The German parliament has a long way to go before it reaches the chair-throwing, invective-spitting level of its South Korean cousin. But were it prone to such violent outbursts, the briefcases likely would have been flying across the aisles in a mid-January session. Accusations such as "idiotic," "racist," and "absolutely appalling" were fired back and forth -- strong words for the often staid Bundestag.
At issue was whether to ban a new immigration test that went into effect in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg on January 1 this year. The test -- referred to derisively as the "Muslim test" by its opponents -- ostensibly seeks to determine the attitude of citizenship applicants to the German constitution and to western values. Questions such as: "Some people accuse the Jews of being responsible for all that's bad in the world. ... What do you think of such accusations?" and "Your daughter applies for a job in Germany but she gets a negative response. Later you find out that a black woman from Somalia got the job instead. What do you do?" are used to determine whether applicants should be further interviewed. Should subsequent behavior of these citizens demonstrate that they lied on the test, the state reserves the right to withdraw their citizenship.
The test hasn't just made waves in the Bundestag. Commentators, politicians and leaders throughout Germany are taking regular stabs at the citizenship evaluation -- and most are finding it questionable. "One has the impression that the constitutional assumption of innocence no longer applies to Muslims," said Ali Kizilkaya, head of one of Germany's leading Muslim associations. Baden-Württemberg plans to administer the test to, among others, citizens from the 57 nations which are part of the Islamic Conference.
What about homosexuality?
Others are using stronger language to denounce the test -- with words like "unconstitutional." Josef Winkler, a Bundestag representative for the Greens -- the party which introduced the motion to prevent Baden-Württemberg from administering the test -- argues that it violates the constitutionally protected freedom of opinion.
"Many of the questions pertain to the applicant's intimate sphere and the core of his private lifestyle," Winkler writes in a statement on his Web page. "They target the subjective orientation and attitudes of the applicant and not facts and knowledge." As an example, Winkler mentions the questions on applicants' attitudes toward homosexuality. "Imagine that your adult son comes to you and explains that he is homosexual and would like to live together with another man. How do you react?" reads one of the questions.
Other critics point to questions that seemingly have only a tenuous connection to an applicant's attitude toward Germany's democratic values. "In Germany," the test asks, "sport and swim classes are part of the normal school curriculum. Would you allow your daughter to participate?"
But despite the voluminous critique -- and the fact that no other German state seems interested in introducing the concept -- Baden-Württemberg is sticking to its guns. While presenting the test before parliament earlier this month, the state's interior minister, conservative Christian Democratic Union member Heribert Rech, insisted amid loud scoffs and interjections that the test wasn't just for Muslims but would be given to others too. He also defended the principle behind the test.
"Until now, we have always asked what the immigrants know about our constitution," he said. "But there's a big difference between what one knows and what one believes or identifies with."
Support has also come from the federal government. CDU member Maria Böhmer, the government official in charge of migration, spoke critically of the test earlier this month. But in an interview with the Financial Times Deutschland last weekend, she said "the concern behind the Baden-Württemberg test is completely justified."
On Monday, critics of the test got a big boost when one of the country's most influential newspapers levelled the charge that Baden-Württemberg is indeed targeting Muslims. The Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that an internal memo from the Baden-Württemberg Interior Ministry to immigration authorities throughout the state instructed them to have "general suspicion" about the loyalty of Muslims to Germany. The memo mentioned that "the inner devotion" to Germany should be doubted in the case of every Muslim who applies for German citizenship.
"Europeans, Americans and citizens of other countries who are otherwise free from suspicion should not come into contact with this test," the memo continued in reference to the "Muslim test" according to the Süddeutsche.
"Undignified" and "idiotic"
The debate comes exactly one year after Germany introduced its new immigration law -- the first radical overhaul to Germany's immigration statutes since the early 20th century. Indeed, the uproar over the Baden-Württemberg test can be seen as a continuation of the acrimonious debate which preceded the passing of the 2005 law, which is intended to regulate all aspects of immigration. Despite needing an injection of foreigners to counteract the low birth rate and to fill posts requiring highly trained workers, many Germans remain skeptical of immigration.
Despite the widespread disdain of the Muslim test -- with members of the Greens ("discriminatory"), the Left Party ("undignified"), the Social Democrats ("idiotic") and the Free Democrats ("ineffective"), all blasting it last week -- the Green's motion for a parliamentary ban of the test failed last week.
German politicians say they expect the test to face a constitutional challenge in the courts soon. Green Party immigration policy spokesman Winkler said that if the state does not retract the immigration test, it will likely be taken to Germany's highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court, where it would be challenged over its discriminatory nature. After all, with its line of questioning, the test seems to target a single societal group: Muslims.
Others note hypocrisy in the quiz in that it holds Muslims who want to become naturalized citizens to a higher standard than other immigrant groups or those who are born in Germany.
"We can't expect those who we allow to immigrate to Germany to be that which we ourselves are not," Sevim Dagdelen of the Left Party points out. "We in Germany are not free from racism and sexism."
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