New Interior Minister Revives a Debate: Can Muslims Be True Germans?


BERLIN — Germany’s new interior minister, appointed just last week, has already managed to upset politicians, church leaders and representatives of the Muslim community by saying that Islam is not a part of the German way of life.

“Islam in Germany is not something substantiated by history at any point,” the interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, said at his first news conference in his new job, adding that Islam did not play a major role in German culture.

The Lutheran bishop of Berlin, Markus Dröge, responded on Sunday by saying he was surprised that Muslims were being singled out by some politicians in discussions of how to integrate Germany’s diverse communities.

“We have a way of life — it is democratic, open and based on dialogue and human rights,” Bishop Dröge told his congregation.

Mr. Friedrich reiterated his views about Islam over the weekend, but he also called for a dialogue between Christians and Muslims. Successful integration “requires two things: knowledge of the social reality in Germany and a clear awareness of the Western Christian origin of our culture,” he said in a statement.

Lamya Kaddor, chairwoman of the Liberal-Islamic Union in Germany, said that Mr. Friedrich’s remarks were a “slap in the face of Muslims.”

“Such statements are not only politically and historically wrong, I think they are dangerous,” Ms. Kaddor said. She added that Mr. Friedrich’s position would undermine progress between Muslims and Christians that previous interior ministers had encouraged.

Germany has been grappling with how best to integrate its four million Muslims into the society at large. The government is pushing for the children of non-German-speaking parents to develop better German language skills.

But in a recent visit to Germany, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urged Turkish parents who are living in Germany to teach their children the Turkish language before German.

Mr. Erdogan told a crowd of more than 11,000 people in Düsseldorf that the Turks in Germany should not assimilate, but integrate.

“I say yes to integration,” Mr. Erdogan said. “You should definitely integrate with the German society, but we are against assimilation. No one should be able to rip us away from our culture and civilization. Our children must learn German, but first they must learn Turkish.”

The controversy over Mr. Friedrich’s remarks coincided with the shooting deaths last week of two United States servicemen at the Frankfurt airport. A 21-year-old man from Kosovo was arrested in the terminal after fleeing from the shooting, and German prosecutors said they were trying to determine whether Islamic radicalism had played a role in the shootings.

The German Police Federation said the shootings were the first case of homegrown terrorism inspired by radical Islamic propaganda disseminated over the Internet.

Mr. Friedrich was appointed interior minister when Chancellor Angela Merkel reshuffled her cabinet in the wake of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg’s resignation as defense minister.

(The New York Times / 06.03.11)

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