BERLIN — Just as America is in the throes of an immigration debate, two German states are raising eyebrows with citizenship tests that include questions such as:
• "In your eyes, were the perpetrators [of 9/11 and the 2004 Madrid attacks] terrorists or freedom fighters? Explain."
• "If someone said: 'Free media are indispensable to a democratic society,' would you agree or disagree?"
• How do you feel about criticism of your religion? Do you find it permissible?"
In the Netherlands, meanwhile, would-be immigrants must now take a "civil integration test" before crossing Dutch borders. To prepare for the exam, from which US and European Union (EU) residents are exempt, immigrants are encouraged to watch a video about Dutch society that includes gay men kissing and a topless woman sunbathing.
Government officials in both countries say the steps are necessary to preserve cultural values as a burgeoning Muslim population challenges traditional ideas of European identity. But critics call the measures xenophobic and offensive, saying they're aimed at keeping immigrants out of mainstream society rather than helping them integrate successfully.
In the Netherlands, former prison warden and hard-line immigration minister Rita Verdonk received praise from conservatives for the civil integration test introduced on March 15, which costs 350 euros ($470) and tests applicants' knowledge of Dutch language, culture, and history. For an additional 64 euros ($75), a preparation package - which includes sample test questions and the controversial 105-minute video - is provided.
"What we are trying to do in the film is show the Netherlands in as realistic a way as possible," said Ms. Verdonk.
TheGerman states of Hesse and Baden-Württemberg haven't launched any such a high-profile materials to accompany their tests. But sample questions are available online.
Hesse state officials consulted citizenship tests used in the US to draw up 100 questions for an exam that legendary literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki, originally from Poland, joked even he would have a hard time passing. The proposed exam is expected to become law later this year, and some parliamentarians would like to see a similar test administered on the national level.
The Hesse questions focus mainly on German culture and history, asking candidates to name three German philosophers, explain the Reformation, and describe the motif in a famous painting, for example.
The Baden-Württemberg "test," on the other hand, is a conversation conducted by a citizenship counselor. The "discussion questions," introduced earlier this year, ask applicants how they would view - and, in some cases, personally respond to - issues such as honor killings, polygamy, forced marriage, terrorist plots, domestic abuse, and religious insensitivity. Critics have condemned the test, often referred to as the "Muslim test," for unfairly targeting Muslim immigrants.
But Alice Loyson-Siemering, the spokeswoman for Baden-Württemberg's Ministry of the Interior, says "We have the right to look closer at who wants to become a citizen."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed that belief, saying that citizenship shouldn't be "picked up just like that." Members of her conservative party plan to present parliament by this summer with a proposal for nationwide citizenship tests.
"We ... demand of all those who want to be German citizens that they are loyal to our country and Constitution and that they stand to it," said Wolfgang Schaüble, the federal interior minister and a member of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union party. And Heribert Rech, the interior minister of Baden-Württemberg, echoed that sentiment last month, but added that "... people may not become citizens who reject our Constitution and value system."
As countries across Europe wrestle with defining the core values their citizens should uphold, Germany has a unique obstacle to overcome in determining what it means to be German: the shadow cast by Naziism.
"The Germans have so far not been able to create a picture of themselves that lets immigrants know what this country is all about," says Klaus Bade, a migration specialist at the University of Osnabrück. "That has to do with the negative experiences of National Socialism (Naziism), but it shouldn't be a hurdle."
But in the heavily immigrant Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg, that hurdle is apparent even to immigrants who have become citizens.
"To be German still means to have German blood," says Ercan Yasaroglu, a sociologist who fled Turkey as a political refugee 20 years ago. "The mentality hasn't changed."
Professor Bade admits that Germany "has never created a culture in which people want to become citizens."
As a result, new hurdles to citizenship will only feed the distrust between immigrants already here and greater German society, says Mr. Yasaroglu, now a citizen.
"The tests are a huge mistake," he says. "Immigrants who are trying to fit in feel knocked out. They think that this country doesn't want them."
Sample questions for naturalization candidates in the state of Baden-Württemberg:
• You learn that people in your neighborhood or within your circle of friends have perpetrated or are planning a terrorist attack. How do you react and what do you do?
• Imagine this: Your adult son comes to you and declares that he is a homosexual. He says that he would like to live together with another man. How would you react?
• According to your opinion which professions should not be engaged in by a woman under any circumstances and why? Do you have difficulty with accepting a woman in a position of authority?
Sample proposed questions for naturalization candidates in the state of Hesse:
• If someone described the Holocaust as a myth or folktale, how would you respond?
• Explain the term "freedom of religion."
• The law forbids individual retribution. The victim of a crime may not take revenge on the aggressor. Who decides in matters of punishment?
• When can political parties or associations be banned in Germany? Would you still support such a party or association? Under what circumstances?
Source: Translated by staff from German versions at islam.de (for Baden-Württemberg) and www.migrationsrecht.net (for Hesse)