Political InQueery: The Poverty of Citizenship

Angela MerkelI had fully intended to take on the “everyone for themselves” quality of predicting election results, spending some time researching through the he said/he said (that’s not a typo) of who will win the House and Senate when the smoke clears on November 3. And then German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened her mouth. What flew out was such a smelly stream of political diarrhea that I have to shift gears and write about elections, international context, and ugly racism.

On Saturday, Merkel remarked that “multiculturalism is dead.” “This approach has failed, totally,” she said, adding that immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany’s culture and values.

“We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don’t accept them don’t have a place here.”

Merkel continued as she addressed a meeting of younger members of her political party, saying that immigrants needed to learn German and to stop their traditional cultural practices like forced marriage.

This is rhetoric we’ve all heard before. Take note of this statement last June from Nikolas Sarkozy, President of France:

The burqa is not a religious sign, it is a sign of the subjugation,
of the submission of women. I want to say solemnly that it will not be
welcome on our territory.

In both of these positions, religious values are stretched out on a continuum from honorable to dangerous, signifiers of modern or barbaric culture, with no possibility for compromise. These are mutually exclusive. In Europe, the right-wing fears being taken over by Muslims. After all, of the 80 million citizens in Germany, roughly 2.5 million legal residents are from non-Christian majority countries, including 2 million from Turkey alone. With pressure on Germany from these immigrants, asylum seekers who came in the mid-to-late 20th century, and Germans who formerly lived in East Germany or the Soviet Union, it’s not necessarily shocking that some xenopobia or anti-brown people racism could rise to the surface as an explanation for concern many Germans have regarding the stability of their economy and country.

Nikolas SarkozyFive-year-old estimates of French demographics, meanwhile, estimate that 8 to 10 percent of the 65 million people in France are Muslim. This is in context with nearly a quarter of the population who identify as atheist or agnostic. So Sarkozy focuses less on the religious significance and more on the symbolism of cultural traditions like the burqa.

Whether we as feminists have concerns about women’s freedom in the Middle East—which is an important discussion to have, of course—it is reductive and presumptive of the French President to declare, along with Parliament, that a country can simply rid an entire community of part of its value system.

Thinking back to the United States of America and these upcoming elections, two groups of brown people have been featured, again and again in our debates, in campaign ads, on news shows, and printed on the flyers that are mailed to our houses and that beseech us for attention:

• Brown people who share our Christian values but don’t speak the language and who want to steal our jobs
• Brown people who have different religious values and are dangerous to themselves and us

I’ll note that both Merkel and Sarkozy represent the more conservative side of European politics, as do the US candidates that I have featured earlier in the column who have pulled out the “scary immigrant” and “scary terrorist” messaging in this election cycle. No, we aren’t the only country which pontificates about the human threats to our nation. But perhaps by looking at where else these doomsday scenarios are echoed, we can hear just how hollow they always sound.

by Everett Maroon
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Everett Maroon is a memoirist, essayist, and fiction writer originally from New Jersey and now living in Walla Walla, Washington. His blog is transplantportation.com and he tweets at @EverettMaroon.

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13 Comments Have Been Posted

I would prefer if Germany got

I would prefer if Germany got off the religious bandwagon. But I guess that's what you get if you elect the Christian Democratic Union to lead the country.
I guess i can say: YAY, my country sucks, too!!!

Sounds familiar Germany!

Mmm......picking on ethnic groups again are we Germany? That sounds familiar...

oil and water

religion, like the secular state, seeks to control people by controlling their thought. the two competing systems cannot coexist. one will ultimately have to yield.

"sounds familiar" is an ad hominem argument.


Sounds familiar is not my

Sounds familiar is not my argument, therefore it's not a fallacy. "Sounds familiar" is meant to shed light on these recurring contexts--that whether a state considers itself religion or secular-based, it seeks to find ways to set one part of the population, (read, the voters) against another (read, immigrants) in order to maintain or secure its power. My point is that by looking at other countries' reliance on hate-based or xenophobic rhetoric, we can think about how to unpack our own. I'm looking for us to step outside what we assume are "real" arguments—that we're losing jobs to undocumented workers, or that letting Muslims build mosques will endanger our safety—so that we can see these messages for what they are: fear-mongering in advance of supporting the most privileged group of people in the world.

As a German, I am totally

As a German, I am totally open to any criticism of German politicians, but always bringing up Hitler is just a shitty thing to do.

Agreed. Germany has done a

Agreed. Germany has done a lot to work through the consequences of that era. The point I made in the article is that in all three countries, real and perceived economic strain has opened a space for hate and fear mongering, and I see a benefit in looking at a lens that is longer than just the US elections to help disperse the currency of those messages here. My apologies on behalf of the commenter who pulled Hitler into this discussion. That's actually the same kind of logic I'm writing against.

I don't agree with the slash

I don't agree with the slash on multiculturalism, but I am sensitive to the burqa situation. When you travel to an Islamic country, as a foreign woman it is preferred (and sometimes required) for you to wear a burqa - even if you do not follow that custom, even if you are not Muslim, if you are a woman in public you need a burqa. So how is this, any different than European countries, placing a ban on the burqa? It is still a case of oppression, because these countries are putting regulations on what women can wear, or how they can look. I understand that for many, the burqa does represent the submission of women, but that doesn't mean they should be banned.
By telling people what they can, and cannot do, you are taking away freedom. A burqa is not a threat. It is a piece of cloth. Objects only contain the power you place on them. Banning burqas only makes the situation more uncomfortable. They reduce themselves to the ideas of which they claim to be preventing.

I would love to hear the opinions of the women who wear burqas for religious reasons.

Where is their voice?

I want to hear their voices, untainted by their families, or country, or government, wherever they may be.

Lots of places!

Hi Laura,

Thanks to the power of the Internet, we can hear from many (although certainly not all) groups of women who wear burqas. To read Muslim women bloggers on the subject, you might want to check out Muslimah Media Watch: http://muslimahmediawatch.org/?s=burqa

""We feel tied to Christian

""We feel tied to Christian values. Those who don't accept them don't have a place here."

This translation is pretty poor. She said "Menschenbild" which is a word that hasn't a direct English translation. "Christian concept of man" would fit better.

Assuming this translation is

Assuming this translation is correct, doesn't this make the parallel between Germany and France yet stronger? In both cases, religion becomes less about worship and more about cultural value, the implied absence of which is used to form the basis of exclusion.
Thinking about the way the public generally tends to hear such messages, it seems most dangerous to imply immigrants don't share a "Christian concept of man." Like Americans, I have to assume Germans have tolerance for a certain diversity in religious practice. But, suggesting immigrants don't accept a "Christian concept of man" seems to imply something much broader, much less easy to reconcile. In the US, I'd suggest politicians often use this type of vague rhetorical to open certain ideological doors that people who are inclined to think certain ways then walk through.

I'm always struck on the

I'm always struck on the ignorance of religious history when people posit Christians on one side and Muslims on the other of some continuum. Isn't the history that the same legacy informs the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths? That Abraham's sons Isaac and Ishmael were the patriarchs of the Jews and the Arabs, respectively? These narratives take a back seat to the image of the terrorist because the connections don't serve the rhetoric. And Bill O'Reilly's comment on The View last week that 9/11 was about Muslims murdering Americans—that's just part of a rubric in which the right-wing understands whole swaths of the human population, billions of people from all over the world, as the enemy. And somehow, voting a certain way will protect us better. Religion, in this frame, becomes only a marker of inside/outside, with religious practices increasingly just a way to ensure one is participating in the "correct" segment of culture.

I read Merkel's comments with

I read Merkel's comments with much interest. I thought that a lot of what she said was correct, while pandering a little too much to conservative fear of immigrants.

Many countries in Europe suffer from lack of immigrant assimilation. In the US, we don't experience this as much because most kids attend public school and within 1 generation, immigrants assimilate much of American culture into their own. Take Denmark for example. Their Muslim population consists of multiple generations that have not assimilated into the population at large. The government has allowed sharia law to be implemented in many Muslim heavy areas, by choosing to not interfere. Many young girls are still subjected to Female Genital Mutilation, and the government doesn't even have statistics on how many women are murdered through 'honor' killings because the police don't acknowledge that behavior occurring in some of their Muslim population. It's filed under missing, or homicide, if reported at all. This is an extreme example, but it gives you the idea of how American multiculturalism and European multiculturalism realities can be different.

Multiculturalism is not an inherently flawed idea, but if countries don't have policies encouraging different populations to assimilate, then it won't work. We all need a basic set of similarities to feel comfortable living next to each other.

The EU and Germany in

The EU and Germany in particular is a massive useless bag of manure!!

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