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Muslim group prepares for elections

August 27, 2009

Under the motto "United, not Divided", the first Muslim voters association in Germany was formally launched in Bonn on June 30.

Turkish and German flags flying from a car window
Turks in Germany want political integrationImage: picture alliance/dpa

Two months later, 32 candidates from the so-called "Alliance for Peace and Fairness" are on the ballot for the former German capital's upcoming municipal elections.

At the center of their campaign is a contentious issue that the candidates themselves know well from their own experience: integration. And they believe they have something unique to offer if elected to public office.

"On this issue, I think we are very competent, because we have an immigrant background and we are more familiar with the problems of these people," says Asuman Bayraci, one of eight women candidates for the Muslim Alliance. "We know both cultures very well. We are German – most of us were born here or at least grew-up here. But, of course, we also know the culture of our parents."

Not a Muslim-only party

However, leading candidate and alliance chairman, Haluk Yildiz, stresses that, unlike some other Muslim groups, the Alliance for Peace and Fairness is not out to promote a Muslim agenda. He says their platform is to promote dialogue on important issues for all of Bonn's residents.

Haluk Yildiz
Leading candidate Haluk Yildiz hopes to win enough votes to join the municipal councilImage: BFF

"We understand that integration is an issue that effects all of society, and finding a solution shouldn't be left solely to immigrants. Instead, everyone should get involved," says Yildiz.

The Muslim Council in Bonn, founded three years ago, initiated the Muslim voters' association after members realized that many of the issues they faced were part of broader societal problems, and could not be solved by Muslims alone. They also felt their concerns were not being heard clearly enough by the broader public.

"The main idea here is that we have to create a platform where we can all sit around a table and come up with solutions together. We don't want immigrants to be talked about - but, rather to be talked to - so they can participate in discussions about integration," Yildez explained.

Integration must be promoted

Despite being one year too young to vote, 15-year-old Matthias Kloeckner believes the issue of integration should receive more attention from politicians.

"Because our world is becoming more integrated and we have to live together in our globalized world, we can no longer have a "me-first" attitude," says Kloeckner. "The nationalist mentality doesn't work anymore. It prevents us from finding answers to issues like integration. I don't think any of the political parties have really taken this up."

Two Turkish women pass a blond German woman on the street
Turkish women, in particular, find it hard to integrate into German societyImage: dpa

Why not join a German party?

However, some are very skeptical of a Muslim political party. Critics argue that since Muslims participate in German life and are part of German society, they should be active in existing political parties, not creating their own.

"I think that the Alliance for Peace and Fairness should not be a party primarily for Muslims, but for everybody," says Kemal Astare while attending a campaign rally.

As part of their campaign manifesto, the Muslim Alliance says it rejects any form of discrimination, terrorism, racism and anti-Semitism. The alliance, which consists of some 50 members so far, is also calling on city authorities to hire more people with an immigrant background and to include training courses on intercultural communication for the city staff.

Though the party is still new, the abolition of the five percent vote threshold means that the Alliance for Peace and Fairness stands a good chance of picking up a number of seats in Bonn's local elections on Sunday.

Ulrike Hummel (vj)

Editor: Rick Demarest