Sunday, October 17, 2010

Germany: leading the way or reverting to its old ways?

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From BBC News Europe:

Attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany have "utterly failed", Chancellor Angela Merkel says.

In a speech in Potsdam, she said the so-called "multikulti" concept - where people would "live side-by-side" happily - did not work.

Mrs Merkel's comments come amid recent outpourings of strong anti-immigrant feeling from mainstream politicians.

A recent survey showed that more than 30% of Germans believed Germany was "overrun by foreigners".

The study - by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation think-tank - also showed that roughly the same number thought that some 16 million of Germany's immigrants or people with foreign origins had come to the country for the social benefits.

Foreign workers

Mrs Merkel told a gathering of younger members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party on Saturday that at "the beginning of the 60s our country called the foreign workers to come to Germany and now they live in our country... We kidded ourselves a while, we said: 'They won't stay, sometime they will be gone', but this isn't reality.

"And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other... has failed, utterly failed."

In her speech, the chancellor specifically referred to recent comments by German President Christian Wulff who said that Islam was "part of Germany" like Christianity and Judaism.

While acknowledging that this was the case, Mrs Merkel stressed that immigrants living in Germany needed to do more to integrate, including learning to speak German.

"Anyone who does not immediately speak German", she said, "is not welcome".

Is Germany providing a modern answer to a modern problem? Is it reverting to its old, xenophobic ways? Is it doing something that occupies a middle ground between those two possibilities?

And while we're at it-- how does the German situation apply to sociocultural problems in the United States? Should the US adopt a single official language? Would the adoption of a single official language be the death knell for all non-English languages currently spoken within US borders? Is a single official language somehow discriminatory (in the pejorative sense; it's obviously discriminatory in the neutral sense)? How about having two official languages in acknowledgment of current demographic realities? If not, then how would an assimilationist propose to train the millions of non-anglophones in English?

What about the US multiculturalist project? Is it also doomed to failure? Let's back up: what is multiculturalism, exactly? Do we all mean the same thing when we use that term, or are we talking past each other?

I can say this: having lived for a year in Switzerland from 1989 to 1990, I recall many of the same issues cropping up in Swiss newspapers and during dinner table conversation. The question of being "overrun by foreigners" has long plagued the Germanic psyche, and the Swiss, despite being a cultural melange, favor the Teutonic in most things. Back in the late 1980s, the majority white Swiss population complained about the influx of Turks. The accusations were classic: "they take our jobs, they cause fights, they live in filth..." etc.

What would be an ideal happy medium when it comes to defining one's own culture strictly enough to know what that culture is, yet loosely enough to allow for its evolution?



Nathan B. said...

Many Canadians compare our style of multi-culturalism to a salad bowl; the idea is that immigrants come here and keep their distinctiveness as members of other ethnicities and countries. Somehow, there's this idea that immigrants to the US do not, and it's commonly said up here that the US-style of multiculturalism is like a melting pot: that is, the immigrant is expected assimilate as quickly as possible. I don't know how true that is, but I get the impression there is at least some basis for this popular myth of the different multi-culturalism styles of our two countries. In fact, I sometimes think we may be heading towards a kind of Balkanization.

In terms of multiculturalism, the US is a famous example, but Australia, New Zealand, and Canada all accept proportionately more immigrants, I believe. Multiculturalism is happening all over the western world, and it's also happening in other countries, too, as of course you know.

Anyway, I think there are two critical issues that are more important than all others: does a country allow massive numbers of "temporary" overseas workers, hesitant to give them rights as immigrants or citizens no matter how long they stay? This was the European model in many ways, and I think it's really backfiring on them. The other issue is: from what religious or cultural groups do immigrants come? In Vancouver, we have a high number of immigrants from Asia, and relatively few from Latin America, Africa, or the Middle East. For the most part, immigrant violent crime and drug running is associated with the Sikh community's younger members. The Filipinos and Iranians (escapees of the 1979 revolution), are generally considered not to have severe problems of this kind. The Koreans and the largest group, the Chinese, are usually considered not to have any real negative characteristics, and I think they are positively thought of by most people here. (Of course, in places like Richmond, that's most people!) Canada's first "honour killings" have been amongst the Islamic community, which has in the main settled in urban Ontario and the Montreal region of Quebec. I don't think that there are any strong feelings on the part of most Canadians (of any ethnicity or cultural background) about this community yet.

My own recipe for multiculturalism would be to avoid a reliance on "temporary" workers whose families will not be accepted legally; instead, simple immigration should be encouraged. Such immigration should comprise investors, skilled labour, and refugees. Second, I would avoid accepting members of religious or cultural groups whose social mores are severely at odds with the dominant society.

joe six-pack said...

All immigrants bring some of the 'old country' with them. This has been a source of strength in the U.S. My own family immigrated in the early 20th century. We stopped speaking German when the U.S. declared war against Germany in 1917. My Grandfather said that we are Americans.

The comments by Merkel was in reference to Muslim immigration, which is a particullarly difficult problem.

I recently read a quote from a Muslim woman: "We submit only to God, no one else." This helps explain why Muslims do not integrate well, if at all. They do not 'submit' to the new environment. This also helps explain why Muslims as a group do not do very well. If you do not adapt to a new envrionment, how can you expect to prosper?

Idi Amin said...

How does an education system thrive if the students dont all speak the same language? Multiculturalism will continually fail until everyone understands the sacrifices. That includes a willingness by immigrants to learn the language used in the country they move to.

Anonymous said...

On one official language--My impression of the perpetual Quebec turmoil is that it is partly encouraged by Canada's dual-language culture, English and French (actually Quebecois). Quebec makes French its official language while the rest of Canada uses English for the most part. However, many Canadians are fluent in both, especially in the Eastern part.

With respect to the US, we require knowing English as part of earning citizenship. Why then do we have official material that only citizens should be filling out in other than English? I can understand short-sighted profit-chasing causing the "press 2 for Spanish" thing though I don't approve of it.

Learning a language is a first step in assimilation. If someone doesn't want to assimilate, don't come over.