German ingenuity in matters of integration? Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble may have just initiated something that could soon be finding imitators across the rest of Europe and beyond: The German Islam Conference. Held in Berlin’s Charlottenburg Schloß, just down the road from the now so controversial Deutsche Oper (think cancelled Mozart opera Idomeneo), this surprisingly quiet and harmonious get-together was possibly the beginning of something more meaningful: The acceptance of the fact that Islam is now a part of German culture and isn’t ever going to disappear.

And more importantly, this conference established a dialogue partner for the first time. You can’t have a dialogue if you don’t have anybody to talk to, and Minister Schäuble has now taken care of that problem. Invitations were sent to practically every kind of Muslim group represented in Germany, from conservative to secular to those critical of Islam. And although these representatives cannot speak with one voice, they were all speaking together, and openly with their German hosts. And interestingly enough, to get back to the opera incident, all present condemned the opera’s cancellation and agreed to attend the production together – should it ever be performed, that is.

That everyone is trying “to get a handle” on Islam in the West is certainly nothing new, but the results have been mixed at best and Germany is now trying to develop its own model. France has tried to regulate things from above, Britain tended to disregard it completely until homegrown terrorism made that impossible, the Danes switched from complete apathy to what has now turned into an open clash of cultures, and the so famously open and liberal Dutch are currently living in an atmosphere in which one of the most outspoken critics of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, has found it necessary to seek exile in the US.

Germany is reacting in a typically German fashion and is actively seeking dialogue. And this is a good thing. This meaningful beginning, practically ignored in the mainstream, has a good chance of actually getting somewhere this time, too. If pursued diligently enough, that is.

And when conservative CDU politicians publicly give up their old blockade policies of the past, those tired populist views on immigration and integration, and actually begin taking the proactive initiative in opening multi-cultural discussions – multi-cultural polices once thought to be the sole property of the SPD and the Greens only – than maybe things are changing here in Germany after all – and that would be clearly for the better.

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