Debating Muslims Is Islam an Intrinsic Part of Germany?

New German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said recently that Islam is not historically part of Germany. Many in the country agree with him. But is he right? SPIEGEL ONLINE presents competing viewpoints from Matthias Matussek and Yassin Musharbash.




Matthias Matussek

By Matthias Matussek

Why Germany's New Interior Minister Has It Right about Islam in Germany

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, of course, has it right. Soon after his appointment to Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet last week, he came out with it: Islam is not part of Germany.

It is a position which corresponds nicely with what Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turks living in Germany at an appearance last week in Düsseldorf. Once again, Erdogan warned his countrymen about the dangers of assimilation. His appeal was aimed at those who do not belong and at those who do not want to belong, of which there are quite a few.

Friedrich's statement was matter-of-fact. But reactions to them have relied on a familiar mix of vociferous outrage and political blackmail -- and avoidance of the real issue at hand. That, in fact, is the real scandal here.

The minister's exact words were: "That Islam is part of Germany is a fact that cannot be proven by history." He was making an historical argument. But instead of counterarguments, we're being force fed lessons on intercultural etiquette. Renate Künast, co-head of the Green Party, accused Friedrich of "shattering porcelain!" Her party colleague Cem Özdemir added that Friedrich has a "crude understanding of German society."

Could it not be that the two have a crude understanding of political debate?

Lamya Kaddor, the head of the Liberal Islam Association, immediately puffed out her feathers. For her, it would seem, it was a question of honor. She called the minister's comment a "slap in the face of Muslims," and said Friedrich's comments were "politically and historically inaccurate." How, exactly, did he err? She didn't say.

Kenan Kolat, head of the Turkish Community in Germany, did what he does best: make threats. "If the interior minister is looking for a fight," he said, "he will get one." In other words: If you call me intolerant one more time, you're going to get it!

No one, so far, has directly responded to what the minister said. The German public is still waiting for some indication as to how Friedrich's comment was inaccurate. There is surely no shortage of evidence documenting the development a Muslim-Christian-German identity.

As the starting date of that marvelous friendship, should we perhaps take Sept. 12, 1683, the final day in the Battle of Vienna and the Turks’ two-month siege of the city, a day which saw Christian countries in the Occident tremble in fear of what a defeat could bring? Or was it the Rococo-style coffee services that delighted us -- or perhaps Mozart's lighthearted tale of "Il Seraglio," with its exotic scenes of harems, jailors, racy bodices and the kind-hearted Pasha Selim?

Or, instead, are we really thinking of the bad-tempered subcultures, the veiled women in German cities, the inflammatory speeches of the Shariah proponents in Mönchengladbach, Duisburg's predominantly Turkish Marxloh district and the numerous Islamic cultural associations currently under observation by Germany's domestic intelligence service?

Let's put it this way: Even though I have some Muslim friends, Islam is not historically an intrinsic part of Germany. It is not part of our historical-religious DNA, which -- despite all the naysayers -- continues to be Christian.

The President's Rhetorical Mt. Everest

The debate about Islam's role in Germany was triggered by German President Christian Wulff's speech last October marking the 20th anniversary of German reunification. He called for reconciliation and decreed that "Islam has also come to be a part of Germany." At the time, Germany was consumed with the scandal surrounding German politician and now-former central banker Thilo Sarrazin and his incendiary book criticizing Germany's immigration policy and the benefits of multiculturalism.

The statement was meant to be the final word in the debate. Instead, it merely opened the Pandora's Box of religious identities.

The comment was part of a three-pronged definition of German identity. He got off to a bumpy start by saying: "Without a doubt, Christianity is a part of Germany." Fair enough, even in these times marked by an ever-increasing number of people leaving the church. It was nice of him to remind us.

Then he said: "Without a doubt, Judaism is a part of Germany." Hmmm. That’s perhaps fudging things a bit and somewhat problematic in the way it brushes over the past. Then, while climbing this steep mountain face, the president combined the two, saying: "That is our Judeo-Christian history." He grabbed the next hold, checked to make sure it was secure and prepared to assault the summit. And then he went for it: "But Islam has also come to be part of Germany."

In response, two-thirds of Germans said "nope," "not exactly" and "which Islam are you talking about?" Is he talking about the Islam of the 14th-century Persian poet Hafez, whom Goethe liked so much? Or was he referring the Islam of gender oppression, fundamentalism and bombs?

During a speech in Ankara a short time later, Wulff flipped the argument and declared that Christianity was naturally also part of Turkey. Since the speech had been handed out beforehand, he spoke to a half-empty room. Most of those in attendance merely shook their heads. Which planet, one wonders, does Wulff live on?

Skepticism Mixed with Hope

It's amusing to talk about Islam because, whenever you do so, you must always pretend you are treading on eggshells lest you provoke your adversaries into behaving exactly as you describe them.

It's been just a little over a week since these same pages discussed the recent book by German journalist Patrick Bahners, "The Scaremongers: The German Fear of Islam." Bahners does not blame Islamist suicide bombers and Shariah propagandists for creating a climate of fear, but those who warn about them, such as Holland's Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who had to go into hiding as a result, or Ralph Giordano, the Holocaust survivor.

Thomas Steinfeld, writing in the center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, was taken by Bahners' courage. "He analyzes and thinks ... How great that he exists," Steinfeld wrote. Just a few days later, an Islamist shot two American airmen dead outside of Frankfurt Airport. And the Turkish prime minister admonishes Turks in Germany against too much assimilation. Who exactly is responsible for the climate of fear?

We are all happy about the Arab Revolution, about young Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans chasing their dictators away and risking their lives for Western values, such as democracy, enlightenment and freedom of opinion. One can, however, still be concerned by the dangers presented by Islamism, no matter what Bahners, Steinfeld and Wulff might say.

In Tunis, a mob of Islamists has already torched the red-light district. In Egypt, a majority of the population supports stoning adulterers, cutting off the hands of thieves and executing those who abandon Islam -- and that was BEFORE the revolution. In Jordan, Yemen, Morocco, Bahrain and the Gaza Strip, there are strong and, most importantly, well-organized Islamist groups that either enjoy popular support or are well on their way to doing so.

None of this is new. We have known the risks since 1979, when the Ayatollah Khomeini took the place of the corrupt Shah regime and suffocated aspirations for freedom and human rights while turning Iran into a gloomy theocratic state.

No, Islam is not an intrinsic part of Germany.



Yassin Musharbash

By Yassin Musharbash

Islam has long been a part of Germany. Simply ignoring that fact does nobody any good.

Is Islam an intrinsic part of Germany? Newly appointed Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich doesn't think so. "That Islam is part of Germany is a fact that cannot be proven by history," he said.

But at what point does something "historically" belong to "Germany" at all? Frederick William I, the king of Prussia and elector of Brandenburg, had the first mosque on German soil erected in Potsdam in 1732 for 20 Turkish garrison soldiers the Duke of Courland had given him as a present. By 1762, the Prussian army had its own Muslim corps. In 1798, the first Muslim cemetery was established in Berlin. In 1807, German Muslims fought against Napoleon under the Prussian flag.

All of those events took place long before Germany existed as a single state.

Muslims, of course, have not made nearly as great a mark on German society, politics and intellectual history as Jews have. It is also true that most Muslims living in Germany today are the sons and daughters of guest workers and refugees rather than being the descendents of the Prussian Muslims.

Islam-skeptics in Germany, though, are uninterested in such details. In reality, they don't want any historical proof that counters their own views. Their argument, similar to that of SPIEGEL editor and Friedrich defender Matthias Matussek, is that Islam "is not part of our historical-religious DNA, which ... continues to be Christian."

That, though, is not an argument. It's a trap. It means that, even had Islam been present in Germany for 1,400 years, it still couldn't be part of Germany because it isn't Christian.

Islam won't disappear from Germany if you exclude it linguistically. Neither will it be any more present if you embrace it conceptually. It is simply there and has been for a long time. Its adherents are not going to abandon their faith or disappear. To assume otherwise is irrational.

You can't exclude millions of German Muslims because they're affiliated with a religious faith you don't like. They play a role in shaping our shared everyday existence; they are very much a part of Germany.

In recent years, German President Christian Wulff and former Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble have launched efforts, timid though they may be, to bridge the gap. As such, Friedrich's first comments on Islam in his new position seem like an about face. His comments have caused offense and fostered resentment. That is unnecessary, and helps no one.

It may be that one doesn't view Muslims as belonging to the Christian West. But the German interior minister isn't responsible for the Christian West. He's responsible for Germany. And everything that belongs to it.


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