The Middleasternization of Germany

BERLIN. A few weeks ago, at the end of October, Ibrahim Miri filed an asylum request in request through his lawyer. Miri had been expelled from Germany, the country where he had spent all his adult life, in July. He had been woken up early in the morning by the police and escorted to the airport, where he was put on flight to Lebanon, the country where he was born and spent his early childhood. But his stay there lasted only a few months and now he is back to Germany, claiming on the ground that he faced murder threats from Shiite militias in his homeland.

Miri, like many other Lebanese, arrived to Germany in the 1980s, when the Arab country was engulfed in a civil war. Miri, however, did not exactly become a model citizen in Germany. He headed the Miri clan, one of the most powerful criminal gangs, dealing in all the classical areas of organized crime, drugs, prostitution, gambling and racketeering. Now he is claiming asylum in Germany. Because of his notoriety, Miri’s case has not been assigned to the local authorities that generally decide on individual asylum claims; German ministry for migration  decided within a matter of days to send Miri back to Lebanon. He has already tried to come back to Germany once through Turkey and his lawyer appealed the federal court’s decision.

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Mass immigration was a late phenomenon for Germany, at least compared to other European countries. Germany did not have a vast colonial empire where subjects learn the German language and were educated in German culture, like for example Britain or France. For many, Germany was until recently simply a not very attractive choice. “We have not been an immigration country and we still are not one”, said Wolfgang Schauble in 2006, then Interior Minister.

Germany was not considered an immigration country like France, England or the United States, with vast numbers of immigrants from the all over the world finding their way in a multicultural country. Yes, Western Germany had taken millions of migrants starting from the reconstruction period after the second world war, when cheap labour was needed, but these people, from Italy, Greece, Spain or Turkey, were never supposed to integrate in Germany society. They were Gastarbeiter, guest workers, and were never supposed to stay more than a few years. Some did go back to their countries. The vast majority brought their families to Germany. According to the official data, there are roughly 3 million people of Turkish origin in Germany.

It may sound hard to believe now, but it was less than 10 years ago, when Angela Merkel, who later became a sort of benevolent mother figure for the disaffected and refugees of the world, declared that the Multikulti, the idea that different cultures in Germany could mix without disturbing each other, had failed. “The Multikulti has failed, absolutely failed”, said Merkel at a party conference. That was 2010. Since then things in Germany could not have changed more dramatically.

In the same speech where Merkel called out the Multikulti, she described Islam as being a part of Germany. The problem, however, is not Islam. Most people who come to Germany or to Europe in general end up adopting a not very religious lifestyle and secular views. Nothing more in required from them. Even among third generation Turks, people whose grandparents came from rural Anatolia, there was a tendency to form parallel societies. Liberal minded Germans are keen to show that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But real integration seems a very distant ideal, even for the more cosmopolitan minded progressive citizens. One can see the contrasts very well in Berlin, in the districts of Gesundbrunnen and Prenzlauer Berg. They are just one train stop away from each other but they could not be more different. Gesundbrunnen is a multicultural district and one of the poorest ones in the German capital. The streets are populated mainly by Turks, Arabs and Africans too. Many Poles too live there and there are a few Polish shops in the area. Prenzlauer Berg offers a wholly different picture. It’s the district where the creative and affluent elite wants to live, often people who have from other parts of Germany to work as journalists, designers etcetera. It’s probably the most expensive district in the whole of Berlin.

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In 2015, in the words of one German journalist writing for the weekly Der Spiegel, Germany experienced a second Sommermärchen, a summer fairy tale. There was excitement in the air and people felt good about being Germans and doing good things. The first Sommermärchen had been in 2006, when Germany hosted the football world cup and for the first time since the war it managed to project a new nice image of itself across the globe and rediscovered a new sense of patriotism. The second Sommermärchen was Germany’s love affair with Middle Eastern (and not only) refugees, who in the first weeks of September 2015 reached Germany from Hungary. Some ordinary Germans, witnessing the agony of many refugees abandoned in train stations in Hungary or seeing them drowning in front of the shores of Greek islands, came to cheer and welcome the new comers. Many of these people came from war torn regions like Syria. Many did not. Only less than half of the more than 1 million were granted asylum but Germany did not push too hard to enforce expulsion orders when somebody’s asylum was being refused.

Many dreamt of transforming the migrants into the new Germans, a new generation of young and ambitious people that the German economy badly needed. In German largest cities like Berlin, Hamburg or Frankfurt, most children in the schools will have a migration background and speak German in a very specific way. Germany is the third oldest country in the world, with an average age of 44 and the oldest country in Europe. Germany people just do make a lot of babies, and most babies are children of migrants. The idea of transforming several hundreds of thousands of young men into new model Germans could have seemed rather impractical, but many, especially among the intellectual classes, embraced the idea enthusiastically. The SPD candidate Martin Schulz called the migrants “gold”. It seemed like Germany, which had become the leader of the European Union but was failing to gain European people’s hearts, was desperate to find love somewhere. Many people in Germany and among the intellectual classes especially seemed to clearly enjoy playing the role of the saviour of the wretched of the earth, like the scandal around Carola Rakete, the German sea captain who was briefly arrested in the summer by the Italian authorities for having taken on board a handful of Libyan migrants showed once again.

Others, however, like the German-Egyptian intellectual Hamed Abdel-Samad, author of the book: “Integration: a protocol of failure”, have a more critical stance. Already in 2010 a book by the then SPD (the Social Democratic Party) Thilo Sarrazin made a sensation. The book was titled “Germany abolishes Itself: How we’re putting our country in jeopardy” and remained a bestseller for many weeks. In the book the author expressed worries about the future of a country that had become, thanks to its generous welfare state, a preferred destination of choice for many migrants from the Middle East but was under the threat of losing its Germanness within one or two generations. Sarrazin was accused of indulging in racist ideas and was removed from his post as member of the Deutsche Bank board.

Mass immigration has produced a reaction in the most conservative sectors of the German society and could fundamentally alter German politics too. The traditional parties have lost ground over the last elections. While most politicians and the German establishment seemed to support mass immigration as a resource, ordinary Germans increasingly took a different view. It may not be good manners to discuss these things, as a recent poll showing that two third of Germans think that there is a taboo on hot topics such as migration, and one can say little without being called a racist. The way many silent people have started to vote, however, shows a clear trend. The far right party AfD, Alternative for Germany has gained almost a quarter of votes in the most recent regional elections in the East of the country, where the party is traditionally strong. The establishment parties and the media routinely express deep concern about the rise about of far right populism, just like they express concern about the Polish PiS, which they have declared their biggest enemy. So grand politics had to back down and do a deal with Erdogan, who receives billions every year from the EU to keep 3 million Syrian refugees on Turkish soil. This could be just a temporary solution, however.

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The demographic trends, nonetheless, are very clear. Within a generation, Germans could be a minority in their own countries. Some say there is nothing wrong with this and that diversity necessarily means enrichment, and that the migrants will eventually fit well into German societies because they will attend German schools and embrace Western culture and customs. The last part may well be true, but it does mean that these people will not transform Germany into a completely different country within just a couple of decades. School is one thing, but what matters for the formation of new individuals and citizens is more the way they are socialized, the people who surround them, who shape their world views and their destinies. These days German people tend to be good citizens, absorbed by their work and well behaved. But tacitly welcoming every single new comer from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan or Somalia and accepting parallel societies as a norm, the multiculturalization of Germany will be an inevitable end.

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