Anti-Immigrant Cracks In Germany's Fragile Diversity

Across Europe, economic woes and fears of terrorism are feeding anti-immigrant — particularly anti-Muslim — sentiment. Last weekend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel added fuel to the debate when she said Germany's attempts to build a multicultural society had "utterly failed." Host Scott Simon talks to Josef Joffe, publisher-editor of the German newsweekly Die Zeit, about the situation.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

There's been an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment across Europe, especially anti-Muslim sentiment. Last weekend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel added to that debate when she said that Germany's attempts to build a multicultural society had, quote, "utterly failed."

Josef Joffe is publisher and editor of the German newsweekly Die Zeit. He joins us now from Stanford University, where he's currently a visiting professor of political science.

Mr. Joffe, thank you very much for being with us.

Professor JOSEF JOFFE (Publisher-Editor, Die Zeit): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And help us understand Angela Merkel's remark - Chancellor Merkel's remarks in the context of what's been going on in Germany and Western Europe.

Prof. JOFFE: It is a very strange precipitating event. It's a book that will have sold about one million copies by Christmas that's called, translated into English, "Germany Does Away With Itself," and that raises the horrible dangers of Muslim immigrants not only being dysfunctional and not wanting to assimilate but also outbreeding the Germans.

SIMON: The author is a member of the German Central Bank.

Prof. JOFFE: He's been eased or forced out of the German Central Bank. But as I said, you know, given the sales, he's crying all the way to the bank. So sometimes it's very rare but it happened in this case. This was a precipitating event, suddenly forcing onto the country a debate that it had tried to avoid ever since the first guest worker set foot on German soil in the '50s. And Mrs. Angela Merkel, being a good politico, has been testing the winds in the past eight weeks where she eight weeks ago said this book is not helpful, it's totally unacceptable because it touches upon so many taboos in the German debate. Eight weeks later, after she could see what the mood of the country was, how the commentary online and to the newspapers and the speeches and in the talk shows shaped up with a certain kind of general unhappiness about unassimilable and not wanting to assimilate foreigners, especially Muslims, she realized where the mood was going, she changed tack and said multiculturalism has failed and therefore what we will do in the future is to work a lot harder at integration and assimilation.

SIMON: Now, as we understand it over here, a large part of the Muslim immigrants in Germany are Turkish families.

Prof. JOFFE: Yes.

SIMON: And a lot of them arrived in Germany as guest workers.

Prof. JOFFE: Yes.

SIMON: So those families didn't necessarily come to Germany with the idea of making it a permanent life there, did they?

Prof. JOFFE: Correct. But you know how things go. So the grandfather to be, to make it very crude now, grandfather comes here in the '60s, makes good money putting together cars at Opal or Ford.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Prof. JOFFE: Then they don't go back. They have children and then these children have children. The problem here is - I mean a good Marxist will understand this - 30, 40 years ago unskilled labor fetched a real good price. In the industrial world today, as we are industrializing, brain matters more than brawn. And so if you have a group that fails to educate itself and to acquire the qualifications, they end up either in welfare or on the streets, and that is the problem I think that faces all of Europe.

SIMON: But, Mr. Joffe, how worried are you about this? Is this just a challenge of the kind a stable democracy like Germany faces up to, or...

Prof. JOFFE: No, the one thing one should worry about, especially when you hear Germany, will not happen, which is the rabid radical extremist right wing exclusionary party(ph) - that's one good thing. And the next thing I think that is not going to happen which has happened in France, which is, you know, the burning inner cities and - in fact, now the inner cities in France are called the outer cities - because the system does respond more generously to those who haven't quite made it. Be it in terms of welfare, be in interns of training, just in terms of taking care of people. So - and the system will respond in legitimate ways rather than exclusionary ways to the problem of dysfunctionality among one part of the immigrant segment.

SIMON: Josef Joffe, publisher of the German newsweekly Die Zeit. Thanks very much for being with us.

Prof. JOFFE: Thank you.

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