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?
"I want to see sermons held in German"
Schäuble: During the cartoon controversy, some very credible and smart people debated whether it was a good idea to publish the images, because as they claimed, even freedom of the press should have its limits. That was a mixture of do-good idealism and fear. My view on this issue is quite clear: There are tasteful and less tasteful cartoons, but we must tolerate them, and we cannot start qualifying them. Those who constantly qualify everything and have no opinions of their own are ultimately just as incapable of tolerance.
SPIEGEL: You had no objections to the publishing of the cartoons?
Schäuble: I didn't like the cartoons, but the fact that they were printed, also in the German media, is legitimate. I will always defend the right to do this.
SPIEGEL: Do you agree with your predecessor, Otto Schily, who wanted to see Islam subjected to a period of enlightenment?
Schäuble: I don't want to change Islam, but if there is to be a European Islam, it must incorporate European values. During the centuries-long process of Reformation and Enlightenment, Christian churches had to accept some things they didn't like. Islam will have to do the same; otherwise it isn't part of Europe.
SPIEGEL: Teachers in some Berlin neighborhoods like Neukölln see strong tendencies toward the radicalization of young people, coupled with rising levels of aggression.
Schäuble: No one disputes that. Social problems and a development toward religious fundamentalism are, of course, related, because many turn to religion for direction. But we are seeing a general integration problem, as are the French: Parts of the third generation are less well integrated than the first. One of our main goals is to change this. Part of this effort will be to offer Islamic instruction in German in our schools, so it will be clear that schools are not something that threatens Islamic identity.
SPIEGEL: Will the role of women in the Muslim community play a role at the conference?
Schäuble: That's unavoidable. It's one of the central problems that come up in day-to-day life here, and it starts in school. Girls can't be excluded from physical education or class trips. If Muslims want to be accepted here, then those things must stop.
SPIEGEL: The fact that German students are being chased across the schoolyard and called "Christian pigs" -- that they need police protection to go to school -- illustrates the reality that Islamism does exist here.
Schäuble: That's certainly true. But we are also aware of the way Gerald Asamoah and other dark-skinned players are sometimes treated in German football stadiums.
SPIEGEL: Do you share the concerns of author Botho Strauß, who predicts that the problem of tolerance might be reversed in the future, because we could soon see a shift in population majorities in major cities?
Schäuble: Botho Strauß is a brilliant and sometimes difficult author, and I am the federal interior minister. We have different responsibilities. My job is not to predict everything that might happen in the future, but to address what we can do today. We must accept the fact that, in the world of the 21st century, we will be living together with people from other parts of the world to a far greater extent than our grandparents could have imagined.
SPIEGEL: The construction of new mosques has sparked controversy in various parts of Germany. What carries more weight: the constitutional right to religious freedom or the concern that a new mosque might not be good for integration in a certain district?
Schäuble: Most of the mosques were built in our cities in recent years because Turkish citizens in those neighborhoods feel a growing need for places to pray. Naturally, religious freedom means that everyone is allowed to build his own house of worship. But it reminds me of something former (German) President Johannes Rau once said -- that he'd find it easier to support mosque construction in Germany if it weren't so difficult for Christians to build churches in Turkey.
SPIEGEL: Many imams in the mosques have received fundamentalist training in Saudi Arabia. How do you intend to prevent this body of thought from being preached here?
Schäuble: I want to see religious instruction and sermons held in German in the mosques. The ideal, in my view, would be for imams to be trained in Germany and to speak our language, just as the Roman Catholic Church now holds mass in German and gave up Latin long ago.
SPIEGEL: Will the federal interior minister soon become the educator-in-chief of all imams?
Schäuble: Certainly not. It isn't something that the state can do alone, and that would be inappropriate. When it comes to training imams, one needs a partner. But if we want the mosques to preach peaceful coexistence, we will have to do something about it. One goal of the conference is to find a partner for the training of imams and teachers of Islam in schools.
SPIEGEL: How long will it take before we see results?
Schäuble: A wide range of efforts is underway. Religion teachers for Islam instruction are being trained now in Münster and Erlangen. This has to happen quickly. My goal is to achieve relevant results within two years.
SPIEGEL: What conclusions do you draw from the case of the suitcase bombers?
Schäuble: Just after the incident, I not only asked the police and intelligence services to learn what we could from from the case, but also looked at our immigration laws to find areas that needed improvement. For example, in the future we will take a closer look at both those who issue invitations to foreigners to come to Germany and those who provide them with letters of recommendation. But we have to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. After all, we do want young people from other countries to study in Germany.
SPIEGEL: Isn't it also true that despite the counterterrorism database, computer surveillance and large-scale wiretapping operations, the two Lebanese managed to remain undetected?
Schäuble: By keeping tabs on those who invited them into the country, we probably could have been observing one of the two arrested suspects at a relatively early point. For example, if we had noticed the comments he made in public during the debates over the Danish cartoons, perhaps someone would have paid closer attention.
SPIEGEL: You want to extend the Anti-Terror Law as well as the law governing the counterterrorism database. Investigators have never had more tools at their disposal than they do today. Are you satisfied?
Schäuble: We need more personnel within our security agencies. For example, we need people with relevant language skills to monitor the Internet. I am negotiating with the finance minister and the budget committee for approval of a program that would cost in the double-digit millions. But you're absolutely right: The next step is a question of actual practice. I can't think of many other laws we might need. For now, though, we'll be talking to German Muslims over issues of coexistence.
SPIEGEL: You seem quite optimistic.
Schäuble: If we want to avoid a clash of cultures -- and the jury is still out on whether we can -- we'll have to make different cultures and religions compatible with the universal nature of human rights and tolerance. But I can promise you this: Anyone who calls me an infidel at the conference will be in for a fight.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Minister, thank you for this interview.
Interview conducted by editors Jan Fleischhauer and Holger Stark.
Translated from German by Christopher Sultan.