German Chancellor Says Multiculturalism Has Failed

Is Angela Merkel just playing politics, or is she kicking off a much-needed debate?

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Over the weekend, Angela Merkel declared multiculturalism in Germany a failure. She said immigrants needed to integrate, learning German, for example. Her remarks come a little over a month after debate exploded in Germany over politician Thilo Sarrazin's new book dealing with Germany's Muslim immigrants. At the time, many felt the book offensive if not downright racist, with disturbing echoes of early twentieth-century rhetoric. But commentators across the Atlantic think perhaps Merkel's recent declaration shows just how mainstream the debate over multiculturalism has become.

  • 'Debate on Migration and Multiculturalism Is Now Open,' declares the editorial board of British publication The Independent, calling Merkel's speech a "bellwether." Sarrazin started the discussion, the editors argue, and "raised spectres that were too dangerous to be left to become flesh and blood on the far right. They had to be tackled head-on." So here's the situation:
Germany now joins France, Belgium, the Netherlands and--so far, to a lesser extent, Britain--in questioning the multicultural approach adopted by governments for many years. If integration is now to be the focus, however, the effort will have to be two-sided. As well as requiring migrants to do more, governments and the indigenous population will have to try harder, too. And this will take funds--for language tuition, better schooling and homes--at a time when money is in very short supply.
  • 'Pure Politics,' thinks Americablog's Chris Ryan. Otherwise, "why would Merkel make this such a big issue? There's a serious xenophobia issue in Germany that needs to be addressed." He mentions recent animosity toward Greece over financial matters.
  • Pressure From Within the Party  Philip Oltermann at The Guardian suggests Merkel and her coalition are "merely trying to close the political gap that might open up for antagonists with an explicitly anti-Islamist agenda." He also notes that "if you look at the figures alone, there would be no particular reason to reheat the debate at this time." Turkish immigration and asylum applications overall have dropped. Of course, Oltermann points out that "a recent football match might have rattled Merkel a little." At a qualifying match between Germany and Turkey in Berlin, Turkish supporters outnumbered supporters of the home team, and booed German-born midfielder of Turkish descent, Mesut Özil. On the other hand, writes Olterman, "Özil silenced the whistles by scoring the second goal in a 3-0 win, acting as the beating heart of a German-Turkish-Polish-Tunisian-Serbian-Brazilian team that has come to symbolise successful 'Multi-kulti' [German shorthand for multiculturalism] in action."
  • American 14th Amendment Revisionists Should Take Note  "You invite a large number of persons to come to your country to work, often doing menial labor," writes Steven Taylor at Outside the Beltway, describing the early German guest worker program. "You tell them, however, that they can never be truly part of you country. And then you are surprised when they aren't integrated into your society?" The German citizenship law was changed in 2000, but "the oldest person currently being affected by this law is 10 years of age and so the law has hardly come to fruition as yet."
  • At Least Merkel's Honest  Pajamas Media CEO Roger Simon is just fine coming out against multiculturalism, saying the catchword has become "a kind of false religion in modern society that has been impermeable to criticism ... It is almost miraculous that someone of Merkel’s stature has finally spoken out against it."
  • It Does Seem 'Creepy' in Germany, Though, offers Kevin Williamson at National Review, adding that in general he's "anti-multiculturalism" and thinks "a good dose of cultural chauvinism is a healthy thing for most societies."
  • History of This Rhetoric  History professor and blogger Juan Cole corrects those hinting at 20th-century parallels by pointing out that, while "this sort of discourse has a long and ugly history in Germany," the starting point, and perhaps better period for comparison, was really the anti-Catholic policies under Bismark. He also finds some problems with Merkel's emphasis on learning German:
The main impediment to linguistic assimilation is neighborhood segregation. There are informal mechanisms that create immigrant labor slums, including the reluctance of realtors to show houses to minority members in neighborhoods dominated by the majority. Is she ready to push for a German equivalent to the Fair Housing Act?
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.