“This remains a shock for me to this day”

10 years ago, the Islamist attacks in New York and Washington shook up an entire world view, says Hamburg Auxiliary Bishop Hans-Jochen Jaschke. In an interview, Jaschke, who is responsible for interreligious dialogue at the German Bishops' Conference, talks about Christian-Muslim initiatives and new threats since "9/11".

CBA: Suffragan Bishop, one of the death pilots of the 11. September 2001, Muhammed Atta, regularly went in and out of a mosque in Hamburg's Sankt Georg district, not so far from your office…

Jaschke: I have consciously never met him, but if you look at his photo, he seems like a smart man. He studied at the University of Harburg and had a circle of fellow students with whom he met to pray. That an intelligent person would stray into a religiously based murderous fanaticism was a shock to me and remains so to this day.
CBA: How could it come to this in the first place?

Jaschke: Huntington's catchphrase of the "clash of civilizations" has dominated the debate for years. The 11. September is a beacon for such a struggle. We must do everything possible to ensure that this development does not
continues: a Western world against a world that finds a common denominator under the name of Islam. That deepens rifts and antagonisms.
CBA: What reactions do you experience when talking to Muslims?

Jaschke: All reasonable representatives of Islam immediately distanced themselves from the attacks. But when the whole world points at Muslims and says, "In the name of your religion something like this is happening," that already puts a strain on the situation. A general suspicion can lead to a certain solidarity: "We Muslims are attacked and must stick together".
CBA: Five years after 11. September has Pope Benedict XVI. gave his famous "Regensburg Speech. A meaningful act?

Jaschke: It was a very smart and sensible speech, but the truncated message that came across was: beware of the irrationalities of Islam. Many Muslims complained that the pope was now also pillorying them. But: In the wake of the "Regensburg Speech" there were also the letters of Islamic scholars to the Pope and other Christian authorities. They emphasize what Islam and Christianity have in common, the unity of love of God and love of neighbor, the faith that does not practice violence. A lot has been set in motion on this track – although at the moment things are rather at a standstill, due in part to the political hardening and as yet unmanageable upheavals in the Arab world.
CBA: In Germany, the coexistence of Christians and Muslims is now largely the norm. How do you see it as a church representative?

Jaschke: Muslims have a great interest in being recognized as equal religious partners and gaining a status like the churches, for instance. They want to visibly express their faith in public, build mosques and offer religious education in schools. There they wish our support.
CBA: Do you support these claims?

Jaschke: Yes, but in view of a good four million Muslims and about 60 million Christians, in view of our history and our traditions, the Christians in Germany have an incomparably stronger, also cultural weight. Therefore, it would be an exaggeration to say that the Muslim Coordinating Council is on a par with the Protestant and Catholic churches and their complex structures. As a bishop, I have a high pastoral interest in Muslims being able to live their faith and religious customs in Germany. They must not be allowed to perish in our Western society with its tendency to level everything and lose God.
CBA: In Europe, however, there are diffuse fears of Islam, as the attacks in Oslo and on the island of Utoya in July made clear.

Jaschke: The massacre in Norway shows that there is a sediment in our Western world, a dull swamp from which the fight against "uberfremdung" is supposed to grow. This is a nasty downside to our society. As a churchman and man of God, however, I remind people of this in our seemingly enlightened societies:
Ideological pretexts or not, there is always the abysmal evil in the human heart, against which we are not immune. We must face this, also from the strength of faith, with a watchful eye.
CBA: Can the shock caused by the attacks of 11. The people who caused the fall of the Berlin Wall on September?

Jaschke: The 11. September must not remain the great portent. The lesson: Let's build bridges between Christians and Muslims. We want to keep our identities, but see what unites us. After all, the 11. September also led many to wake up: Violence in the name of religion can never be justified or excused.

The interview was conducted by Sabine Kleyboldt.

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