Sun, Nov 05, 2006 - Page 6 News List

German lawmaker fears Muslim reprisals

VEILED THREATS Turkish-born Ekin Deligoz, a 35-year-old woman has caused a stir among the nation's estimated 3.5 million Muslims with her liberal views on headscarves

DPA , BERLIN

A Muslim woman who sits in the German parliament has been given a police bodyguard after she received death threats over her public appeal for other Muslims to abandon headscarves.

Turkish-born Ekin Deligoz, 35, has occupied a Greens Party seat since 1998, the year after she was naturalized as a German, but she only gained national attention last month when she assailed the scarf as a symbol of backwardness and submission to male dominance.

That has turned her life upside down. After anonymous hate calls by phone, Berlin assigned two federal policemen to protect Deligoz at all times, even when she goes out for walks with her husband and child or to do the shopping.

"It's the little things that have changed," she said wistfully last week.

Recalling the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamist, German authorities believe they cannot be too careful.

But Muslims in Germany worry that they are once again being portrayed in the media as violent and incapable of debate.

German authorities estimate that 3.5 million of Germany's population of 82 million are of Muslim heritage, the bulk of them with Turkish roots. Headscarves have been making a comeback among younger Muslim women in recent years.

Deligoz, who in the federal parliamentary directory describes herself as Muslim, is not the first German woman of Islamic heritage to make bare heads and hair into a political issue.

Seyran Ates, a lawyer who campaigns against headscarves and wife-beating and Necla Kelek, a sociologist and author who attacks Islam as inimical to women's interests, are representing similar views on a federal advisory panel, the Islam Conference.

Politicians on both the right and the left sprang to Deligoz' defence last week.

Renate Kuenast, leader of the Greens caucus in the Bundestag, hosted a meeting on Tuesday with Germany's five national Islamic organizations. She said all affirmed that Deligoz had a right to speak without threat of violence, even if they disagree with her.

"We are doing everything we can to ensure her safety," said Mounir Azzaoui, a spokesman for the National Council of Muslims.

But the Islamic groups are adamant in their defence of Islamic women who choose to wear scarves.

Ali Kizilkaya, chairman of the Islamic Council, said after the meeting, "wearing a head covering is a rule of our religion," adding that it was just as applicable in Western nations as in Muslim ones.

Deligoz was born in Tokat, Turkey and moved to southern Germany at the age of eight with her mother, who brought her up.

She is married to a German and has a college degree in public administration. After moving to Berlin, her husband opened a cafe so he could mind their child during the daytime.

Her political focus in recent years has been on the care of young children. She believes kindergartens should cost less.

"I'm also concerned about what a child who is five now can expect when they are 18," she told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper last week.

Minority children needed to be taught better German, trained in social behavior and offered quality religious instruction, she said.

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