SPIEGEL Interview with Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble: "We Have No Relationship to our Diverse Muslim Society"

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, 64, discusses the pope's criticism of Islam, the prospect of imams preaching in German, and the risk of terrorism in Germany now that the military is so busy overseas. Germany's first-ever "Islamic conference" between Muslims and the government takes place next Wednesday in Berlin.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
REUTERS

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

SPIEGEL: Pope Benedict has made some comments seemingly critical of Islam which have caused uproar in the Muslim world. Do you understand the outrage?

Schäuble: I don't want to interpret the pope's words, especially as I am one of those horrible people who fell away from the Roman church after Martin Luther. But I did read his speech, and it's my view that it ought to be possible to quote a centuries-old document, especially when one clearly does not identify with it.

SPIEGEL: The pope quoted a dialogue from the Middle Ages, in which the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus tells someone in conversation that the Prophet Mohammed commanded his followers to spread the faith by the sword. Wouldn't the pope's comments have to be interpreted to mean that he believes Islam's relationship with violence remains unresolved today?

Schäuble: On the contrary, he was more critical of Christianity than Islam during his visit (to Bavaria). He said on several occasions that the secular world influenced by Christianity must face the idea that it may not be as attractive as it once was. The leaders of other faiths might also be well-advised to admonish their own now and then and not always direct their criticism at others.

SPIEGEL: The controversy is reminiscent of the (Danish) cartoon dispute. Can you explain the high degree of sensitivity among Muslim communities?

Schäuble: It's understandable that Europe's Muslims are in a difficult situation, which is partly their own doing and partly not. But when official leaders in Muslim countries get involved and think they need to make sharp commentary on such statements, I find that rather unwise.

SPIEGEL: You plan to hold a conference on Islam with representatives of Muslim organizations in Germany next week. They too are outraged. Will the latest controversy play a role at this conference?

Schäuble: The entire issue underscores, at the very least, how necessary such a conference is.

SPIEGEL: There will likely be some attendees who would like to see Sharia law introduced in Germany.

Schäuble: The list of attendees is not entirely uncontroversial. We were always faced with questions like: What about a religious community like Milli Görüs, which is represented by the Islamic Council? And what about the Central Council of Muslims? But we don't wish to exclude people from the start. Instead, we have invited anyone who is prepared to stick to the rules. All attendees must accept the fact that the conference on Islam will take place within the framework of our constitution, and not Sharia law.

SPIEGEL: Germany's domestic intelligence agency has the Milli Görüs Islamic community under observation. During a raid on a Milli Görüs mosque in Bavaria in 2004, investigators seized anti-Semitic classics such as Henry Ford's "The International Jew." Is this the kind of partner with which the German interior minister wants to seek dialogue?

Schäuble: I know that not everything about this conference will be rosy. We won't just be exchanging pleasantries; we'll be saying, "Look, we have a problem." And that includes distancing oneself from any form of anti-Semitism.

SPIEGEL: A conference on Islam organized by the German government is a first in German history. What has prompted a conservative interior minister like you to look for dialogue?

Schäuble: About three million Muslims live in the country, but we have no relationship to our diverse Muslim society, despite the fact that it's an established part of our larger society. We need to build a stronger foundation for the relationship between Muslims and the state. Otherwise we will not be able to meet the challenges of integration and the threats posed by international terrorism. If we want to prevent attacks, we'll need more information and better integration.

SPIEGEL: Do you see Muslim organizations and individuals as a sort of early warning system?

Schäuble: Why not? This cannot be left solely up to government agencies. If you make the state responsible for everything, you shouldn't be surprised when you end up with a state that bears some resemblance to a dictatorship. This is why those with closer ties to potentially threatening individuals must provide information. What we cannot have is the kind of clandestine solidarity that existed within parts of the political left for the RAF (the Red Army Faction terrorist group) in the 1970s.

SPIEGEL: After the attacks of Sept. 11 we saw a lot of clandestine rejoicing at Friday prayers (in Germany). Has anything changed?

Schäuble: I don't want to gloss over the truth. The conflict associated with the Iraq war, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, the Lebanon war -- all of these things can lead to radicalization in parts of the population.

SPIEGEL: A number of politicians, including those within your own party, believe Germans would be safer if the German military didn't insert itself into so many of the world's hot spots. Does the deployment in Lebanon increase the risk of terrorism?

Schäuble: No. It's better to look at it this way: If the conflict in Lebanon continues, the risk of attacks will grow. This is why we must contribute to a joint (international) responsibility and help secure peace in Lebanon. By preventing new conflicts, we avert the causes of radicalization and the risk of terrorist attacks in Europe, including in Germany.

SPIEGEL: The case of the two young Lebanese men who allegedly built suitcase bombs illustrates just how we can be affected by global conflicts.

Schäuble: The cartoon dispute was probably one of the motives in that case. The cartoons were certainly criticized in German mosques, but the imams expressly called upon Muslims not to resort to violence.

SPIEGEL: Alice Schwarzer and other contemporary critics accuse the Germans of practicing a cultural relativism that they say leads us to tolerate behavior in others that we would normally reject. Has our society been too tolerant in dealing with Islamists?

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