Germany’s Far Right Tightens Its Grip in the East

Worrisome:

The far-right Alternative for Germany party on Sunday celebrated a strong showing in the former Communist East, more than doubling its support in a state election held two weeks after an attack on a synagogue that some tied to the party’s use of hateful language.

The party won 23.5 percent of the vote in Thuringia, according to preliminary returns, up from 10.6 percent in 2014. That left it in second place, behind the Left Party but ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The party, known by its German initials AfD, has no hope of governing, since all the other parties have ruled out cooperating with it. But its strong showing is likely to reverberate in other ways. The election outcome could further strengthen the power of Björn Höcke, the party’s leader in Thuringia and its most notorious figure.

Do Germans Know a Hate Crime When They See It?

Ongoing and disturbing:

Slowly, many would say too slowly, Germany is waking up to the threat of far right terrorism. How could it not after a gunman attacked a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar? Unable to enter, he killed a woman on the street and a man in a kebab shop.

The shooter’s “manifesto” was a typical anti-Semitic screed, but his mother’s words, in their way, were more chilling. She told the German magazine Der Spiegel that her son “didn’t have anything against Jews in that sense. He had something against the people who stand behind financial power.”

Unfortunately, such parsing of definitions is not unique to the moms of murderers. Violent hate crimes that stop short of fatalities occur on an almost daily basis in this country, but are rarely reported or prosecuted.

In the past week alone, three right-wing extremists walked through the streets of Doebeln wearing orange jackets that said “Safe Zone,” chanting far right slogans and claiming to hunt “foreigners.” Right-wing extremist strategy is to make out that a “foreign threat,” that is, immigrants, has made streets unsafe, and that the German state has lost control of order, so it’s up to quasi-nazis to defend the streets and their country. Thus the “safe zone” reference.

In Mannheim, a 62-year-old man was arrested after shouting racist abuse at people on the train. (He was first told to leave because he didn’t have a ticket.) In Halle, someone uploaded a video of a man on the bus slurring abuse and talking about “gassing” people.

A few hours after the terror attack in Halle, police in the western city of Bonn reported that shots were fired through the window of an immigrant asylum home. The suspects drove off.

For the far right, such attacks small and large serve to instill fear in the targeted group, to drive a wedge between that group and the rest of society and thus fuel the extremists’ prophesied “war of cultures,” as Matthias Quent writes in his book Deutschland Rechts Aussen, or “The German Far Right.” And by failing to provide victims of hate crimes with justice, or declining to acknowledge that they are what they are, Germany’s democratic institutions perpetuate these aims.

In the aftermath of Halle, some measures have been announced. At a press conference, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said security measures at synagogues across the country would be improved.

But the government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, thinks that’s not enough. Speaking on ZDF television the day after the attack, he demanded that judges be allowed to recognize and give tougher sentences to anti-Semitic hate crimes. Right now the relevant law speaks of “contemptuous” motives.

“The attack began with a man wearing a shirt emblazoned with the image of Horst Wessel, a Nazi shot in 1930 and portrayed as a martyr by Josef Goebbels. ”

“I have not had one case where anti-Semitism was clearly named as the motive for a crime,” says Christina Büttner from “ezra,” an organization in Thuringia, where victims of violent hate crimes can get counselling and legal advice.

Thuringia is an eastern German state and home to the far-right AfD, Alternative für Deutschland, hardliner Bjoern Hoecke, who has called the Holocaust memorial in Berlin a “monument of shame” and said that schools should highlight German suffering in World War Two

In 2014, a group of right-wing extremists beat up six people at an art exhibition in Erfurt, a city in Thuringia. The attack began with a man wearing a shirt emblazoned with the image of Horst Wessel, a Nazi shot in 1930 and portrayed as a martyr by Josef Goebbels. That man started making anti-Semitic slurs to visitors before he was joined by seven other men who shouted “Sieg Heil.” At their court hearing, the consensus appeared to be that the offenders were “drunk and looking for a fight,” says Büttner. The anti-Semitic slurs were “brushed aside.” The fact that one of them had the face of an SS officer tattooed on his calf was only added to the case file after he appeared at proceedings in short pants.

“There are education gaps about anti-Semitism among officials, state prosecutors and judges,” says Büttner. “One cannot assume that highly educated people in Germany know what anti-Semitism is.”

According to official figures, such as they are, anti-Semitic and racist hate crimes—including online hate speech and the use of Nazi symbols—increased almost 20 percent in Germany last year. In most cases, the offender was judged to have a far right background. Büttner says her organization has dealt with one case where the offender had a Muslim background, but when it comes to violent anti-Semitic attacks, right-wing extremists “are in the majority.”

When confronted with the case of a person who may have been a victim of a violent hate crime, the police in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, where Halle is located, have been told to refer victims to independent advisory services like ezra. The legal advice of these NGOs can be useful, for example, if police refuse to provide a translator to a victim who doesn’t speak German.

“In Halle, this works very well,” says a counselor for the organization Mobile Operberatung. “But in other parts of the state, it may be that the police don’t recognize the cases or that they don’t know what they are supposed to do.”

Independent advisory services for hate crimes—mostly present in eastern Germany—record a much higher number of violent attacks than the authorities. Last year, they estimated that an average number of five people a day were attacked.

“Last year, they estimated that an average number of five people a day were attacked.”

Even more hate crimes go completely unrecorded. “Our statistics are the tip of the iceberg,” Büttner says.

In Germany, the individual police officer asked to register an assault decides whether it is a hate crime or not. Judith Porath, who counsels victims of violent hate crimes in the eastern state of Brandenburg, says that the people who come to her center often decide not to go to the police. Some worry about revenge. Others distrust the authorities. “People feel that they are not being believed, that they are being treated as the offenders,” she says.

Sometimes, a person who is targeted repeatedly by hate crimes will think there is no point in going to the police if they are still waiting for the legal proceedings against a different assailant from three years ago. One reason that proceedings are so slow is that there is a significant shortage of judges and state prosecutors in Germany.

In cases of far right violence, according to Porath, a common strategy that her organization has encountered is for gangs to first ambush a person who is alone, then accuse that person of assault. The culprits can back each other up in court. If the victim has no witnesses, the case either is dropped or the victim ends up being charged.

The fact that there are more hate crimes could be interpreted by the organized extremist movement as a sign the population is “leaning toward their ideology” and shares their definition of “enemies,” Daniel Koehler, director of the Institute on Radicalization and De-Radicalization Studies, tells The Daily Beast.

There are some signs that the German law enforcement’s sensitivity may be improving. In the ZDF interview, Felix Klein said that one reason the number of officially recorded anti-Semitic hate crimes last year increased was because more people are now going to the police.

In Halle, the number of violent attacks recorded by the Mobile Operberatung actually decreased in the past year. But in the neighboring state of Saxony, NGOs recorded a 38 percent increase in violent attacks—not least because of a series of assaults fuelled by the racist riots in Chemnitz last August.

In the wake of those riots, four restaurants were attacked, including the Jewish restaurant Shalom and the Persian restaurant Safran. These properties were destroyed, swastikas were painted on the glass and one owner was in the hospital for eight days. The state police took over the cases, citing the likelihood of a xenophobic motive. No suspects were found.

“To some extent, the affected did not feel like they were being taken seriously,” says Anna Pöhl, a counselor for victims of hate crimes in Chemnitz. This was in part because of the manner in which police investigated the attacks, for example by checking for ties to organized crime or asking whether the offenders had perhaps been shouting something in Arabic or Russian–this after being told that they’d given a Hitler salute and shouted “Sieg Heil.”

This September, the far right Alternative für Deutschland party became the second strongest party in Saxony and Brandenburg. Now, Judith Porath says “The AfD tries to discredit us, they are constantly making inquiries about us.”  Other political parties have defended the NGO, she said, so far.

Source: Do Germans Know a Hate Crime When They See It?

Germany eases citizenship rules, but Jewish roadblocks remain – Monash Lens

One of the more lengthy and comprehensive analyses:

Germany’s constitution contains a provision that permits citizenship to be granted to descendants of persons stripped of their German citizenship by the former Nazi regime for political, racial or religious reasons.

In practice, this provision, Article 116(2), is mostly – although not exclusively – directed at descendants of Jewish refugees from Germany. Approximately 7000 German Jews fled to Australia before World War II, due to the policies of the Nazi regime, and there are many descendants in Australia who now wish to become German citizens.

However, the German parliament has not properly implemented Article 116(2) in its citizenship law. German legislation precludes the granting of citizenship to various groups of descendants of Jewish refugees.

Many applicants have been denied citizenship on the basis that the affected family member was female, because citizenship passed only through the father at the time the German constitution was enacted.

Other applications are denied because German authorities contend that the applicant’s female ancestor willingly gave up German citizenship by marrying a non-German man after escaping Germany.

In other cases, the authorities have denied applications to the descendants of those who the authorities argue left Germany “voluntarily” during the Nazi reign and willingly relinquished their German citizenship — a position that flies in the face of historical realities. And some applicants have been denied citizenship on the basis that their parents were unmarried, or that the applicant was adopted.

We can see no rational reason why these groups of descendants are excluded for eligibility for German citizenship. As Article 116(2) of the constitution seeks to provide a form of restitution for past injustices, it’s imperative that this provision is interpreted in a generous fashion, without drawing arbitrary distinctions between descendants.

An inconsistent law

A very strong argument can be made that the law is inconsistent with the right to equality under the German constitution, not to mention Germany’s obligations of non-discrimination and the right to private and family life under the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Germany is a party.

On 30 August, the German government issued a decree that attempts to rectify some of the discriminatory aspects of the law. The decree addresses some aspects of the gender discrimination in the current law, and extends citizenship rights to those born before 1949, who were until now precluded from eligibility by a 2012 decree.

However, the decree does not completely remedy the discrimination in the law.

For example, children born out of wedlock to a German mother would be excluded, whereas children born out of wedlock to a German father would be eligible. Moreover, citizenship won’t be granted unconditionally to those who become eligible. Rather, applicants will need to demonstrate German language competence and knowledge of Germany’s legal and social order.

The determination of whether these criteria are satisfied in an individual case is to a large degree discretionary, based on a subjective assessment made by German consular officials. In light of Germany’s track record in relation to granting citizenship under Article 116(2) of the constitution, there’s a need for greater transparency and more objective decision-making criteria to ensure the decree is given effect to in the manner it was intended.

Another issue is that by requiring certain groups to pass the above tests but not others, the law perpetuates gender discrimination. For example, descendants of female ancestors need to demonstrate German language skills, but descendants of male ancestors do not.

Moreover, the generation born after 31 December, 1999, would be the last generation to be eligible under this decree to obtain German citizenship. Although an argument can be made that the rationale for restitution lessens with the passage of time, we can see no justification for limiting eligibility to this timeframe.

There are also serious questions as to whether this type of rule-making by decree is appropriate, not to mention constitutionally valid.

The difference between a decree and legislation isn’t merely symbolic. A future government could revoke the decree with the stroke of a pen, whereas changing legislation requires that the proposed law be debated by parliament.

A law, properly debated and enacted through Germany’s parliamentary procedures, faces much higher hurdles for reversal.

Another provision of Germany’s constitution requires that certain “essential” decisions must be made by parliament, rather than by the executive branch of government in the form of a decree.

In our view, there’s a strong argument that this issue is one that can only be dealt with by parliament.

Germany has a largely commendable track record in confronting its Nazi past. It should do right by the descendants of those who had to flee to save their lives.

Germany has a largely commendable track record in confronting its Nazi past. It should do right by the descendants of those who had to flee to save their lives – end decades of protracted, unjustifiable and arbitrary discrimination by enacting a law that provides for a simple path to citizenship for all descendants.

Requiring descendants to fight for their rights in the courts would add insult to injury, and would be particularly difficult for descendants in countries on the other side of the globe such as Australia.

Source: Germany eases citizenship rules, but Jewish roadblocks remain – Monash Lens

After euphoria and anxiety, Germans turn pragmatic on immigration – study

Interesting:

Germans are broadly positive towards immigration and think it benefits the country, a survey showed, suggesting the often extreme reactions triggered by the arrival of a million-plus refugees there in 2015 have given way to a calmer view.

A long-standing split between attitudes in the more welcoming western Germany and more sceptical former Communist east has also become less marked, Thursday’s Bertelsmann Foundation study revealed – though judged purely on economic factors the differences between the two parts remain acute.

Overall, almost two thirds of Germans believe immigration is good for the economy and 67% that it makes life more interesting, with young people the most positive.

“Germany has passed the stress test of the 2015 immigration wave and has stabilised itself as a pragmatic immigrant country,” foundation board member Joerg Draeger said.

“The population sees the challenges, but also the opportunities it brings for an ageing society.”

Four years ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel chose to leave Germany’s borders open as an unprecedented wave of migrants, many of them fleeing war in Syria, headed for Europe.

While many greeted Merkel’s decision with initial euphoria, a backlash followed, with a jump in support for anti-immigration parties across Europe, one of which, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), entered parliament in 2017 for the first time.

While a sense of unease remains, the intensity of feeling has diminished. Some 49% still think Germany is overburdened with refugees, but that has declined from 54% since 2017.

Some of the divisions between east and west have also narrowed.

A total of 59% of western Germans said refugees were welcome, down from 65% in 2017, while the comparable figure in the poorer east rose to 42% from 33%, the survey showed.

However, as many as 83% in the east – where the AfD is expected to do well in two regional elections on Sunday – still feel immigration is a burden on the welfare state and just a slender majority think it good for the economy.

Uncovering the roots of discrimination toward immigrants

Interesting study and approach:

All over the world, immigration has become a source of social and political conflict. But what are the roots of antipathy toward immigrants, and how might conflict between immigrant and native populations be dampened?

His newest research on identity politics, an experimental approach that explores the causes of discrimination against Muslim immigrants in Germany, was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Opposition toward immigration can be due to economic reasons because of competition for jobs or due to the perceived cultural threat that immigrants pose to their host country by challenging dominant norms and changing the national identity,” he says.

He finds arguments centered on cultural threat more convincing than economic explanations of opposition to immigration, especially in Europe.

“Most previous research is limited to presenting survey-based attitudinal measures of antipathy toward immigrants or refugees and correlating them with socio-economic characteristics of the survey respondents or their political beliefs,” Sambanis says. “We wanted to go beyond that and measure actual behavior in the field. We wanted to figure out what particular aspects of refugees or immigrants generate more hostility. Is it racial differences? Ethnic differences? Is it linguistic or religious differences? Is there merit to the idea that discrimination toward immigrants is due to the perception that they do not follow the rules and threaten dominant ?”

There’s very little experimental research, Sambanis says, on the causes of anti- bias and even less research on how to reduce it.

Working with University of Pittsburgh assistant professor Donghyun Danny Choi, a former PIC Lab postdoc, and Mathias Poertner, a PIC Lab fellow and postdoc at the University of California, Berkeley, Sambanis designed the experimental study. They targeted Germany because of the high influx of immigrants and refugees and the political salience of immigration issues in recent elections there and because Germans are strongly inclined toward conforming with social norms, especially around keeping order.

Their hypothesis: If it is true that opposition to immigration is driven by the perception that immigrants threaten valued social norms and pose a cultural threat, then in a country that values norm adherence they would see a reduction in discrimination toward immigrants if immigrants show that they respect local social norms and care about their new society.

They staged an intervention against a native male German who littered in a public space, since not littering is a social norm there. A female researcher would approach the person littering, asking him to pick up his trash and dispose of it properly. Bystanders, unaware that they were being studied, observed the interaction. Shortly thereafter, the woman would take a call and while speaking on the phone would drop a bag of groceries, causing oranges to spill out on the floor. The observing researchers recorded whether the bystanders who had witnessed this entire interaction helped the woman pick up her oranges.

In some versions, the woman dropping the oranges would have sanctioned the norm violator, signaling her integration with the German culture. In others, she did not intervene so as to seem indifferent to the littering.

Researchers also used the woman’s identity as a variable: In some versions, she was a native German, in others a Muslim immigrant wearing a hijab. Her degree of religiosity, her ethnic background, and her linguistic assimilation to German society were all manipulated as part of the experiment.

This allowed the researchers to measure whether immigrants who are more socially distant than the average German receive less assistance and whether following social norms offsets any bias toward them.

They ran this experiment more than 1,600 times in train stations in 30 cities in both western and eastern Germany using multiple teams of research assistants, with more than 7,000 bystanders unwittingly participating. Then, the researchers measured whether women who wore a hijab received less assistance than native Germans, whether ethno-racial differences between immigrants matters less than religious differences in generating bias, whether immigrants who wore a cross received more help than those who did not wear any outward symbols of religiosity, and whether good citizenship—enforcing anti-littering norms—generated more help from bystanders, eliminating any bias against immigrants.

“We found that bias toward Muslims is too pronounced and is not overcome by good citizenship; immigrant women who wore a hijab always received less assistance relative to German women, even when they followed the rules,” Sambanis says.

“But we also found that good citizenship has some benefit, as the degree of discrimination toward Muslims goes down if they signal that they care about the host society. And ethnic or racial differences alone do not cause discrimination in our setup. Nor is religious assimilation—wearing a cross rather than a hijab—necessary to be treated with civility.”

On average, women wearing a hijab who did not enforce the norm got help in about 60% of cases, whereas “German” women who did scold the litterer got help in 84% of the cases. The rates of assistance offered to a Muslim who enforced social norms by scolding the litterer were equivalent to those for a German who did not enforce the norm.

“The reason to run such an experiment focusing on everyday interactions is that it gives you a sense of the accumulated impact of discrimination in shaping perceptions of identity and belonging,” Sambanis says. “Getting help to pick up something you drop on the floor seems like a small thing. But these small things—and small slights—add up to form lasting impressions of how others perceive you and, in turn, can inform the immigrants’ own attitudes and behavior toward the host society.”

Now, Sambanis, Choi, and Poertner are extending their research to new questions trying to understand the mechanisms underlying the effects they picked up with their experiments in Germany.

They found gender was a key factor, as it was German women who discriminated against Muslim women. Sambanis says he didn’t expect this result since existing research implies that men are more likely to discriminate, and certainly media portrayals of anti-immigrant backlash tend to center on men.

“We puzzled over the fact that German women withheld assistance from Muslim women who needed help. Based on survey data we collected after our experiment, it seemed that this effect was particularly due to secular women, women who do not register a religious preference,” he says. “This led us to hypothesize that part of the reason we observed this behavior is that German women who might otherwise be open to immigration have developed hostile attitudes toward Muslims because they perceive their cultural practices as threatening to hard-won advances in women’s rights. It’s basically a feminist opposition to political Islam.”

The team has now designed a new experiment that explicitly tests this hypothesis. Two new experiments test whether signaling one’s political ideology regarding key issues related to women’s rights can offset discrimination toward Muslim women.

This collaborative effort between Sambanis, Choi, and Poertner will become a book on how conflict between immigrants and native populations can be managed and whether norms can form the basis for the reduction in discrimination. The German experiments will be expanded next year and applied to a different social context in Greece, which also faces an intense political crisis due to unsustainably high levels of immigration and which differs from Germany with respect to the degree of public adherence to laws and rules.

Individuals there are less likely to follow rules and contribute less to the public good. So Sambanis and his co-authors think they may observe even lower effects of the ability of social norms to offset discrimination due to ethno-religious differences. That research will provide a useful comparison to better understand the existing experimental results.

“A key idea in socio-biological theories of inter-group conflict is that there is an almost innate antipathy or suspicion toward members of “out groups” [immigrant], however those groups are defined. But clearly societies can manage sources of tension and avoid conflict escalation since there is very little observed conflict relative to how many different types of inter-group differences exist out there,” Sambanis says. “A lot of the literature on immigration has suggested that assimilation is the key to reducing conflict between natives and immigrants: Immigrants must shed their names, change their religion, or hide their customs so they can be more accepted.

“Is this really necessary? Or is it enough for immigrants to just signal credibly that they care about being good citizens as much as everybody else?”

Understanding these types of questions is at the heart of the PIC Lab’s mission. A unifying theme of Sambanis’ work has been reducing inter-group conflict, particularly inter-ethnic conflict.

His interests were shaped by the wars in Bosnia and Rwanda, which were going on when he was in graduate school and pushed him away from international economics and toward studying peacekeeping. At the PIC Lab, researchers tackle questions both at the larger country level and at the smaller individual and group level, integrating ideas from political science, social psychology, and behavioral economics to understand human behavior and explore the outcomes of different policy interventions to reduce conflict. The lab conducts data-based, mostly quantitative research that can inform policy design but also theory-building in political science, Sambanis says.

“Ethnic differences, religious differences, —they all matter for politics, but they do not need to produce conflict,” he says. “When people are faced with the hard realities of ethnic wars, separatist conflicts, genocides, or hate crimes, they usually assume that these are inevitable outcomes of innate human prejudices or fears and that people just can’t get along because of deep differences in their preferences or their customs.

“A lot of the work that I do shows that ethnic conflict is not inevitable. The key is to understand the conditions that make salient and then find ways to defuse or manage conflict.”

Source: Uncovering the roots of discrimination toward immigrants

The New German Anti-Semitism

Good long and disturbing read:

One of Wenzel Michalski’s early recollections of growing up in southern Germany in the 1970s was of his father, Franz, giving him some advice: “Don’t tell anyone that you’re Jewish.” Franz and his mother and his little brother had survived the Holocaust by traveling across swaths of Eastern and Central Europe to hide from the Gestapo, and after the war, his experiences back in Germany suggested that, though the Nazis had been defeated, the anti-Semitism that was intrinsic to their ideology had not. This became clear to Franz when his teachers in Berlin cast stealthily malicious glances at him when Jewish characters — such as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” — came up in literature. “Eh, Michalski, this exactly pertains to you,” he recalls one teacher telling him through a clenched smile. Many years later, when he worked as an animal-feed trader in Hamburg, he didn’t tell friends that he was Jewish and held his tongue when he heard them make anti-Semitic comments. And so Franz told his son Wenzel that things would go easier for him if he remained quiet about being Jewish. “The moment you say it, things will become very awkward.”

As a teenager, Wenzel defied his father’s advice and told a close friend. That friend quickly told his mother, and the next time Wenzel saw her, she reacted quite strongly, hugging him and kissing his face: “Wenzel! Oh, my Wenzel!” Now a stocky, bearded 56-year-old, Wenzel recalled the moment to me on a recent Saturday afternoon. He raised the pitch of his voice as he continued to mimic her: “You people! You are the most intelligent! The most sensitive! You are the best pianists in the world! And the best poets!” In his normal voice again, he added, “Then I understood what my father meant.”

Wenzel Michalski is now the director of Human Rights Watch for Germany. He and his wife, Gemma, an outgoing British expat, live in a cavernous apartment building in the west of Berlin. In their kitchen, Gemma told me that after arriving in Germany in 1989, she often got a strangely defensive reaction when she told people she was Jewish; they would tell her they didn’t feel responsible for the Holocaust or would defend their grandparents as not having perpetrated it. And so, to avoid conversations like these, she, too, stayed quiet about being Jewish.

Recently, the Michalskis’ youngest son became the third generation of the family to learn that telling people he is Jewish could cause problems. The boy — whose parents asked that he be called by one of his middle names, Solomon, to protect his privacy — had attended a Jewish primary school in Berlin. But he didn’t want to stay in such a homogeneous school for good, so just before he turned 14, he transferred to a public school that was representative of Germany’s new diversity — a place, as Gemma described it, where he “could have friends with names like Hassan and Ahmed.”

The first few days there seemed to go well. Solomon, an affable kid with an easy smile, bonded with one classmate over their common affection for rap music. That classmate introduced him to a German-Turkish rapper who would rap about “Allah and stuff,” Solomon told me. In return, he introduced the classmate to American and British rap. Solomon had a feeling they would end up being best friends. On the fourth day, when Solomon was in ethics class, the teachers asked the students what houses of worship they had been to. One student mentioned a mosque. Another mentioned a church. Solomon raised his hand and said he’d been to a synagogue. There was a strange silence, Solomon later recalled. One teacher asked how he had encountered a synagogue.

“I’m Jewish,” Solomon said.

“Everyone was shocked, especially the teachers,” Solomon later told me about this moment. After class, a teacher told Solomon that he was “very brave.” Solomon was perplexed. As Gemma explained: “He didn’t know that you’re not meant to tell anyone.”

The following day, Solomon brought brownies to school for his birthday. He was giving them out during lunch when the boy he had hoped would be his best friend informed him that there were a lot of Muslim students at the school who used the word “Jew” as an insult. Solomon wondered whether his friend included himself in this category, and so after school, he asked for clarification. The boy put his arm around Solomon’s shoulders and told him that, though he was a “real babo” — Kurdish slang for “boss” — they couldn’t be friends, because Jews and Muslims could not be friends. The classmate then rattled off a series of anti-Semitic comments, according to Solomon: that Jews were murderers, only interested in money.

Over the next few months, Solomon was bullied in an increasingly aggressive fashion. One day, he returned home with a large bruise from a punch on the back. On another occasion, Solomon was walking home and stopped into a bakery. When he emerged, he found one of his tormentors pointing what looked like a handgun at him. Solomon’s heart raced. The boy pulled the trigger. Click. The gun turned out to be a fake. But it gave Solomon the scare of his life.

….

German inter-faith scheme criticised for using beermats to explain Islam

Well, if one wants to reach non-Muslims (the intent), beer mats are not a bad way to go about it:

A scheme to promote better understanding of Islam in Germany has run into controversy — after Muslim groups objected to the use of beer mats to provide information.

Under the scheme, beer mats are provided to pubs and restaurants with questions about Islam. On the reverse is an internet link to the answers.

Rather than using formal German, the beer mats are printed in regional dialect for each city, complete with local slang.

Typical questions include “Mohammed, what was he like?” and “What is it with Muslims and pork?”

The scheme has run in a number of German cities since it was first launched in 2016, and the beer mats have been translated into three dialects.

But a bid to introduce it in the small central German town of Maintal, close to Frankfurt, has run into opposition from local Muslims, who say beer mats are an inappropriate way to educate people about a religion that forbids alcohol.

“They could have used postcards, or adverts on the side of a bus. Why did it have to be the pub?” Salih Tasdirek, the head of the local foreigners’ advisory council, told Spiegel magazine.

The local council has defended the scheme. “We wanted to bring big social issues into conversation,” said Verena Strub, the council’s integration officer.

“I can understand if someone associates beer mats with alcohol, but not that anyone would associate Islam with alcohol just because the questions are on beer mats.”

The scheme is the work of Orient Network, a small German NGO that promotes interfaith understanding.

“We wanted to give answers in local language to the questions that our members, mostly Islamic scholars, are always asked,” said Raban Kluger, the scheme’s main organiser. “It is not our intention to associate alcohol with Islam.”

The questions and answers on the beer mats were all drawn up by Muslims and checked by Germany’s Central Council of Muslims, Mr Kluger said.

Tens of thousands of beerm ats featuring the questions have been printed. So far, they have been translated into the local dialects of Saxony, the Baden region, and Hesse, where Maintal is located.

Source: German inter-faith scheme criticised for using beermats to explain Islam

German government defends planned immigration laws | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond

Responding to the most immediate needs of the business community:

In a heated debate in the Bundestag on Thursday, the German government made the case for its much discussed proposed law governing immigration for skilled workers.

The new proposal, initially agreed upon by Angela Merkel’s Cabinet five months ago, is the government’s response to many years of complaints from a business community increasingly concerned about the lack of qualified IT specialists and engineers in Germany and shortfalls in other vocational professions. The country’s aging population is also desperately in need of health care workers.

A historic turning point

Conservative Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was on hand to present the draft law. He described it as a “historic point of juncture” that provided clear criteria for who should be able to come to Germany to work and under what conditions.

The minister was careful to point out that any perceived liberalization of Germany’s immigration laws could easily be corrected in the future, should the job-market situation change.

One of the key planks of the proposed law is the suspension of a mandatory check accompanying all job applications from outside the EU that makes sure there are no German or EU citizen applicants, who have priority.

The law will also make it easier for immigrants with a vocational qualification to move to Germany. Up until now, the German system had mainly favored those with academic qualifications.

Additionally it will also allow some people, under certain circumstances, to come to Germany to seek vocational training.

Interior Minister Seehofer said the law would be ‘historic’

The opposition criticized the limited scope of the plan, while the government’s conservative faction in the Bundestag stressed in a statement that there must be “no immigration into the social security systems.”

Tolerated, as workers

The German labor minister, Hubertus Heil, also defended another migration law proposed by the government that modifies how certain asylum-seekers whose applications have been rejected can obtain a “tolerated” status, meaning they are nonetheless allowed to stay in the country. The modifications apply to rejected asylum-seekers who have begun a state-recognized vocational training course or work for at least 20 hours a week, learned German, and have been able to support themselves for 18 months already.

Heil defended the move as a “pragmatic solution,” arguing it made no sense to deport people who were already working in Germany while at the same time trying to encourage other skilled workers to come.

Immigration reforms ‘too restrictive’

But some experts did not think much of the idea.

“It is much too restrictive to make much sense,” Thomas Gross, immigration law professor at Osnabrück University, said of the toleration article. “There are a few former refugees whose status hasn’t been recognized. They will get a more long-term ‘toleration status’ under very tight restrictions. But that isn’t a residency permit, but a second-class, uncertain status, and it will only be relevant for very few people.”

Gross was similarly unimpressed with draft law on general immigration. “It’s certainly a compromise that offers access and progress for those with non-academic professions with training qualifications,” the professor told DW. “But for all other areas it brings practically no progress.”

Attacks from all sides

The government, made up of Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, and the center-left Social Democrats, was bombarded from both sides of the parliament during the debate.

The business-friendly Free Democrats, represented by Linda Teuteberg, dismissed the draft law as “tentative and uninspired” and said it offered no great progress.

Green party parliamentary leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt said the proposal was more of an “obstruction law” rather than a modern immigration law, a line that was also taken by the socialist Left party.

The exact opposite argument was made by Gottfried Curio, a representative from the far-right, anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), who said the proposed law would only attract more “underqualified poverty migration.”

Germany is facing a care-worker crisis

Human rights organizations like Pro Asyl also argued that the draft law was orientated more towards Germany’s economic interests and would help very few asylum-seekers who were trying to integrate in Germany.

Bureaucratic bottleneck

Bettina Offer, an immigration lawyer who represents major German companies looking for employees abroad, said it was unrealistic to expect the government to completely overhaul Germany’s immigration law in anything less than three to five years. According to her, what the government had done was ease the most critical points in the current legal situation.

“They wanted a quick solution because skilled workers were needed quickly, and I think that made sense,” Offer said. “That has been improved, but it’s true that the new law only offers a very rough framework, which I think will be refined in the next few years.”

“But what is perhaps even more important for the skilled workers is that the government has understood that the bottleneck is not so much at the legal level, but at the bureaucratic and administrative level,” she added.

In other words, it’s the practical problems that deter many qualified people from coming to Germany, such as difficulties getting visa appointments, either in Germany’s Foreign Citizen Offices or in consulates abroad.

“The new law includes a fast-tracked procedure for qualified workers. Businesses have been calling for that a long time, and that has finally been heard,” said Offer.

The law is supposed to come into effect on January 1, 2020, though the government has also warned that the relevant bureaucracies will need a six-month preparation period, which would mean the parliament would have to pass the law this summer to have an effect.

Source: German government defends planned immigration laws | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond

German conference on Islamic veil sparks controversy

All depends on the range of speakers and views that are being expressed, along with how they are expressed:

Islamic veils and headscarves remain the subject of heated public debate in Germany. Some view them as part and parcel of religious freedom; others as a symbol of women’s oppression in Islam. The German court system has already taken up the issue of whether school teachers should be banned from wearing a partial headscarf or full veil — or any other openly religious symbols — in class. To complicate matters further, not all of Germany’s 16 states see eye-to-eye on the matter, which is gaining in visibility due to the country’s changing demographics.

Germany’s Muslim population, which has rapidly increased in recent years due to immigration from Muslim-majority countries, was estimated at between 4.4 and 4.7 million people or approximately 5.5% of the country’s total population in 2015, according to the Federal Statistical Office. The number is doubtless higher now, according to the agency, but updated official figures exist.

With these demographic changes come societal debates — one of which, that of the Islamic veil, has been a continual source of discussion. The latest veil controversy, which made headlines all across Germany, has occurred over a planned academic conference — something that even its organizer did not expect.

Academic accused of peddling ‘anti-Muslim sentiments’

Professor Susanne Schröter, who has been researching Islam in Europe at Frankfurt University since 2008, has planned a conference titled “The Islamic veil – Symbol of dignity or oppression?” for May 8. A small group of students has criticized the conference, accusing her of wanting to spread Islamophobic sentiment and calling for her resignation.

Zuher Jazmati, a member of the “Uni gegen antimuslimischen Rassismus” (“University against anti-Muslim racism”) initiative told DW: “We do not believe a value judgment ought to be made on whether or not someone wears a veil. Making such a judgment is annoying for and a burden on any woman wearing one.” Jazmati believes that such discussions even encourage violence against Muslim women.

He also opposes several of the invited conference speakers. Jazmati takes issue with the attendance of German journalist Alice Schwarzer, who publishes Emma, a feminist magazine. He also opposes Islam critic Necla Kelek, whom he accuses of having expressed highly contentious statements in the past and of perpetuating a racist discourse. “When we discuss this topic we should do so with women in attendance who wear a veil so they can speak for themselves,” Jazmati underlines.

‘Just a regular conference’

Schröter is adamant that the event will go ahead as planned. She told dpa press agency: “I assumed that this would be just a regular conference that would not stir controversy. After all, we have been discussing the Islamic veil for nearly 20 years now.” While she said the Islamic veil had indeed become a hotly debated topic, she underlined that the conference had been planned merely to contextualize the controversial “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” exhibition at Frankfurt’s Museum of Applied Arts. The professor noted that proponents of the veil, like theologian and Quranic expert Dina El-Omari, who herself wears the covering, have been also been invited to the conference.

Still, Schröter is known for her critical view of Islamic veils. In August last year while attending a conference of the nonprofit women’s rights organization Terre des Femmes, she reportedly stated that the covering impedes women’s freedom and is often “tied to a whole bundle of restrictions.”

In early April this year, she published an article in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung titled “What does God have against showing hair? Those who favor Islamic fashion should be aware of its repressive nature.”

Freedom of speech under threat?

Meanwhile, the German Association of University Professors and Lecturers (DHV) warned that freedom of speech was under threat at German universities. “Dissenting opinions must be respected and tolerated,” insisted DHV president Bernhard Kempen. Differences of opinion must be resolved through debate and not by boycotting, bashing, mobbing or violence, he stressed.

Birgitta Wolff, the president of Frankfurt University, has backed Schröter, stressing that it is part of her job as professor to organize academic conferences at which differing opinions are voiced.

German advertising has increasingly oriented itself toward the Muslim market segment, as shown in this gummy candy ad

Schröter says that universities should be about freedom of speech and a plurality of opinions: “Universities are a place for discussions, not a place where small lobby groups decide what can and cannot be said.” In an interview with German daily Die Welt, Schröter said critics have tried to “intimidate” and “defame” her, and that they were attacking the principle of free speech, adding that they were accusing her of “anti-Muslim racism” because they reject all criticism of Islam.

At present, it looks unlikely an amicable solution to the conference dispute will be found. Jazmati says that the list of invited speakers means neither he nor other members of his organization will attend the event, though he says he will look at conference excerpts released afterwards to see if the things his organization expected did happen. So far, there has been no direct communication between Schröter and the group Jazmati represents.

Source: German conference on Islamic veil sparks controversy

‘The New Germans’: Far-right AfD forms immigrant supporters’ group

Immigrants and minorities are not monolithic and while odd, it is not surprising that a few may be drawn to far-right groups and that far-right groups try to recruit them to claim that they are not xenophobic or racist.

A small group of Alternative for Germany (AfD) politicians and party members have come together to rally up support for the far-right party from a seemingly unlikely demographic — migrants and those with immigrant backgrounds.

“Die Neudeutschen” or “The New Germans” group was formed over the weekend by AfD politicians who all have immigrant roots, and was presented at a press conference in Berlin on Monday.

For Anton Friesen, an AfD lawmaker from the eastern state of Thuringia, the formation of the group was “overdue.”

“Since the AfD was founded, many German citizens with immigrant backgrounds have voted for us,” Friesen told DW. “Now there is finally an association that gives these people names and faces,” he added.

Friesen, who helped initiate the new AfD association, was born in Kazakhstan and moved to Germany with his parents when he was nine years old.

His fellow group spokesman is Alexander Tassis, the son of a Greek migrant worker who is an AfD state lawmaker in Bremen. He is also heads the “Alternative Homosexuals” — an AfD-aligned group for LGBT members.

Currently, the group has 20 members who are German citizens with Polish, Iranian and Colombian roots, as well as ethnic Russian-Germans and Romanian-Germans, Friesen said.

With European Parliament elections coming up in May, as well as several key state parliament elections in eastern German states in the fall, “The New Germans” hopes to win over potential voters by holding events on German-Polish relations and what Friesen describes as “the new, imported anti-Semitism.”

Targeting ‘patriotically-minded migrants’

Numerous political parties and rights groups in Germany have criticized the AfD for the xenophobic remarks of the party’s leaders, who have repeatedly depicted refugees and asylum-seekers as dangerous and violent.

The party has also sparked controversy over campaign slogans such as “Burka? We like bikinis” and a poster depicting a white, pregnant woman with the words: “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.”

With the new group, Friesen hopes to “correct” what he views as an incorrect public image of the party. “The AfD isn’t xenophobic,” he said. Rather, the party is focused on people who are already in Germany.

This includes “patriotically-minded migrants” who advocate for “the protection of our western culture and our values,” Friesen adds.

Manifesto calls for ‘de-Islamization of Germany’

“The New Germans” may be targeted towards people with immigrant roots — but it doesn’t compromise on the party’s stances concerning immigration.

Members must agree to the group’s manifesto, which advocates for “harsh action against all forms of anti-Semitism” but also calls for “a comprehensive de-Islamization of Germany,” news agency DPA reported.

It also urges for an “end to illegal mass migration, which undermines the opportunities in life for socially worse off Germans.”

Jewish AfD group sparks controversy

“The New Germans” isn’t the first AfD-aligned group to raise eyebrows.

Last October, a small number of Jewish people formed “Jews in the AfD” (JAfD), despite a number of scandals in which leading AfD politicians questioned Germany’s culture of remembrance about the Holocaust.

While the members of JAfD contend that the part is not anti-Semitic, numerous Jewish organizations condemned the creation of the group. Other German politicians accused the party of using the Jewish group as a way to mask its anti-Semitism scandals.

Source: ‘The New Germans’: Far-right AfD forms immigrant supporters’ group