Angela Merkel tells a CDU conference that multiculturalism in Germany has ‘utterly failed’, yet Germany has not even tried it.
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.
When politicians like Angela Merkel say that multiculturalism has failed, it reminds me of Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood episode, here in 1968. The similarity lies in this: good race relations is in fact a kind of faith, a belief that we do and can all ‘get on’. 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. Enoch was sacked from the shadow cabinet. Unfortunately Merkel rules.
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.
The irony of course is that the more ‘foreigners’ face hostility in their new home, the more likely they are to remain in or find solace in their ‘cultural ghetto’. So Merkel through her speech has done everything in her power to decrease the likelihood of true integration.
Multiculturalism is not like an exam that a country can pass or fail, nor is it a policy with or without a purchase in different locations. Multicultural is a descriptor of a porous society, one that allows for movement, understands give and take, relishes change and values equality. Instead of castigating the foreigner for failing to integrate (read assimilate) Merkel and others should look inwards to see what there is still is in German society that puts up barriers against ‘the Other’ and can galvanise the popular will against ‘the Auslander‘.