The growing Muslim immigrant population, now about 4 million, is fueling the even faster growing anti-Muslim conversation in Germany and has reopened the debate about banning or significantly reducing immigration from Islamic countries.
Hans-Peter Friedrich, new interior minister, has said that Islam does not “belong” in the country, and reopened a bitter debate over the integration of Germany’s 4 million Muslims.
REUTERS –Germany’s new interior minister has said Islam is not a key part of the German way of life, tapping into a long-running debate about the role of foreigners in the country. “Islam in Germany is not something substantiated by
history at any point,” Hans-Peter Friedrich told journalists on his first day on the job as Thomas de Maiziere’s replacement on Thursday.
Friedrich turned on its head a remark made last October by President Christian Wulff, who said Islam now “belongs to Germany” because of the 4 million Muslims who lived there. Both men are members of the conservative parties that make up the larger part of Germany’s coalition government.
One of the ways society could realize its potential was by “bringing its constituent parts together and not forcing them apart or polarizing them,” Friedrich said.
He spoke as German authorities sought to establish what prompted Wednesday’s killing of two US airmen at Frankfurt Airport. They said the 21-year-old Kosovan gunman was probably a lone operator motivated by radical Islamist beliefs. “There is suspicion that the killing may have been motivated by Islamism,” state prosecutors said without elaborating on the nature of the Islamism.
Friedrich’s comments also reflected a push by European governments to better integrate immigrants, given persistent domestic tension between different cultures. British Prime Minister David Cameron said last month that multiculturalism had failed in Britain and left young Muslims vulnerable to radicalization, arguing for a more active policy to heal divisions and promote Western values.
Germany is home to Western Europe’s second-biggest Islamic population after France. The single biggest minority is Turkish.
Friedrich said he set great store by Germany’s Islamic Conference, a forum for dialogue between the government and representatives of Germany’s Muslim community founded in 2006 by one of his predecessors, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Germany’s interior minister hosts the conference.
Pursuing a topic that sparked divisions between Germany and Turkey earlier this week, Friedrich said everyone living or growing up in Germany must “first and foremost learn German.” Speaking in the western city of Düsseldorf on Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told some 10,000 members of Germany’s Turkish community their children should learn Turkish before they learn German. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had said on Monday that language priorities should be reversed.
A fraught debate was sparked in Germany last summer when then-Bundesbank member Thilo Sarrazin published a bestselling book arguing that Muslim immigrants were welfare spongers who threatened the country’s economy and long-term future.
Friedrich said on Thursday he stood by comments he made last autumn, when he said Germany’s core culture was based around the Judaeo-Christian, Western model and never would be Islamic. A representative of Germany’s central council of Muslims had no immediate comment on Friedrich’s remarks.