The Headscarf Controversy: Secularism and Freedom of Religion

By Hilal Elver | Go to book overview

7
Germany

We kidded ourselves a while. We said: “They won’t stay
[after some time] they will be gone,” but this isn’t real-
ity. And of course, the approach [to build] a multicul-
tural [society] and to live side by side and to enjoy each
other… has failed, utterly failed.

ANGELA MERKEL, CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY,
December 2010

Germany, the EU’s largest and, arguably, most powerful member state, and home of the greatest number of Turkish Muslim migrants, has experienced a contentious headscarf debate (Kopftuchstreit) that has raged in all segments of German society and in the German media in the recent decade and is still ongoing.1 Germany is an important case to consider because it is the EU member state where both antidiscrimination legislation and headscarf regulation are seen as relatively problematic. Moreover, the cultural and political attention paid to Germany’s national socialist experience forms an ever-present backdrop to present-day social and political discussions about citizenship and the state. The threat of a return to fascism looms large in the German imagination, though where and how this threat is identified—whether in banning or allowing headscarves, in discrimination against minorities, or in state intrusion—is a subject of constant debate. The German case shows how race, religion, gender, and the role of the state go together but also diverge.2

Despite Germany’s relatively less visible militant opposition to the headscarf, similar to its neighbor France, the German federal system has imposed wider and deeper legal barriers on its Muslim female teachers and civil servants. The German justification for a headscarf ban applicable to teachers

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