Integration row

October 20, 2010 - 0:0

After Britain and France, it seems it’s now Germany’s turn to pause and ponder its “immigrant problem.” In a rare outburst, Chancellor Angela Merkel has admitted Germany has “utterly failed” in building a multicultural society. Arguing that the so-called “multikulti” concept where people (read immigrants) would “live side-by-side” with German society did not work, Merkel has urged immigrants to “do more to integrate” including learning German.

Interestingly, her remarks, part of a speech to the governing Christian Democratic Union party have coincided with a survey that suggests that more than 30 percent of people are concerned over the influx of immigrants and feel the country has been “overrun by foreigners.”
Not long ago Germany was seen as a successful model of European integration and tolerance. In fact, the country was cited as an enviable example when the so-called liberal societies like Britain and France began to experience serious issues with their large immigrant communities. Maybe this had something to do with the overpowering sense of guilt that had weighed down Germany after the Nazi excesses of the World War II.
Whatever the explanation, if Germany has been home to one of the largest Muslim immigrant communities, majority of them from Turkey and the Arab Maghreb, credit goes to the political and economic security that post-World War II Germany offered new arrivals. The immigrants were actively wooed by Germany in decades after the war to rebuild the ravaged country and its once fabled industries. They worked in menial jobs, in farms and factories.
If Germany has regained its lost glory as a great industrial power and emerged as Europe’s biggest economy, part of the credit goes to its enterprising, hard-working immigrant community. So it’s a bit unfair for Merkel to argue that Germany expected the immigrants to go back to their countries once their job was done. The Arabs and Muslims as well as other immigrants have spent all their lives working for Germany’s growth. They have a stake, as much as anyone else, in the nation’s achievements and future. If they have benefited from migrating to Germany — or any other country in Europe — and making it their home and that of their children, European nations have equally benefited from their hard work, talents and professional expertise. It’s a mutually benefiting equation. No one is doing anyone any favors.
Again, integration is a two-way street. Both the immigrants as well as host societies need to do their bit to understand and connect with each other. For all its talk of multiculturalism and tolerance, Europe could learn a lesson or two from the United States and Canada on successful integration of minorities. Notwithstanding the recent instances of Islamophobia, including the ruckus over the Cordoba House in Manhattan and the shenanigans of Florida pastor, immigrants and religious minorities in North America have not been languishing on the fringe as they do in Europe.
This has to change if Europe wants its minorities, especially Arabs and Muslims, to become part of the mainstream. For their part, Muslim communities, wherever they are, ought to make conscious efforts to become part of host societies. This does not in anyway violates or runs against their beliefs. They have to realize that the West’s perception of their faith and culture depends on how they conduct themselves. Given the incredible ignorance about Islam in the West, they should act as ambassadors of their much maligned faith