In what is becoming a familiar storyline for cultural heritage conflicts in the New Europe, lines are being drawn between what is considered “authentic” heritage and what considered an unsightly intrusion being brought into the country by THEM.
As noted in a Feb. 11 story by David Charter in the London Times Online:
“An unassuming former cinema opposite a giant steelworks on the banks of the Saar river is at the centre of a stand-off over plans for a minaret to mark its new role as a mosque. The row highlights concerns about the spread of Islam in Germany’s traditionally conservative rust belt.
“In a confrontation reminiscent of the debate in Switzerland, which led to a national referendum verdict banning new minarets, the 40,000-strong town of Völklingen has become divided over plans by the Selimiye mosque for three domes and an 8m (26ft) spire.
“It would be the first minaret in Saarland, which has fallen on hard times since the heyday of steel production in the 1960s and 1970s, leaving many of the Turks who arrived to work in the smelters unemployed…
“We are being quietly infiltrated by the Turks,” said one resident at a meeting called last month, according to Die Tageszeitung. The audience of 250 was asked to fill in forms, with one stating: “Minarets have nothing to do with Germany.”
(The recent, bitter debate about the construction of a minaret in the German town of Völklingen has the added fillip of its also being a UNESCO World Heritage Site that, in fact, commemorates the technology of steel production but, more subtly and silently, symbolizes the death of the town’s main industry by turning it into a heritage attraction.)
The Times story continues:
“The mosque is in Wehrden, the district that was home to many steelworkers when the plant employed 17,000 men. The six furnaces across the river from the mosque fell silent in 1986 and are now a Unesco World Heritage site, with a sign that says: “The Völklinger Hütte, one of the most exciting places in the world. Today it is equal to the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt, the Great Wall of China and the Acropolis at Athens.”
Adnan Atakli, the head of the town’s Turkish community association, said: “This is our democratic right, to have our places of worship just like there are churches. Churches have a tower. I live here, we have a mosque and a mosque should have a minaret.” He said that it would be decorative only.
“The Saarbrücker Zeitung, the local newspaper, carried an article calling for it not to be built: “It symbolises Islam’s quest for power and is nothing less than a provocation.”
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When will cultural heritage stop obsessing only about the past and about purity and become a creative element in evolving community identity?