Muslim undesirables need not apply

Baden-Württemberg is described in the guidebooks as having more universities than any other German state as well as a “rich cultural and religious diversity.” I am afraid the cultural diversity bit won’t go down well these days – at least not among German liberals and Muslims, who are outraged over a questionnaire that the state proposes to put before those seeking German citizenship. In Germany the states have say in these matters.

Not every applicant has to fill out the questionnaire. If you are Portuguese applying for German citizenship, chances are you wouldn’t have to bother with it. But since January, if the authorities have some reason to think that you might not make a good citizen, then you might find yourself being grilled. For the instructions say that if the naturalization authority doubts that the applicant has really understood the content of his or her declaration, or doubts that the answers reflect “inner convictions,” then the authorities will “conduct a conversation with the applicant.”

Defenders say Baden-Württemberg is being careful to screen out undesirables, and that only people the authorities have reason to be suspicious of would be questioned. But critics are sure the questionnaire is specifically aimed at Muslims. “This questionnaire is a very dangerous thing and has to be stopped,” one of the best-known politicians of Turkish origin in Germany, Cem Ozdemir, told me. Ozdemir, a member of the European Parliament, says the danger comes from the discretionary powers it gives junior officials. Baden-Württemberg’s government would never say it wanted to make it harder for Muslims to become citizens. But the tone of the questionnaire would lead underlings to assume that was the intention, according to Ozdemir.

“When you read these questions you see the mind of the bureaucracy and German society, not what Muslims may think,” said Barbara John, who was for 20 years involved with migration and integration affairs here in the state of Berlin.

Christian Hoffmann, a convert to Islam who is chairman of the Muslim Academy in Germany, says: “The spirit of these questions is so Islamophobic and ethnically biased. It is an assault against underprivileged people.” Educated people would smell out the trap, he said.

One question asks applicants to comment on the following statements: “Humanity has never experienced such a dark phase as under democracy. In order to free himself from democracy, man has to understand first that democracy cannot offer anything good to him.” Monarchists might agree, but that’s not the group the questions were designed to catch.

Other questions include:

“What’s your opinion [of the practice] that parents force their children to marry? Do you believe that such marriages are compatible with human dignity?”

“Your daughter of full age … would like to dress like other German girls and women as well, but your husband is opposed to this. What would you do?”

“What is your position on the statement that a wife has to obey her husband and that he is allowed to beat her if she doesn’t obey him?”

“Do you consider it admissible that a man locks up his wife or his daughter at home to keep them from ‘causing dishonor’?”

“You have heard of the assaults on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York and on March 11, 2004, in Madrid. In your eyes, were the perpetrators terrorists or freedom fighters? Explain your statement.”

“Imagine that your son of full age approaches you and explains that he is homosexual and would like to live together with another man. What’s your reaction?”

The Baden-Württemberg questionnaire flap is emblematic of a European-wide, post-9/11 angst that Muslim fanatics live among them, and that the hate that spews from a handful of mosques is not only dangerous but also incompatible with European values. Europeans are shocked by such outrages as honor killings, which really have more to do with old-fashioned, rural attitudes that some immigrants bring with them than Islam. But it’s Islam that gets blamed.

There is much to be done in Germany to integrate its Muslim minorities, most of whom abhor fanaticism, and progress is being made. But the primitive Baden-Württemberg questionnaire approach seems likely to do more harm than good.

Boston Globe, 24 January 2006