|Frau Merkel in hijab|
Gauck used his speech to send a message of reassurance to Germany's four-million-strong Muslim community, a day after a record 25,000 people joined a protest march by a populist anti-Islamic movement.
|President Joachim Gauck gives a speech at a Muslim|
community rally to condemn the Paris jihadist attack
"We, democrats with our different political, cultural and religious backgrounds; we, who respect and need each other; we, who want to live life... in unity, justice and freedom," Gauck said in his speech at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.
"The vast majority of Muslims feel they belong to our open society... Germany has become more diverse through immigration -- religiously, culturally and mentally."
|Sympathizers of German right-wing populist movement PEGIDA |
attend their twelfth march in Dresden. About 25,000 strong.
People at the rally applauded his message of inter-faith unity that came a day after the 12th rally by Germany's new right-wing movement the "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident", or PEGIDA, which has spawned smaller clone groups across Germany and as far as Norway.
Merkel -- who this week stressed that "Islam is part of Germany" -- said earlier Tuesday that "hatred, racism and extremism have no place in this country... We are a country based on democracy, tolerance and openness to the world."
Tuesday's vigil and rally was organised by the Central Council of Muslims under the banner "Let's be there for each other. Terror: not in our name!"
"Today we all want to express our solidarity with the French people," its chairman Aiman Mazyek said in his opening address. "The terrorists did not win and terrorists won't win in future.
"Today we say, along with the French people and many people around the world: 'Je suis Charlie'," he added, employing the international message of solidarity with the artists killed at the Charlie Hebdo magazine.
The vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Abraham Lehrer, said in his speech that in the French attacks, cartoonists were murdered because they stood up for free expression, police because they sought to protect them, and Jews simply "because they were Jews".
Lehrer said it would be wrong "to suspect all Muslims or even to disparage their religion. We completely condemn reprisals such as attacks on mosques."
But he said it was up to Muslims to counter the fear and terror spread by "radicalised, fanatical Islam" in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
|A woman shows a banner during a Muslim community tolerance rally |
on January 13, 2015 in front of Brandenburg Gate
The Muslim community rally came after 100,000 people took to the streets across Germany Monday in counter-demonstrations against PEGIDA, and to voice support for multiculturalism.
Merkel, who is often known to avoid controversial issues, has weighed in strongly, condemning PEGIDA's leaders for having "hatred in the hearts".
Rallies organised by Pegida, launched in October, have been growing week on week and spawned copycat groups nationwide.
The protests have been fuelled by a sharp rise in refugees seeking political asylum in Germany, which has been scrambling to house the newcomers in converted schools, office blocks and container villages.
Her comments were broadly hailed in the media, but not everyone agreed.
"Naturally, Muslims belong in our society," said Merkel's former interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, a Bavarian conservative.
"But the question is knowing what constitutes the identity of a country, and in Germany it is a Christian identity built on Judeo-Christian roots."
Bild, Germany's top-selling daily, said the Paris attacks seemed to have shaken the usually unflappable Merkel, a pastor's daughter who grew up in the communist East.
"She has two issues where, when she speaks, she doesn't sound like she is simply droning on with platitudes: religion and freedom," it said, noting the rare public signs of emotion she showed with Hollande at Sunday's solidarity march.
"She knows that gestures are now necessary... it is about freedom and protection from a terrorist war."
The rally was a good move by the Islamic Council, and getting 10,000 people out was good, though not really impressive; I'm sure they would have liked more.
It's a tough time to be a senior politician in Europe, especially France and Germany. You see the Pegida movement building, and you see attacks like Paris and the firebombing of the Hamburg paper are just encouraging them and adding to their numbers.
Deep down inside you are beginning to grasp the fact that there is some validity to their argument. Millions of Muslims in Germany are peaceful citizens, some may have even assimilated into German culture. To appear to agree with Pegida, the government would almost instantly turn the whole Muslim community against them and make them much more vulnerable to radicalization. That's a very scary thought.
So Merkel and Gauck have no choice but to publicly slam Pegida and appear on the side of Islam. Meanwhile, they have to start thinking about how they can slow down the immigration of Muslims. At 4,000,000, Islam is a big powder keg in Germany, and no-one knows what might set them off, but to assume that they will always be peaceful because they are mostly peaceful now, is extremely naive and very dangerous.