Xenophobia and growing hostility towards immigrants are on the rise in Europe. “British work for British workers,” they shout. “Send the Romas back home,” they insist. Failed immigration is making headlines everywhere. The German chancellor Angela Merkel proclaimed that in Germany the multicultural society has failed.
The situation of immigrants in Germany is a hot topic here in New York also. The German Consulate hosted an Immigration and Integration Issues conference. We watched the documentary “The Yilmaz Clan” about three generations of a Turkish family living in Berlin. It was followed by a panel discussion “The Turkish German Minority in the European Context” and a seminar on Economic and Human Rights Factors. Jürgen Habermas’ article “Leadership and Leitkultur” appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times. The reaction in Germany to Thilo Sarrazin’s book “Germany does away with itself” was documented in two articles in the New York Times. The last one, on November 13th, took up an entire page. I was shocked to find out that more than one third of Germans agree with Sarrazin’s belief that Germany is becoming more stupid as a result of Muslim immigrants. He seems to express what a lot of Germans are thinking.
I am aware of the heated headscarf debate which has been going on for years. Many of my left-leaning friends fear a Turkish parallel society. They tell me that third generation Turks do not speak German properly. Their graduation rates from high school are lower than those of Germans and their incarceration are rates higher.
This concerns me also. What are the reasons? Certainly Muslim immigrants are not of lesser intelligence (a false biological conclusion Sarrazin draws). If Muslim children are doing poorly in Germans schools, could it be the fault of the German school system? Are discrimination and prejudice to blame for higher unemployment among Muslim immigrants? Higher education in Germany seems to be for children of the upper class whose parents have attended college, not for children of working class or immigrant families. In Germany a quarter of the population attends college, less than in the United States.
I am worried that Europe is becoming more provincial. I see nationalist movements on the rise and politicians acting as if European civilization is under threat. There is a European Union, but no European passport. If the Turkish community in Germany today is more religious and more conservative than the first wave of Turkish immigrants could this result from German policies towards integration? The social and economic status of immigrants is an indicator for integration. The discussion is too often about us and them. How much of us do they have to become? It seems that the only well integrated Muslim is an ex-Muslim.
I left Germany in 1980. Today, it is a much more interesting country, not only because of reunification, but because of immigration. Germany has better food, even better fast food (the Döner kebab was an instant hit). There are plenty of writers, artists, taxi drivers, soccer players, and teachers who have a “migration background” as immigrants are labeled in Germany. All of them enrich the German cultural landscape.
Maybe we should start to speak of trans-culturalism instead of multiculturalism. Immigrants who have a foot in two countries, who travel with two passports, are always a hybrid of two cultures. For some this is a painful experience. The Chicano rapper Jae-P sings about being “Ni de aqui, ne de alla” (Neither from here, nor there).Others enjoy their hyphenated existence. Mexican American Gloria Anzaldua writes about her in-between identity. She’s not crossing a bridge from one culture to another, but is staying on the bridge instead.
Finding myself on that same bridge, I’d like to help in making the bridge passable to others. I believe I can do so by writing my own narrative and helping others do the same.