Just three days into the job, Germany's new interior minister is already causing his government a headache after wading into a highly delicate debate about multiculturalism and claiming Islam was not a key part of the German way of life. "Islam in Germany is not something supported by history at any point," Hans-Peter Friedrich told journalists on his first day as Thomas de Maiziere's replacement on Thursday.
Friedrich was speaking in the context of a probe by German authorities into last Wednesday's killing of two U.S. airmen at Frankfurt Airport, in which it is believed the 21-year-old Kosovan suspect Arid Uka was a lone operator motivated by radical Islamist beliefs. His comments were a play on words, turning on its head an earlier remark made several months ago by German President Christian Wulff, who said Islam now "belongs to Germany" because of the 4 million Muslims who live there.
Friedrich's foray into the subject of immigrant religion and multiculturalism is in tune with comments made by other European leaders recently. British Prime Minister David Cameron said last month that multiculturalism has failed in Britain and left young Muslims vulnerable to radicalization, arguing for a more active policy to heal divisions and promote Western values.
Germany is home to Western Europe's second-biggest Islamic population after France. The single biggest minority is Turkish. In contrast to the situation in Britain or France, where simmering racial tensions sometimes explode into violence, German Muslims live relatively peacefully alongside mainstream society, but a lack of integration has long posed a problem.
Opposition member Dieter Wiefelsputz of the Social Democratic Party referred to Friedrich's comments as "rubbish," saying that the minister began his term with "poor judgment."
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