Multiculturalism Debated In The U.S. And Abroad

Guests

James Carroll, columnist, The Boston Globe
Andrew Nagorski, vice president and director of public policy, EastWest Institute

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that immigrants are welcome in Germany, but must learn the language and better assimilate into society. While some argue that Merkel's statements were aimed at scoring points with conservatives, her comments reflect a rising tide of anti-immigrant language in Germany and other parts of Europe.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Earlier this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke words that echoed the sentiments of some Europeans and shocked others.

Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL (Germany): (Through translator) We kidded ourselves a while. We said: They won't stay. Some time, they'll be gone. But this isn't reality, and of course, the approach to build a multicultural society, to happily live side by side with each other, this approach has failed, utterly failed.

CONAN: Chancellor Merkel then called on the country's immigrants to learn German and adopt Christian values, which drew cheers at a meeting of her conservative party. That speech reset the immigration debate in Europe, and commentators on this side of the Atlantic found parallels to and distinctions from the debate here.

The United States is and always has been more diverse and multicultural than Europe, but we also argue a lot over immigration.

Later in the program, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us, and we'll talk with the gubernatorial candidates in Ohio: Republican John Kasich and the incumbent Democrat Ted Strickland.

But first, multiculturalism. Tell us your story. Where does it work? Where doesn't it? We'd especially like to hear from Europeans in the audience today. 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

In a column in the Boston Globe, James Carroll argued that on both sides of the Atlantic, a rising tide of xenophobic hostility toward immigrants is threatening to swamp the foundation of liberal democracy. He's a columnist for the Globe and joins us now from the studios at WBUR, our member station in Boston. Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. JAMES CARROLL (Columnist, The Boston Globe): Thanks, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well, thank you. How is this different in Europe and the United States?

Mr. CARROLL: Well, of course, what we call multiculturalism is a relatively new phenomenon in Europe, pretty much a postwar, post-World War II phenomenon. In the United States, it's been a mark of our core national identity for generations.

One of the triumphs of this nation is the way in which, through a range of periods and across the generations, the national ethos has opened itself again and again to groups, new groups, new immigrant groups.

And we have developed this tradition, e pluribus unum, that this nation is defined by its future created by the people who come here.

CONAN: That has not always been an easy process.

Mr. CARROLL: No, of course it hasn't. In fact, it's been a violent and at times profoundly divisive process, and we see that happening now. I'm an Irish-American. The Irish had a particular experience with this process a century or more ago.

Today, the point of pressure on this multicultural openness is coming from the Latino community. Latinos are being demonized and scape-goated in the political discourse this year in ways that are unprecedented and truly alarming.

The so-called immigration debate - very much a debate about whether Latinos are going to continue this tradition and be fully accepted as part of the American culture, and go ahead.

CONAN: I was just going to say, let's get to the parallels to this country in a bit but first to talk about what's going on in Europe.

As you say, their experience of multiculturalism is quite a bit newer, postwar, and these are countries that were always defined by, you know, Germany for the Germans, Italy for the Italians, France for the French.

And there have been movements of people who are, well, having a difficult time being embraced and embracing.

Mr. CARROLL: Well, late 20th- and 21st-century experience across the globe has changed all of our situations, and the crisis in Europe especially tied to high rates of immigration from Islamic countries and centers has put to the fore that question of Europe's identity as a so-called Christian nation. And that was one of the notes that Chancellor Merkel struck the other day.

But the question of Europe's Christian, essential Christian identity has been resonating across the continent for a decade. The debates a few years ago about the European Union's constitution was quite fierce over the question of whether the European Union should define itself as essentially Christian.

Oddly enough, this political argument that should seem foreign to us in this country, where we have a tradition of separation of church and state, is resonating very powerfully as Christian themes emerge quite explicitly in our political discourse.

So the most recent and obvious example of that was when Christine O'Donnell, in what was widely regarded as a gaffe, questioned whether separation of church and state is in the Constitution. She was mocked for her failure to know the Constitution, but in fact, she was making a very powerful point aimed at her core supporters, understanding that something as basic to the pluralistic identity of America as separation of church and state could be up for discussion.

And that's only the tip of the iceberg. So much of the political discussion in this country over the last couple of years has focused around this notion of America as a Christian nation. So...

CONAN: Christine O'Donnell, of course, the Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware and trailing, according to the polls, rather badly.

Mr. CARROLL: Yes and, you know, this is all a manifestation of what I think psychiatrists call status anxiety. A traditionally white, Christian, essentially Protestant culture in the United States sees itself losing hegemony.

It's quite clear from demographic trends that within a generation, whites in America will be in the minority. It's quite clear that this country has to define itself much more fully by its diversity, by people of different colors and different national origins and different religions.

And of course, the war on terror sparks all of this, as well, even though there are relatively few Muslims in this country, especially, say, compared to the big cities of Germany. Still, Islamophobia has gripped the imagination of this country in a way that is also quite shocking. We've seen that in controversies over the last couple of months about whether the president is a Muslim or about the so-called mosque near ground zero.

So anxiety about Muslims, even though there are very few Muslims, anxiety about Latinos, even though Latinos are crucial contributors to the health and economic benefits of this country, it's an irrational phenomenon tied to fear.

And of course, there's plenty to be afraid of in this American moment: the collapsing economy most obviously. There are fantasy fears, as well, the global jihad being chief among them, and the porous border to the south seems threatening to us after 9/11 in ways that it didn't, hence the draconian immigration laws that are on the books in some states and proposed in others.

CONAN: We're talking with Boston Globe columnist James Carroll about multiculturalism in Europe and in this country. How's it working where you live? What's your story? Is it not working? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Tamara(ph). She's calling from The Bronx.

TAMARA (Caller): Hi. My comment is that in the end, like in the United States, we're all immigrants. Some just came a little bit earlier or later than others. And with my family, we came from the West Indies in the '60s. It wasn't that difficult with the language. The only thing is that they had an accent.

And I think it's wrong for Germany to say that they need to adapt to their religion. I could understand them saying that they need to learn the language, which I think anyone moving to a new country should do if they decide to live there long-term.

And I think that another point is that all I don't see how the people in the United States are saying no to people coming here when all of them faced the same problems at some point when they moved here.

CONAN: Well, some, Tamara, see it as an issue of law. Yes, there were laws were different when maybe your people and certainly my people came here. But at the moment, you have to play you're supposed to play by the rules and enter the country legally, and a lot of people clearly are not.

TAMARA: Yes, but for those that do enter legally, they still have to face the same problems, saying that they don't want Latinos or what other race that they are, coming here because they still talk badly about them.

CONAN: Okay, Tamara, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. We should point out that later in her speech, Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, did say Islam is a part of Germany. She did not call for people to change their religion. But certainly, James Carroll, on the language, she did call for people to immigrants to assimilate more deeply into German culture, Christian culture, as she said.

Mr. CARROLL: Well, yes. She we are tied to Christian values, she said. Well, even that statement needs to be questioned because the culture of Europe is tied to Islamic values, as well.

After all, the great Renaissance of the Middle Ages was generated by learning and access to the classics that came through Iberia, through the work of Muslim translators.

Yes, Europe has an essential Christian component, obviously the long history of Christendom. But it has an essential Islamic component, too. It has essential, now through the globalization, the great mobility of the 20th century, the post-colonial legacy, Europe is now alive with the cultures of many of the post-colonial peoples, all of whom have brought something valuable and rich to that country, to that continent, to that civilization, including Germany.

So for Chancellor Merkel to be asserting, in this monochromatic way, a Christian character is it's one wonders what's going on here because it isn't authentic to the experience of European culture today.

CONAN: And to bring it back home, we just have a minute or so left with you, but why do you think the debate, as it resonates here, threatens U.S. liberal democracy?

Mr. CARROLL: Well, the fear that's an inch below the surface of political discourse, much of it racially tinged, the attacks on President Obama's identity, not only whether he's a Muslim but the notion that his worldview is shaped by his being Kenyan, there's a kind of an inch-below-the-surface question about whether President Obama, his character being, quote, "a real American," unquote. Therefore, should we be surprised if immigrants, whether they're illegal or legal, are challenged to be real Americans?

Chancellor Merkel used this word we: We are tied to Christian values. Well, who is the we here? We is all of us in the United States of America. That's the magnificence of our tradition, e pluribus unum. You come here, and you become part of the we.

CONAN: James Carroll, thanks very much for your time today, appreciate it.

Mr. CARROLL: You're welcome.

CONAN: James Carroll, a columnist for The Boston Globe, wrote "The Rising Tides of Xenophobia" in the Boston Globe. You can find a link to that article at our website, at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Stay with us. We're going to continue talking about this subject. What's your experience of multiculturalism? This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

The debate continues after German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared multiculturalism an utter failure in her country.

A recent survey shows that that country showed nearly a third of Germans believe their country has been, quote, overrun by foreigners. Of course, strong feelings about immigration and assimilation are not limited to Europe.

We're talking, today, about the debate on both sides of the Atlantic over multiculturalism. Tell us your story. Where does it work? Where doesn't it? We'd especially like to hear from the Europeans in our audience today, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we're going to go now to Andrew Nagorski, vice president and director of public policy at the EastWest Institute. He joins us from New York City. He wrote a piece titled "Merkel Nails the Foreign Question" in Newsweek. Nice to have you with us today.

Mr. ANDREW NAGORSKI (Vice President, Director of Public Policy, EastWest Institute; Author, "Merkel Nails the Foreign Question"): Thanks very much.

CONAN: In your piece you wrote unjustly accused, she has delivered a refreshing, no-nonsense message that Germany and other Western nations should take to heart. And what message do you think that is?

Mr. NAGORSKI: I think it's a two-pronged message, Neal. It's one that Germany and Germans have to face up to the fact that they are not a German society that can keep out so-called foreigners.

It is a country which began inviting Turks, Italians, Yugoslavs, as early as the 1960s to come in and be what were called guest workers. But they were not really integrated into the society as a whole.

These people have stayed. They've become part of this society. But the debate is how much a part. And Merkel is saying they should become fully integrated. And they need to learn the German language well, if they haven't, and participate in German life.

But on the flip side, she's saying to her own constituency: You have to accept that we are a multicultural society, even if multiculturalism in the way we conceived of it has failed, in the sense that keeping people living separately, side by side, doesn't work. There has to be much more of an interplay between the two.

CONAN: She was widely interpreted, at least in some quarters, as saying Mohamed, go home.

Mr. NAGORSKI: Yes, and I think that's the unjust part, because she was not saying that. Germany has, in fact, brought in a lot of people from the outside. It was also a place of political refuge for during the Cold War, for many people.

But it always had this attitude, at least until the late '90s, the official line is: We are not a society of immigration; we are a place that can accept either guest workers or political refugees, but we expect most of them to eventually go home if they can, or move on to elsewhere.

What Merkel is saying is that the reality is, these people have settled here, and we have to find a way to make that much more successful; both for those people and for German society, which needs them, because of its own declining population, it needs a workforce that's much more multicultural than monocultural.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And let's see if we can go, next, to Ben(ph), and Ben's with us from Des Moines.

BEN (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

BEN: I just think that when Merkel used the term Christian values that, you know, she's really saying, she's really expressing intolerance for other religions because, you know, most people believe that the major religions share so many of the same values.

And so, how can Muslims or Jews in Germany hear that any other way? And I think it's also very unfortunate that this kind of expression of intolerance is coming from, of all places, Germany. Which, you know, they seem to be making so many great strides after the Holocaust, and now to be the first head of state to say this out loud, you know, I just think it's very unfortunate for the way Germany is perceived in the world, to make this kind of statement.

CONAN: Just to avoid some emails, head of government, not head of state. But Andrew Nagorski?

Mr. NAGORSKI: Yes, well, first of all, I'd like to see the context of the Christian values statement. I have to say, I mean, she is a member of the Christian Democratic Union, which of course as its name implies has identifies with Christian values.

But I have not seen a statement directed at this question, which directly says that, for instance, Muslims, Jews or anybody else are expected to endorse Christian values, per se. I think that may be a misunderstanding.

BEN: I just heard what was reported on the show. But I just think she did it for political reasons, and if her constituency, which is in power at the moment, has a majority opinion that way, I just, I think that it just, it doesn't make...

BEN: Well, I think one has to be very careful about, you know, not jumping on a statement, which again I don't know which statement you're referring to, but I've never you know, I listened to her statement in the original German about the immigration question. Christian values did not even - was not even mentioned in that context. I'm not sure what context it may have been mentioned in.

CONAN: She did use the word we, in what many perceived as an exclusionary sense.

Mr. NAGORSKI: I'm sorry, the word we...?

CONAN: We, as in we Germans.

Mr. NAGORSKI: We are not a country...

CONAN: Yes.

Mr. NAGORSKI: Well, I mean, that's the way the we, that's quoting what her Christian Democratic predecessor, who was chancellor for much of the '80s and '90s, Helmut Kohl used to say: We are not a country of immigration.

But she explicitly said, basically, you know, the quote on multiculturalism was widely cited, but what many people didn't cite is that she said: We have lied to ourselves about this issue of not being a country of immigration. In fact, we are a country of immigration, and we should come to terms with that.

BEN: Yeah, and I agree that she should be credited for that. I think they have a ways to go.

CONAN: All right, Ben, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.

BEN: Thanks.

CONAN: Let's go next to it's another Ben(ph), this one calling from Detroit.

BEN (Caller): Good afternoon. Kind of my perspective on it, is I am a Lutheran pastor in Detroit and have studied in Germany. And it's sad to see this kind of attitude, because here in Detroit, we're home to the largest Arab population outside the Middle East, and I grew up with Arab neighbors who were Muslims.

And if you see the neighborhoods, which are very heavy in Arab-American, Arab immigrations, those neighborhoods have rebounded in a city that in so many ways is crumbling. Local businesses, local shops have been set up, and relations couldn't be better.

And as a pastor in the community, a relationship with my colleagues in the Muslim community couldn't be better. And having lived in Germany and seeing the negative attitude toward Turks, it really hurts, especially because one of the primary Christian values would be embracing the immigrant, the widow and the orphan. So that's kind of my thought on it.

CONAN: And so in your experience, it is working and working well?

BEN: I think it's great. I mean, if anybody wants, come to Detroit, come to Dearborn, and far from what they call Sharia law out in Nevada, you'll see a thriving community in an area that's so economically in downturn right now.

CONAN: All right, Ben, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

BEN: Thank you.

CONAN: And is there Andrew Nagorski, obviously Germany brought these people in to be guest workers, and obviously they have stayed. Are they still vital to the German economy?

Mr. NAGORSKI: Yes, they are. They are very vital to the German's economy right now. I mean, another argument that Merkel used was that if you want to attract international corporations to Germany and have them well-represented there, they have to have a good workforce there, and that means a multicultural workforce, including the long-time immigrants.

To get back to the previous caller's point, I think it's you know, I'm delighted to hear that very optimistic report on Detroit. And I - but of course, as we all know, there are tensions in America on immigration issues.

But on the whole, the United States, which started from the premise of what we used to call the melting pot, has embraced the notion of immigration much more vigorously. And, you know, it's been successful to a large extent because of that. There have been tensions.

What Merkel is really trying to do is to change that mindset in Germany to a certain extent to be make up for lost ground. I think, quite a while ago, the idea is that the Germans should have recognized that they have to have more of a mentality, that we are not separate communities here. Let's try to make them common communities.

But there are tensions on both sides, and some to be fair, some Turks who settled in Germany have stuck to their own communities and not been that eager to integrate, for all sorts of cultural reasons, sometimes because they were afraid also of losing their Turkish identity and sometimes even Turkish citizenship rights.

So it's a much more complicated question there than the traditional situation in the United States, where an immigrant family comes in and immediately tries to become a part of life, and doors are opened, and then it's how effective you are in going through those doors.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Pamela: We are a multicultural family - two Europeans, two biracial - black, white - two Asians. We live in a community where almost half the individuals are Hispanic. There's always going to be prejudice, no matter what religious or racial views are present. What I deplore is the fact that we are now - what we now - almost everything written or spoken in English and Spanish. In fact, many employers will not hire you if you're not bilingual.

I think various cultures in America have made us a great nation, but the language is dividing us. It used to be a pride issue that you choose to learn English. It was unifying. Now, it's dividing us. If I move to another country, I feel it's my duty to learn their language if I want to be part of their society. I feel the same, it - to be expected here. You can't force people to accept the multicultural aspect, but accept people for people versus their ethnicity. I think what's more scary is the division because of religious views - namely, Muslim versus Christian. That's more of a threat than race.

Are people - are documents widely published in Germany, in Arabic or in Turkish and in German?

Mr. NAGORSKI: I think in civil officers - offices, there are some which are - can be published sometimes in Turkish or Polish or Russian, whatever the immigration is. But, generally, the assumption is you are supposed to learn the language. And what - you know, this was the message to the Turks and others who have settled in Germany: You should take this seriously if you want to become integrated in society, which plays into the point exactly which your - which I think it was Pamela...

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. NAGORSKI: ...raised, which a very legitimate point that, you know, we always had that assumption. I can say, again, you know, from personal experience, my parents came from Poland. They were raised in Poland, escaped from Poland. And my sisters and I were, you know, were taught at home to speak Polish, but it was fully expected that we would speak English and be part of American life a hundred percent. It never occurred to us to believe that we would have, you know, Polish documents or Polish instructions when we were getting things done outside the home. So I think that's - you know, the integration debate cuts both ways there, and I think that's where, again, Merkel addressed both sides of it and...

CONAN: We should also quote Horst Seehofer, the premier of Bavaria, head of the Christian Social Union - that's the sister party of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union - who said Germany is not an immigration land, and certainly doesn't need more immigrants from other cultural backgrounds, such as Turkish or Arabic.

Mr. NAGORSKI: Oh, yes. There's a very strong rightwing of the Christian Democratic Union and the sister party of Bavaria, the Christian Socialist Union, which opposes this. And that's why it's interesting that Merkel, as the leader of that party, is really confronting those kinds of voices and is not - I don't think, you know, there was an accusation that she was pandering to them by that multiculturalism remark. But read in its entirety, what she said, I think, was a very centrist, reasonable approach, which, yeah, a lot of people on her own flanks don't like.

CONAN: Andrew Nagorski wrote "Merkel Nails the Foreign Question" for Newsweek magazine. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And let's go next to Arasha(ph) - I hope I'm pronouncing that correctly - calling from Fort Lauderdale.

ARASHA (Caller): Yes, hi. Well, I actually grew up in Germany, and I'm of Iranian - you know, I'm an Iranian background. So I, you know, I -firsthand, I kind of experienced the way that, you know, integration works or doesn't work in Germany. And there seems to be a problem, I believe, coming from both sides, from Germans, as well as the foreigners who don't want to integrate, or the Germans that don't really want to debate the issue of integration.

And for Merkel to make such a statement, I think it's a little irresponsible because it's something that needs to be addressed. It's something that needs to be debated. And eventually, it's something that needs to be solved because there is a large amount of, you know, foreigners, Turks, Polish people or, you know, people from the Balkans, especially after, you know, the whole situation that happened in the '90s. When Milosevic happened, a lot of people migrated to Germany. And it's something that needs to be addressed, and it's something that needs to be solved, eventually. So taking that stand, in a way, doesn't advance or progress the issue at hand.

CONAN: Well, Arasha, I'm sure you've been listening, and Andrew Nagorski argues that, in fact, Merkel is forcing Germans to debate this question and challenged her own rightwing.

ARASHA: And you know what? It actually works that way, and it should. You know, I haven't exactly, you know, listened to everything the whole program...

CONAN: I see.

ARASHA: ...so far, but if that's exactly the case that she's making, then you know what? Actually, then she's on the right track. And it's just that all parties would need to get involved, and all parties need to basically address that issue because it is a big problem, especially in the socioeconomic background of some of these Turks that live in - I guess you can compare almost to the projects here in the U.S., where they're, you know, not given, I guess, the same advantages as far as education goes or social advantages that other people might get in their country.

CONAN: And, Andrew Nagorski, that's a point a lot of commentators have made, too - not only that the immigrant communities need to open up, indeed, but the school system and employers need to open up to them.

Mr. NAGORSKI: Oh, yes, absolutely. And like any - especially employers, as we know, everywhere, have a variety of ways of employing people or not employing them. And, you know, according to their individual prejudices, there are preferences which, you know, can be disguised. And, you know, so there are legitimate issues there.

But I think the caller is, you know, has a very interesting perspective, but I think I do want to get back to the point that I think it is better that Merkel has - openly putting these issues on the table and talking about them and prompt - triggering this whole debate in Germany, or even, as we can see right here, than, you know, as in - in many cases, the Germany I found when I lived there was that there was a sort of code of political correctness about what you said about certain things and what was called then multiculti, multicultural, and that really didn't address the real issues. So I think it's much healthier to have a blunt political debate about these things and get it out on the table, even if some of the views are ones that one doesn't particularly admire.

CONAN: Arasha, thanks very much for the phone call.

ARASHA: Yup. No problem.

CONAN: And Andrew Nagorski, thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. NAGORSKI: Thank you.

CONAN: Andrew Nagorski wrote in Newsweek magazine the "Merkel Nails the Foreign Question." He's vice president and director of public policy at the EastWest Institute, and joined us on the phone from New York City.

Coming up, a rare Monday appearance for the Political Junkie. We'll talk with the candidates for governor in Ohio, where jobs remains issue number one. If you're in the Buckeye State, what do need to hear from the candidates on jobs? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@nopr.org.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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