Saturday, 23 October 2010

'Germany has failed multiculturalism not vice versa'

I really liked a piece I read this week countering Angela Merkel's claims last weekend that multiculturalism in Germany had 'utterly failed'.

Failed? Jenny Bourne, writing for the IRR, argues that "Germany has not even tried it." She argues:
"Germany has until recently not extended citizenship rights to its many Turkish residents, or even to the descendants of the Gastarbeiter who were born on its soil, unlike the UK which gave citizenship automatically to its black commonwealth workforce. Germany has never provided support in its education system to those who did not have German as their mother tongue, unlike here where there were classes for those with English as a second language and special funding for areas with particular needs emanating from ethnic minority pupils. Germany has been slow in implementing any national plan against racism and fast to divert part of the funds set aside to fight Neo-Nazis (a serious and increasing threat) to fight leftwing and Islamist extremism."
It matters when what are supposed to be responsible leaders, yes that's our politicians, sink to divisive depths for reasons of winning political ground - in Merkel's case she is fast losing ground to the German Greens. So, much like in times of economic recession, you turn on the 'immigrants'. Bourne comments on this aspect:
"The minute a politician says we do not get on, it creates those conditions for us not to. It puts a kind of imprimatur on people's worst feelings, gives the green light to treating people as inferior, to demonising their difference as a threat. Politicians in my view have a duty to educate, to be ahead of the herd not to echo its worst, uneducated and populist sentiments."
It was also good to read her articulate so eloquently the problem with the term 'multicultural' which I grappled with in a post a couple of weeks ago ('Rethinking Black History Month?'):
"Terms like multiculturalism and integration are not scientific. They do not actually describe something measurable. That is the problem. They are subjective terms, describing in a superficial and generalised way a particular aspect of a society. Thus it can be extended to be just a feeling about society that someone has. 

And look at Merkel's way of arguing, it gives everything away. At first, when they came in the 1960s, we thought they would soon go back where they came from. So it is not about a cultural clash then but the presence of foreigners altogether. Then she changes tack to say if they spoke German then they could get jobs. Well first what efforts has the federal state made to teach foreigners German? And what has being in the workforce to do with multiculturalism in fact. 

What Merkel and others are actually talking about is not integration (which implies a cultural accommodation on equal terms) but the fact that foreigners, and particularly Muslim ones, have not assimilated. If they cannot look German, they can at least act German - speaking its language, holding to its values, worshipping in its way, wearing its clothes."
You can read the rest of Jenny Bourne's piece here.

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