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18 Jun, 2017 04:37

‘Just the beginning’? Anti-terror Muslim peace march in Cologne attracts fewer people than expected

‘Just the beginning’? Anti-terror Muslim peace march in Cologne attracts fewer people than expected

A Muslim peace march against Islamist extremism and terrorism in Cologne organized by prominent Muslim public figures was attended by a much smaller number of participants than expected. The organizers, however, are planning new actions.

The march, held under the slogan, “Not with us,” took place in the center of the German city of Cologne on Saturday and started at 13:00 local time (12:00 GMT). It was organized by a group of prominent German Muslim public figures, including Lamya Kaddor, an Islamic scholar and author, and Tarek Mohamad, a Muslim peace activist.

The event was supported by a number of major German Muslim associations, including the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) and the German Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. However, the number of the rally participants turned out to be much smaller than expected.

The organizers initially said that some 10,000 were expected to join the march. Initial police reports suggested that from 200 to 300 people joined the procession when the march started. People continued to join the event, which lasted between three and four hours. The total number of participants eventually grew to around 1,000, the Rheinische Post daily reports.

Der Spiegel weekly reported that the organizers put the number of participants at between 3,000 and 3,500, adding that, according to police estimates, it could have reached 2,000.

The smaller number of rally participants did not escape attention of German politicians and media. “I find it regrettable that more journalists and police officers arrived today [in central Cologne] than demonstrators,” Michael Groschek, the head of the German Social Democratic Party office in the state of North Rhein Westphalia said, as cited by Focus magazine

Large police forces, including heavily equipped riot police, were indeed deployed to the city ahead of the march, German media report. However, the event was peaceful and no incidents were reported, police said.

According to the German media, the atmosphere during the march “was calm and peaceful.” The demonstrators marched through the central Cologne, holding placards and banners that read: “We say NO to right-wing extremism, racism, anti-Semitism, Salafism/Sharia police and Islamophobia,”“We want peace” and “Muslims want to live in peace with Christians” as well as “Muslims are not to blame” and “Hate turns Earth into hell.”

The demonstrators were chanting, “People of all countries, hand in hand, are against terrorism in any land!” The organizers called on German Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and politicians representing various political forces, to take part in the event.

Despite the lower number of participants, the rally organizers declared the march a success. Kaddor told the demonstrators she hopes that they managed to “make at least a small but visible signal demonstrating that Muslims are against violence and terror.”

Kaddor also said that the event in Cologne was “just the beginning” and announced that similar events under the slogan, “Not with us,” would be held in other German cities, including Berlin. She also called on the German Muslim community to unite and “self-organize.”

Muslims, “irrespective of whether they are liberal or conservative,” should stand against terrorism and those who spread it, Kaddor said, as cited by the Rheinische Post. “Muslim civil society should not let extremists speak [for them].”

She also criticized the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), one of the largest Muslim associations in Germany, which refused to support the rally. “It was a mistake not to participate in such a peace march,” she said, referring to DITIB’s decision.

On Friday, DITIB said that “calls for ‘Muslim’ anti-terror demos fall short [of their goal], stigmatize Muslims, and confine international terrorism to being just among them, and within their communities and mosques,” as it explained its decision to stay away from the rally.

Another major Cologne-based umbrella group, the Islamic Council (Islamrat), which includes the second-largest German Islamic organization, Millî Görüş, among its 37 member groups, also refused to participate in the rally.

German media speculated that it was the position of several influential Muslim organizations that could have led to the small number of participants at the rally. In the meantime, DITIB’s decision provoked criticism not only from the event organizers but also from the German top politicians.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said: “It would be much better to take part” in what he called “an important initiative that clearly shows that Muslims are against terror in the name of Islam” rather than “to stay away” from it.

He added that it was “regrettable” that “not all Muslim associations supported this initiative,” apparently referring to DITIB.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas went further and said that DITIB “isolated itself with it refusal [to participate in the rally] and should not be surprised by the fact that it provides the enemies of Islam with new proof-points [with its policy].”