Has multiculturalism failed
The inevitable failure of multicultural politics
Immigration is a blessing: it makes societies more open, livelier, more cosmopolitan. But the policy of coexistence is fundamentally wrong. So Merkel is right, at least in some ways.
Multiculturalism has "utterly failed". The frank comment of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the fiasco of ethnic relations in Germany has, in the eyes of many, brought a welcome dose of realism into the debate. I am a critic of multiculturalism and I was long before it was fashionable to be one. Nevertheless, Merkel's criticism does not make me happy. Because it is not so much an attack on multiculturalism as it is against immigration. And against the immigrants.
Merkel's remarks are against the background of a larger debate about the place of Turkish immigrants in German society. The controversial book "Germany abolishes itself" by the former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin - which claims that Germany is on the verge of decline because of the "Islamization" of the nation - became a bestseller. The Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer, whose CSU is one of three parties in Merkel's government coalition, recently spoke out in favor of a ban on immigration for Muslims. Family Minister Kristina Schröder has condemned the anti-German "xenophobia and racism" in Turkish communities. In view of the state elections in the coming year and possible challengers for the leadership in her party, Merkel joined the bitter chorus.
This policy belongs in the trash. In a sense, Merkel is right. Germany's multicultural policy is a disaster and should be thrown away. But the failure of multiculturalism - and especially its introduction - has little to do with immigrants. Immigrant groups have opposed these policies as harmful and destructive. To understand why, we have to look at the history of post-war immigration in Germany. Like many Western European nations, Germany faced an enormous labor shortage and actively recruited workers, first from Italy, Spain and Greece, then from Turkey. These workers did not come as immigrants, and even less as potential citizens, but rather as guest workers who were expected to return to their country of origin when their services were no longer used by the German economy.
In the course of time, the guest workers' facility changed from a temporary emergency solution to a permanent presence. This is partly because Germany continued to rely on their labor force and partly because the immigrants, and even more so their children, began to view Germany as their home. However, the German state continued to regard them as outsiders and to deny them citizenship. Today almost four million people of Turkish origin live in Germany. Hardly half a million managed to become citizens. And it is not only first-generation immigrants who are denied citizenship, their German-born children are also excluded.
Dodged cultural work. Instead of creating an open society in which immigrants are welcomed as equals, German politicians from the 1980s onwards tried to get the “Turkish problem” under control through a policy of multiculturalism. Instead of naturalization and a real place in society, immigrants were "allowed" to keep their own culture, language and lifestyle. The consequence was the creation of parallel societies. This policy was not an expression of respect for diversity, but rather an attempt to avoid the question of how to create a common, inclusive culture.
As a result of this multicultural policy, Turkish communities have become dangerously self-absorbed. Without any incentives to participate in the national community, many have not bothered to learn German. First generation immigrants were largely secular, and those who were religious were subtle. Today, almost a third of adult Turks in Germany regularly visit mosques - a far higher proportion than in Turkish communities elsewhere in Western Europe, and higher than in most parts of Turkey itself. First-generation women almost never wore a headscarf. Many of their daughters already do.
The Turks were not only isolated from mainstream German society, they were also alienated from the communities they originally came from - and from the traditional institutions of Islam. The growing religiosity and internal orientation as well as the increasing isolation of the German Turks of the second generation from the social structures in Germany and Turkey opened some to radical Islamic influences. The current reports from German jihadis in Afghanistan are the inevitable consequence of this.
While the German policy of multiculturalism encouraged immigrants at best to be indifferent to mainstream German society - and at worst to open hostility - it also ensured that Germans became increasingly hostile to the Turks. What it meant to be German was defined in part in contrast to the values and beliefs of the excluded migrant community. And where they were excluded, it had also become easier to make the immigrants the scapegoats for Germany's social problems. A recent survey has shown that more than a third of Germans think that the country is overrun by strangers. And more than half understand that Arabs are "unpleasant".
Alienation of minorities. Germany has taken a different path into the multicultural society than Great Britain, for example. The immigrants did not come there as guest workers, but as British citizens. They were excluded from mainstream society not because they were denied naturalization, but out of racism. The response of the British authorities to this exclusion, however, was the same as that of the German: encouraging minority groups to express their identities, to explore their own histories, to formulate their own values and to pursue their own lifestyles.
In Germany, the formal denial of the naturalization of immigrants has led to the politics of multiculturalism. In the UK, advocacy for a policy of multiculturalism has resulted in minority people being treated de facto not as citizens but simply as members of certain ethnic groups. The consequences in both cases - as in literally every Western European country - were the emergence of fragmented societies, the alienation of minorities and the scapegoat role for immigrants.
Celebrate immigration! Part of the reason we are in this mess is because the debate on multiculturalism has been merged with the debate on immigration. On the one hand, many people - such as Angela Merkel - claim that the immigrants helped create social disunity. On the other hand, many have the impression that they can only defend minority rights through the politics of multiculturalism. Both sides are wrong.
Immigration has been a great boon that has contributed to the formation of less demarcated, yet more dynamic, more cosmopolitan societies. It was not the immigrants who created fragmented societies, but the multicultural politics that were designed to master these immigrants. To find a way out of this current quagmire, we need to separate the discussion of multiculturalism from that of immigration. It's time to get rid of multiculturalism and celebrate immigration.
("Die Presse", print edition, 07.11.2010)
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