Germany’s new Interior Minister Horst Seehofer claimed Friday “Islam does not belong to Germany,” signaling a potential shift on immigration for the newly formed government.In his first major interview since being sworn into office Wednesday, Seehofer told the Bild daily newspaper that he disagreed with the view that Islam was a part of German culture – a claim repeatedly made by Chancellor Angela Merkel in recent years, as the country deals with an influx of Muslim migrants.
“No. Islam does not belong to Germany,” he said. “Germany has been shaped by Christianity.”Seehofer said that “of course, the Muslims living here do belong to Germany.”But he stressed that the country’s more than 4 million Muslims needed to integrate with the rest of German society. “My message is: Muslims need to live with us, not next to us or against us,” he said.The comment reflected Seehofer’s desire to win back right-wing voters who abandoned Germany’s two mainstream parties in record numbers in last year’s election for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD),The AfD used the phrase “Islam doesn't belong to Germany” during its campaign, which capitalized on public concerns over immigration and Islam, and made the populist newcomer Germany’s third-largest political party.READ MORE: How a far-right terror group’s bombing campaign unleashed something sinister in a small German townThe head of the AfD in Saxony, Andre Poggenburg, said Seehofer had “taken this message from our manifesto word for word,” Reuters reported.Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) – the more conservative, Bavarian-based sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union – also said that he had a “master plan for quicker deportations” to speed up the return of migrants who failed in their bid for asylum. This involved reclassifying more countries as “safe” places of origin to return failed asylum seekers.Seehofer’s interview drew swift condemnation from parties on the left, including from within one of the CSU’s partners in the new “grand coalition” government, the Social Democratic Party. Natascha Kohnen, a lawmaker for the Social Democrats from Bavaria, told a German broadcaster: “Saying that incites people against each other at a time when we really don’t need that. What we really need is politicians who bring people together.”Cover image: Chairman of the Bavarian Christian Democrats (CSU), Horst Seehofer, speaks at a press conference on March 12, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Xander Heinl/Photothek via Getty Images)