Germany's new interior minister has polarized the country with his statements on Islam. But although he has opened up an important debate, he is going about it in exactly the wrong way, says DW editor-in-chief Ines Pohl.
That was quick. In his first interview, new German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has made it clear that he intends to conduct the debate on issues of identity and integration through polarization and exclusion. By saying "Islam does not belong to Germany," he has chosen exactly the right accelerant to further fuel Germany's divisions. And he has done it at a time when the number of attacks on mosques and Islamic institutions is on the increase.
This is not only dangerous for the internal harmony of Germany but ultimately a threat to the cohesion of the European Union as well. The EU community will hardly be able to survive in a spirit of exclusion and separation. And Seehofer's demand to suspend the Schengen Agreement indefinitely may lead to further uncertainty.
A missed chance
But the fact that Horst Seehofer has chosen to strike this sort of tone is not only dangerous — it is also a missed opportunity. This is amply demonstrated by the heated debate that this Bavarian politician has — yet again — triggered.
While one side has turned away angrily, others stridently applaud: "Finally, here is someone who says what we think."
A prudent person would not fuel this conflict further with aggressive statements. Precisely because he is new in office, he has a chance to approach the problems many Germans have — their uncertainties, their feelings of being under threat — in a more inquiring fashion. Four million Muslims live in Germany. That's a fact. To say that their religion does not belong here in the end only serves to help extremist forces.
Which Islam belongs to Germany?
Why doesn't Seehofer simply ask which kind of Islam belongs in Germany? And, by so doing, oblige Islamic associations in this country to help organize and take responsibility for peaceful coexistence? Why doesn't he try to work together with Muslims who are firmly grounded in our constitution? Those Muslims who, as a matter of course, stand up for equality between men and women and oppose discrimination against homosexuals?
That is the kind of spirit in which the new German government should be dealing with the challenges of integration. And it would also be a constructive way of addressing the fears of those who elected the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) to the German parliament.
It is no coincidence that it took Germany almost half a year to form a government. It is a reflection of Germany's fundamental struggle for identity as a country of immigration. The permanent focus on Islam is only further proof of a general helplessness.