Breaking the Rushdie Taboo German Writer Wants to Read 'Satanic Verses' in Cologne Mosque

German writer Günter Wallraff wants to stir things up in his hometown of Cologne. He is proposing reading the 'Satanic Verses' in a controversial new mosque. The religious foundation building the mosque says it'll think about it.


Salman Rushdie poses with his 1988 book "The Satanic Verses." German writer Günter Wallraff wants to read from the book in a Cologne mosque.
REUTERS

Salman Rushdie poses with his 1988 book "The Satanic Verses." German writer Günter Wallraff wants to read from the book in a Cologne mosque.

Günter Wallraff doesn't think of himself as a provocateur, he justs wants to get a dialogue going and to put the integration of Muslims in German society to the test. His method is somewhat radical. The well known German writer has said he wants to read aloud from "The Satanic Verses" in a Cologne mosque.

Wallraff denies that his proposal to read from a book regarded by many Muslims as blasphemous is a provocation. Rather, he says, he just wanted the Rushdie book to finally be discussed within the Muslim community.

The mosque in Cologne is being built by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and Wallraff says he wants to take the organization at its word when it says the new mosque is to be a place for transparency and dialogue. Some local residents have opposed plans to build the mosque, including the atheist novelist of Jewish heritage Ralph Giordano, who has said Muslims should learn secular values and integrate into Germany.

The Muslim community is reacting with patience to the writer's unorthodox suggestion. DITIB's cultural officer Bekir Alboga told the DPA news agency that the offer had not been rejected outright, but that it was up to the DITIB board to respond. And Wallraff told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Alboga had contacted him and told him that his suggestion merited serious discussion.

Wallraff said he envisaged a "discussion event and not a classic reading." He wants the passages that have been criticized in the Rushdie book to play a central role in any reading and for them to be translated into Turkish. "That would be an important signal to the Islamic fundamentalists." The writer told DPA that he wasn’t scared and would demand police protection so that he could read "The Satanic Verses" out loud in the mosque.

Günter Wallraff wants to read the "Satanic Verses" in a mosque.
DPA

Günter Wallraff wants to read the "Satanic Verses" in a mosque.

The reaction to the prospect of a Rushdie reading in the middle of a mosque has been mixed.

Actress Sibel Kekilli, star of the hit German film "Head On," said: "It's fundamentally important to confront Muslims with freedom of speech. But I wonder if the person who reads the book aloud would not endanger his or her life as a result." Speaking to SPIEGEL ONLINE she said: "I would find it an interesting idea if the mosque were to take part in the event -- after all, both sides have to adapt if there is not going to be gratuitous provocation."

Ekin Deligöz, a member of the German parliament for the Green Party was cautious in his response to the Wallraff suggestion: "On the one hand I find it very brave, and if it really -- as Günter Wallraff says -- takes place as a joint event with the mosque, then it would be a good signal for a modern Islam which is capable of dialogue." He told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "But if on the other hand it is just a protest event that is only intended to provoke, then on balance little would come out of it."

Henryk M. Broder, a columnist with DER SPIEGEL, criticized Wallraff's idea as "actionism" saying: "The issue isn't about whether you can read 'The Satanic Verses' in a mosque or not. After all, it would never occur to anyone to serve non-kosher food in a synagogue or pork meat in a Catholic church on Good Friday."

The furore over "The Satanic Verses" has now been reignited by the decision last month to grant knighthood to Rushdie. Rushdie lived under police protection for several years after the late Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death because of his depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in the book. The Indian writer is a friend of Wallraff's and often stayed in the writer's Cologne apartment in the 1990s.

On Friday DITIB reiterated its condemnation of the death threats against Rushdie. The Turkish religious organization announced that "Islam is a peaceful and moderate religion … That under no circumstances condoned threats or the use of violence." But it added that Muslims expected a respectful approach when it came to their religious feelings.

smd/dpa

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