Where Are Your Minds?: An Open Letter to Thomas de Maiziere and the CDU

CounterPunch, May 24, 2017

I am not sure if you realize what you have done, Herr de Maiziere, but your recent talk of a German leading/dominant culture (leitkultur) in the tabloid Bild has proven very divisive. Many observers around the world are disgusted at your ignorance. Are you capable of understanding why?

Let us give credit where it is due: Germany did a great thing by opening up its borders for approximately one million refugees in 2015. The fact that there are integration problems is not surprising. However, what you are calling for is assimilation, pure and simple. You are afraid, and your words betray your fear.

You claim to be promoting an “open society”, yet when you say things like “we show our faces” and “we are not the burqa”, it’s very clear that your rhetoric is targeted against Muslims. You are playing with the notion of being “more German” than others, as somehow being an ideal political goal. Instead of promoting a society of tolerance and multiculturalism, you are dividing people based on your dangerous, arbitrary, and vacuous notions of patriotism.

Leitkultur as a political term was coined by Bassam Tibi, and referred to pan-European, not specifically German, notions of pluralism, religious freedom, universality, and a true multicultural society. In short, Tibi was referring to cherished Enlightenment values which are worth saving.

You, au contraire, have misconstrued the term for your own political ends. You will now have to lie in the bed you’ve chosen, and the CDU will be judged based on its associations. Notice how the AfD did not criticize your ideas, only your opportunism before a regional election, to score votes from the “right-wing populists” (a dubious political identity if there ever was one). One wonders what the horror show that is PEGIDA thinks of your ideas.

Your words act as a dog-whistle, unsubtly racially coded, are an obvious incitement towards discrimination, and may result in violence. They are inflammatory, hurtful, and clearly promote a malignant form of German nationalism. There are similarities between your talk of a “dominant/core/leading culture”, however well-intentioned you claim to be, with the ideology of fascism.

The CDU continues to disgrace itself, with its support of NATO’s endless wars, submission to NSA spying, and now this. Your version of leitkultur leads to the sort of thinking behind “American exceptionalism”, which has wrought disastrous consequences for centuries. In fact, your notions are only slightly less xenophobic and redneck than when white Americans are overheard insulting Latinos to “speaka tha English”.

Many around the world would like to possibly visit Germany, to study there, to live there. However, your views will clearly give many second thoughts.

Many others, millions of people, have seen their lives, or those of their loved ones and ancestors, hurt or outright destroyed by past German notions of supremacy.

Therefore, I cannot stand by silently as you denigrate others because they have not integrated well enough to your parties’ liking. Therefore, I stand ever vigilant against such minority and religious-bashing, having seen what has come before.

Only sincere tolerance, openness, and mutual respect will heal divides between communities. Only by providing immigrants and refugees with a dignified life, with jobs, decent housing, and a vibrant, accepting society, will tensions and disagreements cease.

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About William Hawes

Husband, Father, Author
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