Ralph Brinkhaus, who leads the Christian Democrats (CDU) in the German parliament, could have avoided making front-page news had he not been asked one particular question from evangelical news outlet Idea. They wanted to know if a Muslim could lead the party and become chancellor in the next 10 years or so.
“Why not, if he’s a good politician, and he represents our values and our political views?” he responded.
The center-right CDU party, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel – the daughter of an East German pastor – has long been proud of the letter ‘C’ which stands for Christian values. But for Brinkhaus, human values are more important than religious beliefs.
“The CDU is not a religious community – that is what distinguishes us from the Catholic Church, of which I am member,” he reportedly said.
The interview took place in late February, but it didn’t cause a media frenzy until Bild quoted from it on Wednesday. German newspapers, both big and small, rushed to report on the stunning quote just a while later.
Brinkhaus’ remarks also raised some eyebrows in the German establishment.
“God forbid, I can’t believe he said that," Vincent Kokert, a CDU chief in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, told Bild. “No, I can’t believe it.”
Another conservative MP, Eberhard Gienger, said that a Muslim becoming German chancellor is unimaginable because it would imply “that Muslims would constitute the majority in Germany,” and “this is not the case.”
Other politicians claimed that Muslim values cannot be incorporated into the party’s mindset.
Some, however, defended Brinkhaus’ comments.
“Of course, a Muslim Christian Democrat, a Hindu or an atheist could run for Chancellor,” said Karin Prien, the education minister in Schleswig-Holstein.
Germany’s Muslim community also defended the comments. “Any person, regardless of religious affiliation, should be able to hold any office in our country having appropriate qualifications,” Ayman Mazyek, head of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, told the media.
According to a 2015 study by Germany’s immigration agency, there are over 4.4 million Muslims living in the country.