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People and Politics Forum 03. 09. 2010

"Has the integration of Muslims failed?"

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More information:

"Germany Does Away With Itself" - Thilo Sarrazin's Inflammatory Book

Thilo Sarrazin, former finance minister in the city of Berlin and now a board member of the Bundesbank, has triggered a nationwide debate with remarks about what he calls the failed integration of Muslim immigrants in Germany, their lack of education and 'above average criminal' tendencies. The comments have prompted mainly outrage, but could he have a point?

Our Question is:

"Has the integration of Muslims failed?"

The outcome is nothing to celebrate, says Adalbert Goertz of the United States:

"Integration certainly isn't a success. In a dictatorship, a critic like Mr. Sarrazin gets shot; in a democracy, he gets fired. Freedom of expression in Germany died out long ago."

Sarrazin should be allowed to express his opinion, says Egon M. del Monteluna in Mexico:

"I think Mr. Sarrazin is right with his theories! This debate should have been started long ago, but in an objective manner (also – and especially – by the media). I've lived in Mexico for more than 15 years and came to realize that though freedom of expression is outlined in the basic law, it isn't tolerated in practice. How else could the government – and especially the media – participate in and push for a "witch hunt?" Mr. Sarrazin simply voiced his personal opinion. I was always an unconventional thinker like him, and I've been constantly scandalized … but we've certainly had enough "yes-men and hypocrites!" If I can no longer speak the truth in my own country for fear of the drawbacks, then it's time to go!"

Bashar Ali Alawdari of Yemen believes Sarrazin could spark a more constructive discussion:

"As a great "German," Dr. Sarrazin should be a positive advisor and tell us what we have to do to be part of German society, rather than criticize Arabs. I think he has the wrong idea about Arabs, as he says, "I don’t want the country of my grandchildren and forefathers to be in broad swathes Muslim, where Turkish and Arabic is widely spoken, where women wear headscarves and where the daily rhythm of life is set by the call of the muezzins." As a young person, I dreamt of traveling to Germany or Canada to live and to be one of them – and never return to my original country." He also says, "A large number of Arabs and Turks in Berlin have no productive function other than selling fruit and vegetables." I don't know if that's true, but I think I would not emigrate to be a fruit seller. I want to own a big pharmaceutical plant in Germany. Finally, he says, "I do not need to accept anyone who lives on handouts from a state they reject, is not adequately concerned about the education of their children and constantly produces new little headscarf-clad girls." I give my children the chance I missed because I am in a poor country, and I will support them in their master's and doctoral studies so they can become university lecturers.

Levent Guenes, Hong Kong, faults the tone of the immigration debate:

"Some people forget that this discussion is not new and has been going on since the late '90s. Still, people like Sarrazin demand to have an open discussion based on a group that obviously feels isolated already. Of course there should be a discussion, and it's necessary to tackle problems but not the way it's currently being done. Imagine you were a migrant and saw the results of a poll saying that 52 percent of all Germans think there are far too many migrants living in Germany. Even those who have integrated are feeling more and more isolated – a very dangerous fact. It still seems as if Germans don't understand that the situation is not that serious, and actually there has been progress in the integration process. It's up to the media and the educated parts of our society to inform Germans about this fact.At the same time, we must continue with good measures and further the integration process. As a migrant of former Turkish origin, I'm really not sad about having left Germany at the moment, but I worry about those I've left behind. We have to understand that migrants are also a resource this country will need if it wants to stay competitive in the future. Those Germans who are currently complaining will want to have their pensions paid for. It might sound sarcastic, and Mr. Sarazzin won't really bother with such details, but just ask someone who will be dependent on that money. Yours faithfully, a worried former migrant."

René Junghans, Brazil

"I keep on asking myself why does this melting pot in Brazil work so well? In Sao Paulo alone there are people with immigration backgrounds from about 170 countries. The answer is simple: here everyone makes an effort to integrate quickly and to accept life the way it is... Germany belongs to the Germans and those who want to live like Germans. That's the way it is in other countries too."

Martin Burmeister, Venezuela

"Unfortunately the integration of Muslims began too late and is not subject to constraints. Foreigners who receive welfare in Germany should be forced to participate in integration efforts and meet all their statutory requirements (e.g. sending their children to school)."

Axel Werner in Germany believes that people need to see the wider picture when it comes to Muslims.

"Who are ‘the Muslims’? It suggests one homogenous group, which we all know isn’t true … People should look at the integration of a lot of Muslims into ‘modern’ society, which itself share s a fair proportion of the blame. A large section of the Muslim world experiences it as permanent injustice. Examples: Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and others … As so often happens in such situations, religion is abused for political purposes … We shouldn’t forget that all three monotheistic religions have seen radicalization in recent years … But it cannot be claimed that the integration of all Muslims has failed. There are countless examples to the contrary; it’s just that people don’t talk about them because they belong to normality. Those who drift off into militant non-integration due to actual or perceived exclusion are a small minority … We first have to treat individuals’ religion as a completely personal matter if we want to expect them to accept our secular state."

Robert Rein, Germany

"My faith in democracy has been shaken. Germany is seeing a witch hunt against Thilo Sarrazin. Soon it will be like in the Middle Ages. Back then they used to execute the messenger who brought the bad news."

Paul Schaller, Argentina

"Integration has failed due to the formation of a parallel society among Muslims. The politicians have also failed, trying with all means available such as firing the author to prevent an open debate."

Waltraud Maassen in New Zealand believes that more could have been done to further integration

"A democratic country should be able to deal with such issues! This book has triggered a debate – albeit 40 years to late … It’s not WHAT he said but HOW! His public appearances are unbearable. I believe the media should keep their distance from him. The ‘Jewish gene’ reference – a great Freudian slip – shows clearly Sarrazin’s way of thinking: a closet neo-Nazi."

Hannelore Krause, Germany does not believe Thilo Sarrazin is attacking all Muslims

"Mr. Sarrazin wrote what a lot of people believe but are only able to express in private. Some of the passages from his book that have no been published, however, go too far … If Mr. Sarrazin is ‘denouncing’ Muslims, then it’s only those who do not want to integrate, who refuse to learn the German language or send their children to school or those who live nicely from welfare. Germany failed form the outset to integrate people from Turkey … People have gotten used to the headscarf, but the full-body veil is simply not part of western culture. In that sense you can see Thilo Sarrazin’s book as a cry for help."

Matthias, Canada

"In one month we celebrate the reunion of Germany that was caused by decades of dictatorship and injustice. In those years basic rights like freedom of speech where consequently denied to 16 million Germans in the Eastern part of our country. Thilo Sarrazin used his constitutional right of freedom of speech and has to realize now that an indefinite conglomerate of politics, media and other ‘interest groups’ created a ‘public’ outcry that is leading to the destruction of his career and reputation. What has that to do with democracy? ‘Freedom is always the freedom of those who think differently’ (Rosa Luxemburg). What happened to this, our country? Why aren't we able to live according to this sentence? Why do we treat people who stand up and fight for their opinions that millions of people share like pariahs? When will we finally overcome the prison of ‘political correctness’ and the tabooing of whole societal topics?"

Victor Chan in the US thinks that what Sarrazin said has nothing to do with freedom of expression:

"His book is tantamount to defamation. I don't believe the German society and policy makers have been trying hard enough to promote integration. Certainly more work is needed. I don't believe multiculturalism would work in Germany because I think Germans take pride in their culture. I say the country should continue to promote integration and assimilation while defending against Islamic extremists who view such policies as "human rights issues." Yes, send these Turk youths to early schooling in order to expose them to German culture early on. They will learn the language early on. They may at one point feel like rejecting their Turkish origins. This is always the case with immigrants trying to assimilate. This is for their own good if, they want to live a life as a German. They can still learn about Turkish culture at home or traveling. And their parents shouldn't give them a hard time about it."

Kristin Lems from Algeria takes a more relaxed approach

"First of all, I think it's so funny that western men go berserk describing girls in headscarves as the quintessential proof of their oppression. Muslims see girls in revealing or provocative clothing as proof of their oppression. How about letting girls choose their own clothing according to their cultural and individual practices, and stop being so obsessed with what girls and women decide to wear?? Also, isn't it just possible that the Muslims in Germany might contribute something of value from their own culture, not just by assimilating as quickly as possible? Each new immigrant culture has the potential to enrich the existing German culture, if people are open and don't feel defensive. New foods or new words in the language are another. Having said that, I also believe Muslims have the most patriarchal, oppressive culture toward women anywhere in the world. We should support Muslim women as they advance their struggles for equality in the context of their own, authentic community organizations. Women are really the future of the world. But they can be supported without requiring them to assimilate!"

The editors of "People and Politics" reserve the right to abridge viewers’ letters.