06.06.2008Interview with Germany's Interior Minister Schäuble"We Must Give the Muslims Time"Schäuble: The dispute over the preamble of the European Constitution can't be the last word on the European debate about state and religion. It will become clear that Germany, as the only large European country which is roughly split in half between the confessions [protestants and catholics], has its particular experience to contribute.
It's the same as with our federal system: as long as we are not arrogant or behave in a patronising way, but with an appropriate level of modesty, then we can let others benefit from our experience. In the same way, we can learn a great deal from the experience of the Habsburgs in Central Europe – and perhaps we should have learnt it sooner in order to avoid the Yugoslav conflict. One can always draw positive conclusions from history.
An out-dated approach to laicism? Nicolas Sarkozy has prompted a new debate on the relation of the state and religion in Europe The relations between the state and religious communities will in my view have an outstanding significance in the twenty-first century. This modern world with its incredibly rapid changes, with its seductive potential, and (when we think of the financial crisis) its potential to mislead – this world won't manage without religion. That's what I believe – that's the way people are.
For centuries, a major issue in German history was the peace between religions, making coexistence possible for confessions which denied each other the right to exist. And looking at it from today's point of view, it could seem that the law, the legal framework of the German Empire, was for a long time more rational than religion was. In this period, the confessions refused to abandon their claim to determine the order of the world according to their belief, but they accepted the secular framework of coexistence. Could one go as far as to say that it's a lesson of German history that one should try to be a bit more relaxed, that one should give a bit more time to the foreign, anti-modern religion of Islam, to allow it to integrate here, to develop its modes of discussion, to gather experience, so that, in time, it can move beyond a simple acceptance of the external framework of living together?
Schäuble: We must give the Muslims time. But what we can't postpone is the legal and value system of our constitution. We have been arguing about that in the Islam Conference: whether there's a value system which goes beyond the constitution. That value system encompasses more than the articles of the constitution, but the value system is also open to the possibility of being developed by the religions and by the people. If the Muslims accept the basic principles of the constitution, then they can work with us on the development of the value system. And for that they need time.
The state's monopoly on the use of force, which seems to be in the process of disintegration in the globalised world, was the answer to the inability of Christians of different confessions to live together in peace. Religious freedom does not remove from anyone the requisite to respect the universality of human rights. Thus democracy requires a constitution on the national or European level.
One could wish to discover in this constitution a task for the state, to the extent that the state might encourage a reform of Islam, in the sense that human rights were to become Muslim principles of faith. If one did see that obligation, that would be – according to the expert in ecclesiastical law Martin Heckel from Tübingen in a recent article on religious education – tantamount to saying that the state must once more adopt the ius reformandi [the right of a ruler to change religion and take his subjects with him] from the sixteenth century.
On the basis of Germany's constitution - a conditional right for Muslims to confessional education in state schools Schäuble: I continue to consider all the article of our constitution which deal with religion to be excellent. We didn't even write them ourselves, they come from the Weimar Constitution [of 1919], but they were so good that they were simply taken over. Now the Muslims invoke the constitution. They've said they want the same rights. We say: if you want to have the same rights, you have to accept the conditions that go with them. If you are prepared to do that, then indeed you have the right to religious education in state schools, in the sense of a confessional education, and not just learning about religion.
According to article 7 of the constitution, Muslim confessional education cannot be offered by the state without a partner. In that sense we have an indirect effect on Islam. But only indirect, not in the sense of being paternalistic. Wherever the constitution is accepted, those elements in Islam will be strengthened which champion tolerance and living together peacefully, and not those which champion the fundamentalist abuse of religion, and which want to make religious conviction into the order of the state.
A classic instrument of legal tolerance is the possibility of making exceptions. When a believer invokes his conscience because he cannot reconcile his legal duties with his religious duties, the state has allowed exceptions – in practice mostly in favour of minorities, of sects. Believing Muslims have invoked this principle in court in order to allow exclusion from coeducational swimming lessons. In the case of Islam, which is nowadays a mass religion in Germany, has the exception as a legal instrument lost its usefulness?
Schäuble: There are also limits to exceptions: take for example the case of the Jehovah's Witnesses. One is not allowed to refuse medical treatment to a child for religious reasons. In other cases our state is more generous, and that's alright. A system can be generous, as long as it's not over an issue which is non-negotiable. The dignity of the person cannot be given up. The equality of man and woman is also something which is not for negotiation.
Of course I don't have to put my children through coeducation – I can send my daughter to a confessional girls' school. But they aren't run by the state. They are private schools. Nothing stops Muslims from setting up schools, and if they fulfil the other conditions required to have a school recognised, they can set up girls' schools as well.
Why should there be a problem of equality if it's not a matter of excluding girls from swimming lessons, but only a matter of providing them with separate classes?
Invitation to Muslims to take part in the positive developments of Europe's recent history: Wolfgang Schäuble and Bekir Alboga, spokesperson of the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs in Germany Schäuble: The Muslims have to organise that themselves. As long as they go to state schools, sport is part of the curriculum. At the age of puberty sport is usually separate – that's how it was with my four children. But we want girls and boys who grow up here to learn that men and women live together. It wasn't easy for us either. For my generation, the change in the relationship between the sexes is one of the big changes of the post-war period. And that has had many effects, also in the Christian churches. The protestant churches have got used to women pastors, even women bishops, they've even learnt that women bishops can be divorced. That's the modern world, and in spite of that, the Christian message hasn't lost its validity.
When you look at yourself at my age, and compare yourself to your parents or your children, you can see the developments that have taken place. When I read Thomas Nipperdey's "Deutsche Geschichte" ("German History"), the social conditions at the end of the nineteenth century reminded me in many respects of my childhood in the early fifties.
And, by the way, that for me explains almost with historical determinism why the 68ers [the generation of the student revolts in Western Europe in 1968] had to emerge as they did. Two world wars delayed the continuous process of adaptation to the modernising world in Europe; then it broke its banks, and now we can continue. And the Muslims will not be spared that process.
Since we are convinced that the last half century in Europe has been pretty good compared to what went before, we invite the Muslims – since they happen to be here – to take part in this process and to trust that this will give positive impulses to Islam. Interest in our Islam Conference is high in other parts of the world – not just in the Vatican, but also in mainly Muslim countries. We don't believe that we are re-inventing the world. But everyone has to plant his own apple tree.
The interviewer was Patrick Bahners.
© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung / Qantara.de 2008
Translated from the German by Michael Lawton
This interview was previously published on 20 May by the German daily, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.