FaithWorld

250 years of integration vs debate over Muslims in Germany

judgePercy MacLean can call on 250 years of experience to weigh up how immigrants integrate in Germany. Since his Scottish ancestor arrived in 1753, the family has produced mayors, members of parliament and even a Nazi.

Today, the 63-year-old MacLean, a chief judge in Berlin’s administrative court, says Germany risks losing the openness that allowed his family to flourish for generations because of a divisive national debate over the integration of Muslims. (Photo: Percy MacLean at his office in Berlin November 25, 2010/Tobias Schwarz)

In an interview with Reuters, MacLean said tendentious arguments now being aired publicly contained the seeds of what could spawn the kind of right-wing populism and xenophobia Germany witnessed in the run-up to the Holocaust.

Muslims have been in the media spotlight since central banker Thilo Sarrazin stirred up a row this autumn by asserting Turkish and Arab families were dumbing down Germany, swamping it with a higher birth rate and threatening the indigenous culture.

“Things can get very explosive once you start mentioning genes and intelligence,” MacLean said. “Talking down to them is totally wrong. We are the ones who invited them over here.”

Germany holds inflamed debate on Islam and migration

merkel JUGermany’s inflamed public debate about Islam and integration risks serious overheating as politicians compete to make ever tougher statements criticizing Muslims immigrants they accuse of refusing to fit in here.

The escalating row, sparked off when a Bundesbank board member slammed Muslims as dim-witted welfare spongers, has mixed some social problems and some Muslim customs into a vision of Islam as a looming menace to German society. (Photo: Chancellor Angela Merkel tells CDU meeting that multicultural policies have failed, in Potsdam, 16 Oct. 2010/Thomas Peter)

When President Christian Wulff tried to build bridges by saying Islam was now part of German society, critics retorted the country was based on “Judeo-Christian values” and should not accept any more immigrants from foreign cultures.

Mosques to become bigger part of German life – Chancellor Angela Merkel

germany mosque 1 (Photo: Khadija Mosque in Berlin October 16, 2008/Fabrizio Bensch)

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Germans had for too long failed to grasp how immigration was changing their country and would have to get used to the sight of more mosques in their cities.

Germany, home to at least 4 million Muslims, has been divided in recent weeks by a debate over integration sparked by disparaging remarks about Muslim immigrants by an outspoken member of the country’s central bank.

“Our country is going to carry on changing, and integration is also a task for the society taking up the immigrants,” Merkel told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Saturday. “For years we’ve been deceiving ourselves about this. Mosques, for example, are going to be a more prominent part of our cities than they were before,” she added.

German central banker in row over Muslims and Jews resigns

sarrazin quits (Photo: Protestsers call Sarrazin a racist before his public reading in Potsdam, September 9, 2010/Fabrizio Bensch)

A German central bank board member who caused outrage with remarks about Muslim immigrants and Jews resigned on Thursday after coming under pressure from political leaders including Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Bundesbank said Thilo Sarrazin, 65, who accused Turks and Arabs of exploiting the welfare state, refusing to integrate and lowering the average intelligence, would leave his post at the end of the month.

Sarrazin confirmed he had stepped down during a book reading in Potsdam near Berlin. “I found it too risky in the current atmosphere … to stand up to the entire political and media establishment. That would be presumptuous and would not have worked,” he said. “So, a strategic retreat and now (I will) work on the topics that are important to me.”

He had already been relieved of some of his central bank responsibilities over remarks he made last year about immigrants but the strict independence of the central bank made it difficult to have him removed.

Q+A – Why Sarrazin comments on Jews, Muslims cause outcry in Germany

sarrazin (Photo: Thilo Sarrazin at presentation of his book in Berlin, August 30, 2010/Fabrizio Bensch)

German central banker Thilo Sarrazin has divided public opinion with remarks about Muslim immigrants and comments about the genetic make-up of Jews, prompting calls for him to step down.

Leading politicians have called for the Bundesbank to dismiss the 65-year-old, who has dominated headlines in the public furore surrounding the launch of his book, “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (Germany does away with itself).

The Bundesbank has met to discuss Sarrazin’s fate this week, but has yet to announce a formal decision.

German Jews want central banker sacked for comments on Jews and Muslims

sarrazin (Photo: Thilo Sarrazin at the presentation of his book in Berlin, August 30, 2010/Fabrizio Bensch)

Germany’s Jewish community has urged the central bank  to sack a board member who polarised the nation by making disparaging comments about Muslim immigrants and asserting that Jews have a particular genetic makeup.

Dieter Graumann, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said on Tuesday that Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin was out of line, even as polls showed many Germans support his views.

Sarrazin, 65, has published a book — Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany does away with itself) — in which he argues Muslim immigrants are undermining German society, refusing to integrate and sponging off the state, according to excerpts in the media.

German Jesuit report shows years of sexual abuse cover-up

canisius

Canisius College, the Jesuit high school in Berlin, January 28, 2010/Fabrizio Bensch

A Jesuit investigation has cited 205 allegations of sexual abuse against priests at its schools in Germany, revealing decades of systematic abuse and attempts of a cover-up by the prestigious Roman Catholic order.  The new allegations threaten to further undermine the Roman Catholic Church in Germany, already accused of hushing up hundreds of sexual and physical abuse allegations in Church-run schools that have come to light recently.

“In the name of the order, I acknowledge with shame and guilt our failure,” Father Stefan Dartmann, Germany’s leading Jesuit official, said in a statement. “I ask for forgiveness.” The report also cited a further 50 allegations of abuse relating to other, mostly Catholic institutions.

German film explores Muslims struggling with life in West

qurbani

Burhan Qurbani at the Berlinale International Film Festival, 17 Feb 2010/Tobias Schwarz

German-Afghan director Burhan Qurbani shines the spotlight on the difficulties facing young Muslims in the western world in his first feature film “Shahada”, set in multicultural Berlin. The film, which won applause at its screening at the Berlin film festival on Wednesday, is about the intertwining tales of three young German-born Muslims struggling to reconcile their family faith and traditions with a modern, Western lifestyle.

“My motivation was to get the audience to look at the film and connect with this religion that is all around them,” said Qurbani, born in Germany of Afghan parents. “I hope the film will get the public to talk, to debate.”

Can we expect Freudian slips when Benedict meets Irish bishops?

spiegel cover

This week's cover of the German newsweekly Der Spiegel -- the title says "The sanctimonious ones -- the Catholic Church and sex"

If there ever were a time for Pope Benedict to commit a Freudian slip that we could all understand, it would be in his meetings next week with Irish bishops to discuss the clerical sex abuse scandals that have shaken the Emerald Isle.

It’s not hard to imagine him meeting the Hibernian hierarchy behind closed Vatican doors and occasionally referring to the scandals “in Germany” rather than “in Ireland.” If he does, the Irish bishops will certainly forgive him. Enough has been happening in his fatherland recently to distract him from the uproar about the recent reports of clergy excesses in Ireland.

Some east German Protestants feel overlooked as Wall recalled

thomaskircheAs Germany celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, some Protestants feel the crucial role their church played in shepharding the democracy movement to success is quietly being overlooked. This seems strange to someone like myself who reported on those events back then. Any reporter in Berlin in the tense weeks before Nov. 9, 1989 knew the Protestant (mostly Lutheran) churches sheltered dissidents and was working for reform. But the idea that this was fading from public view came up during my recent visit to Leipzig when, at an organ recital in Johann Sebastian Bach‘s St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche), the pastor mentioned the point in a sermon. (Photo: St. Thomas Church in Leipzig with Bach statue, 17 Oct 2009/Tom Heneghan)

When I later went up to Berlin, I ran the idea past a leading east German Protestant theologian and a pastor and two parish council members from the Gethsemane Church (Gethsemanekirche). That church in eastern Berlin was one of the most active centres of protest in the tense months before demonstrators forced open the Wall on Nov. 9, 1989. They all agreed.

The many anniversary celebrations, documentaries and discussions now underway across Germany seem to focus mostly on how fearless street protesters and astute politicians pulled off the “peaceful revolution” that ended communism. Films and photos of dissidents packed into the Gethsemane Church in East Berlin or Leipzig’s St. Nicholas Church (Nikolaikirche), the leading houses of worship that sheltered them until the Wall opened , are among the trademark images.  But those crowded “peace prayer” evenings were only the tip of the iceberg of behind-the-scenes work by pastors and lay people who considered it their Christian duty to promote civil rights and human dignity in a rigid communist society.