Germans Up in Arms Over Merkel Ally's Remarks About a Muslim Chancellor in 2030

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Ralph Brinkhaus, the parliamentary group leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), embroiled himself in a scandal this week when he answered a delicate question about the prospect of Germany being led by a Muslim chancellor a decade from now.

Speaking to Idea, a local evangelical Christian news outlet, back in February, Brinkhaus said he didn't see any problem with a Muslim being Germany's leader. 

"Why not, if they're a good politician, and they represent our values and our political views?" the politician asked. "The CDU is not a religious community – that is what distinguishes us from the Catholic Church," he added.

Brinkhaus emphasised that with the decline in religiosity among CDU voters, career opportunities were opening up for non-Christians. "Therefore, Muslims who share our values – human dignity, personal responsibility, solidarity and the Basic Law are welcome to join the CDU," he said.

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While they received little initial media attention, the senior CDU official's comments would spark an explosion of debate this week after Bild, one of Germany's largest newspapers, ran a story with the headline "Brinkhaus can imagine Muslim as CDU Chancellor".

The story prompted many members of his own party to attack Brinkhaus.

"For the love of God, I can't believe Ralph Brinkhaus said that," the CDU chief in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania told Bild. "No, I can't believe it."

Elisabeth Motschmann, CDU lawmaker and member of the party's executive board, challenged Brinkhaus's sentiments about the compatibility of Islamic values with those of the CDU. "The values of Islam are very different from our values – for example, when it comes to questions of equal rights for men and women," she said, adding that all the talk of Muslim chancellors was "unsettling" to voters.

Eberhard Gienger, another CDU MP, also disagreed with Brinkhaus, telling Bild that Islamic values including Sharia law, polygamy, attitudes toward homosexuals, and "even the position of women" in society were incompatible with those of the party. 

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A few CDU politicians defended the parliamentary group leader, however. Serap Guler, a Muslim CDU lawmaker from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, slammed Brinkhaus's critics, arguing that "to say anything other than what Brinkhaus said doesn't belong in a mainstream party or one that takes the constitution seriously."

Karin Prien, CDU Education Minister in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, similarly defended him, noting that "of course, a Muslim Christian Democrat, a Hindu or an atheist could run for Chancellor." 

Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD), who work alongside the CDU in a coalition government, dismissed the scandal altogether, with SPD deputy chief Ralf Stegner telling Saarbrucker Zeitung that "all these identity debates are conducted only in the CDU," and that they have "nothing to do with" Germany's "real problems".

'C' in CDU Stands for 'Christian'

As might be expected, Brinkhaus's contentious remarks also resulted in a massive debate online.

In a scathing op-ed, Bild deputy editor-in-chief Daniel Bocking wrote that if the CDU wants to accept a Muslim chancellor, it should delete the 'C' from its name. 

"The CDU is not called the 'Good Political Party' or the 'Values and Views' Party, but the 'Christian Democratic Union'. The word 'Christian' represents not only a moral value, but also faith – in Jesus Christ. This may not sound hip, but that's the way it is," Bocking wrote. "And every Muslim would agree: although Jesus is considered a prophet in Islam, Muslims do not share Christians' faith in him as the Saviour and Son of God, which is the core of Christianity," he added.

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The debate continued on Twitter, with many users lambasting Brinkhaus and suggesting that it may be time for him to resign from the CDU. Others worried that a Muslim as chancellor would result in Germany's Basic Law being replaced with Sharia law, or argued that at the rate the Muslim population of Germany was increasing, the prospects of a Muslim chancellor were very high as it is.

Others failed to see the problem, or even praising Brinkhaus for his refreshing tone. "Only when we no longer think about which denomination or religion a candidate belongs to will we develop further," one user argued.

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