'Islam does not belong to Germany,' says country's new interior minister

Statement puts Horst Seehofer at odds with Angela Merkel as she begins fourth term as Chancellor

Friday 16 March 2018 18:48 GMT
Seehofer made the comments as Merkel’s new coalition combats a rising challenge from the far right
Seehofer made the comments as Merkel’s new coalition combats a rising challenge from the far right (Reuters)

Germany’s new interior minister has declared “Islam does not belong to Germany”, directly contradicting Chancellor Angela Merkel in the opening days of her fourth term as the country’s leader.

Horst Seehofer, Germany’s leading security official, made the comments to the Bild newspaper as Ms Merkel’s new coalition combats the rising challenge from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, which entered the national parliament in last year’s elections.

Mr Seehofer said his message to Muslims was: “Live with us, not parallel to or against us.”

He added: “The Muslims who live with us are, of course, part of Germany”, going on to say Germany should not give up its own traditions or customs, which had Christianity at their heart.

His Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, which has always taken a harder line on migration than Ms Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union, faces a state election later this year.

The anti-Islam AfD is relatively strong in Bavaria and some of its legislators welcomed his comments.

Mr Seehofer also put himself at odds with former German president Christian Wulff, who fuelled a debate over immigration in 2010 by saying Islam was part of Germany.

When asked about the interior minister’s comments, Ms Merkel said she stood by her view that while Germany is shaped by its Judeo-Christian heritage, “now there are four million Muslims living in Germany”, a country of about 82 million people.

“They can live their religion here too,” she said. “These Muslims belong to Germany and in the same way their religion belongs to Germany, that is to say Islam.”

She added that Islam practised by Muslims in Germany would have to conform to the country’s constitution.

The government estimates between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims are living in Germany. Many of them have a Turkish background and many of the more than a million migrants who have arrived in the country from the Middle East and elsewhere after Ms Merkel adopted an open-door policy in mid-2015 are also Muslims.

The far-left Linke and Greens condemned Mr Seehofer’s words, while the Social Democrats’ Natascha Kohnen told broadcaster n-tv: “Saying that incites people against each other at a time when we really don’t need that. What we really need is politicians who bring people together.”

Additional reporting by AP/Reuters

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