New Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has said Islam is not part of German culture. His comments underscore his efforts to push the government to the right. Rebecca Staudenmaier reports.
Germany’s new government may now finally be in place, but Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition appears to be off to a rocky start.
On Thursday, newly inaugurated Interior Minister Horst Seehofer disagreed with the belief that the Islamic faith is part of German culture — a statement that Merkel has repeatedly made since 2015.
“No. Islam does not belong to Germany,” he said in an interview with the German daily Bild newspaper. “Germany has been shaped by Christianity.”
Certain Christian-inspired aspects are part of daily life and culture in Germany, Seehofer said, naming examples such as shops being closed on Sundays and public holidays that correspond to church holidays like Easter, Pentecost and Christmas.
Seehofer told the paper that people who practice Islam are, of course, part of Germany.
“The Muslims who live with us obviously belong to Germany,” he noted, adding that “false consideration for others clearly does not mean we give up our country-specific traditions and customs.”
Seehofer’s move to the Heimat Ministry
Seehofer is taking the reins of the interior ministry, which is now officially called the Interior, Construction and Heimat Ministry. The term Heimat — which roughly translates to “homeland” — stirs up feelings of being at home and belonging to a place, but it also comes laden with connotations from the Nazi era.
During his interview with the Bild, Seehofer rejected the criticism that the new German Cabinet doesn’t include any people of colour, or those with an immigrant background.
“Do I have to be a doctor in order to be health minister?” he asked, adding that an immigrant background does not make someone qualified to be a good politician.
Seehofer’s comments also depict the Bavarian politician’s intent to steer his Bavaria-based Christian Social Union (CSU) and the new German government into a more conservative direction and win back voters who switched to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).
The phrase “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany” was a central pillar of the AfD’s party platform in last year’s general election. The populist party is now the third-largest bloc in parliament and Germany’s largest opposition party.
Seehofer has also vowed to increase deportations of rejected asylum-seekers in his role as interior minister.
The CSU leader has frequently bumped heads with Merkel in the past and has been vocal in his criticism of the chancellor’s refugee and immigration policies.
Merkel started a fourth term as chancellor on Wednesday after her Christian Democrats, the CSU and the Social Democrats sealed a coalition deal after months of negotiations.