‘Diversity’ and its pitfalls: The role of Muslim representatives in German parliaments

Ahead of this year’s federal election in Germany, it is worth taking stock of the current assembly and its composition. More particularly, given the particular focus on issues of immigration and integration in the election campaign, the number of Muslim representatives it is worth scrutinising. To what extent do German Muslims actually have the possibility to contribute politically to debates and legislative reforms on issues that their own community will be most affected by?

A growing number of MPs of ‘migration background’

When it was elected in September 2013, the 18th Bundestag, as it is referred to in official nomenclature, was the most diverse in the Parliament’s recent history: of its 630 members, 5.6 per cent or 35 MPs had a ‘migration background’. In German parlance, this refers to an individual that is either an immigrant or has a at least one parent born outside of the Federal Republic.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/09/24/bundestag-abgeordnete-mit-migrationshintergrund/ ))

This represents a marked increase over the previous legislative period, in which only 3.4 per cent of representatives had such a background. At the same time, these numbers remain a far cry from the 19 per cent of the overall German population who have at least one parent born abroad.(( http://www.migazin.de/2013/09/24/bundestag-abgeordnete-mit-migrationshintergrund/ ))

A higher number of Muslim representatives

A similar picture obtains with respect to Muslim representatives. The number of Muslims living in Germany is an unclear – and, by now, politically contested – figure; yet some estimates put the number of Muslims living in Germany at the moment of the 2013 federal election at roughly 4 million, equivalent to 5 per cent of the country’s population.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/umfrage-zahl-der-muslime-in-deutschland-wird-deutlich-ueberschaetzt/10975728.html ))

At the same time, only roughly half of Muslims living in the contry also held German citizenship in 2013. A fair share of these two million Muslim citizens will, furthermore, be underage and thus not hold the right to participate at the polls. The Federal Office of Statistics thus estimated in 2009 that only 750,000 German Muslims were eligible to vote.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/yasin-bas/parteien-islam-muslime_b_9819518.html ))

In spite of this, the Muslim share of the German population is still underrepresented in parliament: a mere eight of the current Bundestag’s members are of Muslim faith, making for slightly less 1.3 per cent of parliamentarians. At the same time it is worth noting that the number of Muslim MPs more than doubled in comparison to the previous session of parliament (2009-2013), which included only three Muslims.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/abgeordnete-im-neuen-bundestag-fieser-freiherr-trifft-film-kommissar-1.1798554-4 ))

Split along party lines

With four of their 63 lawmakers adhering to Islam, the Greens supply the largest number of Muslim parliamentarians. One of the party’s leadership figures, Cem Özdemir, had, in 1994, become the country’s first Muslim MP.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/abgeordnete-im-neuen-bundestag-fieser-freiherr-trifft-film-kommissar-1.1798554-4 ))

A very vocal presence has been the first ever Muslim member of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Cemile Giousouf. Nevertheless, in terms of their voting behaviour and political affiliation, German Muslims have traditionally been closer to the Social Democrats than to the Conservatives; a fact potentially influenced by the working-class background of many of the so-called ‘guest workers’.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/migranten-und-politik-diese-parteien-waehlen-einwanderer/14851994.html ))

As Euro-Islam reported, a group of Turkish Muslim politicians is currently seeking to challenge this status quo, by building a Muslim platform within the CDU. Whilst offering potential electoral gains by increasing the Conservatives’ share of the Muslim vote, their initiative has been viewed with some suspicion by the party leadership.

Divergences at state level

Data is much harder to come by for Germany’s 16 state parliaments, let alone for local administrations. Browsing through the lists of state representatives published by the respective assemblies, however, confirms the broad trends observable at the national level.

Policy-makers of an immigrant and/ or Muslim background tend to fall on the left of the political spectrum. Often the roots of their political activism lie in the labour movement. What is more, a glance at the list of elected decision-makers from the urban city-states of Berlin, Hamburg, and Bremen – all traditional strongholds of the left – consistently (and perhaps unsurprisingly) show higher levels of MP diversity.

Conversely, the parliaments of the traditionally conservative, territorially larger and more rural states of the German south such as Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria scarcely contain members whose names do not strike the voter as immediately ethnically German.

Interestingly enough, this pattern is replicated in the capitals of these two states, Stuttgart and Munich, in spite of the fact that these two cities are among the most ethnically diverse in the country. Low degrees of representativeness of immigrants and Muslims cannot, therefore, be simply a function of an lower share of immigrants and Muslims in the population at large.

Going beyond mere numbers

The number of Muslims and persons of different ethnic backgrounds in state and federal parliaments is, undoubtedly, important. These figures do offer important insights into the dynamics that allow or disallow all sectors of the population to participate in political life. In this respect, obvious deficiencies are apparent: Germany’s parliaments are clearly do not ‘represent’ – in a very basic sense of the word – the diversity of the country’s population.

Beyond that, however, we may also ask what the Muslim members of parliament actually do. In this respect, it is striking – even though again not necessarily surprising – that many of them fill the offices of ‘commissioners for immigration’ or ‘integration ombudsman’ or other ostentatiously ‘diversity’-oriented positions.

To be sure, this is nothing to object to in principle: it seems logical to entrust for instance issues of migration to people who, perhaps because of their own biography, might have an affinity and a passion for the issue at hand. In a political climate in which voices from all sides of the spectrum talk of ‘integration of Muslims’, it is key that a Muslim voice is also heard in the relevant governmental departments; otherwise, the conversation becomes one that is always about Muslims but never involves them as actors.

Poster children of ‘diversity’

Yet this lopsided participation of Muslim and immigrant representatives in governmental functions also seems indicative of a dynamic in which all those whose names and physiognomy indicate ‘diversity’ are first and foremost shunted into departments and positions in which they deal with ‘people of their own kind’.

On this somewhat unkind but arguably realistic appreciation of Muslim representatives positioning on the political scene, mere numbers are not necessarily indicative of equal participation. Surely many of Germany’s aspiring Muslim politicians or even politically interested youth would be interested in pursing other political offices not oriented towards ‘diversity’.

No hijabs to be seen

Finally, in none of Germany’s parliaments there are female members wearing the hijab. In part, this is undoubtedly due to the abovementioned fact that leftist parties are more likely to include Muslims (or women, for that matter). Conceivably, the secularist views of left-wing parties’ female Muslim members mean that they are simply less likely to wear the headcovering.

At the same time, the saga of judicial wrangling about issues of ‘state neutrality’ has been long and is ongoing. Consequently, prohibitions on the display of religious symbols in some domains of the public sector are in force in some of Germany’s federal states. Against this backdrop, a hijab-wearing MP would be a major challenge to the status quo.

In 2014, Muslim associations reported with contentment that a female Muslim student wearing a headscarf had completed an internship in the Bundestag office of her local Conservative member of parliament.(( http://islam.de/24212.php )) Whether she and other young Muslim women will be able rise to the position of MP in the future remains to be seen.

Open Letter Collective Against Islamophobia and Discrimination to Dutch Parliament

Open letters were send by the Collective Against Islamophobia and Discrimination to the Chairman of the Dutch Parliament and fraction leaders of each political party because of recent statements by Party for Freedom (PVV) member Machiel de Graaf.
Open letters were send by the Collective Against Islamophobia and Discrimination to the Chairman of the Dutch Parliament and fraction leaders of each political party because of recent statements by Party for Freedom (PVV) member Machiel de Graaf.

Open letters were send by the Collective Against Islamophobia and Discrimination to the Chairman of the Dutch Parliament and fraction leaders of each political party because of recent statements by Party for Freedom (PVV) member Machiel de Graaf. A tremendous amount of critique was expressed throughout the country because of the controversial PVV member’s statements on the closure of all mosques in the Netherlands and in particular the statement that “Islam is not a religion but a political ideology.” De PVV member also stated that the Netherlands would be “a more beautiful country without Islam.”

The Collective demanded a reinstatement of common civility in the parliament and suggested it should undertake measurements against Islamophobic tendencies. De Graaf’s statements are evaluated as encouraging hatred (and sometimes violence) against Muslims and their places of worship. The letters also cites several instances of violent attacks on mosques in support of their claims. The abject and provocative language used by the PVV, the Collective expressed, could easily lead to heavy tensions and even clashes between societal groups and as such are a danger to the stability of Dutch society.

Dutch member of parliament makes call to “close all mosques” in the Netherlands

Machiel de Graaf, a parliament member for the Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Islam critic Geert Wilders, has called for the closure of all mosques in the

March of the Dutch Freedom Party against Islamic incursion.
March of the Dutch Freedom Party against perceived Islamic incursion in the Netherlands.

Netherlands. During a debate on the Dutch national finances De Graaf said that he wanted to make very clear that he believes the Netherlands should be de-islamized. Subsequently he called for the closure of Islamic houses of prayer. The call was severely criticized by the Minister of Social Affairs Lodewijk Asscher as being unconstitutional and reprehensible. The member of parliament has defended his call by arguing that Islam is “not a religion but a political ideology” and as such he did not believe it goes against the freedom of religion.

Political journalist Tom-Jan Meeuws observed that during the debate De Graaf ascribed almost every current problem in Dutch politics in some way or another to Islam. He also alluded to De Graaf’s call as a sign of a new roughness in the discours on Islam in the Party for Freedom, a party traditionally known for it’s critique of Islam. While in the last election program the PVV stated it wanted to stop the building of new mosques and a ban on minarets it now seems to initiate a campaign with graver implications for Dutch Islam.

Yvette Cooper welcomes Abu Qatada’s pledge to leave UK

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomes the news Abu Qatada could return to Jordan, saying: “We all agree he should stand fair trial there so justice can be done.” The Radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada will return to Jordan voluntarily when the Jordanian parliament ratifies a deal with Britain that ensures he will receive a fair trial, the cleric’s lawyer told a London court on Friday. Abu Qatada’s pledge is a victory for the British government after nearly eight years of unsuccessful attempts to deport the cleric, who is accused of spreading radical ideas that once inspired one of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers.

 

Courts have repeatedly blocked deportation on the grounds that a trial in Jordan of Abu Qatada, whose real name is Mohammed Othman, risked being tainted by the use of evidence obtained using torture.

 

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This could be very good news if it means Abu Qatada returns to Jordan as soon as possible – as we all agree he should stand fair trial there so justice can be done. Abu Qatada should have made this decision a long time ago as this legal process has dragged on far too long. We will watch the next steps closely until he departs, but I hope this saga can now be brought to an end.”

Request to Confiscate “Jihadist Passports” by Dutch MPs

March 22 2013

 

Dutch Justice Minister Ivo Opstelten will investigate whether it is legally possible to confiscate the passports of young Dutch nationals who plan to fight in Syria, reports Nos television. The minister said in a cabinet meeting that “we have to prevent them from travelling”, following a majority of parliament members calling on the cabinet to investigate the possibility.

German Federal Parliament approves ritual circumcision

Dec 12

 

After controversial debates about religious motivated circumcision, the German Federal Parliament approves circumcision. The circumcision must be executed by trained persons and must fulfill health and medical regulations.

 

A prior draft attempted to legalize the circumcision of boys with the minimum age of 14.

However, the majority of the parliament did not approve it.

 

Federal Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (FDP) welcomed the decision of the Federal Parliament: “For decades, parents have not been penalized when accessing professional means to circumcise their sons.” Circumcision would remain legal.

 

Head of the party in parliament, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) criticized the decision of the district court in Cologne, which had forbidden circumcision, as an alienating act for the Jewish community. Minister of Justice in Berlins, Thomas Heilmann (CDU) interpreted the law as a welcoming signal for Muslims and Jews.

 

George Galloway criticizes veil ban in Westminster

9 December 2102

 

Renowned British lawmaker George Galloway has attacked new restrictions imposed on the wearing of the Muslim face-veil (Niqab) at the meeting place of the two houses of parliament, describing the move as an infringement on Muslim rights:

 

“Everyone understands the need to have proper security, but these rules seem a little heavy handed and confusing to me.”

 

British authorities have imposed new restrictions on the wearing of the Muslim veil at the Palace of Westminster. Under the new rules, niqab-wearing Muslims will be required to remove their face-veil.

 

There is amounting pressure from the public to outlaw the veil in public spaces. In September 2010, the Burnley College in Lancashire banned the Muslim face-veil on campus. A recent YouGov survey found that some 67 percent of Britons favor face-veils to be made illegal.

 

Firther, lawmaker Philip Hollobone has already tabled a bill in the parliament calling for Britain to follow France and outlaw the wearing of the face-veil in public.

Interview with Kenan Kolat”: We Need an Open Debate about Institutional Racism”

The failure of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency to halt the activities of a neo-Nazi terror cell and recent revelations about the destruction of key files have led to accusations of institutional racism. Kenan Kolat, the head of the Türkische Gemeinde in Deutschland (the Turkish Community in Germany), an advocacy group representing the interests of Turkish people in Germany, says faith in the country’s security organs has hit rock bottom. Samira Sammer spoke to him.

 

Dutch Muslim Party Dissolves

25 June 2012

 

The Dutch Muslim Party (NMP) has dissolved, following the resignation of leaders Henny Kreeft and Jacques Visser. The two men, converts to Islam, started the party in 2007 with the purpose of decreasing the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims. The party had little electoral success, winning no seats in the 2010 federal elections, with 0.5% of the vote. The party dissolved because “the time is not ripe for a Muslim party in parliament”, ANP reports.