Seehofer and the Islam debate: “not helpful”?

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Merkel and Seehofer at a party summit

Horst Seehofer receives support from his own ranks after his controversial statement on Islam. CSU Secretary General Blume speaks of deliberate misinterpretation, fellow party member Scheuer says Seehofer speaks for the majority.

CSU Secretary General Markus Blume accuses critics of the CDU of deliberately misinterpreting Horst Seehofer’s statement that Islam does not belong to Germany. “Whoever sees this sentence as an act of exclusion acts maliciously and does not understand the debate”, Blume told the newspaper “Augsburger Allgemeine”. “Horst Seehofer also said in the next sentence that of course the people of Muslim faith belong to this country.” Not Seehofer’s comment, but the suppression of the “necessary debate” is dividing the country, Blume said.

Shortly after taking office, CSU leader Horst Seehofer had started a debate with the controversial statement on Islam. Critics accuse him of dividing society with this statement. Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) countered the CSU’s position in the Bundestag on Wednesday saying that with 4.5 million Muslims living in the country, Islam had become part of Germany. In the latest edition of weekly journal “Der Spiegel”, Seehofer reacted with incomprehension to this statement and emphasized: “I will not change my policy by one iota”.

The CSU leader received support from Federal Transport Minister and fellow party member Andreas Scheuer. “We as CSU speak with one voice – especially on this topic”, Scheuer told the newspaper “Bild”. Interior State Secretary Stephan Mayer told the newspaper that Seehofer was only saying “what the majority of Germans think: Our country has been shaped for centuries by Christianity, humanism and the Enlightenment, not by Islam. And in this sense Islam, of course, does not belong to Germany.”

The Saxon Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer (CDU) positioned himself somewhere between Seehofer and Merkel. The sentence according to which Islam belongs to Germany is “too unspecific” for him. This also applies to the contrary statement. He told the newspapers of the Funke Media Group that Muslims who “put their religion above the German constitution must be made to understand that this is no way to live in Germany.” According to him, those Muslims who are well intregated in German society must be protected from those who “represent radical Islam”.

FDP party leader Christian Lindner told SWR radio: “I would like to see a Federal Minister of the Interior who, as constitutional minister, does not go against the grain of the Basic Law (author’s note: Basic Law = the German constitution) by suddenly turning religion back into a political category.” Seehofer should instead ensure that “people in every corner of the country can rely on the legal system at any time and at any place”.

The Islam debate within the CDU and CSU, of course, serves a vital political purpose for the two conservative parties. Bavarian CSU’s Horst Seehofer is the ideological counterpart on the conservative right to the quintessentially centrist Angela Merkel. This is crucial, as both parties are desperate to reclaim traditional CDU/CSU voters on the right. Alienated by Merkel’s centre-left politics and the adverse effects of the refugee crisis, these disgruntled voters have either turned their backs on the Union and become nonvoters or, worse, turned to the far-right AfD for political representation.

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