Thursday, March 1, 2012

See no evil...

Multiculturalism is a topic that raises emotions, especially in Germany, as it is a subject that inevitably sparks violent arguments in which accusations of racism feature prominently. Start trying to investigate the causes of social unease, and whichever side of the argument you come down on, the other side will act as if you had just instituted Satanism as the official national religion. Sit on the fence, or disagree with both sides and come up with some new idea, and nobody will ever speak to you again. So better not to talk about it at all.

Now, let me make one thing clear at the outset. I am an immigrant. I think I have integrated quite well, all things considered, into German society and culture, although I must also point out that my own culture is not far removed from German culture so the transition was quite easy. Although not really relevant to what follows, I personally think that while immigration is generally a good thing, I think it has been mismanaged and the ideal of multiculturalism perverted in a way that in some areas has contributed to a ghettoisation of society.

The background is this: by far the greatest number of immigrants to German are Turkish. There are more Turks living in Berlin than live in any city in Turkey except Istanbul and Ankara — getting off the U-Bahn at Kottbusser Tor is enough to convince you of that (in fact, line U1 is locally known as the “Orient Express”). Mostly, everything seems to go remarkably smoothly, and the kind of race riots that flared up in Britian in the 1980s, or that flare up in Paris every now and again, are pretty much unknown here. Nevertheless, the Turkish community, like most immigrant communities anywhere in the world, features elevated levels of poverty and therefore also crime; and when I was living in Berlin, so-called “honour killings” — young men murdering their sisters for dating Germans — were semi-regularly reported in that sensationalist manner the tabloids have (so such reports have to be taken with a certain amount of salt).

So we have a prominent immigrant community with the typical challenges you’d expect, although you wish you didn’t. But recently, something new has arrived into the mix: the fear of Islamic terrorism. In particular, the fear that young men are being radicalised, a hatred of the West being instilled into them.

It’s easy to imagine how this happens. The children or grandchildren of immigrants, born in Germany to Turkish parents, may experience a sort of identity crisis: expected to be Turkish at home but German outside of the home, and not properly brought up in either culture, form their own identity, based on badly misunderstood Turkish values. Wait for these people to reach hormonal age, make them feel insecure about their identity, give them the beginnings of a persecution complex, and that seed will grow.

So, obviously, if you were the Interior Minister of Germany, you’d probably want to investigate this. Is it true? How much of it is true? Should we be worried? If it is true, what can be done about it? If it isn’t true, what can be done to reassure the general public? You’d probably start by commissioning a report. That’s exactly what Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich did.

It didn’t go down well at all. It probably wasn’t a wise decision to publish it in the Bild, Germany’s biggest tabloid newspaper, but let’s gloss over that. Friedrich’s study — in fact, not just the study itself, but Friedrich’s decision to even commission it — was roundly criticized by the opposition parties.

The Socialist Party’s Integration Representative, Aydan Özoguz, was quoted as saying:
Anyone who is serious about tackling the ghettoisation and violent tendencies of young people should not do so with the obvious intention without abandoning entire religious communities to populist sentiments.
Remember that bit about “entire religious communities”. This will be important later.

But criticism came from the governing coalition itself. The Integration Policy Spokesman of the Free Democrats, the junior coalition partner, a certain Serkan Tören, complained that:
…once more, taxpayers’ money is being used to finance a study to produce headlines but no new knowledge.
And the Justice Minister, who rejoices in the name of Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, gave us this pearl of wisdom:
We do not need a debate which conveys a distorted image of the country of immigration, Germany.
Now, this is true, in the sense that any debate should result, in the end, in an accurate picture. That’s what a debate is for. The study may be seriously flawed, it may be completely wrong; but if so, that should come out of the debate. You conduct a study, then you debate it, then you see what conclusions you come to. What you don’t do — and if she doesn’t grasp this fundamental point, she has no business being Justice Minister — is look at the study and then refuse to debate it on the grounds that it conflicts with your beliefs. If it conflicts with your beliefs, either it is wrong, or your beliefs are wrong, or, more likely, both are flawed.

By now, you may be wondering what on earth this study said that was so awful. Well, according to the Spiegel, the study found that about a quarter of young (between the ages of 14 and 32) Turks living in Germany with Turkish passports, and about 15% of those with German passports, were strongly religious, had strong aversions to the west, tended to be violent and tended not to have any wish to integrate.

Remember that bit of Özoguz’s statement I asked you to remember, the bit about “entire religious communities”? Would you say that the study concluded that all Muslims were unwilling to integrate? Özoguz apparently things so. As does Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, since she felt it necessary to point out that “citizens of Islamic faith live in Germany today, quite naturally, and are at home here”.

But of course, they’re falling into the classic trap of thinking that if all potential terrorists are Muslim, then all Muslims must be potential terrorists. It’s difficult to explain the fallacy to anyone who doesn’t get it, without drawing a Venn diagram, but Friedrich had a shot at it:
The bigger picture shows that Muslims in Germany categorically reject terrorism.
In other words, Friedrich is accusing his critics of concentrating on the sensationalist headlines instead of looking at the report properly. Which does rather make me wonder why he chose a sensationalist tabloid to publish his study, but politicians aren’t always known for their expert handling of the press.

Really, there needs to be a better way of dealing with the situation. It strikes me that either the study is accurate, or it is not accurate. If it is accurate, it must be taken seriously and acted on; if it is not accurate, we need to know exactly what isn’t accurate about it. Either way, refusing to debate, or even read, it properly is utterly counter-productive.

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