On his first day on the job as Germany's interior minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich has managed to reignite the contentious debate about Islam's role in modern German society.
Friedrich was only in the job a day before controversy hit
Germany's new interior minister has said Islam was not a key part of the German way of life, reigniting a long-running debate about the role of foreigners in the country.
"Islam in Germany is not something substantiated by history at any point," Hans-Peter Friedrich told journalists on his first day on the job as Thomas de Maiziere's replacement.
He spoke as German authorities continue their investigation into what prompted the killing of two US airmen at Frankfurt Airport on Wednesday. Authorities suspect the accused 21-year-old Kosovan gunman was motivated by radical Islamist beliefs.
Friedrich's comments contradict those made by German President Christian Wulff in October, when he said Islam now "belongs to Germany" because of the 4 million Muslims who live in the country. Both men are members of the conservative parties that form the larger partner of Germany's coalition government.
The new interior minister also said everyone living or growing up in Germany must "first and foremost learn German." He said his chief goal as interior minister was to "bring society together and not polarize it."
'Crude understanding of society'
The minister's comments contradict those of his conservative colleague Wulff
Friedrich's words were roundly criticized by opposition parties and Muslim groups in Germany.
Cem Özdemir, leader of the Green party, said Friedrich's comments showed a "crude understanding of society." Özdemir said it was contradictory to declare that Muslims were part of German society, but also to claim that Islam had no part in Germany's history.
His party colleague Renate Künast also sharply criticized the minister. "Friedrich has only been interior minister for 24 hours and he starts by smashing the porcelain," she said on Thursday. Künast argued that many people of Islamic faith have been in Germany for a long time.
The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany also spoke out against the minister's statements.
"There are a whole series of unique historic references to Islam and the Islamic world in Europe," chairman Aiman Mazyek told the WAZ media group. "No one can seriously deny that."
Today, Muslims are an irreplaceable part of German society, Mazyek added.
Author: Catherine Bolsover (Reuters, epd, KNA)
Editor: Martin Kuebler