16 October 2010

Maligning Multiculturalism in Middle Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a speech in Postdam in which she noted that so called “multikulti” notion that had utterly failed. During her speech to young members of the Christian Democratic Union, Merkel opined that allowing people from different cultural backgrounds to work side by side together without integrating did not work.

During the 1960s, Germany started inviting many foreign workers to come live in West Germany to alleviate labor shortages.  But the temporary workers never left and the mainly Turkish immigrants did not strive to fully integrate into German culture and society.  Merkel added: “We kidded ourselves a while, we said: 'They won't stay, sometime they will be gone', but this isn't reality.”

German unemployment is at 7.5%, which is its lowest rate since 1992.  But a study by the Fredrick Ebert think tank shows that more than 30% of those Germans surveyed believed that the country was “overrun by foreigners”.  An equal number thought that the 16 million immigrants had moved to Germany to take advantage of social benefits.

I suspect, however, that the grievances of multiculturalism are not simply economic but are cultural. Merkel supported German President Christian Wulff’s statement that Islam is a part of Germany like Christianity and Judaism.  But Merkel tried to strike a balance by stressing that immigrants needed to integrate themselves into German society, including learning the German language.

In neighboring France, there has been tension amongst nativists and their Muslim citizens over a law which bans the burka.  The law which forbids wearing a veil such as a burka or a niqab in public under threat of a $213 fine for wearing one or a $43,392 fine for forcing a woman to wear one in public. The bill was enacted after  President Sarkozy declared that burka was not welcome in France.  But the legislation was carefully crafted so as not to use the terms woman, veil or Muslim.

These two storylines are examples of how Europe is starting to perceive multi-culturalism as a threat to their very society.  Since most of Europe seems post religious, railing against a holistic religio/judicial/political philosophy as radical Islam can easily be seen as xenophobic.  The irony is that Germany can not afford to be purely nativist as they have a shortage of skilled workers and need to attract foreign workers.

There is no simple solution to this dilemma.  But it should serve as a cautionary tale for US about allowing the unfettered immigration of unskilled workers who do not leave and refuse to assimilate.

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