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People and Politics Forum 26.09.2008

"Is zero tolerance the best way to battle urban deprivation?"

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Zero Tolerance or Understanding - How to Deal with Ghettos in Big Cities?

Violent crime is on the increase in many deprived districts in Germany's major cities. The social and economic integration of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants is not progressing well. Politicians argue about how to solve these problems. Should the state apply more pressure, or take a gentler approach? A report from Neukölln in Berlin.

Our Question is:

"Is zero tolerance the best way to battle urban deprivation?"

Herbert Junghans , in Brasil, suggests it is:

"The growth of ghettos in Germany is a serious problem, comparabale to the USA. But integration also rests on the shoulders of the immigrants, not just us Germans, and lots of immigrants are in Germany illegally. I've lived as a German emigrant in Brazil for some 36 years, so I know what I am talking about. If you adapt you can lead a wonderful life. But you can make yourself unpopular by moaning and telling people born in the country what's wrong about it. That's the same all over the world and whereever you live....Police should be tough on law breakers and those disrupting public order, otherwise there will only be anarchy, which won't please the Germans, and much less the immigrants themselves. The principle applies: if you behave decently you are welcome and deserve support, if you don't, if you harm us and don't integrate, you will feel the whole weight of the law."

Herbert Fuchs, in Finland, is less convinced:

"The mess left behind by our know-it-all politicians over the years is just unbelievable! Fetching people from foreign cultures and then not providing them with some kind of future! Those wasting away spiritually in urban ghettos can't be blamed, and are not responsible for the plight of their children unsupported by the German state and who have no chance of building a new future for themselves. It makes me sad, and you can picture the consequences - crime - when it's all about survival. Some should be given financial support to return to their old home countries. But tough measures just backfire and trigger more hatred. Social measures should be used to help those who want to help themselves..."

Rabah Touati, in Algeria, writes:

"When a country accepts the presence of guests (be it as workers, students or tourists) they should be treated as such. But the guest should also behave appropriately. Much communication is needed to produce such an ideal situation. Ghettos shouldn't really exist if people aim to integrate. Why emigrate in the first place? In any case, people should be held responsible for their behaviour. And if it's an offence that is punishable by law, so be it, regardless of where that person comes from."

Charles Smyth, in Britain, rejects the tough agenda supported by a Berlin district mayor:

"Mayor Heinz Buschkowsky's suggestion would have a very limited effect, and even that would be self-defeating, since it is not addressing the fundamental failings. In districts which have experienced such a decline as Neukölln, it will be much more efficacious for kids and adults to be taught about how to be more go-getting, and not be passive recipients who always consider government as the first and only way to remedy local problems."

But there's praise for the mayor from Oliver Rentzow, in Singapore:

"He has understood the signs of the times and is brave enough to speak the truth, regardless of elections. The time for talk is over and it is time to act. I can only point to Southeast Asia and in particular Singapore again. School activities are compulsory even in the holidays.. to prevent children being left on their own: there are parents here,too, who can't cope or don't have enough time....Singapore is a "multiculti" country par excellence but only because a tough policy is used to push through inter-cultural harmony and integration...Why that doesn't work in Germany is beyond me: I say "Operation Velvet Glove" is over, as the "Berlin-NeuKölln Experiment" shows.."

Paul Landmesser, in Brazil, is also für tough action:

"The problems in these urban hotspots can't be solved through politicians' white-washed concepts. By pursuing a tough agenda, the mayor in Berlin-Neukölln is taking the only possibe route open to him to contain this anarchic development."

No easy options says Gerd Seeger, in the Philippines:

"Protection and tolerance can't just be surrendered of course. But you don't have to be an expert in human nature to see the need for some pressure and punitive action. Getting the balance right is probaby the most difficult part of the problem."

Bert Wiegand, in Germany, doesn't beat about the bush:

"I think basic principles and discipline must be upheld....Some people need clear leadership. They need rules and should not be left to their own devices. Otherwise the foundations of society will suffer, and the result will be the excesses already happening in some schools..."

The People and Politics desk reserves the right to edit and abbreviate texts.