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From the Jan/Feb, 2012 issue of Touchstone


A Grand Illusion by Robert Carle

COMMUNIQUÉ by Robert Carle

A Grand Illusion

The Short Life of German Multiculturalism

Journalists at the 2010 World Cup touted the German national team as a showcase for the success of European multiculturalism. Eleven of the 23 players on the German national team in Johannesburg were of immigrant descent. Rob Hughes of the New York Times called the German national team a “league of many nations.” Canadian Doug Saunders reported that in Berlin’s Turkish ghettos, nearly every shop and apartment was wrapped in the red, black, and gold flag of Germany, and every kid’s face was painted with national colors.

The star of the team was 21-year-old Mesut Özil, a third-generation Turkish German who grew up playing soccer amid boarded-up shops and derelict apartment buildings in the working-class city of Gelsenkirchen. FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) nominated Özil for a Golden Globe award, which is given to the tournament’s best player. Back in Germany, Özil received the Bambi Award for being an example of successful integration into German society.

Enthusiasm Curbed

In the months following the World Cup, however, enthusiasm for German multiculturalism seemed to collapse. In August 2010, senior Bundesbank official Thilo Sarrazin published a taboo-breaking blockbuster, Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Abolishes Itself), that savaged Germany’s multicultural project. The book has sold nearly two million copies, making it postwar Europe’s best-selling political book.

Sarrazin writes that Muslims in Germany are four times as likely as the German population to be living on unemployment benefits and that 30 percent of them have no school diploma. He asserts that Muslims in Germany are characterized by “above average fertility; special segregation in ghettos; above average religiosity; and above average criminality.” “I do not desire that the land of my grandchildren be largely Muslim,” he goes on, “where women wear headscarves, and the daily rhythm is governed by the prayer call of the muezzin.”

The policies Sarrazinadvocates—including tighter control of immigration, German-language tests for newcomers, and compulsory citizenship for long-term residents—are quite mainstream. But he breaches German etiquette when he writes that “[Muslims], with their frequently lower-than-average intelligence, are having a higher than normal number of children. This makes us, on the average, stupider.” This prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to accuse Sarrazin of showing “contempt for entire groups within our society,” and Social Democratic Party leader Sigmar Gabriel started proceedings to expel him from the party.

But Sarrazin’s book received an outpouring of support from the German public. Polls showed that over half of all Germans agreed with his views on immigration. German-Turkish sociologist Necla Kelek said that Sarrazin addressed “bitter truths.” Matthias Matussek of Der Spiegel wrote that he expressed the “anger of people who are sick and tired of being confronted with pre-Enlightenment elements.” Emails sent to Sigmar Gabriel ran nine to one in Sarrazin’s favor.

Failure & Nativism

This support for Sarrazin prompted Merkel to embrace culturally conservative perspectives that have been rare in German politics since World War II. On October 16, 2010, Merkel received a standing ovation when she called multiculturalism an “utter failure” and said that Germany required too little of its four million Muslim immigrants, though she qualified these statements by saying that Germans needed to accept mosques as part of their landscape and that Germany must continue to welcome skilled foreign workers.

At a conference a month later, Merkel said that Germany doesn’t have too much Islam, but too little Christianity. “We have to stress [our Judeo-Christian tradition] again with confidence,” she said, “so that we will be able to bring about cohesion in our society.” The next day, the Christian Democratic Union passed a resolution stating that Germany’s cultural identity is based on the “Christian-Jewish experience,” ancient and Enlightenment philosophy, and the nation’s historical experience. “We expect that those who come here respect them and recognize them, while keeping their personal identity,” it said.

The atrocities perpetrated by Anders Breivik in Norway on July 22, 2011 add urgency to Merkel’s goal of developing policies that affirm the dignity of immigrants while integrating them into the economic and cultural life of Germany. Heinz Fromm, president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, estimates that there are currently about 25,000 right-wing extremists in Germany. Der Spiegel reports that thousands of children are being raised in neo-Nazi homes, among Nazi-era cult objects, reprints of Nazi-era children’s books, and maps featuring Germany’s 1937 borders. These children are taught that a resurrected Third Reich will inevitably replace the modern German state.

In the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, neo-Nazi Sven Krüger has bought up virtually the entire small village of Jamel. Krüger is a demolition contractor whose company logo shows the Star of David being smashed. He is a leader of the National Democratic Party (NPD), a nativist party that seeks to replace parliamentary democracy with a new German empire. In Jamel, residents fly the German imperial war flag and celebrate Hitler’s birthday. Skinheads sing Nazi songs around campfires, and children greet visitors with Nazi salutes. At the entrance to the village is a sign that points the way to Hitler’s birthplace. Jamel has become a pilgrimage site for Europeans who want to visit a “liberated zone” without immigrants.

The Growth of Muslim Ghettos

Yet in the years immediately following World War II, many Germans saw multiculturalism favorably, as a way of exorcising the ghosts of Germany’s past and rescinding its “blood and soil” model of conferring German citizenship. In 1948 the German constitution contained a provision guaranteeing the right of asylum seekers to settle in Germany. By 1992, Germany was receiving four times as many asylum seekers as all the other countries of the European Union combined. In 1993, after an agonizing debate, the Bundestag changed the constitution to limit the number of first-time asylum seekers.

In 1961, the construction of the Berlin Wall ended West Germany’s access to cheap East German labor, so Turks were invited to come and work in German factories. In November 1969, Josef Stingl, president of the Federal Labor Agency, personally greeted the one-millionth Turkish “guest worker” at Munich’s main train station. Stingl told a cheering crowd that Germany would invite many more Turks to work in Germany. These Gastarbeiter (temporary workers) lived in factory dormitories, isolated from German society.

By the mid-1970s, it was clear that most of the Gastarbeiter would not return to Turkey. They brought their families to Germany and moved into cheap apartments in neighborhoods that German residents slowly vacated. German politicians responded with a program that offered guest workers 10,500 deutschmarks to return home. The program failed.

Today, the four million Muslims who live in Germany form “parallel societies” in bleak apartment complexes that surround the large cities. Among the Turkish immigrants, women vastly outperform men, both educationally and professionally. Condemned to permanent unemployment in a culture that contemptuously feeds and clothes them, many Turkish men take refuge in conservative mosques that affirm their dignity and explain their predicament. Germany’s Muslim ghettos are increasingly becoming closed communities that reject European society as the “land of unbelief.”

Provocations & Policies

In recent years, provocations by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister, have heightened German fears of its Turkish minority. During visits to Germany in 2008 and 2011, he received rock-star welcomes in packed stadiums. In Cologne, after a raucous singing of the Turkish national anthem, the emcee introduced him as “the architect of Turkey.” In Dusseldorf, Erdoğan told his audiences, “I am here to show you that you are not alone. You are my fellow citizens. You are my brothers and sisters. You are part of Germany, but you are also part of our great Turkey.” His speeches are laced with the phrases “we Turks” and “the Germans.” He has called assimilation a “crime against humanity,” and he told the German newspaper Rheinische Post that forced integration violates international law.

Demographic trends exacerbate the feeling of impending crisis. Germany has a fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman, half the rate of 1960. If this trend continues, the population of Germany will drop by half in the next 45 years. With one-third of all women childless, Germany has the highest rate of childlessness in the world. Forty-four percent of Germans say they are happy without children and plan to remain so.

One-third of all children born in Germany are of immigrant parentage. The novelist Günter Grass asks whether Germans will end up stuffed in museums: “On your left Hittites, Sumerians, Aztecs; on your right Germans . . . [who] depended, parasitically, for [their] extravagant standard of living . . . on oil and Turks.” A German Lutheran bishop complained that Germany is “approaching a situation resembling the tragic fate of Christianity in northern Africa in Islam’s early days.”

In an attempt to reverse these trends, Merkel, who is childless, appointed Ursula von der Leyen, a mother of seven, as Federal Minister of Family Policy. Von der Leyen expected to serve as Health Minister, but her qualifications as a mother were more valuable than her Ph.D. in medicine. As Family Policy minister, she has spent 4.3 billion euros to give all German parents a legal right to childcare. She also introduced a 4-billion-euro program that pays new mothers two-thirds of their take-home pay for twelve months. Christopher Caldwell writes that when Germans, who have no cultural category for “housewife,” pay billions to steer women out of the workplace and into childrearing, we have clearly entered a new era.

Priests & Philosophers

Merkel’s policies might be modestly effective in reversing the ominous direction in which Germany is heading, but real demographic and cultural renewal is much more likely to come from priests and philosophers than from politicians.

On September 24, 2011, Pope Benedict delivered a dense, erudite speech before the German Parliament in which he warned lawmakers to resist postmodern skepticism, nihilism, and relativism. He said that positivism, which is incapable of producing a bridge to ethics and justice, has replaced natural law as Europe’s sole basis of lawmaking. He noted that the culture of Europe arose from “the encounter between Israel’s monotheism, the philosophical reason of the Greeks, and Roman law. . . . In the awareness of man’s responsibility before God and in the acknowledgement of the inviolable dignity of every single human person, [Europeans] established the criteria of law.”

Benedict also cited Nazism as a harrowing example of what happens when politics becomes severed from morality. Today, he warned, Europe will fall prey to “extremists” unless it recovers its classical and Christian heritage. Seventy lawmakers boycotted the speech, but those who remained gave the pope a standing ovation.

The speech echoed conversations about religion and public life that Benedict has been having with Jürgen Habermas, a prominent German philosopher. Habermas has spent most of his career arguing against religiously informed moral arguments in the public sphere. He thus scandalized his admirers when he admitted in a recent series of essays that he was “enchanted by the seriousness and consistency” of Thomas Aquinas. He warned that contemporary cultural Christians would lose their identity if they “sought to uncouple Christianity from the dogmatic nucleus of religion, and thus from the language in which the community practices prayer, confession, and faith.”

Yet Germany’s new interest in its Judeo-Christian heritage is coming at a time of declining rates of church attendance and affiliation. Although the Roman Catholic and Evangelical Churches in Germany each have about 25 million members, only about three million Roman Catholics and one million Evangelicals attend church regularly.

The anemic faith of nominal German Christians contrasts sharply with the energetic faith of European Muslims, who see Germany as a place that is ripe for conversion and domination. Second-generation European Muslims often see the West as a wasteland of addiction, pornography, depression, and teenage pregnancy. German jurist Udo Di Fabio asks, “Why in God’s name should a member of a vital world culture want to integrate into Western culture, when Western culture is not reproducing itself, no longer has any transcendent idea, and is approaching its historical end?”

British historian Timothy Garton  Ash asks whether native Europeans will rise to the challenge posed by the Muslims living in their midst. “I fear not,” he writes. “And it is already five minutes to midnight—and we are drinking in the last chance saloon.” •

“A Grand Illusion” first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.

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