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Selective constitutionality: xenophobia in German politics

With the upcoming national election in mind, Mahmoud Hassino of Schwulenberatung Berlin examines how bigotry plays a role in campaigning

Mahmoud Hassino by Alexa Vachon

Aug. 29, 2017 – When I came to Berlin in 2014, I was told I could rely on the then-existing regulations because laws don’t change easily in Germany. Using the examples of LGBTI*-related rulings, I assumed that any future changes could only be progressive. I maintained that assumption when I received the highest protection for a refugee here, Asylberechtigung, within just two months. Despite the humiliating treatment of asylum seekers in shelters and public offices, my status led me to believe that the Federal Republic of Germany valued my past life experiences and granted me protection under its Grundgesetz. It motivated me to learn German and show my gratitude by giving back to Deutschland.

This conviction changed during the obligatory integration course, when I realized that my past life was only important to highlight the supremacy of German values and the fact that “In Germany, we do things differently”. In the following months, the words “In Germany” were mostly used to introduce racist statements. My struggle to believe in German values was shattered by the anti-Islam Pegida movement and the rise of the right-wing AfD party.

In August 2015, I started working at the Schwulenberatung Berlin. We were overwhelmed by the willingness of many great Germans to help the newcomers. However, that didn’t survive the xenophobic attitude of some politicians and right-wing populists. I am more convinced now that profound racism and xenophobia are the main factors that can swiftly change laws in Germany, and that the so-called Willkommenskultur doesn’t exist beyond my limited circle of friends and acquaintances. Within a few months, politicians managed to pass a set of laws designed to make Germany unattractive for refugees – as if nerve-wracking bureaucracy could be more frightening than bombs, imprisonment or physical torture. Although most of these laws can be challenged as verfassungswidrig (unconstitutional), they have been accepted without complying with the Grundgesetz. Even in the USA, currently the world’s worst democracy, no similar changes to internal policies were introduced. Despite his populist, fascist, and xenophobic campaign, Trump didn’t do that.

As a gay blogger in the Middle East, I had to grow a thick skin in order to survive discrimination and homophobia. This experience proved inefficient in dealing with the spears of racism in Germany, which can cut deeper into the thickest skin and inflict permanent scars. Some might argue that I only deal with the worst side of German bureaucracy in my current job, but really, I would be suffering from the rapid and continuous changes in the laws governing my status and future in Germany regardless of my line of work. Others say the current situation will change after the Bundestag elections, like what happened in other EU countries where populist parties didn’t perform as well as predicted. I am not hopeful, especially when I see the CSU and the AfD use Verfassungswidrigkeit to challenge the vote on marriage equality. It only proves that “in Germany”, bigotry plays the most important role in political agendas.

Mahmoud Hassino started Syria’s first LGBTI* magazine and now works for gay counseling network Schwulenberatung Berlin



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