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November 4, 2010

Islamophobies welcome Angela Merkel

The Canadian Charger

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When German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared, in front of young members of her Christian Democratic Union party, that multiculturalism is dead in Germany, it fit a pattern whereby extremist views are becoming more commonplace and more acceptable in the mainstream of European society.

Germany is not alone in this phenomenon: extremists on the far right have made recent electoral breakthroughs in the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, France and Italy.

France has banned the burka and deported illegally settled Romas, while the government of the Netherlands depends on the Dutch Freedom Party to hold power. Party leader Geert Wilders has called for banning the construction of new mosques in the Netherlands and urging taxing of women who wear the burka.

A study released by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a left-leaning think tank with ties to Germany's opposition Social Democrats concluded that attitudes favouring dictatorship, xenophobia and anti-Semitism are on the rise in Germany. 

And the study says these attitudes are found “in all social groups and in all age groups, regardless of employment status, educational level or gender. Moreover, more than half the people who said Islam should be restricted in Germany identify themselves as centrist or left wing.”

“The economic crisis seems to have allowed aggression to come to the surface,” Oliver Decker, a psychologist at the University of Leipzig, and one of the authors of the report, said.

Meanwhile, Thilo Sarrazin, a board member of Germany's Central Bank, the Bundesbank, was forced to resign after the furore following the publication of his book “Germany Does Itself In” and controversial remarks saw him branded racist and anti-Semitic and earned him sharp criticism from top politicians; but his book is a best-seller in Germany.

In the book, he says Europe's top economy is being undermined, overwhelmed and made "more stupid" by poorly educated, fast-breeding, badly integrated and unproductive Muslim immigrants and their offspring.

Meanwhile Chancellor Merkel speaks out of both sides of her mouth: on the one hand she says, “We feel bound to the Christian image of humanity — that’s what defines us. Those who do not accept this are in the wrong place,” and then she blames Germany’s 4 million people of Turkish origin for not integrating and not learning German. With polls showing her party is trailing badly, this kind of talk is bound to get her votes in the regional election in the spring.

With Germany desperately short of 400,000 skilled workers, Ms. Merkel felt it necessary to acknowledges the contribution immigrants make to German society; and she doesn't want Germans to be seen as racist, even if, or especially if,  a significant percentage of them are.

“We shouldn’t give the impression to the world that those who don’t speak German immediately, or who were not raised speaking German, are not welcome here. That would do great damage to our country.”

While reports of race riots and ethnic ghettos in European countries like Britain, France and Germany are prevalent in the news, they are very much a foreign phenomenon to Canadians. What's the difference?

While France banned the burka and other European countries are considering doing the same, a recent Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that a niqabi woman could not be forced to unveil on the witness stand, unless there were good reasons for the court to order her to do so, is an indication of a more pluralistic and thus more tolerant society.

In Canada it is understood that people can integrate into Canadian society, while at the same time making every effort to preserve their own cultural identity. This is the message of many cultural organizations such as the Canadian Islamic Congress, which has a significant number of Canadian University professors as founders, members and contributors.

In Canada, it's not as important to integration and upward mobility, as it is in Europe, to be Christian - the religion of both of Canada's founding peoples and the religion whose values many of our institutions, such as government and the legal system, are base on.

The election of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, a Muslim professor is a good example of a visible minority maintaining his cultural identity while being successful in the mainstream of Canadian society.  However, even this shining example of the success of multiculturalism can be disputed by the right of the political spectrum.

Writing in the National Post Saturday October 23, George Jonas said: “The election of Naheed Nenshi owed more to the concept of the crucible (Israel Zangwill's play The Melting Pot premiered in 1908) than to Canadian notions of integration such as a “salad bowl” or “cultural mosaic,” which are fine for creating ethnic restaurants and little else.”

As is often the case, the truth may lie somewhere between the concepts of the melting pot and multiculturalism, in explaining Mr. Nenshi's successful bid to become Mayor of Calgary.

Because he was born in Toronto and raised in a suburb of Calgary and graduated from Harvard University, it's safe to say that Mr. Nenshi must have absorbed some of North American culture; but at the same time he considers his Indian descent and Islamic religion to be an integral part of his identity, and thus things to be proud of.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tariq Ramadan, professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University, said the widespread fear of the Muslim immigrant in Europe is based on the outdated concept that immigrants were supposed to have come to Europe just to work, “but now we have immigrants of second, third and fourth generation; they leave the ghetto; they are more visible; they feel free to express themselves, and they're heard.”

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