German Interior Minister 'German Identity Is Shaped by Christianity'

In a SPIEGEL interview, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich discusses the motives of Norwegian killer Anders Breivik, calls for an end to anonymity on the Internet and explains why Islam is not part of German identity.

DPA

SPIEGEL: Minister Friedrich, the massacre in Norway has sparked a discussion about the political background to the attacks. Is Anders Breivik a madman or the first anti-Muslim terrorist?

Friedrich: He is a madman, but he's also more than that. I'm not talking about insanity in a medical sense. This sort of a crime, where someone shoots children in cold blood as they desperately beg for their lives, is incomprehensible for any person with normal emotions. But other factors must also have entered into the equation, factors that made this crime possible in the first place. Investigators are now trying to determine what they are.

SPIEGEL: Is this sort of an attack possible in Germany?

Friedrich: We are increasingly concerned about radicalized perpetrators acting alone. The deadly shots at American soldiers at the Frankfurt airport were also fired by a lone perpetrator, in that case an Islamist, who had become radicalized on the Internet. We have more and more people who isolate themselves from their social environment and immerse themselves into an online world. It changes them, usually in ways that no one notices. This constitutes a serious threat, also in Germany.

SPIEGEL: Have politicians paid too little attention to the extremist anti-Islamic scene that has developed in Europe in recent years?

Friedrich: There are always defensive reactions against what we perceive to be foreign. We have to incorporate these defensive reflexes into a rational discussion process through prevention and education. In Germany, so far, we have been relatively successful at this. We are a cosmopolitan and open country.

SPIEGEL: And yet there is also a growing movement in Germany that inveighs against Islam, especially on the Internet, and warns against the supposed threat of foreign infiltration. Breivik is apparently not alone with his ideas.

Friedrich: It's a long way from the crude political theories that certain Islamophobic blogs disseminate on the Internet to the mass murder Breivik committed. But you are, of course, right: There are certain political views in this scene that we find shocking, because they are unconsidered and full of prejudices. But we also have to realize that the abuse of Islam by Islamist extremists has contributed to this.

SPIEGEL: Anders Breivik claims to have acted in the name of Christendom. In doing so, is he misusing Christianity in a way that's similar to how Osama bin Laden misused Islam?

Friedrich: Someone who disregards individuals' life and limb, and their dignity as human beings, cannot invoke Christianity.

SPIEGEL: Did politicians like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, or bloggers like "Fjordman," who Breivik often quoted and whose identity has since been revealed, pave the way for this killer?

Friedrich: Nowadays politically motivated perpetrators like Breivik can find all kinds of radical, unsophisticated theories, especially on the Internet. They can maneuver from blog to blog, spending all their time in this intellectual soup. At some point they manage to combine it all into a cohesive worldview. But this tells us that the Internet creates completely new challenges. The principles of our legal system must also apply on the web. In democratic conflict, we argue openly on the basis of our constitutional rules of behavior. Why should this be different on the Internet? I know that I will be severely berated in the online community for this, but why don't Fjordman and other anonymous bloggers need to disclose their true identity? Normally people use their names when they take a position. Why shouldn't this be something that is also self-evident on the Internet?

SPIEGEL: Where is the boundary between legitimate discourse and racist or right-wing extremist agitation?

Friedrich: The boundary is set by our constitution. There can be no justification for violating the dignity of other human beings, irrespective of whether it has to do with a political or a religious view. That is the underlying consensus of our constitutional state.

SPIEGEL: Do you feel that this boundary was crossed in the debate over the ideas of Thilo Sarrazin, the German politician and banker who criticized Islam in a best-selling book?

Friedrich: The Sarrazin debate showed that when it comes to Islam, there is a certain mood and need for discussion that is reflected in neither the public discussion in the media nor in politics. We did not take this sufficiently into account in the past, which is why this debate became necessary. We cannot allow something to smolder underneath the public discussion, so that there are people we can no longer reach in the end. We have to talk about issues like the ones that were discussed in the Sarrazin debate, even if it clashes with notions of political correctness.

SPIEGEL: In other words, Sarrazin did not radicalize the debate in an objectionable way, but was in fact a necessary outlet for public opinion?

Friedrich: Sarrazin did radicalize things, but he was merely an indicator that, when it came to the subject of Islam, something was festering that had escaped our notice. It's a discussion we need to have.

SPIEGEL: Sarrazin pushes the boundaries with his racist clichés. In this debate, there is a lack of a clear boundary between serious arguments and unacceptable polemic.

Friedrich: In our country, anyone who respects freedom of opinion and freedom of religion can discuss his views openly. The important thing is that Thilo Sarrazin addressed a subject that many people care about. Of course, there are many examples of extremely successful integration, but we also have ghettoization and a lack of integration. I don't want to get involved in the details of the interpretation of Sarrazin's theories.

SPIEGEL: In the wake of the attacks, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is calling for more decorum in the debate. Does this also apply to Germany?

Friedrich: In many European countries, like the Netherlands and France, we now have some very radical views clashing in the political debate. I'm happy that in Germany we have a culture of discussion that has not descended into this radicalism.

SPIEGEL: Can you explain why there isn't a party like Norway's Progress Party or a politician like Geert Wilders in the German Bundestag?

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