ECCAR Cities Leipzig & Heidelberg present Good Practices to SALAAM project

On May 13th, 2024, ECCAR members Leipzig and Heidelberg presented in a webinar their local good practices in the area of strengthening civic participation of Muslim communities to the partnering Irish cities of the SALAAM project (Sustainable Alliances Against Anti-Muslim Racism). The presentations were based on the good practices previously featured in the ECCAR Guidebook on Local Actions against Anti-Muslim Racism

The webinar was started with a presentation by the project lead and Limerick University lecturer, Dr James Carr. The SALAAM project collaborates with the city administrations in Dublin, Cork, Galway, and Limerick to fight anti-Muslim hatred by using legislative and policy measures intended to combat racism in Ireland as a starting point. It aims to engage local Muslim communities and support their relationship-building with local authorities. Communities participate in designing project outputs such as training, public campaigns, and creating sustainable community-led engagement platforms. Dr. Carr said this collaboration enhances the fulfillment of Irish local authorities' public sector duty. He also emphasized the importance of collecting evidence on anti-Muslim racist incidents to address it properly instead of merely including it as something that should be on the agenda of the city administrations. To this end, the SALAAM project will also aim to establish a monitoring mechanism with the Irish Network Against Racism, INAR

The first of the two good practices in the area of cities strengthening the civic participation of Muslim communities was presented by Leyla Jagiella from the Heidelberg Muslim Academy. She explained how Christian "academies" have been long rooted within German society based on the special status of the two Churches being affiliated with the state. Hence, establishing the Muslim Academy in Heidelberg, the first of its kind, met the need for equal visibility and civic participation. However, the post-October 7th era has given birth to new challenges due to rising tensions in German society. Hence, Jagiella noted that formats need to be restructured and be now, even more than before, based on the principle of creating spaces for citizens to speak about and listen to experiences of current experiences on anti-Muslim racism and antisemitism. Jagiella said political allies within city councils and the administration are crucial for such cooperation activities. 

Judith Jonas-Kamil from the city of Leipzig echoed Jagiella's grievances about the current status quo of inter-community relations but noted that even before October 7th, more than 50% of respondents in a survey conducted on the Germans' attitudes on religion perceived Islam as a threat. The City Council of Leipzig decided thus in 2020 to draft a concept for the prevention of anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia. Jonas-Kamil presented the procedures leading to a draft concept that was based on a good practice of a participatory process as the local Muslim communities were invited to workshop together with the city administration. She noted that the workshop contributed enormously to the capacity building of both the Leipzig City employees and the communities, as the former hardly are sensitized about anti-Muslim racism and the latter again lack knowledge of how city administration in Leipzig works. 

The webinar disclosed similarities in the challenges of city administrations in Germany and Ireland, as according to the mapping done by the SALAAM project, Irish local authorities also need training, especially in the area of critical racial literacy, to understand how anti-Muslim racism is connected to the process of racialization and structural racism. Jonas-Kamil, however, noted that if such training is voluntary, as is the case in Leipzig, staff members can lightly disregard the importance of the training by overestimating their own knowledge base about anti-Muslim racism. Hence, ECCAR advocates incorporating obligatory training in local action plans as a useful policy implementation instrument.

*The SALAAM project is funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union [granting authority: European Commission]. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.