German Chancellor Angela Merkel ignited a political firestorm this past weekend when she pronounced  German multiculturalism a failure.
Addressing a youth delegation of her Christian Democratic Union Party, Merkel observed that in light of the widespread failure of immigrants, particularly Muslims, to integrate – whether by learning the German language or by adopting German cultural and legal norms – the country could have no illusions about the success of its so-called multikulti policies in assimilating immigrants.
“We kidded ourselves a while, we said: ‘They won’t stay, sometime they will be gone’, but this isn’t reality. And of course, the approach [to build] a multicultural [society] and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other… has failed, utterly failed.”
Merkel added that the only solution was for immigrants to learn the language and to integrate into the dominant German culture.
As any mention of the untouchable issue of immigration tends do, Merkel’s comments elicited furious condemnation from the German and Left. The left-wing Tageszeitung dismissed her remarks as populist posturing. The Financial Times Deutschland insisted that such rhetoric “cannot be excused.” Still other critics charged that Merkel was stoking “xenophobia.”
Yet the most notable aspect of Merkel’s remarks is just how unremarkable they were. Indeed, the most compelling criticism of her public renunciation of multiculturalism is that it has come too late in Germany’s immigrant crisis.
That crisis dates back to the 1950s. At the time, vast numbers of foreign guest workers, or Gastarbeiter, were required to make up for the post-war labor shortage. In the years that followed, these migrant laborers were needed to fuel the country’s booming industrial economy.
If many of the contemporary problems of immigration and integration were not anticipated, one reason is that it was assumed these workers would return to their countries of origin. Initially, many did just that. Over time, however, fewer and fewer returned. Temporary guests became permanent ones, with the consequence that Germany is now home to some 16 million foreign workers out of its population of 82 million.
Not all of these foreign workers have failed to integrate into German society. Whether Russian or Chinese , many have learned German, found jobs, and become productive members of society even as they’ve retained the traditions and language of their native culture. An important exception, however, is Germany’s Turkish community, which at 2.5 million also happens to be the country’s largest ethnic minority. That community is also at the heart of many of Germany’s social, and increasingly, security problems. When Merkel talks about the utter failure of multiculturalism, this is what she has in mind.
The failure of German Turks to assimilate is a well-documented phenomenon. A 2009 study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development found that even after 50 years and three generation in the country, Turks remained a people apart. They reside in what Germans have come to call “parallel communities,” a diplomatic term for what are in effect ethnic ghettos shunted off from mainstream German society. This exclusion exacts a heavy toll on new generations, many of whom do not know the native language. Reports of primary school classes where 80 percent of children cannot speak German are testimony to the seriousness of the problem.
Religion would seem to be one of the underlying reasons for the Turks’ persistent outsider status. Turks make up the majority of Germany’s 4 million Muslim residents, and despite the secular reputation of 20th century Turkey, there is abundant evidence that their brand of Islam has been in tension with German culture and society.
That is most evident in the contrasting levels of religious commitment. While Germany has followed the European trend toward secularization, its Turkish immigrants remain fervently religious. A 2006 study by the Essen Center for Turkish Studies found that 83 percent of Muslims of Turkish-origins described themselves as religious or strictly religious. And while German leaders have long toed the politically correct line that Islam is fully compatible with German ways – even the blunt-speaking Merkel has paid repeated lip service to the pluralistic cliché that Islam is a “part of Germany” – Turkish Muslims seem to disagree. Not only do nearly half of German Turks say that Islamic laws are incompatible with German society, but many live that way. Forced marriages and “honor” killings are two of the more prominent examples of Islamic practices clashing with German laws and culture. Even in death, many Muslim immigrants spurn integration. By some estimates , as many as 80 percent of Muslims have their bodies sent to their home countries so as to avoid a non-Muslim burial on German soil.
More and more, that clash of civilizations underlies a security concern in Germany. This August, German authorities finally shuttered the city’s Taiba mosque, a nursery of jihadist terror whose alumni included September 11 ringleader Mohamed Atta . Just this week, German federal prosecutors arrested  8 men, including a Turkish national, on charges of supporting al-Qaeda and spreading terrorist propaganda on the internet. Previous crackdowns on German-based jihadist groups have also netted Turkish Islamists. As a result, Germany is now on the international radar as a major base for jihadist terror. When the U.S. recently issued a travel alert for Europe, it specifically cited Islamists originating in Germany.
With the costs of multiculturalism’s failure so plain to see, it’s not surprising that many Germans are anxious about where mass immigration has led them. Merkel’s recent comments are only the latest crack in the politically correct “consensus” surrounding the taboo subject. In August, Thilo Sarrazin, a senior official at Germany’s central bank, published a book about the dangers of Muslim immigration whose theme was summed up in its provocative title: Germany Does Itself In. Sarrazin was forced to resign his position amid press furor, but his book continues to top Germany’s best-seller lists – a good indication of where the public’s sympathies lie. Another measure of the national doubts about the wisdom off immigration comes from a recent study, which found that one-third of Germans feel the country is being “over-run by foreigners,” while nearly 60 percent feel that Muslim religious practices should be “significantly curbed.” Elite opinion remains hostile to open discussion of immigration, especially Muslim immigration, but a growing segment of German popular opinion plainly feels that it represents a legitimate worry.
While this concern is encouraging, mirroring as it does Europe’s broader awakening to the issues of immigration and Islamic extremism, it is not altogether a heartening phenomenon. For one thing, the growing alarm about the problem of Muslim integration coexists with a revived anti-Semitism. The same study that found Germans supporting restrictions on certain Islamic practices also found that 17 percent think Jews “have too much influence.” Another problem is that while it is becoming more acceptable to point out the failures of multiculturalism, no serious solution has been offered. Modest attempts at assimilation, such as language classes, are unlikely to overcome entrenched cultural and religious divides.
That will become an even bigger problem for Germany in the decades ahead. At 1.36 children per woman, Germans have one of the lowest fertility rates not only in Europe but in recorded history. Statistics on Germany’s Turkish community are sparse, but there is a consensus that comparatively they have many more children. If those trends hold, Germany likely will look very different in the not-so-distant future. Acknowledging that multiculturalism has failed may be a necessary first step to coping with the consequences of Islamic immigration. But it will not save Germany from that looming demographic predicament.