German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week asserted that multiculturalism had “utterly failed” in Germany. Her comments, offered as part of a broader speech to young members of the Christian Democratic Party, provoked sharp debate. And it was a somewhat surprising development, given Merkel’s history of trying to placate both sides of the argument by simultaneously calling for stricter integration standards for immigrants while simultaneously calling for the public to accept the religious freedom of immigrants, particularly the existence of mosques.
In a sense, the German debate echoes similar debates in the United States, where concerns over the “Ground Zero” mosque have stoked anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment. Recent polls in Germany show that 1/3 of the population believes the country had been “overrun by foreigners” and over half believed that “Arabs are “unpleasant people.”
Other German leaders reflected this sentiment. Earlier this month, Horst Seehofer, head of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, called for Germany to halt immigration for Turks and Arabs on the grounds that they have difficulty assimilating into German society. And in August, Thilo Sarrazin, who is a member of the governing board of the Bundesbank, Germany’s equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve, published a book in which he claimed that immigration from Turkey and the Arab world had made Germany “more stupid” and that Arab and Turkish immigrants had no useful function “except for the trading of fruit and vegetables.”
But the problem of integration in Germany is complicated by the nature of German citizenship and the history of Turkish immigration. German citizenship is based on the principle of jus sanguine, or right of the blood. This means that individuals acquire their citizenship from the based on the nationality of their parents rather than from the country in which they were born (jus soil). As a result, millions of ethnic Turks, born in Germany as the children of workers who migrated to Germany in the 1960s to satisfy German demand for labor under the Gastarbeiter (Guest Worker) program. These ethnic Turks grew up in Germany, attending German schools, speaking the German language, and often even adopting German customs and traditions. But because of the principle of jus sanguine, they were not entitled to German citizenship.
Changes to German citizenship laws passed in 2000 were intended to rectify the worst instances of this. Under the new law, a person born in Germany to parents who had legally resided in Germany at least three years prior to their birth and who does not have citizenship in another country can apply for German citizenship after they turn 23 years of age.
But, as in the United States, recent economic difficulties have sharpened tensions between eh various ethnic communities that comprise the country. In Germany, Turks have become the target for economically disenfranchised Germans. In the United States, Hispanics and Muslims have played a similar role. But rather than rejecting multiculturalism as the problem, perhaps the underlying issues of alienation and economic disenfranchisement should be the target of public policy.