Politicians from across the spectrum have expressed solidarity with a Green Party parliamentarian of Turkish origin who has received death threats after urging Muslim women in Germany to take off their headscarves.
The Islamic headscarf is once again at the center of controversy
Elkin Deligöz' comments in a newspaper article two weeks ago sparked not just a deluge of criticism by religious leaders and the media in Turkey but also intimidation. The Green Party parliamentarian has received death threats and is now under police protection.
The incident has, although somewhat belatedly, led to a slew of German politicians -- ranging from her fellow left-wing party members to lawmakers from the center-right -- to express their support and defend her right to speak her mind.
Freedom of expression must be protected, said German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. "It's not OK when someone is threatened" for exercising that right. He called on politicians to do everything they could to throw their weight behind Deligöz.
The Green Party's co-leader in parliament, Renate Künast, has already complained to Turkey's ambassador in Berlin of "unacceptable" reactions in Turkish media to Deligöz' comments.
Newspapers in Turkey had called Deligöz a "Turkish Nazi" and a "disgrace to mankind."
Meeting with Islamic groups
Künast invited several Islamic organizations for discussions on Tuesday, including the Islamic Council, the Turkish Association of Berlin and Brandenburg and the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs. Several representatives stressed that they did not agree with Deligöz' opinion, but condemned the threats she had received.
"What she said is nonsense to me," said chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, Kenan Kolat. But he added that it was important that "she is allowed to spread this nonsense."
Deligöz says head scarves hinder integration
Deligöz, who was born in Turkey but grew up in Germany, addressed Muslim women living in Germany in a newspaper article recently, saying: "Wake up to today's Germany. This is where you live, so take off your veils."
After the meeting on Tuesday, Deligöz stressed that she would not allow herself to be intimidated, and that she stood by her opinion on headscarves in Germany.
"I am going to live my life from now on just as I have up to now," she said. "I stand by my comments and I have no reason to deviate from them whatsoever."
Integration of Germany's Muslim population has been a hot-button issue in Germany for some time. It has become a priority for Chancellor Angela Merkel's government as concern grows about Islamic radicalisation across Europe and the emergence of an underclass of disillusioned young Muslims in the country, who are mostly Turks.
Recent moves by a theater in Berlin to cancel a opera that featured the severing of the heads of religious figures, including that of Prophet Mohammed, for fear of Islamist attacks was strongly condemned by politicians. Though the opera has since been reinstated, the incident has served to underline the growing debate on freedom of speech in Europe and whether it should have limits when it comes to offending religious sensibilities.
Support from the right
Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy head of the conservative Christian Democratic parliamentary group, called on Germany and its leaders to "show some backbone."
"She (Deligöz) has earned the unconditional support of all of civilized society," he told the broadcaster n-tv. Bavaria's Interior Minister Günther Beckstein, member of the Christian Social Union, said: "It's sad when backward-looking circles take something as matter of course as the call to take off the headscarf as a reason to issue death threats."