Having lived through the atrocities of the Nazi era, Germany is very sensitive to issues of tolerance. Perhaps that is why it has put more effort into integrating its four million Muslims, or 5% of the population, into society than many European countries. For instance, German public schools now teach Islam along with other religions. A recent study found that many German Muslims are more German than expected, doing quintessentially German things such as joining soccer clubs or senior citizens’ groups. For many non-Muslim Germans, as talk show host Michel Friedmann remarked, “most of those five percent are honest, bourgeois, boring and sweet — just like their German Christian neighbors.”
A great example of Germany’s effort to promote dialogue with the Muslims is Qantara.de, an Internet portal designed “to discuss controversial issues openly and to highlight common ground between cultures.” Qantara means “bridge” in Arabic. Published in Arabic, English, German, Turkish, and Indonesian, the portal is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and is jointly run by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public broadcasting service, the Goethe Institute, the Federal Agency for Civic Education, and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations.
What I like most about the portal is the depth of its content and the diversity of the voices presented. My favorite section is “dialogue” which contains letter exchanges between experts from different cultural and religious backgrounds, covering such heavy-weight issues as Sharia law, human rights, and globalization. The writers don’t always agree, but they argue in a sincere, thoughtful, and open-minded way.
Reading the argument on the role of Sharia law between Emran Qureshi and Heba Raouf Ezzat is like watching a ping-pong game. I can’t decide who’s winning because both give convincing yet opposite argument from their perspectives. This made me realize how simplistic and shallow mainstream media coverage of the topic is.
Another exchange is between two women, a non-Muslim journalist in Germany and a Muslim professor of philosophy in Pakistan. The professor wrote candidly about the responsibility the country’s educated elite, herself included, needs to bear for the plight of millions of poor and illiterate masses. “The educated elite is divorced from the realities and lives in isolated but protected islands. They do not feel responsible for the so-called ‘others’ for they cannot relate to them nor communicate with them. Society becomes truncated even schizophrenic.” Such a non-defensive remark is refreshing and admirable. For me, this represents the voice of those Muslims who think independently and act responsibly, whose faith is strong but not dogmatic. There are millions of them in the world but their voice is often not heard in the mainstream media.
What’s your favorite section of Qantara.de? What lessons can American media draw from Qantara.de? We welcome your comments.