Thomas de Maiziere at CDU Parteitag 2014

German Interior Minister: “We Are Not Burka”

Just days after the German parliament voted to approve a limited burka ban (it applies only to “judges, civil servants and soldiers carrying out their duties”), German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere wrote an editorial in the newspaper Bild am Sonntag, saying, “We are an open society. We show our face. We are not burka.”

The UK Telegraph reports that he went on to call for laws to protect Germany’s “dominant culture” (or Leitkultur). Contrary to critics of the ban, de Maiziere does not consider the assertion of German culture merely to mean respect for “beer festivals and lederhosen,” (though former, in my humble opinion, deserves much respect).

The story continues:

“We attach importance to certain social habits, not for themselves, but because they are expressions of a certain attitude,” Mr de Maiziere wrote. 

“We give our names. We shake hands. We ban masks at public demonstrations. To ‘show face’ is the expression of our democratic coexistence.”

The minister spoke out in favour of the idea that there is an indigenous “dominant culture” in Germany that should be protected.

“There is something beyond our language, constitution, and respect for fundamental rights that binds us in our hearts, that makes us different, and distinguishes us from others,” he wrote.

It seems that Germany may be ready to assert itself culturally in a way not seen in some time, at least at an official level. American conservatives may find de Maiziere’s words self-evidently true, but cultural assertion is controversial there for obvious reasons. The admirable slogan “Never Again” comes with a reluctance to, for example, turn away anyone from a country that is suffering and chaotic, such as Syria.

Germany is faced with the paradox of openness — and they are among the most open people in the world. To what extent can a society be open to closedness? The hesitancy to draw a hard line is apparent in the difference between Germany’s partial burka ban and its neighbor France’s blanket burka ban.

Angela Merkel wanted a blanket ban like France’s, but did not get it. There is a strong possibility that it would be struck down as unconstitutional anyway. In reality, the ban affects hardly anyone, as actual burkas and full-face veils are extremely rare, especially among public officials, but it could be one step to laws protecting German culture, as called for by de Maiziere.

The bill was introduced following the terrorist attack in Berlin, in which a truck drove into a crowd at a Christmas market. I was in Berlin at a Christmas market the weekend before, so I can attest from experience to the surreal feeling residents have following such an attack. Considering not only this attack, but others such as the axe-wielding attacker in the Düsseldorf train station in April and the mass rapes in Cologne on New Year’s Eve in 2015, it is no surprise that some German citizens have reached their limit.

To protect the openness inherent in German culture, perhaps a paradoxical closedness to closedness is required. All societies have values upon which its politics are built, without which they cannot stand and which, therefore, must be defended. Interior Secretary de Maiziere echoed that sentiment, however controversial in his country, in the editorial — something akin to “we are Berlin, but we are not burka.”

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J. Cal Davenport

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