March 27, 2010
March 27, 2010
What could be more European than a castle? The Continent is dotted with them, often menacingly perched on forested hilltops overlooking rivers or ancient trading routes — important bastions necessary for the defense of what developed into Europe’s long and rich cultural tradition.
This Saturday, politicians representing right-wing conservative parties from across Europe will descend on the Horst Palace to discuss the dangers of Islam. Delegates from the Belgian nationalists Vlaams Belang will be there as will politicians from Geert Wilders’s Dutch Party for Freedom, Pia Kjaersgaard’s Danish People’s Party and the Front National of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Others from Sweden, Austria and Eastern Europe are also on the invite list.
‘Symbols of Radical Islam’
The hosts are a relatively new group of German right-wing conservatives called Pro-NRW (an abbreviation of the German state North Rhine-Westphalia) and the goal of the conference is clear: to follow in Switzerland’s footsteps and ban minarets across Europe. And they want to use a provision of the European Union’s new Lisbon Treaty to do it.
“I don’t think that minarets are part of our heritage,” conference attendee Filip Dewinter, floor leader for Vlaams Belang in the Flemish parliament, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. “They are symbols of radical Islam. The question is whether Islam is a religion like Protestantism and Catholicism and for me it is not. It is a political system, it is a way of life and it is one that is not compatible with ours.”
Pro-NRW and the other right-wing parties were galvanized when Swiss voters last November passed a ban on the construction of new minarets in the country. Since then, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), which launched the referendum, have become the darlings of the European right. Indeed, the SVP has loaned their controversial campaign poster, which depicts missile-like minarets jutting out of a Swiss flag behind an ominous, niqab-wearing Muslim woman, to Pro-NRW for its campaign in Germany. And anti-minaret movements on the Swiss model have sprung up around Europe.
Dewinter has recently taken a closer look at whether a provision in the new Lisbon Treaty allowing for citizens’ initiatives could be used to push through a Europe-wide ban on the construction of minarets. On Saturday, delegates at the Anti-Minaret Conference will discuss whether to begin collecting the 1 million signatures such a path would require.
These days, of course, European castles tend to be little more than bucolic tourist attractions. But it is perhaps no accident that a small palace in western Germany’s former industrial heart has been chosen to host a convention ostensibly aimed at defending European culture. The castle in question is the centuries-old Horst Palace, a Renaissance structure in the Ruhr Valley city of Gelsenkirchen. The gathering is called, pointedly, the Anti-Minaret Conference.