Kate Connolly in Berlin*
A row has broken out among organisations representing Muslims in Germany over a peace march to protest against terrorism due to take place at the weekend.
Nicht Mit Uns – or Not With Us – has been organised by Muslim activists in Cologne to make a stand against acts of terror and violence carried out in the name of Islam.
But a the country’s biggest Islamic organisation has said it would not take part in the demonstration which it said amounted to an “assignment of guilt” which was in danger of splitting German society.
The organisers of the protest have called Saturday’s event a ‘Ramadan March of Peace’, which they say thousands are expected to attend.
They say they have specifically chosen Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, because of the large number of attacks that have been carried out across the world by Islamist terrorists during this period.
Listing a string of attacks from Paris and Brussels to Kabul, Baghdad and Istanbul, organisers Lamya Kaddor, an Islamic scholar and Tarek Mohamad, a Muslim peace activist, have called on demonstrators to “send a powerful signal against violence and terror”.
“In a perverse manner, terrorists have repeatedly chosen this time in particular to carry out an especially large number of their atrocious deeds,” they said.
But DITIB, Germany’s biggest umbrella organisation for Muslims, has called on its members to stay at home, warning that the march will only lead to their further stigmatisation.
“Demands for ‘Muslim’ anti-terrorism demonstrations fall short,” a spokesman said. “They stigmatise Muslims and give the impression that international terrorism leads back to their communities and mosques.”
The statement went on to say that Muslims had “already, innumerable times, distanced themselves from acts of violent in the form of common public statements, public prayer gatherings” and other initiatives.
It also criticised the organisers for scheduling the demonstration on the 22nd day of Ramadan, when those observing the religious act are forbidden from drinking and eating between 3.47am and 9.55pm.
“Fasting Muslims cannot be expected to demonstrate for hours in the midday sun,” DITIB said.
Saturday’s demonstration is taking place in the city where tensions between Muslim immigrants and non-Muslims rose considerably after mass sex attacks carried out during 2015/16 New Year celebrations which saw hundreds of women reporting incidents of molestation and rape by men who police identified as being of “Arab and North African origin”.
Critics of chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door policy towards refugees in the summer and autumn of 2015 have blamed the government for terror attacks such as on targeting a Christmas market in Berlin last December in which 12 people were killed.
Meanwhile Muslim leaders have repeatedly faced claims they have failed to adequately address the incidents.
Nicht Mit Uns has the broad support of Germany’s political mainstream and Muslim interest groups, including the Central Council of Muslims, as well as Christian groups. Representatives of politicians from the ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats, as well as from most opposition parties, along with writers, actors and television personalities are due to take part.
Kaddor, a book author and chair of the Liberal-Islamic Association who arrived in Germany from Syria with her parents in 1978, said the timing of the protest was deliberate after weeks of extreme violence that had taken place across the world.
“Manchester was the last straw,” she told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper, referring to the Manchester Arena bomb attack in which 23 were killed and many more were injured.
She added: “We Muslims want to come together and form a broad coalition against everyone who uses violence, particularly when they speak in our name.”
DITIB said it would be holding its own initiatives of “prayers for peace and against terrorism” in its mosques this weekend.