Joachim Gauck warns Germany against the demonisation of Muslims
German President Joachim Gauck joined an iftar in Berlin on Monday, warning against demonising Muslims a day after a man pledging allegiance to ISIL shot dead 49 people in a US nightclub.
Germany is at the front line of efforts to integrate migrants into Europe after more than 1 million arrived there in 2015, most of them Muslims fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.
The influx has raised tensions in German society. Refugee shelters have been attacked and the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party has become a political force.
Gauck, a former Lutheran pastor from East Germany, joined an iftar dinner to break the Ramadan fast in Moabit, a poor district of Berlin with a large migrant population.
"Promoting encounters is particularly important at a time when mutual mistrust is spreading," Gauck said, according to an advance text of his speech. He said many Germans were anxious after recent attacks in Paris and Brussels.
"And for some, the fear of terrorism has become a fear of Muslims," Gauck said. He warned against a polarisation of society and urged Germans to seek regular encounters with Muslims in their neighbourhoods.
"All who celebrate the iftar together today can attest: living together is possible.
"Simply being together can sometimes even replace long discussions - especially if we let ourselves be guided by the golden rule that is common to all major religions and simply says ‘Treat others as you want them to treat you’."