German minister in pre-election dispute over “dominant culture”

 Reuters International

MAY 2, 2017 

Immigrants are escorted by German police to a registration centre, after crossing the Austrian-German border in Wegscheid near Passau, Germany, October 20, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Dalder/File Photo


BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s interior minister has caused a furore five months before an election for saying migrants must accept a “dominant (German) culture” that includes shaking hands, rejecting Islamic full-face veils and grasping the importance of Bach and Goethe.

The row over 10 theses on German culture and values set out by conservative Thomas de Maiziere in a Sunday paper indicates that the integration of more than a million migrants who have arrived in Germany since 2015 will be a hot election issue.

Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose popularity was hit by her open-door migrant policy, is favoured to win a fourth term but her Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners have picked up 8-10 points since choosing a new leader in January.

Even some of his fellow conservatives criticised de Maiziere for writing: “We value some social customs… as they are an expression of a certain behaviour … We are an open society. We show our face. We are not burqa.”

The burqa is the full face veil worn by devoutly religious Muslim women.

Ruprecht Polenz, former general secretary of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), distanced himself from de Maiziere, saying the idea of a “dominant culture” was problematic given that German values were already set out in the constitution.

“I think it raises the question about where there is still a need for binding rules and how a ‘dominant culture’ fits in with the diverse cultures in Germany,” Polenz told Deutschlandfunk.

The subject is deeply sensitive for many Germans out of concern, given the country’s Nazi past, that “dominant culture” risks straying in the direction of nationalism and repression.

SPD deputy leader Ralf Stegner said de Maiziere’s theses were “a cheap attempt to get conservatives going and run along behind right-wing populists”.

The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), which has dipped in popularity after last year capitalising on fears about the migrant crisis, also derided the theses as electioneering.

Merkel’s government has in the last decade talked a lot about the problems of integrating the roughly 3 million people with Turkish roots in Germany. The arrival of more than a million asylum seekers, more than 35 percent from Syria, in the last two years has intensified the debate.

Merkel angered some in her party in 2015 by saying Islam belonged to Germany but she is now performing a balancing act, backing a nationwide ban on Muslim face veils “wherever legally possible”, an allusion to public places.

The German parliament last week passed a law to stop the use of burqas by civil servants, judges and armed forces personnel at work.

De Maiziere’s theses, which also stressed the right of Israel to exist, to have church towers shape Germany’s landscape and to be an “enlightened patriot”, pleased some conservatives.

“A debate about a dominant culture is long overdue,” said Bavarian conservative Andreas Scheuer.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; editing by Mark Heinrich)



2 replies

  1. Of course we can and should ‘debate’ about the ‘dominant culture’ (or lack of it) (or the history of …). When talking about ‘integration’ however we first have to explain what we mean by it. It seems to me that everyone understands something different with this term. What is ‘integration’ ? In brief I think it means to observe, and want to observe, all local laws. I do not think that eating pork sausages is an essential part of integration. What do you think?

  2. This seems to be a one-sided ‘problem’, and only relating to Muslims v others, with long-established residents in Europe and other ‘Western’ countries being expected to accept large numbers of another dominant culture, which is becoming increasingly conservative, and which will in due course eliminate the indigenous people/culture. In other situations this would amount to colonisation.

    If this question were reversed, would the Muslim countries be so tolerant? No! Anyone visiting Saudi Arabia (and increasingly other Muslim countries), for whatever reason, is not free to impose their culture on the Saudis, in fact one is most likely to be arrested for any minor misdemeanour and/or restricted to designated areas.

    Most other newcomers and their children make an effort to assimilate here in the UK, enjoying their traditional customs inside their homes and on special occasions, such as weddings and festivals. But otherwise they live happily alongside their neighbours with much the same standards and values, as is my finding with neighbours from Africa, China, India, the Caribbean, and other European countries. One can say that these newcomers have assimilated. Of course, there are also more moderate Muslims, but they are being increasingly pushed to conforming to the increasing conservatism, as has been my experience over the past 50 years or so. So much seems to hinge on ‘modesty’, especially for women, but modesty does not have to mean adopting Arabic or Pakistani clothing, which seems to be the case. Fashions have changed over time, and most of the world has accepted Western clothing, men as well as women, that does not mean they are not modest. Would anyone suggest that our monarch, HM The Queen, does not dress modestly?

    Enjoying international food is now the norm for most people, so that should not form part of this issue.

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