Timo Al-Farooq

Journalist & Political Analyst, London⎜Berlin

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Germany's War Against the Hijab. And Sweden's Peace With it

The Green Party's Leila Ali Elmi, Sweden's first Riksdag-member to wear the hijab

After a recent evening flight from Doha, Qatar to the Swedish capital Stockholm I was walking towards a deserted immigration hall at Arlanda airport when I looked at the cubicles for EU-citizens and couldn't believe my eyes: in one of the two the Swedish border police agent was black, a woman and wearing a hijab - the female Muslim headwear - in the same dark blue as her uniform.

Being a born and bred German, thus hailing from a nation-state that until this day bans people who wear religious headwear from becoming police officers or teachers, be they Sikh men or Muslim women, despite the enshrined freedom of conscience in Article 4 of our Constitution, I was naturally caught by positive surprise: had this been liberal, multicultural Canada, big whoop. But small and sheltered white-majority Sweden?

I stepped up to the agent (who looked Somali), handed her my passport, while she greeted me with a Swedish "Hej", that traditional one-sylable greeting that in my foreign ears always sounds so refreshingly upbeat and intimate whilst maintaining cordiality, so unlike the merely colloquial and colorless English "Hey." I replied with a friendly "Hi" and "As-salamu 'aleikum" wherupon she in turn answered "Wa-'aleikumu s-salam."

Unlike in Germany, where this scene might have raised eyebrows at the least and enmity and acrimony at worst, her colleague in the adjacent booth, a blonde and blue-eyed cliché Swede, who had definitely heared our exchange of salutations as the hall was totally deserted except for us approaching Business Class passengers, thus allowing sound to travel, couldn't have cared less. She just went about her job and smiled (also something white German border patrol agents who make up the numeric majority of this federal police force rarely do) amiably at the first approaching passenger.

After swiping my travel document through the computer and it deciding that I was neither a threat to national security nor wanted by Interpol, I was handed back my passport with a pleasant "thank you", again something I have never had the honor to hear emanate from a German federal agent's mouth (they might so "Ok" or "Alles klar", but never "Danke schön"), as if the passenger is the one providing the service and the officer the customer who is always right and therefore has the right to be gruff.

While walking to the exit I was so positively impressed by this short peek through the window of lived societal progressiveness, and so incensed at my own home country which is obstinately obstructive in all forward-looking matters, be it digitalization, e-mobility or religious inclusion, that I instantly logged into the Swedavia airport-WiFi and took to Instagram where I posted the following:

"Just landed in Stockholm from Doha. The Swedish border patrol agent was Somali, wore a hijab, and we greeted each other with a salam as if it were the most normal thing on earth. In the racist developing nation of Germany something like this would not be possible!"

That I was taken by surprise in the first place is a shocking statement to the current state of diversity politics in a culturally backward-looking Germany which still loves to debate circles around questions already made redundant by reality: White Germans love to ask things like "Is Germany an immigrant nation?" while 1/4 of the population has an immigrant biography; or "Does Islam belong to Germany" while out of a population of 82 million Islam is practiced by roughly 5 million people in some form or another.

Other Western nation-states like the UK, Canada, the U.S. and even idyllic Sweden, a country famous for many things from Ikea to Ingmar Bergmann, Spotify to Zlatan, but not exactly for it's multiculturalism, ask similar questions: but the difference to Germany is that  - despite rising islamophobia and anti-immigrant bigotry in all these countries  -  they have answered them in the affirmative (the former two albeit rather begrudgingly due to their colonial past, immigration as de-facto reparations for all the nefarious crimes committed).

And the driving force behind such affirmations has simply been a political will to acknowledge shifting demographic realities on the one hand and the corresponding realization that cultural diversity in a nation-state context is a sustainable strength, not a weakness....

Continue reading here https://medium.com/@talrooq/germanys-war-against-the-hijab-and-sweden-s-peace-with-it-c4641be4c1d9