German president’s remarks unleash debate over Islam

By Frank Rafalski and Jeff Black

dpa (MCT)

BERLIN – The assertion made by German President Christian Wulff last weekend that Islam “belonged” in Germany has unleashed a new wave of debate over immigration and religion, with the issue arising in parliament Thursday.

In his ceremonial speech to mark the 20th anniversary of unification on Sunday, Wulff said: “Christianity belongs, without doubt, in Germany. Judaism belongs, without doubt, in Germany. And by now, Islam also belongs in Germany.”

But by Monday, conservatives were reacting with horror to the suggestion that Islam could be afforded equal status to Germany’s Judaeo-Christian culture. Germany has some 4 million Muslims, most of whom are of Turkish ethnicity.

The two main Christian churches have a quasi-state identity, and members pay a “church tax” on their incomes. “Integration cannot be allowed to set off the weakening and neglect of our own culture and value system,” Christian Democratic Union General Secretary Alexander Dobrindt said on Thursday.

Wulff’s outreach to German Muslims – telling them that he was “their president too” – came after weeks of acrimony over the place of Islam in German society. The left, however, has reacted positively to Wulff’s words, with Social Democratic Party leader Sigmar Gabriel saying Thursday that “of course Islam belongs now in Germany.”

Gabriel called for Germans to distinguish between Islam and the political ideologies of Islamism.