Merkel and the Populists

Here we are, Angela Merkel’s response to the right-wing populist threat is to move towards the populist right. The NYT reports this from her speech at the convention of her party, the Christian Democratic Union: 

In the 80-minute speech, she repeated the same catalog of beliefs in freedom and equal treatment she had made as an implicit criticism of President-elect Donald J. Trump, but also stiffened her position on the veil and suggested that Germany would be more cautious in welcoming migrants in the future.

In a clear nod to criticism that the state had appeared to lose control over its borders, the chancellor opened her speech to the annual conference of her Christian Democratic Union with a promise that such a situation “cannot, may not and should not be repeated.”

But the biggest applause lines concerned law and order, including a promise that Shariah law would never replace German justice — a problem that has barely arisen but has been cast as a specter by the far-right party Alternative for Germany.

I can’t say I’m surprised, but still, a small part of me had hoped the “liberal, tolerant, cosmopolitan Merkel” would stay more than a myth a bit longer.

Granting refugees asylum and allowing people to clothe themselves in the manner they want (i.e. self-expression) are central parts of the “catalog of beliefs in freedom in equal treatment” Merkel claims to steadfastly support. This rhetoric erodes that “catalog.” Allowing refugees into our country wasn’t a bug but a feature and can, may, and should be repeated.

If the point of a burka prohibition isn’t islamophobic racism but that we “show our face in interpersonal communication,” will the CDU now also call to end email, working from home, and all the other elements of the “industry 4.0” as German officials like to call the new era of work?

Outlawing the burka because of Islamic terrorism is the wrong tool based on a misogynist interpretation of the problem anyway. Outlawing the burka will not stop (mostly male) violence, but might prevent some women from accessing our public places and experiencing the freedom of movement most Germans take for granted, and might serve as a propaganda tool for ISIS etc.

The burka discussion is also a discussion of an oversimplified, flawed solution to an exaggerated problem. The omnipresence of burkas or an actual threat of Sharia law on German streets is mostly right-wing populist spin.

Also mostly right-wing populist spin on a complex, different problem is the discussion after the recent horrific murder of a young woman in Freiburg by a young refugee and the sexual assaults on 2 young women in Bochum. In both cases, the alleged perpetrators seem to be male migrants/refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. Both cases are horrific. Both cases are things that happen in our society. Both cases aren’t unique. Both cases are part of a problem that is bigger and more complex than a ban on refugees can fix. Crimes like this happen, unless we work against the problem of gendered, sexualized violence in our society. We need to work against rape, against murder. We need to teach men – including but not limited to Muslim men – not to rape, not to murder. We need to act against misogyny.

A blanket ban on refugees (or on the burka) doesn’t solve this problem, but erodes the “catalog of beliefs in freedom and equal treatment” we claim to defend. 

A blanket ban is a right-wing populists win, Chancellor Merkel.