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New Rules for Muslims in German State Blasted

Sonia PhalnikarJanuary 5, 2006

Getting German citizenship usually means signing an oath of allegiance to the constitution. Not anymore. One state has begun singling out Muslims for tougher questioning, sparking an outcry across the country.

Stuttgart wants to know if Muslims are committed to the constitutionImage: dpa

On Jan. 1, life got tougher for Muslim immigrants angling for a German passport in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg.

In a unique move, the interior ministry of the state has said that potential Muslim Germans would face a lengthy interrogation, involving answering a catalogue of 30 questions on their political, cultural and social views. Subjects include their opinions on religious freedom, equality of the sexes, homosexuality, freedom of expression, the concept of honor, and forced marriage.

Questions range from "Do you think a woman should obey her husband and that he can beat her if she is disobedient?"; and "Would you allow your daughter to participate in sports and swimming classes at school?"; to "What do you think of the fact that parents forcibly marry off their children? Do you think such marriages are compatible with human dignity?"

"Serious or just paying lip service?"

The ministry has said that Germany's 16 federal states must be permitted to discern whether potential new citizens truly accept the country's Basic Law, to which they are required under federal law to sign an oath of allegiance.

Betende in der Al-Nur Moschee in Berlin
Baden-Württemberg is singling out Muslims for tougher questioningImage: dpa

"We need to find out whether the applicant really does seriously mean it when he signs an oath of allegiance to the constitution and accepts it, or whether he's merely paying lip service to it," said Günter Loos, Baden-Württemberg interior ministry press spokesman, in Stuttgart.

"There have been neutral surveys and studies that have shown there are discrepancies between Muslim beliefs and our constitution -- just think of things like forced marriages, honor killings and the like," Loos said.

"If there is a suspicion that the person who wants to become German does not share our fundamental principles and values, then the new interrogation is meant to find that out," he added.

Loos insisted the new procedure is "not so much a catalogue of questions," but rather a "guideline" meant to aid officials quizzing the applicant.

"Discriminatory and racist"

Officials will document the responses, which the applicant will eventually have to certify with his or her signature. Those who fail to satisfy the authorites of their readiness to accept the Basic Law will be refused citizenship. Baden-Württemberg has also warned that intentionally fudged answers could lead to German citizenship being revoked years later.

The new measure will only be applied to applicants from 57 Islamic countries (some 60 percent of all immigrants to Baden-Württemberg in 2004). Other candidates will be subject to the procedure in exceptional cases.

Those details of the rule, in particular, have raised hackles among politicians and Muslim groups.

Faruk Sen, director of the Center for Turkish Studies in Essen, said the move was discriminatory and racist.

"Every country has the right to examine foreigners' loyalty to the country's values and social order with certain questions during the naturalization process," Sen said. "But if 30 questions are only applied to Muslims, as is the case in Baden-Württemberg, then it amounts to religious ostracism and racism."

Türken in Deutschland Koranschule in Berlin
Turks make up the biggest group of foreigners in GermanyImage: AP

Sen pointed out that among the 2.7 million Turks in Germany -- the biggest group among the country's 3.5 million Muslims -- there was a high propensity to apply for German passports.

He added that the new measure would hamper the willingness among foreigners to apply for German citizenship, in turn negatively impacting ongoing efforts towards their integration.

"Populist" and "clumsy move"

The move has enraged politicians, who have slammed it as "populist," "questionable" and "hypocritical." Though some have said they understand concerns about the integration of Muslims, they insist the measure instead fosters prejudice and fear.

Zwei küssende Engel auf dem CSD in Hamburg
Some point out that even sections of the German population don't accept homosexualityImage: AP

Doubts have also been raised about whether even sections of the German population would pass some of the questions. Volker Beck, a leading Green party politician proposed a survey in an interview with daily Der Tagesspiegel to find out who supported equal treatment for homosexuals. "The interior minister (of Baden-Württemberg) himself would probably fail the test then," Beck said.

An editorial in the left-leaning daily Taz added the state had no right to poke in private matters -- such as finding out people's stance on homosexuality.

Some states, including Bavaria and Lower Saxony have distanced themselves from the move, saying they have no plans to introduce anything similar.

Even authorities at the immigration office in the Baden-Württemberg capital of Stuttgart have expressed misgivings about the new regulation.

"This is a decision that was taken by the interior ministry alone, we weren't part of it," said Christian Storr, who heads the office of the Immigration and Justice Minister in Baden-Württemberg.

"We do think that fundamentally it's right to conduct a more rigorous check on whether applicants conform to the principles laid down in the Basic Law," said Storr. "At the same time, it's important that such a guideline then applies to all and not just to Muslims. It's an extremely clumsy move."

Legal doubts

Experts have also raised serious legal doubts about the measure.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, former justice minister and legal expert of the opposition free-market liberal FDP, told DerTagesspiegel daily that Baden-Württemberg was skating on thin ice legally.

Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said the move violated the principle of equality anchored in the constitution and added that revoking citizenship was a complicated issue and couldn't be solved the way Baden-Württemberg envisaged it.

It also remains to be seen whether the move has anything to do with a regional election in Baden-Württemberg three months from now. The election campaign was opened this week.