Islam belongs in our country, says German president
German president Christian Wulff last night said that Islam had a place in Germany, during a speech celebrating two decades of reunification.
The president, who holds a largely ceremonial position but is considered a moral authority for the nation, used the televised ceremony to wade into a debate over immigrant integration that has captivated public attention for weeks.
"First and foremost, we need to adopt a clear stance: an understanding that for Germany, belonging is not restricted to a passport, a family history, or a religion," he told an audience in Bremen.
"Christianity doubtless belongs in Germany. Judaism belongs doubtless in Germany. That is our Judeo-Christian history. But by now, Islam also belongs in Germany," he added.
Mr Wulff's speech was part of nationwide festivities marking reunification in 1990, after Germany spent a half-century divided into two countries following defeat in World War II.
His comments came on the same day far-right Dutch populist Geert Wilders won a rousing reception in a meeting behind closed doors in Berlin that directly challenged Angela Merkel and urged Germans to form a new party to fight Islam.
Mr Wilders, whose Freedom Party has a pivotal role in propping up the new centre-right Dutch government, faces charges today in Amsterdam of inciting racial hatred by comparing the Koran to 'Mein Kampf'.
As a result, he has been toning down his rhetoric in the Netherlands over the past fortnight. But in Berlin at the weekend he let loose, drawing thunderous applause from more than 500 conservative sympathisers crammed into an hotel conference room. Stamping their feet in approval, many rose to give him several standing ovations.
Mr Wilders had come to tell the nation to free itself from the guilt of the Nazi past. "The crimes of the Nazi era," he said, speaking quietly in German "are not an excuse for you to refuse to fight for your own identity. Your only responsibility is to avoid the mistakes of the past."
There has been a sustained public discussion in Germany on the role of immigrants, most of whom were seen until a decade ago as "guest workers" who would eventually return to other countries.
The issue had been simmering for years as blood-based citizenship laws gave little recognition to the country's newer residents, four million of whom are Muslim.