Arabic Muslim teacher showing school girls on the classroom board

The expert commission on anti-Muslim racism recommends that the Berlin Senate abolish the neutrality law. The majority of the members of the commission describe the law as “systematic and institutionalized discrimination against women with headscarves without objective justification”.

This is the justification in the recommendations for action that the committee presented to the Senate on Thursday after a year and a half of work. The commission was set up by the Senate to analyze problems of anti-Muslim racism in Berlin and to formulate recommendations on this basis.

With the demand to abolish the neutrality law, an old conflict issue of the coalition comes to the fore. The Greens see it as discriminatory, the SPD has so far wanted to stick to the neutrality requirement.

After the recommendations by the commission became known, Philmon Ghirmai, state chairman of the Greens Berlin, said on Thursday: “The state of Berlin must take the work and the result of the commission, which it set up itself, seriously.”

Ghirmai demanded that Berlin “suspend its discriminatory practice” until the Federal Constitutional Court had ruled in the final instance. In times of teacher and skilled worker shortages, it is also not possible to explain for practical reasons why this discriminatory practice should be continued, Ghirmai said.

The CDU parliamentary group, on the other hand, sharply criticized the commission’s report. “Berlin has no racist or discriminatory neutrality law, on the contrary: since 2005 it has made an important contribution to strengthening peaceful coexistence in our city,” said church political spokeswoman Cornelia Seibeld.

The Berlin neutrality law treats all religions equally. “It has no racist traits, the criticism of the expert commission is completely absurd.”

In August 2020, the Federal Labor Court ruled on the Berlin Neutrality Act in an individual case. A Muslim woman was awarded 5,129 euros in compensation for discrimination because she was not employed in the school service of the state of Berlin because of her headscarf.

The then Senator for Education Sandra Scheeres (SPD) had lodged a complaint with the Federal Constitutional Court against the verdict. A decision is still pending.

In last year’s coalition agreement, the SPD, the Greens and the Left Party agreed to adapt the neutrality law “depending on the case law of the Federal Constitutional Court”. Orkan Özdemir, spokesman for anti-discrimination for the SPD parliamentary group, said on Thursday that they wanted to wait for the decision of the constitutional court before any changes could be discussed. In principle, he considers “all the Commission’s proposals to be worth considering”.

According to the committee, the “still underdeveloped perception of anti-Muslim racism by government agencies” in Berlin is “remarkable”. Not only Muslims are affected by the specific form of racism, but also people who are read as Muslim. These are people who are understood by others to be Muslim even though they are not.

The committee criticizes the fact that police officers, for example, often do not recognize cases of anti-Muslim racism and therefore do not forward them to the responsible state security department. It therefore recommends specific training and further education for the middle and senior police service. A working group on anti-Muslim racism should also be set up at the State Criminal Police Office (LKA).

The LKA is also recommended to develop guidelines for identifying and prosecuting anti-Muslim crimes. A similar guide already exists for the prosecution of anti-Semitic crimes. The panel’s proposals also relate to general areas of life in the city. For example, there are also calls to create more burial places for Muslims – there is hardly enough space left.