The conservative minister, presenting his plans to Muslim groups at the government's so-called Islam Conference in Berlin, said he planned to promote closer cooperation between security officials and the Muslim community.
After the recent murder of two US airmen at the Frankfurt Airport by an allegedly freshly radicalized Islamist, Friedrich said more should be done to understand the hidden world of jihadists. On Tuesday he said the government and Muslims should work together to fight violent extremism.
But Muslim leaders and members of the socialist Left party accused Friedrich of misusing the Islam Conference, which was initiated in 2006 as an attempt to open a healthier dialogue with some four million Muslims living in Germany to improve their integration into society.
Sevim Dagdelen, immigration policy spokesperson for The Left, said it was discriminatory to “make a security conference out of an Islam conference.” Such an approach is more likely to breed exclusion than integration, she added.
Leader of the Central Council of Muslims (ZMD), Aiman Mazyek, called the gathering a “security and debate conference in disguise,” according to daily Rheinische Post. His organization walked away from the conference some months ago, and so far there has been no “substantial results that would advance the equality of Muslims here,” he said.
Leading the conference for the first time, the new interior minister struck a somewhat conciliatory note after reigniting a bitter debate over Islam right after taking office early this month. At the time he said the religion did not “belong” in the country, which prompted calls for him to give up responsibility for the government's dialogue with Germany's Muslim community.
But on Tuesday he acknowledged that Islam does indeed belong in Germany, evem though he told public broadcaster ARD that he continued to think that “the spiritual, religious and cultural identity of our country is defined by Western Christianity.”
General Secretary for the DITIB Turkish association, Ihsan Ünlü, told news agency DAPD that Friedrich's remarks were unfortunate and “not very beneficial to the conference.”
Meanwhile Ehrhart Körting, interior minister for the city-state of Berlin, also criticized Friedrich, saying he “hadn't exactly acted felicitously,” and had counteracted the goal of the conference.
But deputy head of Germany's AABF association for Turks from the Alevi community, Ali Ertan Toprak, called for critics to calm down and not “overvalue” the new minister's comments before giving both him and the conference a chance.