German conference on the Islamic veil arouses controversy | Germany | In-depth news and reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW

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Islamic veils and scarves remain the subject of heated public debate in Germany. Some see them as an integral part of religious freedom; others as a symbol of the oppression of women in Islam. The German court system has previously considered whether teachers should be banned from wearing a partial headscarf or full veil – or any other overtly religious symbol – in class. To complicate matters further, the 16 German states do not all agree on the issue, which is gaining in visibility due to the demographic evolution of the country.

Germany’s Muslim population, which has grown rapidly in recent years due to immigration from predominantly Muslim countries, was estimated to be between 4.4 and 4.7 million people, or around 5.5% of the population. total population of the country in 2015, according to the Federal Statistical Office. The number is arguably higher now, according to the agency, but there are no updated official figures.

These demographic changes are accompanied by societal debates, one of which, that of the Islamic veil, has been an ongoing source of discussion. The latest headscarf controversy, which made headlines across Germany, occurred at a scheduled university conference – something even its organizer never expected.

Read more: German government aims to expand Islam conference with critical voices

Academic accused of peddling “anti-Muslim sentiments”

Professor Susanne Schröter, who has been researching Islam in Europe at the University of Frankfurt since 2008, has planned a lecture entitled “The Islamic Veil – Symbol of Dignity or Oppression?” for May 8. A small group of students criticized the conference, accusing it of wanting to spread Islamophobic sentiments and calling for its resignation.

Zuher Jazmati, member of the initiative “Uni gegen antimuslimischen Rassismus” (“University against anti-Muslim racism”) told DW: “We do not believe that a value judgment should be made on whether someone is wearing the veil or not. judgment is boring and a burden on any woman who carries one. ”Jazmati believes such discussions even encourage violence against Muslim women.

He also opposes several of the guest speakers. Jazmati disputes the presence of German journalist Alice Schwarzer, who publishes Emma, a feminist magazine. He also opposes criticism of Islam Necla Kelek, whom he accuses of having made very controversial statements in the past and of perpetuating racist discourse. “When we discuss this topic, we should do it with the women present who wear a veil so that they can speak for themselves,” Jazmati emphasizes.

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An exhibition at the exhibition “Contemporary Muslim Modes” at the Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt

“Just an ordinary lecture”

Schröter is adamant that the event will go as planned. She told the dpa news agency: “I assumed it would be just a regular conference that would not be controversial. After all, we have been discussing the Islamic veil for almost 20 years now. . ” While she said the Islamic veil had indeed become a hotly debated topic, she pointed out that the conference was planned simply to contextualize the controversial “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt. The professor noted that supporters of the veil, such as theologian and Quranic expert Dina El-Omari, who herself wears the veil, were also invited to the conference.

Professor Susanne Schröter at the University of Frankfurt

Professor Schröter: Universities should exchange a diversity of opinions

Yet Schröter is known for her critical view of Islamic veils. In August of last year, while attending a conference by the non-profit women’s rights organization Terre des Femmes, she reportedly said the coverage impedes women’s freedom and is often “tied to a whole set of restrictions ”.

At the beginning of April of this year, she published an article in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung titled “What Does God Have Against Showing Hair? Those who favor Islamic fashion should be aware of its repressive nature.”

Freedom of expression threatened?

Meanwhile, the German Association of University Teachers and Lecturers (DHV) has warned that freedom of speech is under threat at German universities. “Dissenting opinions must be respected and tolerated,” insisted DHV chairman Bernhard Kempen. Differences of opinion must be resolved through debate and not through boycott, denigration, mobbing or violence, he stressed.

Birgitta Wolff, president of the University of Frankfurt, supported Schröter, stressing that it is part of her job as a professor to organize academic conferences at which divergent opinions are expressed.

Read more: German schools need more education on Islam, study finds

German billboard with a woman wearing a headscarf

German advertising has increasingly been geared towards the Muslim market segment, as this gummy candy ad shows

Schröter says universities should focus on freedom of speech and a plurality of opinions: “Universities are a place of discussion, not a place where small pressure groups decide what can and cannot be said . In an interview with the German daily Die welt, Schröter said critics tried to “intimidate” and “defame” him and attacked the principle of free speech, adding that they accused him of “anti-Muslim racism” because ‘they rejected any criticism of Islam.

At present, it seems unlikely that an amicable solution to the conference dispute will be found. Jazmati says the list of guest speakers means neither he nor other members of his organization will be attending the event, although he says he will look at the conference clips released afterwards to see if things are right. that his organization expected have happened. So far, there has been no direct communication between Schröter and the group represented by Jazmati.

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