German interior minister says Thilo Sarrazin’s racist book opened up a necessary debate on Islam

Spiegel Online interviews Germany’s interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich.

SPIEGEL: Where is the boundary between legitimate discourse and racist or right-wing extremist agitation?

Friedrich: The boundary is set by our constitution. There can be no justification for violating the dignity of other human beings, irrespective of whether it has to do with a political or a religious view. That is the underlying consensus of our constitutional state.

SPIEGEL: Do you feel that this boundary was crossed in the debate over the ideas of Thilo Sarrazin, the German politician and banker who criticized Islam in a best-selling book?

Friedrich: The Sarrazin debate showed that when it comes to Islam, there is a certain mood and need for discussion that is reflected in neither the public discussion in the media nor in politics. We did not take this sufficiently into account in the past, which is why this debate became necessary. We cannot allow something to smolder underneath the public discussion, so that there are people we can no longer reach in the end. We have to talk about issues like the ones that were discussed in the Sarrazin debate, even if it clashes with notions of political correctness.

SPIEGEL: In other words, Sarrazin did not radicalize the debate in an objectionable way, but was in fact a necessary outlet for public opinion?

Friedrich: Sarrazin did radicalize things, but he was merely an indicator that, when it came to the subject of Islam, something was festering that had escaped our notice. It’s a discussion we need to have.

SPIEGEL: Sarrazin pushes the boundaries with his racist clichés. In this debate, there is a lack of a clear boundary between serious arguments and unacceptable polemic.

Friedrich: In our country, anyone who respects freedom of opinion and freedom of religion can discuss his views openly. The important thing is that Thilo Sarrazin addressed a subject that many people care about. Of course, there are many examples of extremely successful integration, but we also have ghettoization and a lack of integration.