German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently declared that multiculturalism is “dead”.
This statement has no basis in reality, because the word “multiculturalism” means nothing more than the functioning coexistence of various cultures within a community, which means that multiculturalism is in fact a universal, timeless concept. And in a globalised world, this concept is more valid than ever before as there is no longer such a thing as an ethnically homogeneous society or nation.
Her comment was primarily meant as a concession to the conservative grassroots of her own party. What’s more, anti-Islam voices and hostility toward immigration are increasing amongst the voting public as well. In his book, Germany is Doing Away with Itself, published this summer, ex-politician and Deutsche Bank board member Thilo Sarrazin opened the floodgates for public debate on multiculturalism when he claimed that the high rate of immigration into Germany was leading to a dangerous civilisational decline, in the process spoiling the high-quality German gene pool.
It is impossible to deny that uncontrolled immigration has created integration problems in Europe in the past. Germany, and Europe in general, has alarming integration problems. Large parts of the migrant community, for instance, cut themselves off from mainstream society, feeling excluded in many cases due to a very poor command of the German language. Because of this virulent language problem, teachers at some schools cannot run regular classes anymore because students do not understand what is being communicated.
And there are many young migrant men living in Germany who, feeling alienated, cut themselves off from the rest of society and become more open to extremist thinking, which perhaps explains a 2006 failed train bombing plot involved two Lebanese youth who had been living in Germany for several years. Though, needless to say, only a minute number of these migrant men are ready to carry out terrorist acts.
This debate is shameful, seeing as Germany owes its rise as one of the world’s most affluent nations not least of all to the hard-working Turkish immigrants that were lured here beginning in the 1960s. Without them, Germany would not be the rich country it is today. Policymakers in Berlin are aware of these issues, and no one is prepared to claim today that coexistence in a pluralistic society is possible without basic values that apply to one and all.
The political establishment knows that the integration problems we are facing today can be attributed mainly to a socio-political problem not a genetic or religious one. The absurd theses put forward by Sarrazin can be refuted swiftly just by taking a quick glance over the Atlantic: in the United States, immigrant Muslims (two thirds of Muslim Americans are foreign-born) are more fully integrated and economically more successful than immigrants of other backgrounds there, according to a 2007 Pew Survey, and they also enjoy a higher level of education.
Another factor that perhaps led to Merkel’s statement is that the economic crisis in Germany, as in Europe at large, has given rise to a spreading climate of uncertainty. In uncertain times, people get nervous – and nervous people tend to behave more aggressively.
The basic democratic order, however, is not rooted in economic prosperity but rather in ideas. Ideas like equal rights and freedom of religions. And, under Merkel, the German government has done a great deal to promote these values. During the last legislature period, for example, Minister of the Interior Wolfgang Schäuble assertively stated that Islam is part of Germany. And new German President Christian Wulff reinforced this message in his 3 October speech on the Day of German Unity, commemorating the anniversary of the 1990 German reunification.
However, the criticism Wulff subsequently reaped from his party and the general population was substantial, exposing a prevailing perception that he was undermining Western cultural values.
The opposite is actually the case. With this message, Wulff underscored that Christians living in Turkey, like Muslims living in Germany, have the right to equal treatment. And those who claim that the Western world must stand by its Christian roots and categorically deny Islam any recognition, are in reality working toward the abolishment of democracy and religious freedom.
So, no, multiculturalism is not dead. Because a state that is based on fundamental democratic values, like freedom of worship, demonstrates its true strength not in rejecting, but in affirming its cultural diversity.
That has always been the case, and always will be.
Lewis Gropp is a freelance journalist based in Cologne, Germany. Specialising in faith issues and world literature, he is also an editor at Qantara.de, an online magazine that covers issues relating to the West and the Muslim world. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).