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CENS Seminar by Christian Joppke – “Is the Project of Multiculturalism Dead?” (24 Feb 2017)

posted by eucentresg

Report by Julia Gour, Research Associate, EU Centre in Singapore

Prof_Christian_Joppke_240x240Prof. Dr. Joppke began his lecture with a brief introduction of the debates around “multiculturalism” in 2010/2011, which was led by Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron. All three claimed that multiculturalism had utterly failed. However, their statements were motivated by specific conditions in each country. For example, Mrs. Merkel saw herself confronted with a controversial and very successful book of Thilo Sarrazin, in which he denounces the failure of Germany’s immigration policy. Prof. Dr. Joppke claimed that Merkel’s statement can be seen as a crude tactical statement in order to close the right fringe. He continued to outline the positive role of law to condition multicultural outcomes. He further substantiated this by going into the different types of liberal law which he sees as a way to accommodate Muslims.

The first one being constitutional law which aims to protect minorities from the majority power. To clarify Prof. Dr. Joppke gave the example of Germany where Article 4 of Basic Law protects the “freedom to belief”. This particular law was fortified in 2015 when the German Constitutional Court decided that teachers of public schools should be allowed to wear a headscarf when teaching. The court argued that this is the right of the teacher and that a teacher wearing a headscarf simply symbolises the pluralistic German society. However, the Court made it clear that this law does not apply to judges and police as they – as civil servants – are seen as directly representing the state. This ruling of the Constitutional Court was acknowledged as a milestone of legally conditioned multiculturalism.

Secondly, there is a legal pluralism (private international law, civil law and arbitration law) in place to accommodate Muslim minorities. This is done through private international law which deals for example with legal cross-border conflicts and therefore has to distinguish between country of origin and country of residence, which varies from country to country. In respect to arbitration law Prof. Dr. Joppke highlighted the wide use of Muslim Arbitration Tribunals in England, also known as sharia councils.

The last part of Prof. Dr. Joppke’s lecture was about liberal law as a constraint. For this purpose he compared gays and Muslims as claims-makers in the liberal state, stating that no conceivable gay claim conflicts with the tenets of the liberal states, whereas certain Muslim claims do. An example of illiberal Muslim claims is the so-called “exemption claims” in which Muslims argued for exemption from certain civic activities. Prof. Dr. Joppke sees these exemption claims as a violation of liberal norm, and has been increasingly rejected by the court. This is a good example of liberal law moving from resource to constraint.

He closed his lecture with an example of a particular case in Germany where the request of a Muslim girl of being exempted from co-educational swimming lessons was denied – after the state’s compromise offer that the student could wear a burkini was not accepted – with the argument that it was the state’s obligation to integrate minorities into society.

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