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Mosque ignites German hostility

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COLOGNE, Germany — The construction of one of Europe's biggest mosques near a globally famous Christian landmark has sparked a furious dispute in Germany.

Immigration and integration are extremely sensitive issues in Germany, which is home to a Turkish community of several million.

But almost within the shadow of Cologne Cathedral, political correctness was replaced by bitter confrontation, as the city's Muslims began building a 2,000-capacity mosque whose twin minarets will reach 170 feet.

"Muslims have been here for 40 years, yet people are praying in back rooms," said Seyda Can, an Islamic theologian at the Turkish Islamic Union in Cologne. "There are 120,000 Muslims in Cologne, that's 12 percent of the population. We should not hide."

Work will begin this fall on the $30 million mosque, which will include huge glass and stone cupolas and two six-story minarets.

Ms. Can, who speaks fluent German, is an eloquent advocate for the mosque, arguing that when completed in 2009, it will aid the integration of a population sometimes regarded as outsiders. "With this mosque, Muslims will no longer think of their old countries as their home, but of Germany," she said.

"Two hundred years ago, the first Protestant church was built in Cologne. It was a long process for Protestants to be accepted, but today, of course, they are. Why can't we be the same?"

However, others believe the mosque in the city's Ehrenfeld district, just two miles from the Gothic spires of Cologne Cathedral, will foster, rather than heal, divisions.

"It's not a popular plan," said Jorg Uckermann, the district's deputy mayor.

"We don't want to build a Turkish ghetto in Ehrenfeld. I know about 'Londonistan,' and I don't want that here," he added, referring to a phrase used to describe the rising trend of radical Islam in England.

Mr. Uckermann is part of a curious coalition of protesters that united Jewish intellectuals with hard-core nationalists.

Leading the charge is Ralph Giordano, a prominent Jewish author, who wrote recently that Germany is witnessing a "clash of two completely different cultures" and questioned whether they could ever be reconciled.

Stating that he had received death threats for his opinions, he added: "What kind of a state are we in that I can face a fatwa in Germany?"

For Mr. Uckermann, who belongs to the conservative CDU party of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Giordano's comments smashed a long-held taboo in Germany.

"Giordano broke down the wall," he said. "Before, if you criticized this monstrous mosque, you were a Nazi. But we have a problem with the integration of Muslims. It's a question of language and culture."

At the Islamic Union, every effort is made to address those fears. "We run German-language courses," said Ikbal Kilic, a spokesman. "And the design of the mosque features a lot of glass, so people can see in. We want to be open."

But within the exquisitely carved walls of Cologne Cathedral, those promises are not enough. "We live in a land of religious freedom," said Prelate Johannes Bastgen, the cathedral's dean. "But I would be very glad if the same principles existed in Muslim countries."

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