Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Multiculturalism Debate Drags on in Germany

I know I've been away for a while, but I've been blogging here. So come check me out!

As you may know, there is a debate raging in Germany over multiculturalism and assimilation of the Muslim minority in Germany. At the core of the debate over these amorphous terms is the question of the role and presence of Muslims within German society. In an effort to dig deeper into the nature of the debate, Der Spiegel recently published an interview with two journalists, one German and one Turkish-German (and Muslim) who have both been vocal in their views on these issues. Interestingly, like the Somali-born Dutch politician Ayaan Hirisi Ali before her, it is the Turkish-German journalist, Necla Kelek who takes the far-right position in this discussion. She argues that Islam is inherently political and that Muslims, whether in Germany or in Egypt, are therefore incapable of placing the importance of a strong civil society and Western-style democracy above their religious beliefs. Patrick Bahners, the features editor for the center-right German paper, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, on the other hand, takes the more reasoned approach, arguing that not all Muslims view the world through this narrow religious-political lens and that those who do are still in the minority, even if their pernicious ideas have captured the imagination of the West through violent means.

In many ways, the debate between Bahners and Kelek is disappointing. Primarily because Kelek is quick to attack Bahners, to accuse him of not personally knowing any Muslims and therefore call into question his ability to speak with any authority on the issue. Kelek argues that she is more qualified to speak on the issue, and that her perspective is the true one, in large part because she grew up in the community and she knows the people she is speaking about—and condemning—personally. While that background certainly does have its importance, those are not the only ingredients needed to make a reasoned argument, as Bahners points out. But the sniping back and forth is only part of the reason this kind of debate is frustrating. The larger reason is because while it may help to delineate the views involved, it does not move the discussion forward. There is no attempt on the part of the interviewer, or by either of the participants, to try and find some common ground.

The national discussion over the death of multiculturalism has implications not only in Germany, but throughout Europe. The supposed clash between East and West, Islam and Christianity are not simply abstract notions. The consequences of this line of thinking have real impact from London to Berlin. Not all Muslims see Islam and politics as inherently linked, but the majority, if not all, do feel the sting of the vitriol directed at them by the leaders of the countries they now see as their home. They do feel the weight of discrimination in their daily lives as they seek housing or better employment or good education for their children. Similarly, not all Germans view Muslims with suspicion, but the longer the debate drags out with no resolution and little visible determination to work on a solution for all involved parties, the more each side becomes reduced to stereotypes and nothing changes. The next debate I would like to see in Der Spiegel is one that talks to people who are working on a solution, not just giving voice to the problem.

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