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Germany

Opinion: Germany's culture of debate has reached a low point

The refugee debate now reflects entrenched positions, with arguments becoming proclamations of faith and political opponents eyeing each other suspiciously. It's not good for political culture, DW's Kersten Knipp writes.

Germany's economists are doing the math: What does immigration mean for the economy? Does it benefit the country or put a burden on it? The answers differ. Some say immigration could be beneficial, others say that it may have drawbacks. We will know more in a few years.

One thing is for sure, at the moment, Germany's refugee policy is based on hope. Many people say, "We can do it." The cautious version of the mantra is: "We may be able to do it." Those who are somewhat less enthusiastic say, "We have to do it."

Wild thinking

That's right, we have to do it. There is no way out now. The nation is doomed to success. That is how you practice positive thinking or what you would call magical or wild thinking, as French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once called it.

Magic can take some hard knocks but one thing it cannot take is criticism. Criticism is the aloof, restrained word that undermines a faith community and threatens to wear it down. If the world is little more than will and representation, then the slightest doubts are troubling. So then, sanctions are imposed and taboos created. That is exactly what is happening in Germany in matters of immigration right now.

Educational responsibility of the media

It cannot be proven, but conversations with friends, acquaintances and colleagues lead one to conclude that a large part of the population is irritated about the manner in which immigration is being discussed in the media. A widespread impression is that many media outlets cover the subject with a strange unanimity, just as if they were no longer obligated to provide information but instead, to educate the public.

Knipp Kersten Kommentarbild App

DW's Knipp Kersten

The media does not create a critical distance, but instead, it advocates the unconditional support of Berlin's refugee policy. The question of whether journalists take their audiences for fools is no longer intended seriously. It has just become a popular quotation in reader forums in mass media.

The culture of debate in the country leaves much to be desired. You can argue about transit zones. However, calling them "detention centers" or "prisons" or "prison camps" poisons the political debate. The same can be said about the proposal to seal off Germany's borders. There are reasons not to do so, but arguing that closure is "impossible" is wrong. There are plenty of borders in the world that have proven otherwise, and even though they do not keep everyone out, they keep out the vast majority. One can be for or against isolation. But asserting that isolation cannot work is dishonest.

Dangerous taboos

The refugee debate is dangerously tainted by many unnecessary taboos. Not every reservation is a sign of right-wing nationalist sentiments. Doubts can simply arise from the fact that one feels that arguments are not convincing. Nor does any uneasiness about the high number of immigrants automatically reflect a radical world view. It can just as well express concerns about the country overdoing it. At 10,000 refugees per day, the concern is not entirely unfounded – and even less so, if you add up the numbers for the coming months.

Thoughts of baseball bats or guns are actually far from this type of criticism. On the contrary: Skepticism must question itself. Skeptics in particular put their reservations to the test every day, acknowledge progress where they feared failures, and do not laugh gloatingly about failures, but are actually pleased with success.

The debate on immigration has to loosen up. Arguments on both sides must not mutate into professions of faith, and factual matters must not become prejudices. If that were to happen, then Germany would face the threat of losing the most valuable European achievement: the culture of doubt.