(Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday Islam “belongs to Germany“, in a clear repudiation of anti-immigration protesters gathering in Dresden and other cities.
A day after walking arm-in-arm with French President Francois Hollande at the front of a massive march in Paris to honor the victims of killings by Islamic militants, Merkel received the Turkish prime minister and urged dialogue among religions.
The conservative chancellor pointed to comments made by former German president Christian Wulff, who said in 2010 that Islam was part of Germany, triggering a fierce debate.
“Former president Wulff said Islam belongs to Germany. That is true. I also hold this opinion,” Merkel said at a news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who also took part with other world leaders in the Paris march on Sunday.
She was speaking hours before marches by a movement dubbed PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, were due to begin in several German cities.
Such demonstrations, launched in Dresden, have been dwarfed by counter-protests. Merkel has said PEGIDA’s rallies are organized by people with “hatred in their hearts”.
Merkel said her government was doing everything it could to ensure migrants were being successfully integrated into German society regardless of their religion.
Nearly two in three of the four million Muslims in Germany are of Turkish origin. Roughly half are German citizens.
But Merkel acknowledged the need for better dialogue between religions, praising Muslims for publicly rejecting the use of violence after the Paris killings and calling Turkey an ally in the fight against terrorism.
She and Davutoglu announced that their governments would begin regular German-Turkish consultations, a format in which the cabinets meet once a year and which is reserved for some of Berlin’s closest allies, like Israel and France.
Merkel and other German politicians are due to take part in a solemn vigil at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on Tuesday. Muslim organizations called the event to remember the victims of last week’s Islamist militant assaults on the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris.
Davutoglu said it was important to fight all forms of Islamophobia in Germany. Speaking later in Berlin, Davutoglu said that if Turkey was accepted in future as a European Union member it would send a powerful message of how Muslims and Christians could live together in peace in Europe.
“If Turkey as a secular and moderate country is not accepted into the EU because of cultural prejudice, that will give a negative message to European people,” he said.