German Muslims have sharply condemned Wednesday's attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. But while denouncing terrorism, they have also warned of a split in society and urge a united approach.
About a dozen German Muslim organizations met in Cologne on Friday to sign a joint declaration against terrorism, sharply condemning the attack on the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead.
Speaking at a news conference, Bekir Alboga, secretary general of the Ditib Turkish Islam Union, called the tragedy "an attack on everyone's freedom" and "an abuse of the religion of peace."
Alboga warned against the instrumentalization of the "abominable act" by groups critical of or hostile towards Islam, like the PEGIDA movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) which has gained momentum in Germany in recent months.
Fresh impetus for PEGIDA?
Nurhan Soykan, secretary general of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said she fears the Paris bloodbath could fan the flames of the PEGIDA and far-right protests. But she told DW that she is also aware that there are people in society who stand up for the Muslims, "people who said, we can't lump them all together, we can't suspect them as a group."
Soykan emphasized that it wasn't just the leaders of the Muslim organizations in Germany that denounced the attack: even tiny communities have supported the calls for solemn vigils, voicing their own condemnation of the attack. She said the center of society must be strengthened against extremism on the fringes, whether from the far-right or from the Islamists.
At the press conference, several Muslim representatives recalled the large anti-PEGIDA protest in Cologne on Monday - and the sense of power that emanated from the united action supported by Christians, Jews, Muslims and dedicated people from various other backgrounds.
We can't let the attack be crowned by the success "of tearing our society apart," said Ali Kizilkaya, chairman of the Islamic Council of Germany.
Committed to freedom of opinion
The Islamic representatives also spoke of their common commitment to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But when asked whether this commitment included caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, their answers were not so clear cut.
For Seyfi Ögütlü, secretary general of the Union of Islamic Cultural Associations, freedom of expression also includes making fun of religion. But he also called for respect and sensitivity toward religious beliefs, and not just Islam.
But Murat Gümüs, deputy secretary general of the Islamic religious community Milli Görüs, thinks caricatures of the prophet, insulting or otherwise, are unacceptable. The clearest commitment to freedom of speech, however, came from Nurhan Soykan of the Central Council of Muslims.
Referencing the Prophet Muhammad, Soykan said that "he has endured much ridicule and mockery himself, and we must also bear this. Even if it hurts." Incidentally, Soykan herself did not think the cartoons were so bad - especially when compared with the hate mail she has received.
The Central Council of Muslims has called for a vigil at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Monday to remember the victims of the attacks in France. Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel has said he plans to attend, along with many others.