• theleftberlin

The German Neutrality Law - a Travesty

by Jacinta Nandi

Should cancer patients be banned from public employment? Photo: https://unsplash.com/photos/0YBIMOqQzt0

One of the interesting things about Berlin’s Neutralitätsgesetz (apart from the fact, of course, that it isn’t very neutral) is that it is a relatively new law. This is weird because when listening to white Berliners talk about, you could be forgiven for thinking has existed since before the dawn of time, or at least since the German constitution was written. Die Würde des Menschen ist unatastbar und Frauen im Kopftuch unzumutbar.


The truth is, in my opinion, that before 2005 Germany was such a racist country, that white Germans didn’t SPECIFICALLY need a racist law to keep Muslim women out of important positions of power. There was the racist education system which upheld the racist order and managed to keep women out of universities and then from getting proper careers in public life. But as the new millennium dawned, a generation of non-white Germans with immigration backgrounds – including women wearing headscarves – left school and uni with more qualifications and self-confidence. The Neutralitätsgesetz was born.


Of course, nobody – or hardly anyone – who supports this law admits, even to themselves, that it is pure racism. The white German headscarf fantasy goes like this: Islam is a sexist religion, so obviously the women who wear headscarves are wearing a symbol of sexist oppression. They are weak victims of a patriarchal oppression and we Germans are far more advanced and liberated by them. Oh, and plus, headscarves are a religious symbol aren’t they, and since religion should be kept out of public life, women who wear headscarves should not be employed by the state. Win-win, huh? You get to keep “religious symbols” out of public life in Germany, and whilst doing so, you can liberate a few Muslim victims.


Seeing as how most of the immigrants in this country come from a Muslim background, what this law essentially equates to is a Berufsverbot for non-white women. You’d think that even white Germans would be intelligent enough to acknowledge this. Many non-white women living in Germany are legally forbidden from ever becoming teachers, judges, or even a social worker at the social services. I don’t understand how anyone can think this is even vaguely okay.


This is what really fucking blows my mind: lots of Western things we wear every day are vaguely sexist – to be honest, I only wear a bra because I have really big, sexy, provocative nipples and I don’t like men looking at them. Bras are sexist, lipstick is sexist, high heels are not just sexist but actually totally damaging for your legs and feet. High heels are a symbol of sexist oppression. Nobody ever, ever, ever EVER discusses banning these things. The most ardent white feminist, even the most ardent German white feminist, might look down on the women who wear these things – but nobody goes so far as to call for a ban. We just kind of accept that they’re these slightly annoying sexist things which exist in this slightly annoying sexist world we live in.


But the idea (actually excuse) that the ban on wearing headscarves is acceptable because they’re a religious symbol is ludicrous in my eyes. First of all, I think it contradicts religious freedom which is meant to be protected in the German constitution, BY THE FUCKING WAY, but more than that, as an Atheist, I think it is, perversely, a way of inserting religion into public life. For if you or I were to wear a headscarf, for fashion, or maybe even cancer reasons, it would be allowed. In the same way, if a practising Muslim woman were to cover her hair with a wig, this too would be allowed. I find this perverse and I also, actually, in a weird way, think it places religion as far too important for a society which could be (and in my eyes should be) secular. If religion and the state are separate, why do I care whether you are covering your hair for religious reasons or because it’s a bit greasy? It’s literally nothing to do with me.


And also, the high number of practising Muslim women who do not wear a headscarf prove that to everyone except an actual simpleton, the headscarf is not a straightforward “religious” “symbol” but more of a cultural norm.


I can’t even be bothered to go into how ludicrous it is that a Christian teacher is allowed to wear a nice dainty cross under their blouse, even one with a naked man slowly bleeding to death on it. But I will say I find it absolutely horrific that if history in Germany had been different, and we had larger Sikh or Jewish communities living In Berlin, they too would be forbidden from taking any jobs as public servants. A Jewish man with a kippah or a Sikh man with a turban are also, theoretically at least, affected by the Neutrality law. Luckily for white Germans there aren’t hardly any living here, hey.


I also find it absolutely absurd that a woman wearing a headscarf IS allowed to teach in Berlin – as long as she teaches religious education classes. Like what the actual fuck? What is this so-called neutrality law meant to be neutral on?


I think they should call it a segregation law and be done with it.


What really makes me mad is this: even if you were, no offence, dumb enough to think the headscarf is in some way more horrifically sexist and oppressive than, say, the fact that women have to wax their legs and men, basically, don’t: does a Berufsverbot help? If there are all these meek Muslim women, petrified at home, total subservient victims, petrified of their fathers, terrified of their husbands, forced into headscarves – who exactly is this Neutrality law helping? Even if you think absolutely not one Muslim woman in Berlin wears a headscarf by choice (and no offence, but you’re a bit stupid if you do) who does this law help? If I am forced by one system to cover my hair and by another system to not cover it, I haven’t been freed at all, have I? But the truth is, this law is not about freeing women at all. It’s about keeping brown people in their place. White Germans talk a lot about integration. But really, if any of them cared about it at all, they would be up in arms about this racist, unconstitutional law.