By Earl Flanagan,
Special to Sentinel
A few days ago, my e-mail inbox began blowing up with links and questions about comments German Chancellor Angela Merkel made in Potsdam while addressing a youth rally of her ruling Christian Democrats or CDU.
Frau Merkel is quoted as stating to the applauding crowd, “Multikulti’, multiculturalism –‘the concept that we are now living side-by-side and are happy about it–this approach has failed, utterly.”
She added, “We are bound to the Christian image of humanity, that’s what defines us and those who do not accept this are in the wrong place here.”
“Those choosing to immigrate to Germany should adapt to the culture and learn German, as quickly as possible,” she declared.
These comments were made in the wake of a huge controversy generated by politician and former German Central Banker, Thilo Sarrazin, who was forced to resign from the Central Bank Board following the publication of his book Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab (Germany Does Itself In), a critique of the country’s immigration programs.
Germany has some 16 million immigrants, but for all practical purposes, whenever people here talk about immigration, they are almost universally referring to the 2.5 million ethnic Turks, Germany’s largest ethnic group, residing in the country . Regarding them, Sarrazin’s book contains the following quotes on their immigration: “A large number of Arabs and Turks in (Berlin) … have no productive function other than in the fruit and vegetable trade.” And, “I don’t have to respect anybody who lives off welfare but rejects the state, doesn’t do enough for his children’s education and constantly produces little girls in headscarves.”
He writes, “I don’t want the country of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to be largely Muslim, or that Turkish or Arabic will be spoken in large areas; that women will wear headscarves and the daily rhythm is set by the call of the muezzin. If I want to experience that, I can just take a vacation in the Orient.”
As an African-American, living deep in the heart of former communist East Germany for more than half a decade, I find Thilo Sarrazin’s comments to be quite racist and xenophobic, and I fully applaud his ostracism from polite public society. Frau Merkel however, is absolutely right.
The German language has a way of being precise and descriptive in a way that English cannot be. Take the German word for ‘gloves’ for example. In German, the word for ‘gloves’ is handschuhe, pronounced ‘Hand Shoe’, which in my mind anyway, makes a heck of a lot more sense than ‘gloves’ whatever the etymology of that word might be.
But along with the precision and descriptiveness implicit in the German language, is a straightforward directness that, to the native English speaker, has all the subtlety and grace of a blunt force head injury.
Woe be unto you who asks your German partner, “Does this make me look fat?” The truth will hurt.
With my auslander’ ears, I hear Chancellor Merkel comments, not as a retreat into xenophobia, which is very much in evidence in the comments of Thilo Sarrazin here, as well as in the ‘Secure the Southern Border’, and ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ controversies in the United States, instead, I hear a statement of an unpleasant, yet demonstrable truth. Multicultural integration, particularly with respect to the Turkish community at large in Germany, has failed.
This is in no small way a direct result of the German immigration policy itself. In the 1950s, 60s and 70s Germany experienced a real labor crisis, and as such, brought in a considerable number of Turks to fill the labor gap. The United States experienced such a gap recently in our tech fields, and as a result, someone of foreign descent created some 50% of the businesses in Silicon Valley. That model has proven prosperous for all involved. In contrast, the Germans did the exact opposite.
In the United States, I spoke to several Turks who had tried to immigrate to Germany during that time, and were specifically rejected because they had university degrees. Germany wanted strong backs and weak minds to fill its unskilled labor pool. Such people were not going to be capable of competing with native Germans for higher-paying jobs that required a higher-skill set.
The people who came here were called ‘guest workers’ and the German assumption was that eventually this labor force would return to the land of its origin. Well ‘surprise’; those undereducated, low-skilled by design workers stayed in Germany, and had children. And the children of those undereducated, low- skilled workers, brought up in near totally segregated, ethnically-homogeneous neighborhoods of undereducated, low-skilled people, somehow failed to become the next generation of Burger Meister’s and bank presidents.
The Turkish neighborhoods of Düsseldorf and Berlin are just as segregated as anything in the Jim Crow South of the US, or in apartheid South Africa. And being in a community where their ‘otherness’, and their lack of economic and social success are made painfully aware to them on a near constant basis, the Turkish communities tended to look inward for identity.
As a President Obama said of rural Americans, “They cling to their Bibles and guns for security.” As offensive as that is to some people, it’s also true. In Germany those isolated Turkish communities turned to their Koran and its fundamentalist traditions, becoming even more separate from the larger German community as a whole, which wasn’t exactly incredibly welcoming to begin with.
On an all too frequent basis we hear of honor killings inside these communities, with relatives making comments such as “The whore lived like a German,” which was said of a young woman of Turkish descent murdered by her family for not wearing a headscarf, enrolling in a polytech school, and wanting to date German men.
Clearly, neither Germans nor Turkish immigrants can be happy with these results, and thus the truth of Merkel’s statements, that the German form of multiculturalism has been a failure. Given their 20th century history, Germans are generally quite sheepish about insisting that anyone conform to German cultural norms.
Nevertheless, Merkel’s comments were important and needed to be said. Worship as you wish, but Germany is a liberal Western European country. If you don’t like it, don’t come here, but if you do like it, learn to communicate and become a productive member of society.
Given Germany’s history, I can see how the Chancellor’s statements might be interpreted, but honestly, if you listen with the right kind of ears, you’ll understand what she is saying, and further, you will agree.