This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of April, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.
Date of publication: 4 April 2020
Media outlet: Compact, German right-wing magazine
Author: Kristin von Appen
Headline: “Ban on public assembly? Not for Muslims: 300 prayed in front of the Berlin mosque!”
Description of the anti-Muslim content: The case covered in this article concerns a mosque in Berlin, in front of which 300 people congregated at the start of this month for prayer. The imam, the police, and members of the regulatory agency [Ordnungsamt] were unable to fully ensure that everyone kept a safe distance from each other. In the end, the prayer was aborted prematurely by the police in accordance with the imam. The usual fines for gathering outside were not issued by the police because the police lacked the required personnel at the time. The reason people had gathered was due to an ambiguous call to prayer by the mosque that left it unclear whether people should show up in person or not. However, on the morning of the day of the prayer, the mosque issued a warning on its Facebook page that explicitly stated that no one should show up in person. A day later, the mosque informed their Facebook followers that the prayer campaign would have to be stopped since people were still gathering in front of the mosque instead of staying home. The author writes sarcastically: “The police said last night on Twitter: "The prayer was ended prematurely in agreement with the Imam." How accommodating of the prayer leader to agree with the instructions of the law enforcement officers, given that only the word of Allah and Mohammed's law, set out in the Sharia, are important for the followers of the only true religion.” The piece ends with the following claims: “While Christians are banned from celebrating their highest festival - Easter - for the first time in its 2000-year-old history, it is likely that the Muslim equivalent, Ramadan, will be held. After all, just in time for the breaking of the fast every night and the subsequent gluttony in a large community after sunset, which begins on April 24 and ends on May 23, the Coronavirus is suspended thanks to government decisions. The restrictions will be lifted (for now).” According to social media analysis tool Crowdtangle, the article amassed a total of 28,256 interactions on Facebook. Furthermore, this case was covered in a sensationalist manner by several other far-right outlets.
Myth debunked: This article frames the incident as unfair favouritism towards Muslims who the author paints as getting special treatment, while Christians (used in this piece to refer to all Germans), are suffering under COVID-19 social distancing policies. The 300 Muslims who congregated at the mosque are portrayed as rebellious, the imam as insolent, and the police are supposedly submitting to the imam. These are a lot of claims to make in relation to one incident, without much evidence. Yes, it is true that 300 Muslims went to the mosque in Berlin and attempted to pray in front of it. This was because of an unclear message sent by the mosque, which both before and after the incident clarified that people should not physically attend prayer at the mosque during the coronavirus pandemic. The police stated that fines were not issued due to a lack of personnel to deal with the 300 people there. This was an unfortunate case of miscommunication that should not have happened; however, it in no way ‘proves’ that Muslims in Germany get special treatment, or that they are purposely defying German law.
The article clearly employs “othering” of Muslims throughout, painting them as not belonging in Germany and as being under no obligation to follow German laws. The article claims that Easter this year was ‘cancelled’ due to the pandemic, but that Ramadan is allowed to continue. This is not the case. Firstly, neither of these religious festivals were cancelled. Rather, usual practices such as going to church or the mosque have been banned because of social distancing regulations. People celebrated these religious festivals in different ways, such as joining an online mass. Ramadan is no different from Easter in this sense: people are still celebrating, but in ways which are in line with coronavirus measures. There have been unfortunate cases where people have defied measures and still congregated around these religious holidays; however, these are the exception, not the rule, and using them to funnel people’s frustrations with the pandemic policies against Muslims is as harmful as it is unhelpful.
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