Ethics-religion debate: Berlin referendum fails at the polls

Berliners voted Sunday on whether students can take religion instead of compulsory ethics classes. In the end, the referendum failed to attract either enough voters or a majority of those who did vote. Now the proposal’s backers are saying Berlin’s mayor hasn’t been playing fair. It was a referendum that dominated discussion in Berlin for weeks: Should school students have a choice between ethics and religion classes, or should ethics continue to be compulsory and religion an optional extra course?

But after the streets had been plastered with posters and the radio waves full of ads, after all the workshops, discussion panels and street-level campaigning, after all the special newspaper sections and all the lining-up of supporters drawn from the world of politics, sports and television, in the end, not enough people showed up at the polls to push the referendum through. “I’d been hoping for a different result,” said Christoph Lehmann, the lawyer who led the “Pro Reli” campaign, which was backed by the Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ruling center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the churches. Archbishop Robert Zollitch, the head of the Catholic German Bishops Conference, viewed it as a “painful outcome.”

If passed, the proposal would have allowed students to choose between ethics and religion courses, which would have seen Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism taught separately. In the end, only 14.2 percent of all eligible voters in Berlin cast their ballots on Sunday in support of the “Pro Reli” proposal, which was well short of the 25 percent — or 611,422 votes — needed to effect the change. A total of 713,228 (29.2 percent) of Berlin’s 2.45 million eligible voters cast their ballot, 51.3 percent of which opposed and 48.5 percent of which supported the proposal. Berlin has a long secular tradition, and 60 percent of Berliners are not members of any church. In 2006, ethics classes became a compulsory subject for Berlin students between grade 7 and grade 10, with religion being an optional extra class, after the “honor killing” of a Turkish woman murdered by her brother. The proposal was opposed by Berlin’s ruling left-wing parties, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Left Party. The city-state’s government argues that all students, regardless of their cultural or ethnic background, should learn a common set of values. Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit pronounced himself pleased with the results of the referendum, telling Reuters: “This shows that those in ‘Pro Reli’ who were portraying this as a ‘freedom’ issue — as if the Russians were about to invade — are out of touch with the real situation in Berlin.”

Barack Obama Now Holds Historic Lead Among Arab American Voters, Shift Toward Democratic Party Continues

WASHINGTON – October 28, 2008 – Democratic candidate Barack Obama’s substantial lead among Arab American voters has almost doubled since September. This was one of the findings of a poll of Arab American voters conducted by Zogby International for the Arab American Institute.
The poll also found that Obama’s lead over McCain only dropped by 1% when independent candidate Ralph Nader and Libertarian Bob Barr were included in the survey questions.

Other key findings of the AAI/Zogby International study were:

  • While almost two-thirds of Arab Americans are impacted by the recent economic crisis, it is no surprise that the most important issue for Arab American voters is the economy, followed distantly by Iraq and health care.
  • Approval ratings given to the Bush Administration’s performance continue to fall to 11% from 19% in September.
  • The shift in party identification continues. The Democrat/Republican break in 2000 was 40/38. Now it is 54/27.
  • Obama leads McCain by a three-to-one margin in both the two-way and four-way match-ups. In the four-way horserace, it’s Obama 64/23; in the four-way, it’s Obama 62/22, with Nader at 6 percent. Projections are now for Election Day results with Obama at 68 percent, McCain at 24 percent, and Nader at seven.
  • Dr. James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute, said that “A combination of factors point not only to a huge Obama victory among Arab American voters-but a dramatic surge in the percentage of Arab Americans identifying as democrats.” Noting that Arab Americans in Michigan represent about 5% of that state’s electorate, while in Virginia and Ohio they comprise almost 2% of the vote, he continued “this can have an impact not only in the presidential election but in down ticket contests as well.”

    In 2000, the overall Arab American vote was 44% Bush, 38% Gore, 13% Nader. In 2004, it was 63% Kerry, 28% Bush with 8% for Nader.

    Zogby press release available here.

    Full report available here.

    Dutch Christian Democrats welcome Muslim texts

    A new book of spiritual meditations was unveiled by the Dutch Christian Democratic Party, and includes meditations from both Christian and Islamic materials. The book, called “Reflections for political meanings” will be distributed among the CDA regional branches. According to CDA spokesperson Jo-Annes de Bat, the Muslim meditations were included to take into account non-Christian CDA members. “It is a common CDA tradition to open meetings with a meditation. But we noticed that branches sometimes found it difficult to find an appropriate text (as not all CDA members are Christian). That is why we put together the collection,” said de Bat.

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    Dutch Christian Democrats welcome Muslim texts

    A new book of spiritual meditations was unveiled by the Dutch Christian Democratic Party, and includes meditations from both Christian and Islamic materials. The book, called Reflections for political meanings will be distributed among the CDA regional branches. According to CDA spokesperson Jo-Annes de Bat, the Muslim meditations were included to take into account non-Christian CDA members. It is a common CDA tradition to open meetings with a meditation. But we noticed that branches sometimes found it difficult to find an appropriate text (as not all CDA members are Christian). That is why we put together the collection, said de Bat.

    Despite Objections to Size, Cologne Approves Mosque

    Cologne’s city council has approved building plans for what is slated to be Germany’s largest mosque. Politicians hope the structure’s glass design and bilingual program will help integrate the Islamic community. Cologne’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), the Greens, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and the Left Party all voted for the construction of the mosque, which will include two minarets that stretch 55 meters (180 feet) into the sky, the Associated Press reported. Mayor Fritz Schramma was the only Christian Democratic Union (CDU) member to approve the plans. The rest of his party has criticized the mosque’s design as being “too imposing.” Builders from the Governing Body of the Turkish-Islamic Union (DiTiB) will construct the structure with a 37-meter high dome in the city district of Ehrenfeld.

    Democratic Party out of touch, says former MP

    Former MP Khaled Fouad Allam is expressing his dissatisfaction with Italy’s recent parliamentary elections, citing the loss of representation by Italy’s centre-left Democratic party due to a philosophical breakdown within the party. Allam accused the centre-left of “eulogizing (US Democratic presidential hopeful) Barack Obama and calling his candidacy epoch-making, while failing to field a single new Italian citizen as a candidate on its lists.” Commenting on Berlusconi’s win and the gains of the Northern League, Allam expressed concern that little progress would be made from this election, except that: “Italy will maintain and seek to strengthen its relations with the Arab world – its dependence on it for oil and gas make any change of direction inadvisable.” Allam is a member of Consulta Islamica, a government appointed body to represent various Muslim communities in Italy.http://www.adnkronos.com/AKI/English/Politics/?id=1.0.2086449437

    Fewer than expected immigrants make it to electoral lists

    Fewer than expected immigrants have made it onto the electoral lists for political parties in the Italian parliament and senate; there are a total of three foreign-born candidates for the parliament and senate. Among them include Souad Sbai, the head of Italy’s Association of Moroccan women, who has been recruited by former prime minister Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom Party, and Khalil Ali running as a senator for the northern Piedmont region from the left wing Rainbow alliance. Several candidates of foreign origin are up for election in Rome’s municipal elections during the same weekend of April 13-14th. The best known of these include Egyptian born Fouad Bishay, on the Democratic Party’s list. About 400,000 foreigners who are residents in Rome are eligible to vote in the municipal elections.

    Anti-Islamic Party Is Playing With Fear

    Right-wing radicals in Cologne are gaining traction with Germany’s first anti-Islamic party. The German domestic intelligence agency is alarmed — but so are traditional neo-Nazis, whomay have to shift their tactics to compete. The so-called “Pro Cologne” pary has been watched with suspicion by the domestic intelligence agency — the Verfassungsschutz or Office for the Protection of the Constitution — for several months. They are gathering support in the otherwise liberal-minded and open city of Cologne to protest an enormous mosque slated for construction in the district of Ehrenfeld. Around 300 members of Pro Cologne have collected more than 20,000 signatures, and a few unsavory characters on the German far right hope to use their success as a way to win seats in state parliaments.With a new political party called “Pro NRW” (Pro North-Rhine Westphalia), stemming from the Pro Cologne movement, two leaders named Markus Beisicht and Manfred Rouhs want to win enough votes to enter the state parliament in 2010. About a dozen Pro Cologne spinoffs are already preparing local campaigns across the state — in Gelsenkirchen, Duisburg, D_sseldorf, Essen and Bottrop, among other places. Where no new mosques are being planned, Beisicht says, the party will just fight smaller existing mosques. The Rhinelanders also have their eyes on Berlin: Party functionaries sent mailouts last October to addresses in the capital to protest a planned mosque in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg. They’ve even established a citizens’ movement with an even more awkward name: “Pro Deutschland.” Officials at the Office for the Protection of the Constitution think it’s possible that Beisicht and his friends will gain resonance with voters and even overtake the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD) in western states. The NPD — which tends to line up with Israel-hating Muslim groups — has tried to block the new competition by mounting similar anti-mosque efforts. They’ve organized a group in M_nster called “Citizens’ Movement Pro M_nster” to hinder the Cologne party’s march to state power. Andrea Brandt and Guido Kleinhubbert report.

    Readings Across The Mediterranean: To Veil Or Not To Veil… That Is Not The Question!

    By Waleed Arafa The ban on hijab has stirred a great deal of discussion that has gone far deeper than simply the issue of hijab. “Islamic Identity in European Communities: Abdications and Integration. A Reading in the Current French Scene” was the title of a two-day conference held at the Faculty of Economics and Political Sciences, Cairo University, as part of the Program for Dialogue of Civilizations. On February 18 and 19, 2004, intellectuals and specialists discussed the issues involved in depth, leaving their audience with a variety of perceptive opinions and questions to contemplate. Discussing “Place” &”Time” The furor over hijab became the mandatory gateway to most of the issues. Dr.Mona Abu al-Fadl began by mentioning the date of the first incident over hijab in France; the year was 1989. She attempted to link it to the global winds of change that were taking place during the period 1989 – 1992. Before then, Muslims had been present in France for years and years without a single problem concerning hijab. Later Dr. Amr Al-Shobaky discussed “Place”. France! Why France in particular and not Britain for instance? The answer, in his opinion, is based on the uniqueness of the French secular model versus other models, especially the Anglo-Saxon model. A third speaker, Dr. Salah Jaa’frawy, argued that secularism should not be used as a comprehensive excuse for such practices, because other European countries have certain tilts towards certain religious groups. The Christian Democratic Party, currently ruling in Germany , where Dr. Salah lives, is an example. He mentioned that there is a race amongst German states to formulate laws banning hijab. Dr. Pakinam Al-Sharqawy confirmed that some people in the West simply like to attribute the problems of Muslims to Islam, and then link the problems of Islam to the problems of Muslim women, finally they reduce all the above to a secondary issue like hijab. She firmly stated, “They are escaping the bigger questions because eventually they will find themselves equally as guilty of Muslims’ problems, and that is a responsibility they do not want to take.”