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From the April 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 4)

Germany Grapples with Integration

Uncertain Expectations

Georg Paul Hefty, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (conservative), Frankfurt, Germany, Jan. 22, 2002

Immigration Germany
"Nobody is Illegal" Police in riot gear stand guard during a protest in support of asylum seekers at a Frankfurt pre-deportation detention center (Photo: AFP).
No politician ever speaks about immigration without using the word “integration,” but no one will say what integration really is. In the famous outline document, which Otto Schily created in order to establish himself as a thorough minister of the interior, the problem of integration—including both laws and explanations—accounts for just five of the 252 pages.

And this section is highly bureaucratic: Which courses will be offered, who must attend them, and what will happen to those who refuse the offer? What about people who merely sit there during the German lessons? And will the “knowledge” provided about the German legal system lead immigrants to accept, exploit, or reject the German way of life?

These questions do not interest Schily—those who complete the course are, ipso facto, “integrated” and can count on the right to remain here and, eventually, to gain citizenship.

To the extent that government officials at the state and federal level have argued about integration, the disputes have been about who will pay for the courses, meaning paying for the German teachers, the foreign interpreters, the classrooms—and not about the meaning of integration. Even the prime minister of Bavaria [and candidate for chancellor in Germany’s general elections to be held this fall—WPR], Edmund Stoiber, admitted in the Bundesrat a month ago, “We have, if we are honest about it, no rigorous conception of it so far.”

Two developments occurred between Schily’s outline and Stoiber’s confession: the formulation, on May 10, 2001, of the Christian Socialist Union’s (CSU) position paper on immigration, and then Sept. 11. The [conservative] Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the [conservative] CSU, did not merely sketch out the supply side of integration; they also summarized what should be demanded: “Integration means more than being able to speak German and recognize our legal system. It also includes...acceptance of the norms and customs that the native population feels obliged to obey. This means accepting the system of values of our Western, Christian culture, which has been influenced by Christianity, ancient philosophy, humanism, Roman law, and the Enlightenment.”

Sept. 11 made it clear that these demands are not enough. German authorities must recognize that foreigners will pretend to be “integrated” while fighting with all their strength, if necessary even sacrificing their lives, to harm the society absorbing them. The phenomenon of “sleepers” is small, but it eliminates any certainty in assessing whole strata of immigrants.

No laws and no government agencies can prevent, in advance and over the long run, crimes and criminals of the Al-Qaeda variety unless the potential perpetrators themselves refrain from acting. Nor can integration policies have, for example, the goal of absolutely eliminating conflicts among foreigners themselves, or between foreigners and Germans. What the policies must seek is to see that such conflicts are settled according to the rules accepted in Central European civilization and that they do not result in bloodshed any more often than is typical for conflicts among Germans. Nor is it principally an act of integration that German government agencies and private groups are demanding to increase the esteem in which girls and women of families of Muslim or other cultures (such as Asian or African) are held.

Humanitarian organizations and the government pursue this goal, together with respect for the rights of women—not just for immigrants but in their homelands, too.

When Manfred Stolpe, the prime minister of Brandenburg, presented his wish list of changes to Schily’s document, under pressure from his coalition partner, Interior Minister [of Brandenburg] Jörg Schönbohm (CDU), there was no mention of integration. For him, as well as Schönbohm, what is important are legal prescriptions, not their effects.

The Bavarian Greens demanded that the German people work for integration, including official and labor-law recognition of Islamic holidays, the creation of quotas for people of various “immigrant backgrounds” in civil service jobs, regular broadcasts by Radio Bavaria in Arabic, and interreligious education in schools that would present all religions on an equal basis.

Now the CSU faction in the state legislature has weighed in with a paper titled “Dialogue with Islam,” attempting to stake out part of the territory on integration policies. This document affirms the necessity of a “constructive dialogue with our Muslim fellow citizens.” But it stresses, “Our leading culture [is] the only basis on which a dialogue on cultural and social-policy issues with our Muslim fellow citizens may be conducted.”

The West may not have any right to assume that the standards of its civilization are accepted in other cultural circles; “however, we must expect that members of other cultural traditions living in Germany will respect the laws and values in effect here.” The paper brings up the issue of the fundamental compatibility of the Quran with the German constitution.

Spokesmen for the Caliphate [an Islamist organization suspected of ties with Osama bin Laden], which was declared illegal in Cologne a few months ago, rejected such compatibility. Now the CSU faction in the legislature brings up the same issue: “The equality of men and women and priority of our laws over the provisions of Sharia are absolute.” What such a declaration could mean in everyday life—given the Supreme Court’s [Jan. 16, 2002] decision on ritual slaughter—does not take much imagination to see. [The court’s decision permits ritual slaughter of animals according to Muslim law, i.e., without anesthetics. The same provision had already been in effect for years for Jewish ritual slaughter. Ritual slaughter had come under fire in Germany because it was seen as cruelty toward animals.—WPR]

Germany’s legal system provides many avenues for going to court to get laws redefined. The CSU seeks to head that off. “Any divided loyalties, which would put ethnic or religious ties above loyalty to the constitution, are unacceptable to us.”

Obviously, the chairman of Bavaria’s CSU, Alois Glück, and his team had only a part of the foreign population in mind in this statement on integration policy: They were considering only the Islamic aspects. It is true, of course, that the 3.2 million Muslims represent the largest formally identified segment of the 7.3 million foreigners in Germany.

But the question of how the foreigners now living here, and those who will arrive in the future, ought to be integrated must be answered, as well as what being integrated actually means. Both questions must be answered for all those people who, unlike the 1.9 million citizens of the European Union living in Germany, do not enjoy complete freedom of movement.

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