The decision of one of Germany's highest courts, one which deals with matters of Constitutional matters, has handed down a decision today which addresses a very tricky issue. The case was brought because German law requires the schools to deliver a range of subjects and activities, including swimming. A 13 year old Muslim girl brought the case in order to avoid swimming lessons that take place in mixed groups. She (or her parents) argued that it was a breach of her freedom of religion to be compelled to swim with boys.
Her argument is one we have heard trotted out in the UK as well, but the German authorities argued that her being required to take part in educational activities (including swimming) did not infringe her religious freedoms. It all hinges on how you interpret the Quran's injunction (which is also in the Bible and probably came from there in the first place) to dress and behave 'modestly'. Somewhere in the last 1,000 years, this has been interpreted by Muslim clerics and scholars to mean that women must wear the head to toe coverings seen in the more fundamentalist societies or at least a head scarf seen in more relaxed societies. This girl evidently belongs to one of the more fundamentalist groups, but her argument also runs into a much larger and more problematic area - integration.
German law is quite clear, if you wish to live in Germany and hold German citizenship, you should be prepared to learn the language, respect German cultural institutions and practices and integrate into German society. You may keep your own cultural practices and religion, but cannot demand that the Germans must adopt them. The court has underscored this, ruling that the requirement to take part in the swimming lessons does NOT impact on her freedom of religious practice, and that she must take part in the swimming lessons. They did, however, compromise, and ruled that she may wear a 'Burkini" a loose full body swimming garment worn by women in the Middle East for swimming.
One thing the Germans are very sensitive to, is the creation of 'foreign' cultural ghettoes in their midst. It is something they see as threatening the structure of their society, and they are probably right. This is why Mrs Merkel is adamant that "Multi-Kulti" is dead. It has created ghettoes everywhere and allowed groups to defy all attempts to get them to integrate. The Germans don't like that, and I believe they are right. By all means celebrate where you have come from, and who you and your antecedents are - but if you want to live here, the language, the customs, the legal system, education and the culture is German. If you don't want to be a part of it, perhaps you need to rethink where you're living, working ...
How has the decision been recieved? By the majority of Muslims with acceptance, by the Salafists - ultra conservative and militant types - with anger, by the average German, with satisfaction. They're quite happy for Muslims to practice their religion, but when it comes to matters of custom, practice and the law there is only one law. And it's German.
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