Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Germany And Its Immigrants

Germany along with much of Northern Europe experienced an incredible postwar economic boom that lasted well into the 1970's. An actual labour shortage necessitated the admission of millions of "Gastarbeiter" or guest workers from Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Jugoslavia. In Germany and Switzerland as well as other countries that employed foreign workers, it was very difficult to bring the whole family to stay with the main breadwinner. It was not unusual for men to live hundreds or even thousands of miles from home. Many only saw their families two or three times a year. In Germany, anyone who was not of German ancestry faced daunting obstacles if they wanted German citizenship. The laws in Germany and other countries in Northern Europe were intended to discourage workers from settling permanently in Germany.
The slowdown of the "Wirtschaftswunder" or economic miracle in the mid seventies sowed the seeds of mounting social tension. Workers who had served their employers faithfully for years were now seen as competing with Germans for jobs that were becoming scarce. Reunification, which was greeted with so much joy in both East and West Germany, proved to be vastly more expensive than had been anticipated. Sixty thousand Vietnamese workers in the former East Germany suddenly encountered widespread hostility as unemployment skyrocketed in the transition to privatisation. Bloated payrolls were slashed, huge factories closed as Eastern European technology met western technological advances. Even today, unemployment in the east is around 20%. Because of high wages in the EU, Eastern Europe with its educated work force and low wages next to Germany competes effectively for the money of German investors that might otherwise go towards investment in Eastern Germany.
The unexpected economic insecurity has been a political boom for the extreme left and the extreme right in Eastern Germany. The term "Ostalgie" or nostalgia for the east is a cultural phenomenon in which the value of music, film, food and other aspects of East German life are viewed with belated nostalgia. For many, a longing for the economic security of life in the former East Germany also underlies a sense of nostalgia for the old days.
Many people who have lived in Germany for decades think and live more like Germans than like citizens of their own countries. The shaky economy and different European attitudes towards national identity make assimilation of immigrants a different proposition than it would be in America.
The Turks in Germany come from a country that was aggressively westernised under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk. Certain religious freedoms taken for granted in America are unknown in Turkey. Wearing a fez was banned by law, and heavy restrictions were put on religious education. Divisions in Turkish society exist not only between the Turkish majority and the Kurds but also between the religious and the secular. The victory of Islamist parties in Turkey is proof that religious traditions are deeply rooted in many sectors of Turkish society.
It is to be expected that some of these political differences should be manifest among Turkish workers in Germany. Islam is an essential component of Turkish identity, but Turks are separate and distinct from Arab Muslims living elsewhere in Europe. There is most certainly a sliding scale in Turkish society between the completely secular on the one hand and the Islamic fundamentalists on the other. Militant Islam is a powerful force in the Arab world that wants to extend its reach to the Muslims of Europe in Turkey, the former Jugoslavia and Albania. It would be unfortunate if European prejudice against Turkish Muslims created a sympathy for extremism where none should exist. Vigilance should be accompanied by common sense and discernment. Allies can and should be cultivated in the war on terror.
An interesting musical artist in Germany goes by the stage name of Mohabbet. He sings in perfect German as well as Turkish. He is making inroads among German as well as Turkish youth in Germany. His style is a fusion of Turkish music and hip hop. He also sings in Turkish. His social message of promoting understanding and listening to alienated youth are positive themes. He clearly does not endorse the idea of cultural secession that has gripped Arab youth in European cities from Stockholm to Rome, from Rotterdam to Paris. The idea expressed in the video that I am presenting with this posting is that of lending a compassionate ear to alienated youth. The words express a spirit that resonates with my concerns about youth at risk in Jewish communities . I certainly wish Muhabbet success in his musical career. He gives expression to ideas that can only have a socially healing effect in Germany and elsewhere. I was fortunate enough to find a video of Muhabbet with English subtitles. I hope my readers enjoy it.

Muhabbet" Schau Hin" (Look Back ) with English Subtitles

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: