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Cablegate: German Muslims Respond Calmly to Pope's Remarks


DE RUEHRL #2766/01 2621411
R 191411Z SEP 06




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: (A) VATICAN 199 (B) BERLIN 2069

1. (U) Summary and Comment. Muslim organizations in Germany
reacted calmly, but critically, to the Pope's September 12
remarks in Regensburg. There have been no demonstrations to
our knowledge and no violent incidents. Muslim organizations
have also accepted the Pope's subsequent apology and our
contacts see no lasting damage to Muslim-Christian relations
in Germany or to plans for a September 27 Islam Dialog,
hosted by the Interior Minister, on the status of Islam in
Germany. Mission Germany's Muslim outreach efforts have
given us access and influence with a broad spectrum of the
Muslim population. We have welcomed and encouraged their
moderate responses, both to the speech and to the ensuing
outcry from some corners of the Muslim world. End Summary.

2. (U) German Muslim organizations and prominent individuals
responded critically, but calmly and with appeals for a
restrained response, to the Pope's September 12 remarks in
Regensburg linking Islam and violence. The Muslim community
here is not very well organized, owing to the many ethnic and
confessional lines within it. Following the Pope's September
17 apology, we spoke with representatives of Ditib, Germany's
largest Muslim organization (affiliated with the Turkish
Ministry of Religion). They described the apology as "very
reassuring" and cited as particularly "to the point"
Benedict's assurances that he did not share the opinion cited
in the quote. Ditib issued a press statement criticizing the
speech as showing a lack of understanding of Islam, rejecting
the thesis that Islam grew through violence, and appealing
for mutual respect.

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3. (U) A representative of a conservative Muslim group in
Hamburg, considered by German authorities as at least
potentially extremist, told ConGen Hamburg they have told
their adherents not to react with protests, despite their
unhappiness. An Imam in Bavaria told us that the Pope's
remarks were a disappointment rather than an outrage and was
asking his community for patience and openness to dialog.
Outside religious organizations, Lale Akguen, an SPD member
of the Bundestag, said that criticism of the Pope's statement
should not be used to create misunderstanding or
polarization. Green European Parliament member Cem Oezdemir
said on Sept. 15 that, though the remarks were "clumsy,"
demands for an apology "were exaggerated." A contact in
Saxony told ConGen Leipzig that his organization found the
Pope's statement confusing and did not plan to issue a
statement. Post is unaware of any demonstrations or violent
incidents related to the Pope's remarks.

4. (U) Our contacts were of different views on the impact of
the controversy on Muslim-Christian dialogue in Germany.
Some saw no danger, while others thought it did make dialog
at the community level more difficult. Our contacts agreed,
however, that there was no threat to the planned September 27
Islam Dialogue (Ref B). Interior Minister Schaeuble, who
will host the Dialog, said in the September 18 "Der Spiegel"
that the incident demonstrated how necessary such a
conference was. Our Ditib contacts also emphasized the
Turkish decision to go ahead with the Pope's planned visit
there. (Comment: The views of the Turkish government are
particularly influential with the roughly 2 million Muslims
of Turkish origin in Germany. End Comment) The Central
Council of Muslims in Germany "greeted the Pope's
clarification" in a statement that also called on "Muslims,
scholars, and responsible politicians of the whole world to
contribute to a further calming of the situation given the
Pope's clarifying words."

5. (U) German media covered the story intensively, and
editorial opinion generally took the line that the Pope's
remarks were ill-advised and had been misunderstood or
perhaps deliberately distorted by Muslims. The press has
been increasingly critical of the reaction in the Muslim
world, suggesting that reactions there tended to reinforce
the image of Islam as a violent and aggressive threat to
western values, notably freedom of speech. The government
has not issued any official statement on the controversy; the
Chancellor's spokesman told the "Frankfurter Rundschau" that
the affair was "an issue between religions, in which one
shouldn't mingle."

6. (U) Politicians have largely sought to avoid on the record
comment, though the Pope's German background provides a
significant reserve of support. Chancellor Merkel sought to
shift the focus away from the text quoted by Benedict,
emphasizing the Pope's "decisive and uncompromising
renunciation of all forms of violence in the name of
religion," and reiterating her own support for a dialog
between religions. In his Spiegel interview, Interior
Minister Schaeuble begged off commenting, on the basis that
he "belonged to those bad people who, since Martin Luther,
had fallen away from the holy Roman church" but added that
there should be a way to cite an ancient text if one doesn't
identify with it.

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