This week, the general secretary for the Free Democrats, Christian Lindner, delivered the tongue-in-cheek response to CSU member Friedrich’s controversial statement that Islam did not “belong” in Germany because it lacked a historical foundation here.
“The CSU also wasn’t a formative force in Germany history … But it is still a societal reality that we must live with,” he said of the Bavarian sister party to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats. “Today we must also integrate the CSU.”
Linder, whose Free Democrats are Merkel’s junior coalition partners, went on to say: “The Bavarian cultural identity came about when Bavaria was still a monarchy. There was no CSU … and it’s the same with Islam. It didn’t form our current cultural identity, but we need to integrate it.”
Linder’s comments fell on Shrove Tuesday, part of the Karneval season, a time when politicians tend to impart political truths with humour.
In light of that fact, CSU general secretary Alexander Dobrindt suggested that Lindner had been wearing a “red clown nose” when he compared the party to Islam.
But Lindner’s comments came in response to controversial remarks made last week by Friedrich.
During his first public appearance as Interior Minister where he answered questions by reporters about the shooting of two US airmen in Frankfurt by an alleged Islamist, Friedrich said that Muslims living in Germany were part of society, “but that Islam belongs in Germany is something that has no historical foundation.”
His comment sparked an irked response from opposition parties and members of the FDP, including Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger.
“Of course Islam belongs in Germany,” she said. “I assume that the new interior minister, along with his predecessors such as Thomas de Maizière, takes the responsibility for integration in his department seriously and is committed to solidarity and not marginalization.”
FDP integration policy expert Serkan Tören recommended that in light of Friedrich’s sentiments the Justice Ministry take over the Islam conference, a meeting between the government and Islamic groups, from the Interior Ministry.
Friedrich’s comments mirrored similar statements he made last autumn amid a rancorous debate over whether Muslim immigrants are capable of integrating into German society.
The debate was sparked by former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin, who made a number of anti-immigrant statements aimed mainly at Turks and Arabs, coinciding with the publication of his controversial book Deutschland schafft sich ab – Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen, or “Abolishing Germany – How we’re putting our country in jeopardy.”
Later in the week a spokesperson for Friedrich attempted to calm tempers, saying that Islam was a reality in Germany.
“That does not stand in opposition to the fact that Germany and German culture are above all characterized by the Christian religion and will remain so in the future,“ the spokesman said.
Last week Friedrich was named as former Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière’s successor after he took over the Defence Ministry from the disgraced Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who resigned in the wake of a plagiarism scandal.
The government’s Islam conference was initiated by former Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in 2006 as an attempt to promote a healthier dialogue with the approximately four million Muslims living in Germany.