). Further, there is not such a thing as Shiites, Sufis, etc. There are only Sunnis. All these sects must renounce their pagan beliefs and return to Sunna, the right path of Islam.”

Most recently, demonstrators in Berlin and Munich, and elsewhere in Germany, raised banners reading, “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas.” The police did not arrest any one of them and nobody filed a court case against them for inciting to murder, which according to German law is punishable.

German apologists like Claudia Roth and Cem Ozdemir (a Muslim of a Turkish decent), chairpersons of the German Green Party, said in a press conference in Berlin (January 20, 2009), “Wilders’ film “Fitna” has contributed to worsening our relations with the Muslims around the globe. Geert Wilders is hurting the feelings of Muslims.”

I said in the conference, “This is not true. I know many Muslims who approve of Wilders’ critique of Islam. They do not feel offended. Only fascist Muslims feel so.” Roth and Ozdemir ignored my remark.

The truth of the matter is Fitna is simply reflecting how radical Muslims think and act, inspired and encouraged by the Koran.

Wilders’ comparison of the Koran to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and describing it as a fascist book is not inappropriate. Hitler referred to the Jews as “rats and vermin” and the Koran and fascist Muslims call the Jews “The descendants of apes and pigs.”

…Ahmed Marcouch, a prominent member of the Dutch Labor Party, of Moroccan descent, …told ARD, German TV (December 19, 2008), “Not only many Westerners approve of Fitna, but also many decent Muslims like me, but they dare not say that openly. Fascist Islam is a virus that is not only infecting Western societies, but also Muslim societies. This virus must be exposed and dealt with by all means.”

Wilders is simply warning the West and moderate Muslims that fascist Islam is a devastating threat to humanity. This virus was born in the Arabian Peninsula and is spreading across the world.

Wilders’ prosecution is a defining point in the clash between fascist Muslims and the rest of the world. Regardless whether he is convicted or not, he must be thanked for his courage. He is simply disseminating the truth about a violent and hate-inciting “religion.” His message is very clear: “Westerners, wake up before it is too late.”

Zaghlul Al Najjar rejoices in the rise and spread of Islam across the globe. He writes in the Egyptian daily Al Ahram (November 14, 2008), “Islam now is everywhere. Gorgeous mosques are build everywhere in the heart of Europe, in Rome and Cologne. The number of Muslims all over the world is also rising. More than 20 million Muslims live now in Europe. Alone in Germany there are 3.5. Demographers estimate that the majority of citizens in Germany will be Muslims in the year 2050. Two decades ago very few women wore the Hijab (headscarf). Now you can see them everywhere. Sooner or later, Islam will be in control of the whole world. This time, we don’t need to fight the infidel West with our troops as we did at the gates of Vienna. This time we’ll infiltrate the West and convert it to Islam, willy-nilly.”

Ramadan said, “My brothers and sisters, we must exploit the so-called democracy and freedom of speech here in the West to reach our goals. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and the Koran teach us that we must use every conceivable means and opportunity to defeat the enemies of Allah. Tell the infidels in public, we respect your laws and your constitutions, which we Muslims believe that these are as worthless as the paper they are written on. The only law we must respect and apply is the Shari’s.”

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