Foreign Policy Digital

Women With Headscarves Need Not Apply in Germany

Germans welcomed an unprecedented number of Middle Easterners into their country—but not always into their workplaces.

What does it mean to be German? That abstract question has suddenly become an economic puzzle of the highest importance. Ever since Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s doors in 2015 to around a million asylum-seekers, most of them Syrian Muslims, German policymakers have faced the challenge, and opportunity, of integrating the new arrivals into the workforce.

Working at cross purposes with that task, however, have been deep aspects of German identity. Syrian asylum-seekers are finding it difficult to integrate into the economy in part because their potential employers and colleagues feel they haven’t integrated into German culture. Women’s headscarves have become the clearest symbol of these tensions—one that’s increasingly legible in the country’s economic data.

In the run-up to federal elections in 2017, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the country’s largest center-right party, indicated its opposition to full-face Islamic veils. “We are not burqa,” then-Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, in that as many as 81 percent of Germans supported banning full-face Islamic veils in government institutions and schools. Full-face veils are now banned in most public institutions, though Germany stopped short of emulating the full ban in force in neighboring France.

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