Obama and Merkel Craft Their Approaches to Islam, Refugees

Hannah Matangos

Hannah Matangos was a research intern at AICGS for the spring semester of 2016.

In both the United States and Germany, tensions have risen regarding the influx of refugees and relations with domestic and asylum-seeking Muslims.

Early this month, President Barack Obama visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore, marking his first visit to a mosque in the U.S. during his presidency. Obama encouraged “interfaith dialogue” in order to build “bridges of understanding” with people of other faiths, particularly Christians, Jews, and Muslims.  He expressed his disdain for Islamophobic remarks and reactions against Muslim Americans in light of the Paris and San Bernardino attacks, and asserted that Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all descendants of Abraham through faith.  “We have to understand an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths,” he stated to applause, and subsequently called for U.S. and Muslim politicians to end conspiratorial notions of the impending “clash of civilizations,” and to instead foster relations of mutual respect.

The Obama administration has been supportive of taking Syrian refugees, although it has met resistance from state governments.  Obama still holds that the best way to fight terrorism is to show that the U.S. supports and celebrates Islam and its followers and functions as a safe place for all people.  At the National Prayer Breakfast he stated that “faith is the great cure for fear,” which can cause us to alienate those who are different from us, including those of different faiths.  He said he personally has drawn strength from “good people of all faiths who do the Lord’s work every day.”

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has faced increasing backlash against her open-door policy. Seeing her approval rating plummet to a four-year low, clashes within her coalition government, and tightening immigration restrictions throughout the EU, Merkel has proposed new restrictions on Germany’s asylum law.  These restrictions would speed up the asylum process by streamlining deportation, designating certain North African countries as safe (and thus no longer permit granting refugee status to these citizens), and delaying refugees with “temporary” status from bringing their families for two years.  For years Merkel has encouraged German citizens to embrace Muslims with tolerance, though support for far-right groups (including the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party and the anti-Islam PEGIDA movement) has increased significantly after 1.1 million immigrants came to Germany in 2015.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.