Search This Blog

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Is Multiculturalism Dying in Europe?

"The same prudence which in private life would forbid our paying our own money for unexplained projects, forbids it in the dispensation of the public moneys." --Thomas Jefferson

On October 16th German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared at, a meeting of young members of her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), that multiculturalism, or Multikulti, as the Germans put it, “has failed totally.” Horst Seehofer, minister-president of Bavaria and the chairman of the sister party to the Christian Democrats ,the CSU, said at the same meeting that the two parties were “committed to a dominant German culture and opposed to a multicultural one.” Merkel also said that the flood of immigrants is holding back the German economy, although Germany does need more highly trained specialists, as opposed to the laborers who have sought economic advantages in Germany.

The statements were striking in their bluntness and their willingness to speak of a dominant German culture, a concept that for obvious reasons Germans have been sensitive about asserting since World War II. The statement should be taken with utmost seriousness and considered for its social and geopolitical implications. It should also be considered in the broader context of Europe’s response to immigration, not to Germany’s response alone.

As I write this there are strikes riots going on all over France in protest to President Nicolas Sarkozy and the French Parliament’s plan to overhaul the current pension program and raise the retirement age from 60 to 62. According to Marko Papic, an analyst for Stratfor, a global intelligence agency, there is more behind these riots than the age of retirement.

Both Merkel and Sarkozy are facing greater issues than just the retirement ages and pension. They are facing rising national debts that are draining there treasuries. These debts are due to three major factors: 1. The liabilities of their massive pension programs; 2, the costs of their broad social entitlement programs, and 3, the growing costs being thrust upon them from the failing economies of other EU countries such as Greece, Spain and Portugal.

In the Netherlands a trail is underway for Geert Wilders, a member of the Dutch Parliament who called for the banning of the Koran. He was charged with “inciting hatred and discrimination” and even the state prosecutor has requested the state to drop the charges. Under Dutch law the judge will make the final decision so Wilders’ fate is still in limbo. Wilders asserted that the Koran preached hate for other peoples and cultures much the same as Mein Kampf, which is banned in the Netherlands. Keep in mind that unlike the United States there is no free speech in the Netherlands or Europe.

Merkel addressed an issue that has been rising in Germany for several decades. After the end of World War II there was a major shortage of labor in the newly created West Germany. To resolve the continuing labor shortage, Germany turned to a series of successive labor recruitment deals, first with Italy (1955). After labor from Italy dried up due to Italy’s own burgeoning economy, Germany turned to Spain, Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia. Labor recruitment led to a massive influx of “Gastarbeiters,” German for “guest workers,” into German society. The Germans did not see this as something that would change German society: They regarded the migrants as temporary labor, not as immigrants in any sense. As the term implied, the workers were guests and would return to their countries of origin when they were no longer needed (many Spaniards, Italians and Portuguese did just this). This did not particularly trouble the Germans, who were primarily interested in labor.

The Germans simply didn’t expect this to be a long-term issue. They did not consider how to assimilate these migrants, a topic that rarely came up in policy discussions. Meanwhile, the presence of migrant labor allowed millions of Germans to move from unskilled labor to white-collar jobs during the 1960s.

An economic slowdown in 1966 and full-on recession following the oil shock of 1973 changed labor conditions in Germany. Germany no longer needed a steady stream of unskilled labor and actually found itself facing mounting unemployment among migrants already in country, leading to the “Anwerbestopp,” German for “labor recruitment stop,” in 1973.  Germany encouraged its Gastarbeiters to take their generous severance pay and return to their homelands an open a business, for which many did.
As the Italians, Spanish and Portuguese returned home to tend to their countries’ own successive economic miracles, Muslim Turks became the overwhelming majority of migrants in Germany — particularly as asylum seekers flocked into Germany, most of whom were not fleeing any real government retribution. It did not help that Germany had particularly open asylum laws in large part due to guilt over the Holocaust, a loophole Turkish migrants exploited en masse following the 1980 military coup d’├ętat in Turkey. This problem became exacerbated after the unification of East and West Germany when so many “German” workers were added to the labor pool and in some parts of the old East Germany unemployment reached 20%..

As the migrants transformed from a temporary necessity to a multigenerational community, the Germans had to confront the problem. At base, they did not want the migrants to become part of Germany. But if they were to remain in the country, Berlin wanted to make sure the migrants became loyal to Germany. The onus on assimilating migrants into the larger society increased as Muslim discontent rocked Europe in the 1980s. The solution Germans finally agreed upon in the mid-to-late 1980s was multiculturalism, a liberal and humane concept that offered migrants a grand bargain: Retain your culture but pledge loyalty to the state.

In my book, Footsteps on the Land I write about German views on their culture on page 369; “There is another side to Germany and Germans. They are sticklers for obeying the rules, they are one of the best educated populations in the world, and they absolutely adore their country. If asked, they will rattle off a dissertation on its history, geography, culture and politics. Too some this education can appear as arrogance, and sometime it is. Germans can be arrogant over their education and can look down on others, especially Americans, as not being as well educated and informed as they are. Once they discover that you know more about a subject than they do they will quickly change that attitude to one of respect for you and your knowledge. I discovered this while doing business in Germany.”

In this concept, Turkish immigrants, for example, would not be expected to assimilate into German culture. Rather, they would retain their own culture, including language and religion, and that culture would coexist with German culture. Thus, there would be a large number of foreigners, many of whom could not speak German and by definition did not share German and European values

While respecting diversity, the policy seemed to amount to buying migrant loyalty. The deeper explanation was that the Germans did not want, and did not know how, to assimilate culturally, linguistically, religiously and morally diverse people. Multiculturalism did not so much represent respect for diversity as much as a way to escape the question of what it meant to be German and what pathways foreigners would follow to become Germans.

This goes back to the European notion of the nation, which is substantially different from the American notion. For most of its history, the United States thought of itself as a nation of immigrants, but with a core culture that immigrants would have to accept in a well-known multicultural process. Anyone could become an American, so long as they accepted the language and dominant culture of the nation. This left a lot of room for uniqueness, but some values had to be shared. Citizenship became a legal concept. It required a process, an oath and shared values. Nationality could be acquired; it had a price.

To be French, Polish or Greek meant not only that you learned their respective language or adopted their values — it meant that you were French, Polish or Greek because your parents were, as were their parents. It meant a shared history of suffering and triumph. One couldn’t acquire that.

For the Europeans, multiculturalism was not the liberal and humane respect for other cultures that it pretended to be. It was a way to deal with the reality that a large pool of migrants had been invited as workers into the country. The offer of multiculturalism was a grand bargain meant to lock in migrant loyalty in exchange for allowing them to keep their culture — and to protect European culture from foreign influences by sequestering the immigrants. The Germans tried to have their workers and a German identity simultaneously. It didn’t work.

Multiculturalism resulted in the permanent alienation of the immigrants. Having been told to keep their own identity, they did not have a shared interest in the fate of Germany. They identified with the country they came from much more than with Germany. Turkey was home. Germany was a convenience. It followed that their primary loyalty was to their home and not to Germany. The idea that a commitment to one’s homeland culture was compatible with a political loyalty to the nation one lived in was simplistic. Things don’t work that way. As a result, Germany did not simply have an alien mass in its midst: Given the state of affairs between the Islamic world and the West, at least some Muslim immigrants were engaged in potential terrorism. This was especially the case in Hamburg where the terrorist cells, that spawned Mohamed Atta, were located.

Multiculturalism is profoundly divisive, particularly in countries that define the nation in European terms, e.g., through nationality. What is fascinating is that the German chancellor has chosen to become the most aggressive major European leader to speak out against multiculturalism. Her reasons, political and social, are obvious. But it must also be remembered that this is Germany, which previously addressed the problem of the German nation via the Holocaust. In the 65 years since the end of World War II, the Germans have been extraordinarily careful to avoid discussions of this issue, and German leaders have not wanted to say things such as being committed to a dominant German culture. We therefore need to look at the failure of multiculturalism in Germany in another sense, namely, with regard to what is happening in Germany.

Simply put, Germany is returning to history. It has spent the past 65 years desperately trying not to confront the question of national identity, the rights of minorities in Germany and the exercise of German self-interest. The Germans have embedded themselves in multinational groupings like the European Union and NATO to try to avoid a discussion of a simple and profound concept: nationalism. Given what they did last time the matter came up, they are to be congratulated for their exercise of decent silence. But that silence is now over.

Two things have forced the re-emergence of German national awareness. The first, of course, is the immediate issue — a large and indigestible mass of Turkish and other Muslim workers. The second is the state of the multinational organizations to which Germany tried to confine itself. NATO, a military alliance consisting mainly of countries lacking militaries worth noting, is waning. The second is the state of the European Union. After the Greek and related economic crises, the certainties about a united Europe have frayed. Germany now sees itself as shaping EU institutions so as not to be forced into being the European Union’s ultimate financial guarantor. And this compels Germany to think about Germany beyond its relations with Europe.

It is impossible for Germany to reconsider its position on multiculturalism without, at the same time, validating the principle of the German nation. Once the principle of the nation exists, so does the idea of a national interest. Once the national interest exists, Germany exists in the context of the European Union only as what Goethe termed an “elective affinity.” What was a certainty amid the Cold War now becomes an option. And if Europe becomes an option for Germany, then not only has Germany re-entered history, but given that Germany is the leading European power, the history of Europe begins anew again.

Consider that Merkel made clear that Germany needed 400,000 trained specialists. Consider also that Germany badly needs workers of all sorts who are not Muslims living in Germany, particularly in view of Germany’s demographic problems. If Germany can’t import workers for social reasons, it can export factories, call centers, medical analysis, and IT support desks. Not far to the east is Russia, which has a demographic crisis of its own but nonetheless has spare labor capacity due to its reliance on purely extractive natural resources for its economy. Germany already depends on Russian energy. If it comes to rely on Russian workers, and in turn Russia comes to rely on German investment, then the map of Europe could be redrawn once again and European history restarted at an even greater pace.

Merkel’s statement is therefore of enormous importance on two levels. First, she has said aloud what many leaders already know, which is that multiculturalism can become a national catastrophe. Second, in stating this, she sets in motion other processes that could have a profound impact on not only Germany and Europe but also the global balance of power. It is not clear at this time what her intention is, which may well be to boost her center-right coalition government’s abysmal popularity. But the process that has begun is neither easily contained nor neatly managed. All of Europe, indeed, much of the world, is coping with the struggle between cultures within their borders. But the Germans are different, historically and geographically. When they begin thinking these thoughts, the stakes go up.

Excerpts in this report are republished with permission of STRATFOR

Angela Merkel isn’t perfect — what politician is?  But she seems a bit more forthright than most heads of state these days.  Not long ago, the German chancellor was taking Obama to task for his spend-happy approach to economics.  Now she is being brutally honest about “multiculturalism,” saying that mangy euphemism had “failed utterly.

The times are indeed changing in Old Europe, where the populace appears to be awakening to the results of decades of unrestrained immigration from cultures with little or no intention of assimilating into their own. The French have banned the burqa, but nowhere is this new resistance so evident than the Netherlands, where the trial of their MP Geert Wilders is currently underway. In a surprising turn of events the prosecution in the trial called for Wilders to be acquitted of all charges against him, most of which stem from his outspoken opposition to radical Islam, indeed to the ideology of Islam itself.

It’s hard for so-called “progressives” to admit the obvious, but at least the likes of Geert Wilders and, now, Angela Merkel can. Nevertheless, we live in a culture where reporters at the New York Times spend more time searching for non-existent racists at Tea Parties than they do the tentacles of Sharia finance in the U.S. and executives of NOW spend more time worrying about Christine O’Donnell than they do clitoredectomies, stonings, or honor killings.

Where does this kind of reactionary thinking come from? There are several sources, but “cultural relativism” is surely one of the most important of them. Cultural relativism came in through the back door under the benign rubric of  “multiculturalism,” which to most people meant eating tacos on Cinco de Mayo or taking a few extra shots on St. Patty’s Day — perfectly harmless, indeed neighborly, activities that anyone could and should applaud.

But multiculturalism and cultural relativism had much more in mind. They fused with the world of identity politics in a cocktail that is reactionary while pretending to be “progressive.” Ironically, this fusion abetted the oppression of the very people it purported to aid, helping only their leadership, who, in turn, fanned the flames of multiculturalism.  It became a kind of false religion in modern society that has been impervious to criticism — hiding behind accusations of racism and the like, when, if anything, multiculturalism is itself racist in the sense that it seeks to divide us.

It is almost miraculous that someone of Merkel’s stature has finally spoken out against it. I rather doubt she wants to be associated with Geert Wilders. Merkel has taken the only path open to her dictated by her German roots. President Sarkozy began the attack on multiculturalism with the banning of burkas and other comments regarding the lack of assimilation of Muslims into French society. Merkel has taken the attack to a new level by calling for the exit of Muslims from Germany. This will no doubt cause a tsunami through the European Union and calls of a new Holocaust to arise. Keep your eyes on the United Kingdom. They have one of the most severe cases of Muslim non integration in Europe and I am sure they will be taking a close look at what happens in Germany.

No comments:

Post a Comment