Since the events of New Year's Eve in Cologne, the phones have been ringing off the hook at the Central Council of Muslims in Germany. The council's chairman, Aiman Mazyek, warns against division in society.
Deutsche Welle: The Central Council of Muslims in Germany has received numerous threats since the events in Cologne. Can you tell us what this week has been like for you?
Aiman Mazyek: We've received an incredible number of hate calls. You could call it telephone terror. This is a new thing. After incidents like this we always, unfortunately, get a great many hate emails and letters, but only a few calls. That has massively increased, although you really have to search to find our phone number. We're very troubled by this
You even had to unplug the phones for a while.
We were unable to work because of the constant stream of insults. We also had to get the police involved.
Given what happened in Cologne on New Year's Eve, were you surprised by the violence of these reactions, or were you expecting something of the kind?
To be honest, I didn't expect it to be worse than after the attacks in Paris. I think there were two reasons for the violence of the reaction, which came in part from the right-wing mob on the Internet and social media. There was a release of pent-up hatred and anger over the refugee debate. Secondly, it's also the result of the ineptitude of certain media outlets and politicians, who instead of reacting calmly have let themselves to be driven by the social media mob.
Not all that long ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel repeated comments originally made by a former German president, Christian Wulff, that Islam was an integral part of Germany. Is that statement now endangered?
Many Germans support this statement, but not all of them. That was always the case. We must take care that it's not only the views of one particular group that are constantly being expressed in public, but also those of the majority of Germans, who have contributed to the welcoming culture. We have to look to them. It's a sentence that polarizes people, but that's nothing new. We must not allow ourselves to be divided. Whether it's criminals or terrorists we're talking about, they want to divide society - and the hardliners are joining in. That's the biggest danger. We must do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen.
What do you personally have to say about the fact that, according to the police, the vast majority of the attackers in Cologne were from predominantly Muslim countries?
We have be careful not to play the blame game here. I think it's a good idea to examine, on a sociological level, the sort of patriarchal images that exist in Muslim societies. But it is not acceptable that many people were exploiting the issue, even on the night itself, to kick off the scapegoat discussion by raising the question of the attackers' origins - and perhaps also to distract a bit from their own failures. If there was an attack on an asylum center by a self-declared defender of the Christian West, we wouldn't even think of examining Christian beliefs as a possible motive.
The Muslim faith is irrelevant to these drunken men who do such disgraceful things. Not only are these things strictly forbidden under criminal law, they are also a mortal sin in Islam. I would ask people to differentiate accordingly. So, people are welcome to ask sociological questions about false ideas about women, or about violence against women in parts of the Muslim world, but please don't use the faith itself as a backdrop. That is extremely dangerous. We mustn't let ourselves be drawn into this collective guilt discussion.
Aiman Mazyek has described the influx of hate calls to the Central Council of Muslims in Germany as 'telephone terror'
The former ARD correspondent in Algeria, Samuel Schirmbeck, said this week in an article in the newspaper "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that sexual assaults are a daily occurrence in the Arab world, and that a Muslim woman could ride the bus in Germany without fear but a European woman in North Africa could not. What do you think is the reason for that?
I believe in differentiation. A woman in North Africa - this comment is really very presumptuous. There are certain parts of the Muslim, African or North African world where that is the case. I don't want to deny that. But I find this generalization arrogant. If I, with my black hair, were to ride the bus after eight o'clock in the evening in rural Saxony, I'm guessing it's highly likely I would be accosted or verbally abused. But I would never allow myself to make assumptions about the whole of Central Europe on that basis.
Many of the refugees come from predominantly Muslim countries. How active a role does the Central Council of Muslims play in integrating these refugees?
By our standards we are active beyond our limits. Mosque communities in particular are doing tremendous work, often without any support at all from the public authorities. They've been doing this for months and years now. Many Syrian refugees already came to Germany in 2013 and 2014.
Aiman Mazyek has been a member of the General Assembly of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) since 1994. From 2001 to 2004 he worked there full-time as the press spokesman of the organization. In 2006 Mazyek was voted onto the committee as Honorary General Secretary, and since 2010 he has been Chairman of the ZMD.