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98 dialogue as a

governmental technique:

managing gendered Islam

in Germany
Schirin Amir-Moazami

Throughout the last decades, state and civil society actors in Germany have
undertaken a number of initiatives in order to enter into a structured conversation
with Muslim communities, and to find spokespersons who serve as partners for
political authorities. This process has commonly been analysed in terms of its
empowering effects for Muslims via the emerging institutionalisation of Islam. The
modes and techniques of power at stake in this process have yet often been
undermined. Through the lens of Foucaults concept of governmentality, the starting
point of my article is one particular dialogue forum, initiated by the German state in
2006 the Deutsche Islam Konferenz (DIK) whose primary goal is to institutionalise
and regulate the communication between Muslims and state actors and thereby to
regulate the conduct of Muslims. Focusing mainly on the way in which gender and
Islam have been coupled and played out in this initiative, I argue that the DIK is less
a dialogical encounter than a tool of a broader civilising liberal project. Through the
inquiry into the modes of power operating in this state led dialogue initiative the
article shows that while aiming to secure Muslims integration into German society
and to liberate Muslim women from restrictive gender norms, the DIK operates as an
enactment of a particular notion of freedom with normative and normalising

dialogue; Muslims; Germany; governmentality

feminist review 98 2011

c 2011 Feminist Review. 0141-7789/11

Looking at the ways in which Muslims have been dealt with in European public
spheres throughout the last decades, one can observe significant shifts in nearly all
parts of Western Europe with sizeable minority Muslim populations. Along with
enhanced security measures, state and civil society actors have increasingly placed
their focus on the institutionalization and integration of Islam. As a number of
scholars have observed, these politics are based on diverse and partly divergent
rationalities (Tezcan, 2007; Peter, 2008), and are obviously not detached from
techniques of power. This also makes the common juxtaposition of integration
versus exclusion questionable, at least if understood as mutually exclusive.
In this article, I will look at such interventionist practices through the
conceptual lens of Foucaults notion of governmentality (Foucault, 2006).
Governmentality provides a suitable tool because it is primarily concerned with
the power involved in the regulation of freedom (see Rose, 1999). Instead of
conceptualising power merely in terms of repression or hierarchy or, in turn,
as a counter-category to freedom, governmentality is anchored in liberal
politics and therefore allows us to think of power in a multi-leveled way. Being
concerned with the maintenance and control of bodies, persons and
populations, and the circulation of goods, governmentality operates at various
levels and is not exclusively tied to state power meant as a unique centre of
sovereignty. At the same time the technologies of power that Foucault was
interested in, especially in his essays on governmentality, are nonetheless
related to specific policy aims and attempts to enact social, political, religious
or cultural norms. The most interesting aspect for me in this multi-layered
notion of power is that it allows us to look at power as constituted by intertwined
rationalities of discipline, sovereignty and the dispositive of security (see in
particular Foucault, 1978, lecture 1).
This conceptual focus can help us to look at politics vis-a`-vis Muslims in Europe
beyond the common focus on historically shaped relationships between church
and state, or as specific post-war immigration policies (Fetzer and Soper, 2004;
Koenig, 2005). Instead, the idea of governmentality can further an understanding
of these politics as being part of a more general conception of freedom,
which does not only attempt to liberate subjects deemed unfree (Hindess, 2001),
but which also aims at producing free subjects (Rose, 1999: 87). Thus, the
broader question that interests me in this article is not immediately or not
exclusively related to the field of Islam in Europe, and is the question of how
freedom is governed, regulated and, by means of regulation, necessarily
restricted but also produced in liberal democratic societies.
Recent scholarship on Muslims in Europe has started to pay particular attention
to the techniques of power involved in this domain.1 One central feature in these
investigations are processes of securitisation. Security and the prevention of

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dialogue as a governmental technique

1 Fruitful paths
have been traced by

scholars like Ruth

Mas (2006), Frank
Peter (2008), Levent
Tezcan (2007) or
Werner Schiffauer

2 The following
analysis is based on
reports, press notes
and interviews with
members, initiators
or commentators of
the DIK, channelled
through the German
media and also on
personal interviews
with both organised
and non-organised
Muslims involved in
the DIK. I am
referring here mainly
to the first round of
the DIK between
2006 and 2009,
under the aegis of
the then Minister of
the Interior Wolfgang

Islamic extremism has indeed become one of the most important driving forces of
governmental practices towards Muslims. However, one domain that has triggered
similar concerns is the Muslims quest for recognition and the challenge to the
normative foundations and basic principles of liberal nation-states that this
quest has brought about. My main concern here are those governmental
practices, which can be interpreted as a response to this quest for recognition as
well as to the growing institutionalisation of Islam in European public spheres,
which it has provoked. I will argue that these governmental practices are, in the
first place, concerned with the regulation of sensibilities, life conduct and
personal attitudes of Muslims and work at the intersections between law and
pedagogy, and between discipline and normalisation.
In the intertwined processes of securitisation and integration, dialogue with
Muslims has become salient, and has recently also been discovered by
governments as a tool for integration and social cohesion. Focusing on the case
of Germany I will look here at one specific example of such state-managed
dialogues. My point of departure is the Deutsche Islam Konferenz (hereafter DIK),
which the German government initiated in the autumn of 2006 in order to enter
into a structured conversation with Muslims.2 Based on the intertwined attempt
to improve the conditions for Muslims to practice their religion and to ensure that
this improvement will take the right form, the DIK is an interesting case of micropolitics, which reveals the ambivalences at stake in the regulation of freedom
of and from religion.
Although the DIK tackles a wide range of issues, one of the most central domains
in this and other related initiatives is the effort to shape Muslims social and
religious conduct in the domain of gender norms and sexuality. This is namely the
sphere which is supposedly based on Islamic normativity and thus regarded
as contradicting principles of gender equality and individual autonomy. I will
place the main focus of my analysis on the question of how sexual politics work
in this initiative as a technique of regulation, discipline and normalisation of
subjects. I argue that the disciplinary impetus here does not consist of
sanctioning deviations from the norm but rather in reshaping the Muslim body
with a conditional affirmation of its difference through modes of guidance and
I will proceed in two major steps. First, I will look at the role of secular Muslim
feminists, who have become key figures in informing and moulding discourses on
gendered Islam in Germany and who have also become involved in the DIK as
female spokespersons. I will argue that the DIK has contributed to the widening
circulation and reification of the very category of the secular Muslim feminist.
I further suggest that their large impact is symptomatic of a broader phenomenon that is coupled with the production of knowledge and subjectivities in
liberal-secular contexts.
Schirin Amir-Moazami

feminist review 98 2011


Focusing on the procedures in the DIK, I will analyse in a second step how the
recurrent coupling of rights and values vis-a`-vis Muslims can be read as a
normalising practice. Here the aim is to mould the Muslims life conduct in the
domain of gender relations and sexuality according to liberal scripts. I will argue
that although based on and backed up by the liberal legal order, the techniques
at stake here exceed juridical power.

the DIK dialogue at eye level?

In September 2006, the former Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schauble
inaugurated the first official dialogue forum between the German state and
the Muslim field, in order to work out solutions for living together and to
ameliorate the situation of Muslims in the country (, last accessed April 2010). The initiative reflects the
increasing awareness about the durable settlement of Muslims in Germany, which
conservative politicians in particular had difficulties admitting to before. This
was spelled out several times, before as well as after the first meetings, in the
affirmative statements by the Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schauble that
Islam had become part of German society and that Muslims were welcome in
The DIKs outspoken aim is to find and formulate binding rules and principles,
that is a consensus, based on the framework defined by the liberal-democratic
order (ibid.). The anticipated consensus through dialogue shall ultimately
bring about a harmonious, prosperous, thriving living together, as emphasised
several times both before and after the various meetings. Through the process of
dialoguing, Muslims are to be turned into liberal-secular subjects. In a paper that
outlines the first preliminary results, Schauble makes this assessment very
explicit: There are still a couple of steps to be taken until we reach what we
planned: to make Muslims feel at home in Germany with their faith so that
Muslims in Germany are transformed into German Muslims (DIK, ZwischenResumee, Vorlage fur die 3, Plenarsitzung der DIK, 13 March 2008, Berlin.
Bundesministerium des Inneren, my translation).
It would be worth working out more carefully the implications of German
Muslims, because this touches upon a broader issue that concerns the normative
dimensions involved in the processes of institutionalising Islam according to
preformatted standards of Germanness or Europeanness, as also apparent in
the flourishing notion of a Euro-Islam (Amir-Moazami, 2007). In other words,
one should inquire into the normative assumptions underlying the attempt to
transform Muslims into German Muslims. While this notion reveals a gesture of
endorsement, there is more to it than the recognition of Muslims as German
citizens. The Germanness is emphasised in a way that should touch upon more

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3 On the
involved in the
gesture to welcome
people who have
settled in Germany
for almost three
generations, see
in particular Peter
(2009) and

than the mere inclusion into a politically defined abstract liberal-democratic

community. I will elaborate on this point later when reflecting upon the
increasing debate about the ethical foundations of this political community.
The institutionalisation of a dialogue between Muslims and the state should
therefore be understood as reflecting an increased concern by the German
state for the integration of Muslims into German society. Moreover, the DIK
symptomatically reveals how the goal of integration is coupled with the
production of Muslims as potentially facing problems to integrate. In his opening
speech Schauble made this explicit right at the beginning:
In order to create perspectives for a common future, we need to try to solve the problems
which cause strains for the co-existence with Muslims in our country: religious education in
Koran schools and at state schools, the headscarf, the training of imams, the role of
women and girls, ritual slaughtering, just to mention some keywords. (Bulletin der
Bundesregierung, 93-1, 28 September 2006: 3,
Bulletin/2006/09/__Anlagen/93-1-bmi-islamkonferenz-bt,property=publicationFile.pdf, last
accessed May 2011 and translation my own)

While being approached as forming a part of German society, Muslims thus still
have to be fashioned in a way which faces their problems and ensures their
What I find interesting here is the position of state agents who turn into pilots of
integration of one particular population (Muslims), by endorsing and assisting
them in the process of becoming German Muslims. This reveals at the same time
a transformation in the states self-understanding as the newly emerging
caretaker of problems faced by Muslims and exclusively by them. The
acknowledgement of the durable and sustainable presence of Muslims is thus
coupled with the assumption of their inherent deficiencies, which the state has
to help solve. There is thus an inherent tension involved in the DIK between
recognition and suspicion, which characterises policies vis-a`-vis Muslims in
Germany more generally (see Schiffauer, 2008).
This logic of integrating through dialogue resonates with a more general trend in
other flourishing programmes designed for Muslims, for example, by church-based
interfaith groups, or intercultural dialogue initiatives of political foundations.
Although clearly diverse in scope and plural in the approaches, one common
feature in these initiatives is their rising inscription into a teleological rationality
that aims at solving societal, political and partly even economic problems and
conflicts. Levent Tezcan (2006) observes, for example, that hitherto locally
and loosely structured interfaith groups since the late 1990s have increasingly
linked their activities with normative goals. Parallel to the state attempts to
institutionalise a structured conversation with Muslims in order to organise the
conduct of conduct, local grassroots and pluralistically structured interfaith
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feminist review 98 2011


dialogue initiatives have begun to resettle their agendas, acting more and more
as assistants for processes of integration.
As already indicated in Schaubles quotation above, the core of the problem is
seen in the fact that Muslims find it hard to adjust to existing gender norms and
should therefore be guided. The reason for this is the assumed coercion that
Muslim women are subjected to through specific bodily practices and religious
life conduct. I will be focusing on the DIKs politics of invitation, and, more
specifically, on the role of the secular Muslim feminists.

the production and reification of secular Muslim

One of the most striking aspects of the DIK is the question of transparency in
regard to the agenda-setting, the structures and the functioning of the working
groups involved and finally also the politics of circulating or retaining
information amongst the wider public. These points are of course highly relevant
to scrutinise as sites of the micro-political functioning of liberal democratic
institutions and practices of state politics vis-a`-vis minorities. I would like to
focus here only on one aspect that concerns the selection and composition of
Muslim actors invited to speak about gender questions from the perspective of
those who are concerned. In order to include the diversity of Muslims living in
Germany the initiators of the DIK invited both representatives of the largest
Muslim and Turkish federations and individual Muslims.
I will look here at those actors who were invited as representatives of womens
concerns and gender questions activists like Necla Kelek, Seyran Ates and Ezhar
Cezairli.4 The fact that especially during the first three years of the DIK only selfdeclared secular Muslims or critics of Islam (Islamkritikerinnen) had been
present at the DIK as female Muslim representatives is obviously not innocent
and deserves closer attention, especially because I am concerned here with
the question of production of subjectivities in the context of gender, sexuality
and Islam.
The question of representativity of such subject positions within the wide scope of
being a Muslim in Germany is not a major concern for me here, nor do I intend to
deny the Muslimness of those women. This is, indeed, what some representatives
of Islamic federations present at the DIK tended to do by claiming that these
Islamkritikerinnen were not legitimised to speak for Muslims at all because of
their rejection of Islam (see
47_840.asp, last accessed April 2010).
I argue that the (self-)categorisation as liberal or secular Muslims or even as
Islamkritikerinnen only becomes meaningful if we look at it in relation to secular

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4 The most
prominent is probably
the sociologist Necla
Kelek (2007), who
gained wide public
attention and
recognition through
her book on forced
and arranged
marriages among
Turkish migrants.
Seyran Ates (2003), a
lawyer specialising in
divorce cases,
became a public
figure after having
various publications
with a highly
focus. Ezhar Cezairli
works as a dentist in
Frankfurt/Main and
initiated the
association of
Secular Muslim

Germans in the
federal state of

orders, which have made this subject position possible and salient. Liberal
secular Muslims, and here more specifically liberal-secular feminists, comprise a
growing number of academics, activists and also politicians who challenge a
conception of Islam as a normative form of life conduct from within or who
sometimes retreat from Islam as a discursive tradition altogether. The main
reference point for these secular Muslim feminists is their commitment to Western
liberal notions of justice, autonomy, tolerance and individual rights. These
concepts, however, gain meaning primarily in terms of counter-concepts to the
underlying understanding of Islamic normativity as a closed set of rules and
restrictions. What is also significant for the success of these secular Muslim
feminists is their strong focus on autobiographical experiences, which leads them
to a tendentious condemnation of the condition of the Muslim woman in Islam.
Their goal is to struggle against the subordinate status of women in Muslim
communities in Europe as a sign of Islams backwardness. What they propose
alternatively is a model of religion based on the ideal of secular Europe,
understood as the product of a progressive retreat from religion in the public
sphere. I do not want to deny here that their claims derive from serious
experiences with oppressive patriarchal practices. However, these claims often
result in a problematic goal to obsessively liberate the oppressed by constructing
and imposing one single gender model.
Necla Kelek, who is the best-known among these activists in Germany, claimed,
for example, before the first meeting of the DIK that her aim was to reach a
general prohibition of students to abstain from mixed swimming classes in state
schools and a nationwide headscarf ban in primary schools (Welt online,
ein_Kopftuchverbot_an_Grundschulen.html, last accessed May 2011, translation
my own). In another related interview she explained more precisely: Covered
women do not participate anymore in the achievements of humanity. They are not
allowed to experience their body, to swim, to do physical exercise, to participate
in the biology lessons, and they are deprived of their sexuality (SpiegelOnline,,1518,424999,00.html, last
accessed May 2011, translation my own).
Such assumptions reveal a significant paradox of a missionary struggle of liberalsecular feminism, and even of liberalism more generally. The requirement to
adjust to liberal gender norms of equality and autonomy clearly goes beyond the
regulation of the public life and targets a very intimate sphere, rhetorically
constructed as private and personal, in this case dress codes and physical
exercise. This contributes to the blurring of sacredly defined and defended
boundaries between the public and the private in liberal thought and to the
construction of a normative standard of how to act and behave as a liberal
subject. As Talal Asad (2006) argues in his recent interventions on the antiheadscarf rulings in France, such politics go largely beyond the rhetorically and
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formally drawn boundary between political and religious spheres usually

associated with the paradigm of secularity. Rather, they reveal an understanding
of secularity as a practice, in which personal life conduct and sensibilities are
shaped according to secular scripts which shall ensure that religion takes
adequate forms in public life. In a Foucaultian sense, Asad thus understands
secularity in the first place as a mode of producing and governing (secular)
subjects. This interpretation of the French notion of lacite in the headscarf cases
thus goes far beyond its common understanding as a principle governing a strict
separation between religion and politics. Asad asserts that lacite is mode in
which the Republic teaches the subjects in its care about what counts as real,
and what they themselves really are, in order to govern them better by letting
them govern themselves (ibid.: 521).
What is more remarkable is that the secular habitus as promoted by these
activists in Germany resembles in some important ways the constraints of
religious norms and self-practices usually associated with pious forms of social
and political life. The liberal, autonomous subject, which these women subscribe
to and which they embody, is conceptualised as being detached from any
constraining norms. However, this kind of subject position similarly requires a
particular set of practices, behaviour and life conduct, in this case cultivated
by the supposedly unmediated liberal secular norms and social conventions.
The idea of liberalism as a tradition (see MacIntyre, 1988) criticises precisely
the common suggestion that liberal subjects were formed autonomously
and detached from community boundaries and social constraints. Wendy Brown
points to this succinctly:
Liberalism involves a contingent, malleable set of beliefs and practices about being human
and being together; about relating to self, others, and world; about doing and not doing;
about valuing and not valuing select things. And liberalism is also always institutionalised,
constitutionalised, and governmentalised in articulation with other cultural norms those
of kinship, race, gender, sexuality, work, politics, leisure, and more. (Brown, 2006: 23)

In an illuminating article Judith Butler (2008) relates recent debates in sexual

politics in liberal democratic orders to the aspect of time. She looks, for
example, at the controversial immigration test initiated by the Dutch government
to inform and instruct newcomers from presumably homophobic societies about
the liberal Dutch lifestyle. One of the most contested aspects of this has been a
film these newcomers have to watch about two homosexual men kissing, in order
to become familiar with what they had to expect in Dutch public spaces. Butler
argues that such techniques were not only based on a specific understanding of
freedom tied to a specific kind of sexuality. More originally, she relates this
notion of freedom to a particular understanding of (secular) time, understood as
progress and of what it means to unfold a future of freedom in time (Butler,
2008: 1). Rather than countering secular time as such with the essentialist idea

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of dividing different cultures or spaces into different time frames, Butler argues
that hegemonic conceptions of progress define themselves over and against
a pre-modern temporality that they produce for the purposes of their own selflegitimation (ibid.). In this understanding of freedom as related to a specific
notion of temporality, Europe is imagined as having reached modernity, while
immigrants are associated with orthodoxies and traditions, in need of being
refashioned. Thus what is crucial in Butlers analysis, and also for my argument,
is the linkage that she denotes between freedom and progress on the one
hand, and their functional relatedness to other notions of temporality, which
are responsible for the production of conceptions of both modernity and
backwardness, on the other.
Secular Muslim feminists involved to the DIK as representatives of Muslim women
in Germany confirm Butlers assumptions and can at the same time be seen as
embodiments of the productive force of the particular conception of temporality Butler describes. Deriving from a different pre-modern, traditional,
patriarchal time frame these secular Muslim feminists have become icons of a
conception of secular time anchored in freedom and/as progress. They have
incorporated a temporally and spatially specific understanding of secularity as a
gradual detachment from religious normativity and therefore have reached what
others still have to reach.
Their role at the DIK and other events, in which Muslim informants are
requested, should thus be analysed precisely in this light. As critics from within
they contribute to a further legitimisation of the states interventions into Muslim
gender norms and sexuality. In other words, the state manages its pedagogic
mission to enact freedom, putting itself into the position of the instance that
tames and mediates between orthodox, that is Islamically committed Muslim
men of Islamic federations, and female secular Muslim feminists. This practice
suggests that not only the state should be in charge of transmitting a particular
notion of freedom and emancipation, but also Muslim women themselves should
be involved in circulating their ideals of the right conduct and thereby act as role
The states mandate attributed to secular Muslims to shape Muslim gender
norms from within is closely linked to the idea of the formation of expert
knowledge in the field of Islam in Germany and Europe. Apart from being
present at the DIK as spokeswomen for gender concerns, most of these women
gained significant positions as political advisors and experts on Muslim gender
questions long before the practice of state-managed dialogue. The lawyer
Seyran Ates, for example, was invited as an adviser to the hearings before
the adoption of new laws prohibiting teachers from wearing headscarves in
state schools in the federal state of Baden-Wurttemberg. Necla Kelek was
significantly responsible for the questionnaire of the so-called attitude test,
introduced in 2006 in the same federal state. This test was explicitly designed
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feminist review 98 2011


for candidates from countries with an Islamic background. It comprises a large

number of questions that address Muslims inner attitudes about gender norms
and sexuality (Amir-Moazami, 2009). For example, it asks how the applicant
would position him/herself towards the statement that a woman has to obey
her husband and that he can beat her if she disobeys, or whether he/she
thought it was adequate to enclose ones daughter at home, in order to avoid
that she breaks the rules of honour?
The success of these secular Muslim feminists reflected in the wide circulation
of their publications, the forum they have gained in the media and their large
public presence indicates the adjustment of a growing number of Muslims to
pre-existing images and even a re-articulation of the stigma of otherness.
Through this re-articulation from within secular Muslim feminists are considered
authentic representatives of a different culture and at the same time its most
credible critics. This touches, of course, upon the ethically relevant problem of
the limits in the role of experts and advisors in delicate questions such as reading
and decoding religious practices and symbols, especially when they consider
themselves and are considered by courts or other politically relevant agents of
society as representatives of an entire religious community.
I am not arguing here that any voice is principally right or wrong. What I find
remarkable, however, in the perception and reception of these particular kinds
of Muslim representatives and their incorporation into intercultural dialogue
measures and into the processes of lawmaking, is the selective view with which
certain discourses are welcomed and authenticated while others are not heard,
simply because they lack the necessary translation into a secular vocabulary. For
example, the struggle of other feminist positions against patriarchy, articulated
in a religious language, has not gained much attention in the German public
sphere. Also a recently published press note by Liberal-Islamischer Bund, a
recently founded group of liberal (but outspokenly not secular) Muslims passed
unnoticed (see press note, Liberal-Islamischer Bund, 21 July 2010). The letter
condemned the one-sided image provided by secular Muslim feminists like Kelek
and argued that most committed Muslim women did not feel protected or even
represented by this kind of imagery.
I would even argue that the incorporation of a liberal discourse on religion in
general and on feminism in particular has become one of the few paths to be
publicly heard. In this perspective the embodiment and further cultivation of a
secular habitus and discourse should be understood as an effect of liberalsecular orders, to which Muslims not only confine but by which they are even
compelled, as Ruth Mas puts it in an illuminating article on secular Muslims in
France (Mas, 2006).
The modes of selection of expertise in the DIK should thus be related to particular
modes of producing and disseminating knowledge on gendered Islam, which

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reveals both disciplining and normalising components. The idea of curing

deviations from within simultaneously indicates a new dimension in regard to the
ways in which knowledge on Muslims in Germany is produced and, related to this,
the intertwinement between knowledge production, examination and the
fashioning of an integrated Muslim subject.

reifying values, normalising conduct

If we now take a closer look at the constitution and functioning of the working
groups involved in the DIK, the discourse on liberal gender norms, promoted by
state agents as much as by secular Muslim feminists, will gain clearer contours.
To recall the topics of these working groups in the first round of the DIK
(20062009): the first one (German constitutional order and consensus of
values) was concerned with educational matters and gender equality. The
second (religious questions in the constitutional state) tackled issues like
mosque-building, the training of imams, teaching of Islam at state schools and
co-education. At the centre of the third working group (economy and the media
as a bridge) was the education and labour of Muslim youth and representations
of Muslims in the media. The fourth (security and Islamism) discussed
Germanys internal security and Islamic extremism.
The last two groups were mainly based on security aims, and anchored in a
rationality of prevention of both Islamic extremism (see Schiffauer, 2008) and
negative images of Muslims based on stereotypes of extremism in the media.
Meanwhile, the first two mainly addressed questions related to norms and values,
with the agenda primarily focusing on gender norms and sexuality. These two
working groups have a logic inscribed onto them, which aims at generally
examining and targeting Muslim behaviour, life conduct and corporal practices
such as veiling.
While the sub-themes had been formulated in very broad terms (e.g. gender
equality, family, education and youth autonomy), at closer scrutiny they
comprise quite concrete requirements and expectations towards Muslims. Based
on the preconception of Islam as the problem for the democratic order and
values of equal liberty, the ideal of gender equality was translated into preformulated topics and criteria such as the need for Muslim girls to participate
in mixed sports classes at school, the behaviour of Muslim boys vis-a`-vis
non-Muslim girls or the amelioration of the situation of Muslim women in
Germany. In the new edition of the DIK under the sole leadership of the Christian
Democratic government since spring 2010 the content of the working groups has
been reformulated in a much milder fashion. The logic has remained. While it is
frequently acknowledged that problems like forced marriages or violence in the
name of honour were not necessarily Islamically legitimisable, in the next step it
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is pointed out that these problems should be solved together with Muslims. Hence
Muslims, and only they, are still targeted as the bearers of problems related
to gender inequality, and at the same time envisaged and promoted as their
Unlike other recent measures, such as legally codified headscarf bans in
several federal states (Amir-Moazami, 2007), or attempts to prevent what have
come to be called forced marriages through the restricted criteria of
immigration,5 the DIK has an outspoken pedagogic incentive. It is not about
sanctioning practices or gender norms, which are deemed to deviate from the
norm. It is much more about normalising such practices through dialogue and
education, and the attempt to smoothly but authoritatively transform Muslims
into liberal democratic subjects. This becomes most explicit in the recurrent
coupling of rights and values, which I will turn to in the following section.
It is important to note that all participating agents at the DIK were committed to
ideals of gender equality and more generally to Germanys constitutional order.
The working groups, however, comprise issues, which are extended into a domain
that interrogates the intimate sphere of individuals and looks at the inner logics
of personal behaviour and life conduct of a particular group of people, that is
Muslims. What is interesting in this specific kind of engagement with Muslims
is the subtext, which presumes Muslim gender norms and sexuality as somewhat
disturbing, yet as not necessarily transgressing legality.
Moreover, most of the sub-themes discussed at the DIK had already been
touched upon on the legal arena. A number of claims by Muslims with regard to
practicing religion publicly have, at least partially, been accommodated by local,
federal or national courts, mostly with recourse to the principles of equal rights
and religious freedom.6 The attempt to re-address these topics in the form of a
state-initiated dialogue can be interpreted as an interesting example of how
state agents have started to identify their responsibility and to engage in a
broader discussion about issues of the good that are deemed to impede the
cultural integration of Muslims ideally detached from the domain of rights in
liberal thought.
I would like to make my point more explicit by taking up the example of
co-educative sports and swimming classes in state schools, which have recently
become a frequently discussed topic in the German public sphere. Back in 1992
the Supreme Administrative Courts in Munster and Luneburg had decided in
favour of Muslim girls abstaining from co-educational sports lessons. The topic,
however, has started to preoccupy public opinion, and also state agents more
recently. The more recent decisions in Hamburg in 2007 and Munster in 2008,
which prohibit students right to abstain from swimming classes indicate,
furthermore, how much the interpretation and application of the law itself is all
but immune from specific social climates and discourses.

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5 See article in
Symbolischer Kampf,
27 October 2010,

6 The most
prominent examples
are: the decision of
the Constitutional
Court (BVG) on the
legitimacy of
covered teachers in
state schools, which
was primarily based
on the principle of
religious freedom
and which argued
that headscarves as
such did not provide
a legal reason to
ban teachers from
classes (see http://
and the decision by
the BVG that allows
Muslims to slaughter
animals according to

Islamic rules (http://


We can interpret the fact that the DIK brought this topic onto its dialogue
platform with Muslims in various ways. The more innocent interpretation would
suggest that it was an attempt to discuss bodily practices and issues of sexuality
with those Muslims who might for religious reasons have a problem with
participating in mixed sports and swimming classes. In the best practice of
dialogue, the aim could then consist of trying to self-reflexively understand
their perspectives (see Gadamer, 1988). A more critical reading would argue that
to bring this topic onto the agenda of a state-initiated dialogue platform in the
first place contributes to the production of co-education as the norm and an
ideal of gender equality considers deviations from this norm as illegitimate and
in need of being reshaped through dialogue instead of through legal sanctions.
There is some evidence for this latter interpretation, one being the fact that only
secular Muslim feminists, whose positions on the issue I already discussed above,
were invited to represent female Muslims. Another one is a controversy that the
head of the Muslim council (Koordinierungsrates der Muslime in Deutschland),
Axel Ayyub Kohler, elicited before the second plenary session. Kohler claimed that
for him the question of co-educative sports classes was a matter of discussion.
More controversially, he argued that the role of Islamic federations was to
support Muslim parents and students in their initiatives to further possibilities for
gender segregated sports classes. This statement triggered a lot of discussion
(Cantzen, 2007: 273), and also motivated the commissioner for integration Maria
Bohmer to react fiercely with the following statement:
Cultural diversity is something very nice and enriching. But I want to clarify one thing: it ends
at a point, where our basic values and rights are questioned. The equality of sexes is one of
these nonnegotiable basic rights. It is expressed, among other things, in common sports and
swimming classes of boys and girls or in common school trips. We will not allow that a small
minority of backward-oriented people tries to introduce the rules of their grandfathers.
(, last accessed
May 2011. Quote taken from Welt Online, translation my own)

On a general level, Bohmers statement implies the narrow understanding of

cultural plurality that is reduced to the idea of a friendly coexistence of
non-conflicting values and norms. This has characterised a significant string
of the German public discourse since post-war immigration (Terkessidis, 2002;
Amir-Moazami, 2007). Difference is accepted only to the extent that people with
immigrant backgrounds do not encourage a discussion about the implications of
basic rights, and not about basic values. The coupling of values and rights on
the one hand, and the more specific definition of what gender equality shall
consist of on the other (e.g. conducting mixed gender sports and swimming
classes or participating in school trips), shows how much the acceptance of
difference functions in a conditional way. The statement significantly uncovers
the normative charging of gender equality as a basic right that Muslims
Schirin Amir-Moazami

feminist review 98 2011


supposedly only achieve if they unconditionally embrace specific values, whose

content is not open to interpretation, discussion and contestation but taken for
granted and fixed.
What the flourishing debate about the necessity to mix in schools in order to
become a healthy liberal subject symptomatically ignores is the fact that in
Germany the value of co-education is by no means shared unanimously. There
have been ongoing discussions throughout the last decades in the domains of
psychology and pedagogy about the question whether segregated classes would
be beneficial for the success of girls in schools, for example, but also in the
domain of natural sciences and in that of sports (see Schmolze, 2007). Moreover,
a sizeable number of state schools in the federal departments of Bavaria, BadenWurttemberg and Saxony have practiced segregated sports lessons without having
triggered a controversy about its implications for gender equality.
The implicit, and sometimes also outspoken, problem that is associated with
Muslims ideas about segregated school classes obviously touches a different
nerve. It is namely about sexuality, and more precisely about the assumption
that Islamic sexuality and gender conceptions contradict liberal norms and
ultimately support the Muslims gradual segregation from society at large. The
insistence on the unavoidable necessity for Muslims to participate in mixed
sports classes is thus based on a particular notion of autonomy and freedom
which, indeed, gains contours only through the process of constructing a
problematic otherness that is made responsible for a whole set of problems
located within Muslim communities, but not within the structural conditions of
society at large.
I finally find the paternalistic tone in Bohmers statement revealing for the
way it depicts the effort to re-establish state sovereignty in domains in which
Muslims have started to challenge the interpretation of basic rights and norms
through the law itself, namely by relying on the principles provided by the
constitutional order. The request to Muslims to adjust to basic rights and
their associated ethical grounding points to state practices that aim at
regulating ethical behaviour, life conduct and also the emotional spheres of
society. These are actually domains, which according to a liberal selfunderstanding, should ideally not fall into the competence of state action.
This pedagogical kind of intervention was made explicit by another state
representative at the DIK. The minister of culture of Schleswig-Holstein, Ute
Erdsiek-Rave, stressed that the DIK should send signals to the parents of
Muslim children, in order to make sure that they naturally participate in
classes and swimming lessons (
islamkonferenz_aid_55127.html, last accessed May 2011).
I suggest that this reflects an important semantic shift in the political
authorities assessment of Muslims in Germany. This shift is based on the

feminist review 98 2011

dialogue as a governmental technique

7 Most
lawyers would
probably contradict
the assumption that
constitutional norms
should be connected
to an ethical
substance, immune
from societal
changes and cultural
However, some have
recently argued
along such lines and
repeated a wellknown argument
that the liberal
state should not be
abused by illiberal
practices (see
Langenfeld, 2008).

8 This is
information, which
I gathered in
personal interviews
with representatives
of Islamic
conducted between
2008 and 2009. See
also Schiffauer,
Werner in Berliner
Zeitung, 26 March

assumption that the identification of Muslims with constitutional principles of

German society is not sufficient for their true and real commitment as German
citizens. While Muslims had so far been asked to declare their loyalty to the
German constitution, this commitment is now deemed insufficient and extended
to idealised values upon which the constitution is built, that is supposedly shared
normative assumptions of the good, which are ideally detached from the
domain of rights according to liberal thought. This shift, on the other hand, has
to be related to the fact that Muslims have increasingly shown capacity to rely on
the constitutional order, especially by demanding spaces for religious conduct.
While one could interpret this move as an expression of their constitutional
patriotism (see Habermas, 1995), relevant political authorities as well as some
legal theorists7 tend to consider the Muslims usage of the law as an arena which
attributes too much religious freedom. The reliance of Muslims on the law is
thus interpreted as the wrong way of identifying with the social bonds of German
society. That is because Muslims allegedly just pick and choose pragmatically
what they deem adequate and necessary for their religious life conduct, while
discarding the moral apparatus hidden behind constitutional principles.
The often repeated demand for Muslims to adapt to the German constitutional
order thus became insufficient precisely in the moment that Muslims started
to adopt these rights for their own purposes, that is for purposes that the
founders of the constitution, and probably also those who praise constitutional
patriotism, have not necessarily anticipated (see Henkel, 2008). Independently
from public interpellations towards Muslims, the DIK made this point very
explicit during the third plenary meeting, when representatives of Islamic
federations were asked to subscribe to an agreement surrounding a common
basis of values beyond legally codified principles, subsumed under the label of a
community of German values [deutsche Wertegemeinschaft]. This agreement
was to extend their mere conversion to the German constitution and comprised
quite detailed requirements of social and religious conduct, such as the
obligatory renouncement of headscarves in state schools, or, again, the
compulsory participation of Muslim students in mixed swimming classes. On other
occasions, some of the representatives of Islamic federations were asked to
delete passages in the Quran, which potentially promote gender inequality.8
Although in the published document on the German value consensus these
requirements were left out, such insights give a taste of the kinds of interrogations that some Muslims present at the DIK were confronted with. And I claim
that these interrogations of a paralegal, yet regulatory, nature reveal a new
character of state-based approaches to Muslims both in Germany and in other
European societies (see Peter, 2008; Sayyid and Vakil, 2011). What the DIK
reveals is a one-sided imposition and reification of norms vis-a`-vis those who
are deemed not entirely ready to absorb them. This process paradoxically pushes
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feminist review 98 2011


Muslims into legalism because they tend to consider the law as the only available
ground to communicate their aims and quest for recognition.9
The demand to extend the identification with legal principles to an identification
with values (constituting these principles) definitely reflects an expression of
puzzlement resulting from the Muslims capacity to use the law by basing their
claims on the existing constitutional order. However, in my view, such an
interpretation simultaneously confirms much of the liberal thought. Although
admitting that constitutional law was founded in a particular time and space
and on particular ethical grounds (Habermas, 1993: 183), most committed liberal
theorists nonetheless conceive of constitutionalism as a neutral and universal set
of principles, available to everybody in the same way. What the requirement of
identification with a value substance associated with legal principles uncovers is
precisely the non-neutral, that is ethical, character of their constitutional
principles themselves. The demand to also subscribe to an ethical substance of
constitutional principles indeed reveals itself as the particularity of allegedly
universal constitutional norms (see Brown and Halley, 2002).

9 In an interview
I conducted with the
general secretary
Oguz U
of the
organisation in
Germany (Islamische
Gemeinschaft Mill
Gorus) in April 2008
he claimed that the
only viable path for
practicing Muslims
to gain any
recognition in
Germany was to
meticulously rely on
the legal order. He
claimed that he lost
trust in the DIK
mainly because
committed and
organised Muslims
were not listened to.

In other words, I do not consider the political authorities insistence on ethical

values behind naked constitutional principles as being the problematic move
here. What is problematic is much more the assumption that these values are
taken for granted and consensually shared by non-Muslims, while Muslims still
have to declare their supposed substance. This is what reveals the exclusive
potential inscribed in liberal principles and brings us back to some of the
ambivalences of liberal, rights-based discourses and their simultaneous
potentiality and limitations.

The DIKs conception of dialogue as recasting alludes to some of the
ambivalences involved in the very notion of dialogue as a liberal practice,
which in this case quite consistently unfolds its anchorage in intersecting power
techniques. The encounter is not open to interpretations of criteria and new
suggestions of what the criteria could be, but closed around a fixed set of
finalised foundations. The initiative does not start from an open encounter
between two unknown subjects and their confrontation through openness towards
both understanding and misunderstanding.10 Being coupled with the pronunciation of specific goals and related to an examining logic, this kind of dialogue
starts from the presumption of an unintelligible difference which has to be
reshaped. The dialogue therefore turns out to be governmental practice, through
which the Other is subsumed into ones own voice, and where the strange is simply
rendered into something familiar. Governmental power here operates in a way
that enacts particular norms as normalcy, while considering and constructing

feminist review 98 2011

dialogue as a governmental technique

10 This is what
approaches to
dialogue of thinkers
from Martin Buber,
Emanuel Levinas to
Gadamer suggest.
Although embedded
in different

traditions of thought
these thinkers share
a conception of
dialoguing as
something that must
be detached from
aims at conversion,
cohesion or
conviction, but that
is rather based on
the ethical principle
of recognising the
difference of the
Other through the
readiness to revise
ones own
presuppositions in
and through the
encounter (see in
particular Gadamer,

others as deviations. Moreover, these deviations are no longer only tied to a

discursive apparatus, in which power works as communication and as sets of
signs, but communicative power is intertwined with modes of regulation,
guidance and self-guidance.
Although with the example of the DIK I was by definition preoccupied with state
power, I would argue that the governmental practices revealed by the DIK are not
to be located in the state only, but work at intersections between the state, civil
society and the individual. The example of secular Muslim feminists, whose role is
to act as knowledge producers on gendered Islam and as individual mediators
between state interests and the Muslim milieu, indeed shows how the state
has managed to produce normalising agents from within. Expert and insider
knowledge about the content, practice and theological tools of religious
communities (i.e. Muslims) have become of particular importance, as knowledge
gathering is one of the key issues in governmental practices targeting peoples
religious and social conduct and sensibilities (see Hindess, 2001: 103).
One could easily interpret cases like the DIK as accidental deviations from the
liberal order, which temporarily disguise the real nature of liberal neutrality, to
be remedied sooner or later by the secular constitutional outlook (see Joppke,
2007). I would suggest, however, that the liberal order itself can be seen as the
starting point, and even more the condition for power to work in this ambivalent
way. Although at first glance nourishing the suspicion of illegitimately extending
the limits of the liberal state, the example of the DIK shows the close linkage
with a particular liberal tradition which aims at liberating through intervening,
promoting, and sometimes also imposing an autonomous self-identity as a form
of governance (see Rose, 1999: 83). Being closely tied to liberal principles of
individual autonomy, freedom of choice and equality, the interventionist idea is
legitimised by liberal principles, which because of their universal impetus are
seen to be legitimately imposed onto those subjects who are considered to be
tied to illiberal (gender) norms and practices.
The assumptions themselves and the measures taken in initiatives like the DIK
are tied to a broader civilising project that is based on the idea of cultivating liberal-secular (Muslim) subjects, who conform to the ideals of freedom
and autonomy. As Barry Hindess (2001) put it, liberalism carries with it the
assumption of autonomous action and the belief that in Western modernity this
goal has already been achieved. Starting from a developmental approach to
human subjects that is anchored in an imaginary of time, and the future as
progress, the underlying idea and goal is thus to achieve this human capacity
through communication, but sometimes also through discipline. The analysis of
the ways in which a liberal secular Muslim subject is to be fashioned in the
German case in fact reveals exactly this ambivalence built into a liberalism tied
to a rationality of governance and regulation of freedom.
Schirin Amir-Moazami

feminist review 98 2011


author biography
Schirin Amir-Moazami holds a PhD from the Department of Social and Political
Sciences of the European University Institute in Florence. Since 2009 she has been
assistant professor of Islam in Europe in the Department of Islamic Studies at
Freie Universitat Berlin. She published a book on the headscarf controversies in
France and Germany (Politisierte Religion. Der Kopftuchstreit in Deutschland
und Frankreich, Bielefeld, transcript, 2007) and numerous articles related to
questions of secular orders and Muslims in both countries. Her research interests
include Islamic movements in Europe, Political Theory, Feminist Theory and the
Sociology of Religion.

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Schirin Amir-Moazami

feminist review 98 2011


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