SPD Candidate Backs Muslim-Friendly Gym Class

When it comes to the integration of Germany’s Muslim minority, the center-left Social Democrats tend to be much less hard-line than Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives. But on Wednesday evening, SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück may have gone a step too far when he waded into what in the past has been a hornet’s nest of controversy in Germany. He expressed support for physical education classes in German schools to be divided by gender.

“If schools are able to do it, then they should,” Steinbrück said in response to a question from the audience during a campaign appearance in Berlin. A Reuters reporter noted that the comment was greeted with silence. Steinbrück then added that the step should be taken “out of consideration for religious convictions.”

Not surprisingly, critique from Merkel’s Christian Democrats was immediate. Barbara John, formerly in charge of integration issues for the city-state of Berlin, told the newspaper Bild that the debate was antiquated and that “children and parents have to get used to the fact that genders here grow up together and live with the same rights.” She was seconded by Serkan Tören, a member of the federal parliament with the Free Democrats, Merkel’s junior coalition partner. Tören, himself from Turkey, told the tabloid that “dividing boys and girls is akin to dividing society. Splitting classes by gender is also the wrong signal to send when it comes to integrating Muslims in Germany.”

But even the Greens, ostensibly the SPD’s allies in the campaign, have distanced themselves. Memet Kilic, a member of parliament and the Green’s expert on integration issues, said on Friday that current rules governing physical education classes should not be changed, emphasizing that gender equality is a universal human right.

Debating Integration

The comment could come back to haunt Steinbrück, particularly given that integration, once again, will likely play a role in this year’s general election campaign. Already, there has been a brief flare-up over the controversial topic of dual-citizenship for immigrants along with a short debate over whether Muslim holidays should be introduced in Germany. Furthermore, tensions with Turkish immigrants and Turkish-Germans have risen recently as a result of foreign media outlets being shut out of the upcoming trial against a member of the neo-Nazi terror trio that murdered eight people of Turkish descent over the past decade.

Read the full article here (it also describes the importance of immigration in the 2013 federal elections more generally).


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