Friday, March 31, 2006

Testing Identity: Define it First!

Germany is toying with a new citizenship test, which, if passed, will allow immigrants to become citizens. There are a number of debates around this - does knowing the answers really make you eligible when many blonde haired, blue-eyed German university graduates would have difficulty passing it? Is knowing about the German physicist who revolutionized medical diagnosis in 1895 necessary to join the German identity? Is there a moral, ethical or cultural standard for national belonging? Because, if there is, then it's back to facism. Democracy is about accommodating divergent views, not weeding them out.

There is significant difficulty around the muslim thing. Arguments are being made that the Dutch test in particular, which incorporates a video of gay men kissing and a nudist beach, are intended to target Muslims, but that's not where I'm interested. I'm interested in the veiled faces who sat down and defined for their own purposes what it means to be Dutch, or German. Because, if either defines itself as a democracy, then part of that definition is that all comers are accepted. We support minorities. We protect minorities. We are open, free, tolerant. Really? Come on.

Now, that's not to say that a free-for-all in terms of immigration is right either. People economics, or whatever ugly term you want to put on it, demands controlled movement, so that the rest of us can have sustainable structures for our society. Basically, there's no point in taking everyone in if the influx that results compromises the very reasons they wanted to come here in the first place. But similarly one has to acknowlegde that being democratic and tolerant, we need to allow immigration to some degree, and we need then to acknowlegde that any immigration will by definition impose an additional strain on all infrastructure - roads, hospitals, education.

I wonder what the test would be for Northern Ireland...must refer that one to Slugger!

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