Opinion

Germany Has Barely Begun to Face the Hard Task of Becoming Truly Multicultural

The ‘kippa protests’ thrust anti-Semitism in today’s Germany into the spotlight, but the more pressing challenge is integrating the country’s Muslim immigrants

FABRIZIO BENSCH/רויטרס

In the wake of last week’s “Wear a Kippa” rallies in Berlin and other German cities, the Bild tabloid conducted its own anti-Semitism experiment this week, hanging Israeli flags in several locations in major German cities. The flags were hung by reporters from the generally pro-Israel paper, with hidden cameras set up to record their fates.

The newspaper called the results of the experiment “shameful” and “frightening.” In some places the flags were ripped down and thrown in the garbage; in one incident, someone tried to set it on fire. A few people — who “looked Arab,” according to the report — spit on the flag.

When a “Bild” reporter confronted one of the Germans who had removed the flags, the man said that because the surrounding area was “multicultural,” he feared they would be a “provocation.” This honest but troubling response reflects one of Germany’s greatest challenges of the past few years, which is only expected to grow as the children of the country’s newest immigrants grow up.

These challenges can be condensed into a single question: how to preserve the unique values and customs of the various communities in a society like Germany’s that purports to be multicultural, a society comprising a conservative Christian majority alongside a growing Muslim minority and a Jewish minority that, while tiny, is of outsize symbolic and historical significance.

There’s no easy answer, but it’s clear that the one provided by Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, telling Jews not to wear kippot in public, is no solution. The Jewish parents who switched their son from one Berlin public school to another after he received anti-Semitic threats from Arab classmates also did nothing to solve the greater problem.

“Many Germans feel foreign in their own country and are afraid that immigration is changing their homeland rapidly,” Der Spiegel reported last month in a long feature article whose figures gave food for thought: “Already today, one out of five people living in the country has immigrant roots.” http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-and-immigration-the-changing-face-of-the-country-a-1203143.html

German schools must contend with a rapid rise in the numbers of students whose German-language skills are rudimentary at best: In 43 percent of Berlin’s elementary schools, the majority of children speak little or no German at home; that figure is 41 percent in Bremen and 22 percent in Hamburg, and the numbers are only expected to “What does that mean for the country?” asks Der Spiegel.

Germany is less than eager to address such questions, in part out of a desire not to be seen as xenophobic or racist. “Too often, the debate is driven by people more focused on showing off their own worldliness and tolerance than actually addressing the problems,” says the magazine. This is what happens when only extremist parties such as Alternative for Germany are willing to tackle the issue, and they use such data as part of their political campaigns against foreigners and immigrants.

For now, German political leaders are split over the vision of Germany’s future. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Islam is part of Germany, while Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the conservative Christian Social Union says the exact opposite. Many of Germany’s 5 million Muslims were born in the country, grew up there and see the country as their home. Every large German city has at least one mosque. A recent poll found that over one-fourth of Germans fear Islam, and the government recorded at least 950 anti-Muslim incidents in 2017, including online abuse, the vandalization of mosques and physical assaults of women wearing a Muslim head covering. Over 1,400 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded last year, 95 percent of them carried out by far-right extremists. Police attributed 25 of the 1,453 incidents to foreign-born or German Muslim extemists.