The following thoughts (1) were presented as a first response to the refugee crisis of September and October 2015 in a meeting of Israel Allies in November 2015 and (including minor changes) published in January 2016 by the journal FIKRA at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Two years later a commentary (2) reveals the lasting impact of these problems for the German political culture.
(1) Perspectives (November 2015)
Those who wish to gauge the impact of the refugee crisis on Germany, with its quickly rising refugee population, must ask several questions. How many refugees have already arrived and will continue to reach Germany? From where are these refugees coming? What are these refugees’ political and religious cultures? And finally: can we predict the future challenges and developments that these new communities will present with some degree of probability? The answer to this last question depends at first glance on the answers to the preceding questions of demographics and statistics. But the answer also depends on the ability of the state and society in Germany to handle and candidly discuss the apparent dangers from these developments.
Germany’s borders have now been open for some months, and many of those crossing them as part of the flood of refugees have been neither counted nor registered. Consequently, no one can provide the exact number of refugees who have entered Germany. Very few trustable numbers have been published, but some available counts provide grounds for a well-founded (personal) estimation: in all probability, between 4,000 and 14,000 refugees cross into Germany daily, equating to a total of 1.2 to 1.7 million refugees arriving this year. There exist several thousands of halls and houses in Germany crowded with these migrants and refugees.
According to a press release from Germany’s Ministry of the Interior from November 5, 2015, approximately 55 percent of Germany’s refugees have come from Syria, 7 percent from Albania, 7 percent from Iraq, 6 percent from Afghanistan, and 2 percent each from Serbia, Eritrea, Macedonia, Pakistan, and Kosovo. While the Balkans constituted a large percentage of refugees at the beginning of the year—about 40 percent—this number has rapidly fallen as the year progressed. Though the individual sources may change, there is one basso continuo: the large majority of migrants stems from countries with Islamic cultures, though these identities and communities are structured in differing ways.
Not all people fleeing from a violent and murderous situation present a challenge to the current cultural trends of the West now dominant in Germany. Not every Muslim or secular immigrant identifies with orthodox Islamist practices of separation from and aversion to values of host Western cultures. Amongst the refugees from Syria and Afghanistan are those who indeed want to live in Western democratic cultures. Yet Christians are being persecuted in the most brutal way by nearly all participants of the Syrian civil war; at the same time this war is a proxy war with the Iranian axis in its center and the Sunni opposition driven into the extremist camp of political Islam.
Moreover, one must acknowledge a conflict of beliefs is of particular concern for Germany. Reliable polls have demonstrated that for many years, Islamic religious and political cultures of most Middle-Eastern and African countries have fostered fervent anti-Semitism. And even worse: a large part of the Muslims living in European countries harbor a deep seated anti-Semitism as well. Often these themes are discussed unter the moniker of anti-Zionism, but here I defer to Martin Luther-King’s pronouncenment that “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews. You ‘re talking antisemitism.” Fighting the existence of Israel is always antisemitism. . These facts are inconvenient and often glossed over in universities, the press, and in politics. Yet discussion of these issues is vitally important; Germans must acknowledge and begin to unpack the huge religious-cultural obstacles that will face Germany and its new refugee communities in the near future.
Proper integration into a Western democracy such as Germany is grounded in the fundamental rights and legally incorporated democratic values of the West. Those who object to these rights and values, remaining buried in incompatible cultural practices, present a competing narrative to that of the established national tradition. They fight or at least abhor Western culture and its values while attempting to prevent the integration of others. According to one 2007 German and to more recent 2013 polls from the Pew Foundation, the majority of practicing orthodox Sunni- and Shiite-Muslims have little interest in integration and oppose attempts to reform interpretations of Islam. In its deepest roots, this is a question of the quality of radical religious ideas and of the inherent tendencies of orthodox Islam. Islamic radicalism doesn’t grow out of a bad economic and social status of Muslims. It is an offspring of religious-political ideas and cultures. Moreover, the Syrian culture of the last 30 years has been shaped by a violent anti-Semitism. This is not to mention the dangers of terrorism in Europe, which deserves its own discussion.
If Germany is to successfully integrate its new population, it must have more than the cursory knowledge of Islamic religious and political cultures of the MENA-region that universities, the media, the administration, the government, and sometimes even security institutions demonstrate. Unconditionally positive pictures of Islam prevail in large parts of the media and in the universities. Parallel societies of Muslims in Germany exist, though at the moment they are confined to certain quarters in about five to ten cities, and security and social administrations are currently aware of the parallel structures operating within them.
The public discussion of problems and dangers arising from orthodox Islamic dogma that drives isolationism is not very developed. Yet there should be dedicated engagement of related concerns, including the status and mistreatment of women, tendencies towards radicalization, and the prevailing strong anti-Semitism amongst practicing and believing Muslims. For example, in an attempt to be politically correct, security institutions generally refer to criminal persons of Muslim faith as “Südländer“– southerners. The Berlin police proposed to alter criminal statistics and to introduce the category “Muslim” for recording specific crimes in order to better understand this issue, but the recommendation was rejected.
This unwillingness to engage on a deep and potentially uncomfortable level with Germany’s new security issues has begun to affect the operations of the German federal government. This is evident from a new call by leading persons from the four main security institutions of Germany – Federal Police, Federal Criminal Police, Secret Service of the Interior and Secret Service of the Exterior – in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper this October.
”The large migration to Germany from many parts of the world will produce instability in our country […] We produce through this migration political extremists from the middle of society, because the middle class doesn’t want the migration which is being forced upon her by the political elite […] An integration of hundred thousands of illegal immigrants in regard to the already existing parallel societies is not possible […] We import Islamic extremism, Arabic antisemitism, national and ethnic conflicts of other nations as well as a different understanding of law and society […] The German security administrations are not and will not be able to solve these imported security problems and the reactions against them from the side of the German population.“
Leading authoritative persons with the highest experience in security questions have been forced to publicly voice their opinions anonymously. This is in all probability because of a fear that certain parts of the German government will not listen to their critique if it is issued through official channels, but these security experts nevertheless hope to draw political attention to their concerns. To me, this declaration is a serious indication of a potential crisis brewing between parts of the German government and administration. The declaration is tinged with the fear that a crisis in German democracy will emerge, and this fear is not without reason. Only the open discussion of all dangers, outcomes, and potential solutions can help to find the best way for Germany to handle this extremely difficult situation.
(2) Commentary (October 2017)
Two years later the German elections of September 2017 have shown deep changes in German politics: More than half of the German people are opposed to facts emerging out of an orthodox and radical Islamic culture attributed to or found amongst the refugees from the MENA region. As the German chancellor doesn’t admit any mistake related to the refugee crisis, radical tendencies in German politics have grown stronger. The fear to strengthen radical groups misleads politicians and journalists to minimalize or to negate actual dangers of the islamist culture spread amongst part of the muslim refugees. German political culture is structured to an extremely high degree by memory of the nationalsocialist past. Critical thoughts and analyses of islamic or islamist culture and religion are rejected: In the light of the past cultural or religious minorities are not be criticized. Liberal or conservative politicians joining a critical view have a very difficult standing in the media. On the other side the visible growth of specific crimes committed by refugees fuels critical views amongst the population as among security forces.
Small numbers of IS inspired terrorists entered Europe embedded in refugee groups. Leading people from important security organisations criticized opinions, who warned of this possibility. They were proven wrong by the reality on the ground.
The dramatic changes of the German political culture present new chances and dangers: Islamist cultural and terrorist challenges show their real weight and are better perceived. The public room seems more open for new and urgent discussions about the political future of the German and the European Democracies. But the weights of the past, if understood in a wrong way, mislead many to reject these necessary discussions. A very large majority of the German people is overwhelmingly friendly to foreigners and other cultures. When in spite of this fact a large part becomes more and more critical against islamist and orthodox-conservative islamic views, maybe it is not the fault of these people, but of islamist and orthodox islamic culture.
If you don’t engage in the Near and Middle East, the Near and Middle East will come to you.
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Bock was till August 2017 the Counsellor for Constitutional and International Public Law at the Federal Academy for Security Policy (Berlin). He teaches Public Law at Gießen University.