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Opinion: Who's Afraid of the Sorbs?

Peter Philipp (ncy)November 22, 2004

Numerous politicians have recently called on Muslims to increase their efforts to integrate into German society. But Germany shouldn't become fixated on the issue of parallel societies, according to DW's Peter Philipp.

Germany cultivates the culture of Sorbs but not of MuslimsImage: AP

They live in their own communities, speak their own language, cultivate their own culture, even street signs are bi-lingual. And the state even guarantees cultivation of their culture and language. Truly a parallel society, but not the sort about which people throughout the country have been arguing and ranting. The issue is the 60,000-head Slavic ethnic group, the Sorbs, who have lived in Brandenburg and Saxony for centuries.

No one's afraid of the Sorbs, nor that they proudly cultivate and preserve their ways. Instead, they're afraid of the others, of which there are already 3.2 million: the Muslims in Germany.

The overwhelming majority, the Turks, are apparently subliminally suspected of being Osama bin Laden's German fifth column. How else do you explain the daily accusations that a dangerous parallel society has developed in Turkish districts or city ghettos which goes against the German, Christian culture?

A thorn in Germany's side?

Türkinnen mit Kopftuch in Berlin Straße
Image: AP

The hysteria was triggered by the recent murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, not some occurrence in Germany. But what happened in Amsterdam, attracted the attention of all those who have long viewed the growing number of Muslims here as a thorn in Germany's side. All at once, the lot of Muslim women in Germany has become an issue, people are discussing in what language Muslims should hold religious services, and, generally, the notion of a multicultural society has been declared dead before the majority of German society even had time to get accustomed to it.

And politicians of all persuasions feel obliged to voice their own ideas and to make appeals on the issue. As if new facts and a new "issue" had arisen. But actually the focus is primarily well-established circumstances that could have been changed and improved long ago. But nothing was done -- whether out of disinterest or shortsightedness -- thus practically pushing Muslims on Germany to seclude themselves.

There is no probate measure against the apparent grievances: Those Muslims who don't speak German today won't learn it within one or two weeks. Those who have lived here for years and still haven't integrated, won't succeed in doing so now. The dominant society will ensure that that's the case.

What about Chinatowns?

Frühlingsfest in Japan
Image: AP

To now become fixated on "parallel societies" would be wrong and would more likely cause the opposite of the desired effect, for it's natural that people feel attracted to their own kind when they're away from home. "Chinatowns" in North America attest to that fact, just as the Italian, Hispanic and other quarters there do. "Germantown," where German immigrants used to settle in the United States, is today practically a historical monument.

Such places are not the problem, as the example of the Sorbs shows. But rather the question of whether a "state within a state" emerges -- with its own rules and its own law. That must not happen. But so far only the very beginnings of such a development have been identified. Only in such cases should -- and must -- the state intervene.