It is undeniable that the intermittent terror attacks that have plagued Europe last summer have had a lasting impact on Europe’s political dynamics, namely that it has established a tense and somewhat sombre climate throughout Europe. Amidst this turbulent time, Germany has stood as a beacon. Angela Merkel’s open-door policy allowed nearly 2 million refugees into the country, attesting to the need for humanitarian action regarding the Syrian Refugee Crisis. However, Merkel shocked the world during a conference on 6 December for her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), wherein she stated that “the full veil is not appropriate here”, going so far as to legalise the issue with the announcement that “the full veil must be banned wherever it is legally possible.” Merkel’s justification for this decision is that a burqa, or as she put it, “a completely covered woman has . . . no chance of integrating herself in Germany”. This statement, masking under the guise of benefitting Muslim women and their pursuit to be fully immersed within German Society, will undoubtedly be heralded with xenophobic undertones.
The issue with these kinds of practices is the inevitable fallout. France, one of the first countries to adopt this hard stance, had the world in an uproar this summer when a woman sporting a burkini on a beach in Nice was ticketed and asked to remove her garment, on the basis that it did not promote “good morals”. As such, despite Merkel’s announcement being well received by her party members, awarding her with a standing ovation, it has caused major controversy and will undoubtedly cause conflict. Of Germany’s 80.62-million population, approximately 5.8 million are Muslim, accounting for 7 per cent of the country. This is excluding the influx of refugees entering Germany each day. Furthermore, according to Uwe Brandl, the president of the Bavarian Association of Municipalities, by 2020, Germany is predicted to have 20 million Muslims. This shift will have serious reverberations on Germany’s demographic landscape, meaning that despite Merkel’s decision having a significant impact on the current political climate, looking towards the future it will likely prove all the more contentious.
Unpacking this declaration, the German Chancellor attests to the fine line between the need for security and institutionalised discrimination.
Most poignantly, weeks following this announcement, on 19 December, a Tunisian man, Anis Amri, drove a truck into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, resulting in 12 deaths and countless others injured. Subsequently, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, later releasing a video with Amri pledging allegiance to ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
In light of backlashes such as this, how can Merkel justify her decision insofar as she is risking national security? In late November, Merkel announced that she would be running for re-election, making her motives and timing of this decision strategic in nature. It is evident that Merkel is appealing to her conservative CDU party members. In addition to the call for a burqa ban, the future of Merkel’s heavily criticised open-door policy is bleak, as it appears to be abandoned entirely at this time. As part of Merkel’s future platform, she promises to limit the influx of migrants in the coming year. This juxtaposes her claims last year, in August, where she avidly defended her open-door policy, asserting that it is Germany’s “humanitarian duty” to aid asylum seekers. Not only is Merkel appealing to her party members, but this new harsh stance will also quiet the remnants of last summer’s anti-immigration riots, wherein, during the month of July, Germany saw thousands turn out to protest the open-door policy with considerable vitriol against the German Chancellor, going so far as to blame her for the terror attacks which plagued the country and wider Europe. These protests were in part spurred by the sexual assault of numerous women in Cologne during the New Year celebrations, not brooding well for sentiments towards asylum seekers.
In the past, Merkel has never been quite so blunt when referring to the practice of burqas, opting for diplomatic statements such as “this is a question of finding the right political and legal balance”. Unpacking this declaration, the German Chancellor attests to the fine line between the need for security and institutionalised discrimination.
It is evident that anti-Muslim sentiments are on the rise in Europe. The extent of the consequences of this mentality have yet to be seen. Merkel is not alone in her new stance as she is following a trend which other central European states have adopted. Most recently, in the Netherlands, Dutch Members of Parliament, in an overwhelming majority vote, opted to ban the full veil in public arenas, such as hospitals and schools.
these rulings plaguing central Europe, despite being lauded by citizens now, have had and will continue to have serious repercussions.
Merkel’s current announcement is inextricable from Britain’s historical decision on 23 June last year. Prior to Brexit, David Cameron announced that by 2020 the United Kingdom would accept 20,000 refugees. However, as of last September, Britain had allowed fewer than 1,000 refugees into the country. In contrast, according to the Washington Post, following Merkel’s implementation of an open-door policy, Germany saw over 1 million refugees arrive at its borders in 2015 alone, with this number rising exponentially throughout 2016. Assessing the Brexit decision through a securitisation scope, one could argue that the decision to leave is in direct response to the migrant crisis. The separation of Britain from the rest of Europe acts on two interconnected levels. The first is that Britain’s decision has sparked xenophobic rhetoric throughout the western world, a very clear and direct message towards immigrants that they are not welcome, and the second is on a practical level. The government is seeking to crackdown on its borders and immigration physically by excluding all ‘others’.
Despite believing that the migrant crisis is an issue, which in today’s political climate has to be approached from a securitised standpoint, these rulings plaguing central Europe, despite being lauded by citizens now, have had and will continue to have serious repercussions. These appalling terror attacks have arguably hit France the hardest, and it is their controversial institutionalized approach to the burqa which has incited animosity. What also appears to be forgotten is that in 97 per cent of terrorist attacks, domestic or otherwise, Muslims are the victims. In light of this, ‘we’, the western world, are further isolating an already persecuted group, and one cannot help but parallel the events of 2016 – economic ruin, Brexit and the ever-growing immigration crisis – to those throughout the early 1930s.