Apr 202012

It’s silly season all over again: On the eve of this year’s ‘German Islam Conference’, Volker Kauder, head of  the Christian Democrats in parliament and one of Merkel’s key alleys,  declared that ‘Islam is not part of our tradition and identity in Germany and so does not belong in Germany.’ As an aside, he added that Muslims do belong to Germany and enjoy their full rights as citizens. Phew! His original statement is here, and here is a translation of Kauder’s remarks.

The ‘German Islam Conference’ is a series of consultations between representatives of the federal government, regional governments and local councils on the one hand, and members of various Muslim organisations on the other. It was initiated in 2006 by Wolfgang Schäubele, then responsible for Home Affairs. While the conference has been called anything from a paper tiger to a farce, it is a high-profile affair, a symbol of Germany coming to terms with the realities of migration from Turkey and the Maghreb after a mere 50 years.

The timing of Kauder’s remarks is no coincidence, obviously. One year ago, Schäubele’s successor Friedrich made a very similar statement just before the conference. Apparently, the right wing of the Christian Democrats feels the urge to ascertain its position. After all, the CD parties have become a remarkably broad church, what with a divorced woman leading the party, a pension and works minister who supports gender quotas and introduced a large scale program to support state-run nurseries and a (now disgraced) president whose single political program was the integration of Muslim migrants into the larger German society.

There is much to be said about Kauder’s remarks, and most has been said already over the last 48 hours. Like Friedrich a  year ago, Kauder claims that he did not want to offend anyone and was only talking about historical realities, but he is clever enough to realise that there is a difference between an academic debate and a political argument. Even as a historical statement, his claim is dubious at best as a sizable Muslim population has been around for decades, the Christian churches are in decline and notions of identity are contested. And by the way, religious freedom is a universal human right that is not limited to those Muslims who hold German passports (half the Muslims in Germany do not as a result of the still rather restrictive laws on citizenship).

The real blunder is party political, however. As a secular and occasionally radical  republican, I may happily support the  idea of separating human beings from their cultural-religious identities. But for Christian Democrats, this is denouncing their own political business model. Moreover, the Christian Democrats have fared fairly well with their broad church approach. While their support is a far cry from the 40+ per cent they could rely on  in the 1970s and 1980s, they have been the strongest political party at the national level for the last five years.

Instead of alienating them, it would seem much wiser to embrace the migrant communities, whose religious and family values chime with the CDU/CSU’s conservatism. On the other hand, upsetting two million voters (and two more million Muslims who might be naturalised eventually) does not sound like a bright idea to me.

May 022008

In a recent post, I have commented on a (now scrapped) law from the 1930s that made it technically illegal for “foreign” PhDs to use their titles in Germany. A superficially similar case concerns the German citizenship law that was first enacted in 1913 (the Empire happily existed without a concept of federal citizenship for more than four decades) and remained in force with minor amendments until 2000. At the core of this law was the idea that one cannot become German. Rather, one is German by virtue of the bloodline, i.e. by having German forefathers (the original sexist bias of the law was ameliorated in the 1970s). This is the infamous ius sanguinis. However, while the PhD regulations were half-forgotten and rarely enforced (though they provided an income for dubious lawyers), the continuity of the citizenship law after the war was clearly the result of political intent and was even enshrined in article 116 of the constitution.

While the ius sanguinis is archaic, the West German elites had two good reasons for not modernising the law. First, given that Bonn did not accept East Germany’s claim to sovereignty, meddling with the concept of citizenship was obviously dodgy. Second, West Germany considered itself a safe haven for millions of ethnic Germans who were still living in Central and Eastern Europe. Sticking with the traditional concept of citizenship kept the door wide open for these people: like in the case of refugees from East Germany, there was no need to apply for citizenship, because they were already German. Moreover, German citizenship was not exactly in high demand after the war.

One unforeseen consequence of the citizenship law was, however, that children born in Germany by foreigners remained themselves foreigners. By the 1990s, Germany had a sizeable and growing population of several million second (and third) generation foreigners, but thanks to the phenomenal inertia of Germany’s political system and their political persuasions, the Kohl-led governments of the 1980s and 1990s made only token attempts to remedy this situation. The (then new) SPD/Green government, however, came up with some rather radical reform ideas soon after it was elected in 1998. Howard’s article tells the complex and heroic tale of these reforms and the immense political backlash they created. It’s highly recommend for anyone who wants to understand the intricacies of the political battle of citizenship and immigration.

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