Which Religion Shaped European and German Culture? Constructing the Oriental Other in Contemporary Germany

Friday, January 5, 2018: 10:50 AM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Joseph Loe-Sterphone, University of California, Santa Barbara
In 1998, the new red-green coalition set out to substantially liberalize access to citizenship and naturalization for the substantial population of ausländische Mitbürger. However, debate in the Bundestag resulted in a surprisingly different set of policies. Rather than the great multicultural triumph that the Social Democrats and Greens had envisioned, the new law cemented the notion that Germany was not a country of immigration through its focus on “integrating” foreigners into Germany and requiring a demonstration of loyalty to the free and democratic principles of the Federal Republic. By 2004, the Christian Democrats furthered Germany’s emphasis on “integration” by establishing an optional integration course that would reduce the residency requirement for naturalization, which was followed up in 2007 with a law instituting a citizenship test and making the integration courses mandatory. The goal of the test and courses is to Germanize foreigners and to bind nationhood to citizenship.

Taking a discourse analytic approach, this paper tracks the construction of (West) Germanness from 1945 to 2017. Specifically, it looks at key public debates over citizenship and immigration, citizenship law, and the content of German citizenship test and workbooks used in integration courses. It argues that the defining “Other” against which Germanness is constructed is the orientalized Muslim who is unable to integrate and, therefore, share in civic and public life. This is done through the deployment of an Occident/Orient divide by binding Germanness firmly to Western liberal-democratic norms and a “culturally” Christian tradition. Finally, this paper concludes by discussing how this continuity in German nationhood created a discursive space in which far right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland could thrive.

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