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The current debate around Islam in Germany reveals that Germany has not yet made up its mind as to whether it is ready to embrace its new status a country of migration. In this the country is part of a worrying global trend. As, after months of political paralysis, the German governing coalition slowly steps into gear, the newly crowned Minister of Interior, Construction and Homeland Horst Seehofer was keen to make his mark.

A member of Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union Seehofer used his first major interview with the Federal Republic’s largest tabloid newspaper[1] to contradict the both old and renewed Chancellor Angela Merkel[2] and the former German President Christian Wulf[3] by declaring that “Islam does not belong to Germany” (while law abiding Muslims living in Germany do belong).

Seehofer’s inflammatory remark was promptly rebutted by the Chancellor. Since then prominent German politicians and public intellectuals have fallen into line around either side of the argument.

More than an empty debate about heuristics, the current “Islam debate” signals a profound struggle over what it means to be German, specifically whether Germany has truly succeeded in overcoming historical ethnic conceptions of citizenship. Further, the German discussions around Islam and multiculturalism mark a worrying global trend of renewed skepticism towards cultural pluralism within nation states.

The ethnic conception of German nationhood is deeply entrenched in the country’s history. To see this one must only examine German nationality laws, which until January 2000 accorded German citizenship primarily by parental blood line (Jus Sanguis) rather than place of birth (Jus Soli)[4]. Up until the 1990s the highest political authority of the Republic declared that Germany was not a “country of migration”, despite Germany having absorbed several millions of guest workers in the post-war reconstruction effort[5].

Subsequent attempts to liberalize citizenship laws and to embrace a more multicultural conception of Germanness often coincided with the so called “Leitkulturdebatte”. These discussions generally emerged from Germany’s conservative Christian democratic parties and sought to define as well as prescribe German values for all members of German society- often in opposition to alarmist conceptions of Islam, Sharia, or Muslim “honor-killings”[6].

Despite these enduring controversies, the international community was quick to view Germanys’ full embrace of the European Union and, most importantly, Chancellor Merkel’s courageous opening of German borders to Syrian refugees as signs that Germany had finally arrived in the multiculturalist camp.

Meanwhile, the domestic backlash against Merkel’s decisions was significant. Not only were centrist parties punished at the 2017 elections, enabling the rise of the new far-right Alternative for Germany, the conservative elements of the governing coalition themselves moved against their own chancellor in endorsing the revival of discussions regarding German identity.

As Germany continues to struggle to define its relationship with its new population of majority-Muslim migrants, it would be imprudent to see a comprehensive endorsement of multiculturalism as a foregone conclusion. In this sense Germany is exemplary of wide- reaching global trends that suggest a retreat from multiculturalism and pluralism, not only in Europe, but around the world.

In many ways the most obvious example of the retreat of multiculturalism and the celebration of cultural pluralism occurred in a country, whose open embrace of immigration once earned it the title of the great “melting pot”[7]. Following a divisive election, the United States of America have been scarred by anti-immigration rhetoric and policies, including the so called “Muslim ban”.

Despite repeat challenges in the American courts, the different iterations of President Trump’s travel ban increased the hurdles for the immigration of citizens from several Muslim majority countries to the United States[8]. While Trump’s America is in fact very diverse, such cultural pluralism faces outright opposition by the country’s leadership.

Meanwhile, the State of Israel, its history inexorably linked with the need to provide a homeland to Jewish refugees after the Second World War, has turned a cold shoulder to Africans seeking refuge within its borders. Israel is accused of subjugating African refugees to grueling conditions in refugee “internment camps”[9].

At the same time the state allegedly issued fake visas to migrants in order to facilitate their deportation to Uganda[10]. Additional contentions of a morally dubious “refugees-for-arms” deal[11] with a country accused of severe human rights violations[12] complete the picture of outright hostility towards migrants.

What unites the global tides of Islamophobia and anti-migrant sentiment is a vision of nation states, not as multicultural melting pots or mosaics[13], but as homogenous entities, often defined by ethnicity. Increasingly powerful groups within these nation states seek to preserve and defend social constructs of their “homeland”, even when in many cases these are contrary to the defacto realities existing in parts of their country.

Thus, the lived experiences of cosmopolitan elites from in Berlin, Frankfurt, Tel Aviv or America’s coastal cities should not delude proponents of multicultural, pluralistic societies of the rising challenge to their preferred way of life. Rather, the threats posed to multi-culturalism and open borders must serve as a stark reminder that tolerance and pluralism, where they existed, were earned in hard fought normative struggles against more regressive visions of political community. If such values are to be preserved these normative struggles must continue.






[5] Douglas Klusmeyer, Aliens, Immigrants, and Citizens: The Politics of Inclusion in the Federal Republic of Germany, in Daedalus 122 (1993)

[6] One is reminded of former Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière’s pronouncement that: “We [Germany] are no Burka”:







[13] Both are common metaphors for integration widely used in academic literature. See for example:

1 Comment

  • Anna Steinberg
    Posted 15/05/2018 15:43 0Likes

    But you will not tell me that this “Julius” is a PhD- candidate? That crap he writes could have been copied of a third-class- book on German history. Nice guy that he is interested in ” us” – however “us” means, oh, and he understands latin – now ” we” should say what a brilliant young man. Strange what kind of people can become a PhD-candidate- to be honest, I am glad that I have real estate in Switzerland and not in the EU – if that kind of people can become a PhD- candidate everything is possible. So, sweetie; loevely; Herzchen, Liebchen, ja watt denn? Bist du ueberfordert? Puttiputtiput, I do think it is really outrageous to confront the average German reader with irrelevant 19th century crap that probably bores most of us – and forget about the rest. That crap that little guy tells us is very well known to everybody who attended school at least – this is not the Third world where you can impress analphabets with a few limps of latin, and just by the way/ I do think that it is a very good idea to find out about racism, antisemitism and the rejection of democratic values in muslim communities or is that politically incorrect? That poor guy would like to say something… enjoy Europe, sweetie

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