German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended Islam as a peaceful religion Saturday night in a speech aimed at quelling growing anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe and the U.S. that has sparked in recent months hate crimes and political backlash. Merkel, who has sought to lead by example and welcome hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into Germany while urging other world leaders to do the same, faces a tough re-election battle in September in part because of her support for Muslims, but the embattled German leader refused to back down during her latest effort to convince the Western world that a religion of 1.6 billion people does not belong to jihadists.
Merkel said predominantly Muslim states might stand united against terrorism. "I think, those countries, first and foremost have to give a contribution. Because only in this way we would be able to convince people that it is not Islam that is the source of terrorism. But a falsely understood Islam," she said Saturday at the Munich Security Conference attended by various world leaders. "I expect from religious authorities of Islam to find strong language in order to delimitate peaceful Islam from terrorism committed in the name of Islam. We as non-Muslims cannot do this, it should be done by Islamic clergy and authorities."
Merkel’s remarks came as President Donald Trump has sought to ban travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East and Africa, refuse all Syrian refugees and deport millions of undocumented immigrants during his first few weeks in office, with some of his policies being struck down by a panel of federal judges in Washington. Most recently, Trump vowed to unveil his latest anti-illegal immigration plan next week after the White House denied a report from the Associated Press that claimed his administration had considered at one point directing National Guard members across the nation to round up undocumented immigrants. Trump also has had harsh words for Merkel’s open-door policy toward Syrian refugees in the past, and has also repeatedly threatened to end the U.S.’ longtime military alliances with western European nations such as Germany if they do not spend more of their national budgets on military spending.
But Vice President Mike Pence reassured members of the NATO military alliance during his first official trip to Europe this weekend that Washington will continue to serve as a close friend to Germany and other NATO members. Pence also attended Saturday the Munich Security Conference. "As you keep faith with us, under President Trump, we will always keep faith with you,” Pence told the gathering of European leaders.
The number of hate groups in the United States, including those spreading anti-Muslim messages, climbed from 892 in 2015 to 917 in 2016, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported. And the number of anti-Muslim groups soared from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year.