Interior Minister ignites debate on Islamic public holiday in Germany

Germany’s Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, member of Angela Merkel’s CDU party, has sparked controversy by asserting that local authorities might be allowed to introduce a public holiday to commemorate an Islamic religious occasion.

A regional Muslim holiday?

De Maizière did not suggest a day off work at the national level but rather a regional one, limited to areas with a large Muslim population. Such area-specific divergences in matters of religious festivities and the corresponding public holidays are widespread in Germany, due to the country’s historical split between Protestant and Catholic areas.

His declarations, which came at a campaign rally in the Lower Saxon town of Wolfenbüttel, were met with considerable surprise. In the preceding months, de Maizière had often struck a very different tone.

Most notably, he had revived Germany’s long-standing debate about a ‘leading’ or ‘guiding’ culture (Leitkultur) in a populist tabloid article. The notion of a ‘leading culture’ stresses Germany’s supposedly Judeo-Christian essence and thus implicitly defines German identity in opposition to Islam.

Backlash against the proposal

The overall reception of de Maizière’s unexpected suggestion was negative. In a poll, slightly more than 70 per cent of Germans rejected the idea that Islamic occasions could become a public holiday. Only 7,8 per cent of respondents declared themselves in favour of the Interior Minister’s proposal.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/videos/70-prozent-dagegen-nach-de-maiziere-vorstoss-mehrheit-der-deutschen-lehnt-islamische-feiertag-ab_id_7724392.html ))

De Maizière’s fellow Christian Democrats expressed anger and outrage at his statements. Bernd Althusmann, the CDU’s front-runner for the state elections in Lower Saxony (which he has since lost), criticised the timing of de Maizière’s advance during the late stages of the electoral campaign.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/aussage-zu-muslimischen-feiertagen-thomas-de-maiziere-erntet-heftige-kritik_id_7708486.html ))

Alexander Dobrindt, Minister of Transport and member of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, accused de Maizière of jeopardising Germany’s Christian heritage. “To introduce Islam-holidays in Germany is out of the question for us.” Other CDU figures also stressed the need to protect the “Judeo-Christian” heritage of the country.(( http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/thomas-de-maiziere/brauchen-wir-wirklich-einen-muslimischen-feiertag-53525894.bild.html ))

Discrimination of Christians abroad

In a somewhat incongruous move, many commentators also dismissed the notion that Germany might introduce an Islamic holiday by pointing to the religious discrimination and persecution suffered by Christians in Muslim-majority countries.

The Catholic bishop of Fulda asked: “How would Islamic states react, if Catholic Christians attempted to celebrate for instance the festival of Corpus Christi with a [public] procession?”(( http://www.die-tagespost.de/politik/Islam-Feiertagsdebatte-geht-weiter;art315,182532 )) He was seconded by leading CDU politician Wolfgang Bosbach, who argued that the religious liberty of Christians in Islamic countries ought to be the priority.

The two men did not elucidate, however, how the highly objectionable suppression of the rights of Christians in other parts of the world could legitimise religious discrimination at home.

Catholic laymen more receptive to an Islamic holiday

Other Christian religious figures and institutions were, however, at least initially less hostile to de Maizière’s suggestions. The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the largest Catholic laymen’s association, welcomed the debate on the potential introduction of an Islamic public holiday in certain localities.

He asserted that “in a multi-religious society, an Islamic holiday can be added in areas with a large share of pious Muslims – without betraying the Christian tradition of our country. That [the betrayal of Christian roots] happens much rather through the transformation of Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus.” CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer has since expressed his “shock” and “bewilderment” atthe ZdK-President’s statements.(( http://www.die-tagespost.de/politik/Islam-Feiertagsdebatte-geht-weiter;art315,182532 ))

Positive reaction of the ZMD

Muslim figures have also taken part in the raging debate. Aiman Mazyek, Chairman of the ZMD – one of Germany’s Islamic umbrella associations – welcomed the statements by Thomas de Maizière.

At the same time, Mazyek – perhaps mindful of the backlash – asserted that he did not demand a public Islamic holiday mandated by law. Instead, Mazyek presented his position as merely wanting to raise awareness of Islamic religious occasions so that they be ‘put on the map’.

On this basis, Muslim employees might be able to reach practicable solutions at their workplace that would allow them to celebrate Islamic holidays. Mazyek gave the example of a Muslim policeman having a day off for Eid while stepping in for his Christian counterpart on Christmas Day.(( http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/politik/inland/muslimischer-feiertag-deutschland-100.html ))

Critical Muslim voices

Other voices were more critical. Ahmad Mansour, a highly vocal counter-radicalisation activist, called de Maizière’s proposition of an Islamic public holiday “a well-meant gesture” but deemed it impractical. Instead, Mansour suggested that all Germans be given two additional days off work, to be used for whichever religious festival people feel attached to.(( https://www.facebook.com/OfficialAhmadMansour/posts/529328327414627 ))

Lamya Kaddor, Islamic scholar and Chairwoman of the Liberal-Islamic Union (LIB) also dismissed calls for an Islamic holiday. For Kaddor, the Muslim community in Germany is too small to warrant a public holiday; like Mansour, she stressed that more practical, hands-on solutions to the needs of Muslim employees could be found at the individual workplace.

Kaddor criticised de Maizière’s statements as a mere exercise in symbolism out of touch with the genuine wishes of Muslim Germans. Kaddor suspected that the Interior Minister’s remarks were merely clumsy advances seeking to attract Muslim voters to the CDU.(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Muslimischer-Feiertag-waere-Symbolpolitik-article20083722.html ))

Individualisation of the religious sphere

The underlying question remains, however, how religious minorities can reconcile their faith with a calendar – and hence a working schedule as well as with a societal sense of time – still based on fundamentally Christian notions.

Many who might consider themselves socially liberal ‘progressives’ appear to be drawn to a particular default answer to this question – namely to the flexibilisation of public holidays: they assert that adherents of different religious traditions ought to be able to take leave from work on different days, depending on their individual faith-based commitments.

Unifying potential of a public holiday

Yet the outcome of such flexibility would be the further segregation of religious traditions. Murat Kayman, a former official of the Turkish-dominated DİTİB Islamic association who was chased from his post in the context of personnel purges after Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt, highlighted the potential of a universal and mandatory Islamic public holiday for inter-religious dialogue:

“It would be a nice thought if on this day Ronny from Dresden or Thilo from Berlin could have time for their families, hobbies, and leisure – only because there are Muslims in Germany. By the same token, there should be a nationwide Jewish holiday. So that Jens from Frankfurt and Mehmet from Duisburg realise that they can only spend a pleasurable, work-free day because of their fellow Jewish citizens.”(( http://murat-kayman.de/2017/10/16/deutschland-muss-deutschland-bleiben/ ))

Lamya Kaddor in fact struck a similar note while steering clear of religious connotations:

“It might be nice to introduce a holiday that represents what constitutes and unites our society. Maybe a ‘Day of Immigration’. There is a centuries-old tradition of immigration into this country, from Huguenots to Syrians. This could be a signal to look towards the future for once, instead of back into the past. Christian values would not be infringed upon by this – and neither would Muslim or any other ones.”(( http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Muslimischer-Feiertag-waere-Symbolpolitik-article20083722.html ))

De Maizière “misunderstood”

For now, however, such a communal new holiday seems far off. After the fierce criticism directed at his remarks, Thomas de Maizière backtracked quickly, asserting that he had been misunderstood.

On his website, he stated: “There is no suggestion on my part to introduce a Muslim holiday. I will also not make such a suggestion.”(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/muslimischer-feiertag-de-maiziere-fuehlt-sich-missverstanden-15250862.html ))

 

American Muslim Poll 2017: Muslims at The Crossroads

American Muslim Poll 2017: Full Report

 

 

 

ISPU conducts objective, solution-seeking research that empowers American Muslims to develop their community and fully contribute to democracy and pluralism in the United States. Learn more about ISPU here.

 

A report launched on ethnic and religious discrimination against Somalis in Finland

The mission of Finnish Somali League held a press conference on May 27th to launch their newly published report on discrimination. The report is based on a survey directed at residents and citizens of Finland of Somali origin and tackled issues of verbal harassment, violent attacks and discrimination in the public sector. The aim of the survey was not to offer generalizing figures but to identify and investigate diverse discrimination experiences.

The report shows that out of 105 participants 80% had experienced discrimination and 80% reported having witnessed discriminating behavior towards other individuals of Somali origin. Moreover, 61% reported that the discrimination had been due to their Islamic religion and 31% reported their clothing to be the cause of discrimination. The survey’s narratives in open-end questions provide accounts of everyday struggles that residents and citizens of Finland with Somali origin experience. Especially racist accusations and verbal harassment were frequently reported. Yet, accounts on discrimination in public spaces such as denying access to services, being barred from entry to supermarkets and explicitly rejecting a job application due to the applicants head cover depict a detrimental picture of the current situation.

The full report in Finnish language can be downloaded here on the official website of the League.

A report launched on ethnic and religious discrimination against Somalis in Finland

The mission of Finnish Somali League held a press conference on May 27th to launch their newly published report on discrimination. The report is based on a survey directed at residents and citizens of Finland of Somali origin and tackled issues of verbal harassment, violent attacks and discrimination in the public sector. The aim of the survey was not to offer generalizing figures but to identify and investigate diverse discrimination experiences.

Out of 105 participants 80% had experienced discrimination and 80% reported having witnessed discriminative behavior towards other individuals of Somali origin. Moreover, 61% reported that the discrimination had been due to their Islamic religion and 31% reported their clothing to be the cause of discrimination. The survey’s narratives in open-end questions provide accounts of everyday struggles that residents and citizens of Finland with Somali origin experience. Especially racist accusations and verbal harassment were frequently reported. Yet, accounts on discrimination in public spaces such as denying access to services, being barred from entry to supermarkets and explicitly rejecting a job application due to the applicants head cover depict a detrimental picture of the current situation.

The full report in Finnish language can be downloaded from the official website of the League:

http://somaliliitto.fi/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Selvitysraportti.pdf

Justice: Muslim engineer will not have access to nuclear sites

The court in Chalons-en-Champagne upheld the decision of the EDF, which refused a Muslim engineer access to nuclear sites, invoking the “defense secret.” The engineer was first refused access in March 2014 and his decision was confirmed by the administrative court of Chalons-en-Champagne. The French court, to which he had filed several appeals, explained that the ruling was upheld for reason that “the young man, 29 years old, had met with ‘an imam involved in recruiting’ of young jihadists deployed to Iraq to fight American troops.”

The engineer’s lawyer Sefen Guez Guez argued, “There is no evidence of these alleged links, this decision based on affirmations of insufficient detail is not worthy of a state of law.”

The decision comes after the engineer’s access was suspended without a definitive reason. In June, the administrative court sided in favor of the engineer, expressing “serious doubt on the legality of the decision” to suspend his access. However in July the EDF again suspended his access, prompting a retrial and the recent decision to permanently block his access.

French magazine attacks Muslim minister

A far-right weekly newspaper has caused considerable controversy after calling France’s new education minister a “Moroccan Muslim” and stating that the decision to appoint her is a “provocation.”

“The front page of the Minute is an incitement to hatred. It should be sued in court,” said Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, head of the Socialist Party, in a statement calling for the magazine to be sued.

The International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism called the cover “shameful” and contended that those “spreading hate” need to be stopped.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the Moroccan-born education minister, is the first woman to hold the position. Soon after her appointment the magazine Minute featured her on its cover with the headline: “A Moroccan Muslim at the national education (ministry). The Najat Vallaud-Belkacem provocation.” The magazine has already come under fire in early 2014 for its comments about France’s black Justice Minister Christiane Taubira, for its headlines, “Crafty as a monkey,” and “Taubira gets her banana back.”

Vellaud-Belkacem has remained calm despite the controversy. “I keep away from this type of debate which is irrelevant,” she said, “However, I do think of those who are watching this spectacle” and could feel “contaminated.”

“In their name more than my name, I would urge those on the right to take into account their responsibilities and to respect insinuations and people,” she said. Vallaud-Belkacem holds dual French and Moroccan citizenship and calls herself “a pure product of the Republic,” and an example of “happy integration.”

Following the attacks, government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said that the minister enjoyed “the support of all the government in the face of these attacks that do those who make them no honor.”

Muslim engineer’s access to nuclear sites suspended

August 18, 2014

In March 2014 the head of an engineering project, employed by a subcontractor of the EDF, was refused access to nuclear sites at the nuclear center in Nogent-sur-Seine “without any apparent reason” by the city’s prefecture. The 29 year-old engineer had previously received access in 2012 and 2013.

However, in March the prefecture decided otherwise and suspended his access. The action required no justification as a matter of national “defense.” With no explanation given, the lawyers of the Collective Against Islamophobia are attempting to get an answer. “My client was authorized for three years to enter nuclear sites. The big question is: what changed? From one day to the next, he was suspected of I don’t know what,” argued the client’s lawyer Sefen Guez Guez. He does not exclude an act of Islamophobia from the potential list of reasons. “Given the surrounding context, his religious practices were perhaps disturbing,” he added.

In June, Guez Guez brought the complaint to the administrative court of Chalons-en-Champagne which honored the complaint, saying that there was “serious doubt about the decision’s legality.” The judge reinstated the engineer’s access and allowed the man to return to the nuclear sites.

Less than a month later the EDF again denied the plaintiff access and his case returned to court. The decision concerning future access to nuclear sites will be released at the end of August. “My client is confident. He has never made any errors, he’s a future father, he has no criminal record, he has no problems with the company,” affirmed his lawyer.

While waiting for the decision, the engineer can only complete administrative tasks. “He’s in a closet and he wants to return to work as it was before,” said Guez Guez. “It’s like Guantanamo! How can someone lose his job without being able to defend himself, without knowing what’s happening?”

Baby Loup’s return to the court of appeals: towards what secularism?

June 16, 2014

On June 16 the Court of Appeals, comprised of eighteen judges, reconvened to discuss the 2008 dismissal of Fatima Afif, an employee at the Baby Loup crèche in Chanteloup-les-Vignes. The court’s decision is previewed for the end of the month. The retrial comes at a time of heightened religious tensions linked to the growing fear of radical Islam. The case’s decision could “redefine the conditions of secularism’s application” in France.

Attorney General Jean-Claude Marin has pushed to abandon the crèche’s controversial decision to prosecute Madam Afif, but to uphold her dismissal for gross misconduct. The case’s senior judge justifies her dismissal on the grounds that she “remained in the space after her legal suspension and exhibited aggressive behavior.”

Madame Afif’s Lawyer Claire Waquet stated that the employee was a victim of “religious discrimination,” and had previously won the Supreme Court’s support, which had effectively annulled Afif’s dismissal. The Supreme Court’s decision evoked the emotion of many politicians and intellectuals and led to the Court of Appeal’s decision to reestablish her dismissal in November 2013. “That her employers had wanted to fire her isn’t the problem, it’s how they fired her that shocks me. One doesn’t fire someone for misconduct and even less so for gross misconduct, without warning and without compensatory damages, someone who exercises their freedom of belief.”

The Baby Loup affair has caused “the secularists to mobilize.” Jeannette Bougrab, president of HALDE, a government association that advocates for equality and an end to discrimination, also showed her support for the crèche against the advice of her institution. Maneul Valls, a member of the National Assembly, called the conflict a “challenge to secularism.”

In September 2013 Francois Hollande spoke of a potential law pertaining to “private enterprises that assures a mission of childcare.” The president charged the “Observatoire de la laïcité,” a government organization tasked with monitoring secularism’s application, with proposing the law. The commission dismissed the option of a new law pertaining to secularism’s application but made actionable recommendations to the crèche. Supporters of the crèche were disappointed with the commission’s decision and many wonder if the judges will be swayed by public opinion. A recent BVA survey states that 80% are in favor of new legislation.

The affair’s long spectacle in the public eye has taken its toll on the citizens of Chanteloup-les-Vignes. Baby Loup has been replaced by another crèche, and citizens complain that the city has received negative publicity in recent years. According to the Nouvel Observateur the crèche has reopened in a nearby town and Fatima Afif has returned to her city after seeking refuge in Morocco. Current deliberations center on the question: “The history of French secularism continues to be written. But in what sense?”

Got religion on campus? Leave it off your resume

June 16, 2014

Recent college grads, take note: Mentioning a campus religion group on your resume — particularly a Muslim club — may lead to significantly fewer job opportunities.

Two new sociology studies find new graduates who included a religious mention on a resume were much less likely to hear back from potential employers.
The studies used fictitious resumes — with bland names that signaled no particular race or ethnicity. These were sent to employers who posted on the CareerBuilder website to fill entry-level job openings in sales, information technology and other fields suitable for first jobs out of college.

The researchers tested seven religious categories including: Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, atheist, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, and one faith they just made up, “Wallonian,” to see what would happen compared to people who made no faith reference.

Muslims faced the sharpest discrimination with 38 percent fewer emails and 54 percent fewer phone calls to the voice mailboxes set up by the researchers.
In New England, 6,400 applications were sent to 1,600 job postings by employers. But applications mentioning any religious tie were 24 percent less likely to get a phone call, according to the study published in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility.

Again, Muslims bore the brunt of discrimination, receiving 32 percent fewer emails and 48 percent fewer phone calls. Catholics were 29 percent less likely to get a call and pagans were 27 percent less likely — slightly better than the “Wallonian” applicants.