The ‘German Islam Conference’ is a series of consultations between representatives of the federal government, regional governments and local councils on the one hand, and members of various Muslim organisations on the other. It was initiated in 2006 by Wolfgang Schäubele, then responsible for Home Affairs. While the conference has been called anything from a paper tiger to a farce, it is a high-profile affair, a symbol of Germany coming to terms with the realities of migration from Turkey and the Maghreb after a mere 50 years.
The timing of Kauder’s remarks is no coincidence, obviously. One year ago, Schäubele’s successor Friedrich made a very similar statement just before the conference. Apparently, the right wing of the Christian Democrats feels the urge to ascertain its position. After all, the CD parties have become a remarkably broad church, what with a divorced woman leading the party, a pension and works minister who supports gender quotas and introduced a large scale program to support state-run nurseries and a (now disgraced) president whose single political program was the integration of Muslim migrants into the larger German society.
There is much to be said about Kauder’s remarks, and most has been said already over the last 48 hours. Like Friedrich a year ago, Kauder claims that he did not want to offend anyone and was only talking about historical realities, but he is clever enough to realise that there is a difference between an academic debate and a political argument. Even as a historical statement, his claim is dubious at best as a sizable Muslim population has been around for decades, the Christian churches are in decline and notions of identity are contested. And by the way, religious freedom is a universal human right that is not limited to those Muslims who hold German passports (half the Muslims in Germany do not as a result of the still rather restrictive laws on citizenship).
The real blunder is party political, however. As a secular and occasionally radical republican, I may happily support the idea of separating human beings from their cultural-religious identities. But for Christian Democrats, this is denouncing their own political business model. Moreover, the Christian Democrats have fared fairly well with their broad church approach. While their support is a far cry from the 40+ per cent they could rely on in the 1970s and 1980s, they have been the strongest political party at the national level for the last five years.
Instead of alienating them, it would seem much wiser to embrace the migrant communities, whose religious and family values chime with the CDU/CSU’s conservatism. On the other hand, upsetting two million voters (and two more million Muslims who might be naturalised eventually) does not sound like a bright idea to me.