During the last few weeks, Germans have engaged in a heated debate about integration and immigration policies focusing mainly on the three and a half million Turks of whom only a fraction have been integrated. They form a parallel society.
Naturally this debate is closely connected with attitudes towards Islam, an increasingly potent theme in European politics everywhere. Now this debate has culminated in the Chancellor’s dramatic declaration. One argument opposed to multiculturalism is that Germany is not an immigrants’ country, in contrast to the New World, the U.S., Canada – and Israel. Attitudes towards minorities naturally are extremely sensitive issues in Germany, the left, on the whole, being more tolerant than the right. Angela Merkel’s statement has been widely interpreted as indicating a manifestation of old-fashioned nationalism, a requirement perhaps for her re-election as the leader of the CDU next March.
An article in Der Spiegel takes the Chancellor to task. The author is Henryk Broder. If he had been acquainted with Canada, he would no doubt have found many examples there to support his case.
Here is an excerpt.
Why does the term “parallel society” have such a negative connotation in Germany? Why has multiculturalism “utterly failed?” Why should people “with immigration backgrounds,” as Germans so carefully say, be forced to merge into the society of the majority if they would rather remain among themselves?
Only primitive societies that allow no differences of any kind, and dictatorships, which control all aspects of life, are free of parallel societies. Both the Third Reich and communist East Germany, for example, had no such thing. In flexible, changing populations, parallel societies are almost inevitable.
And they aren’t difficult to find. Chinatown and Little Italy in New York are just the best known examples. Not that long ago, Yorkville occupied Manhattan’s East Side around 86th Street, which was called “German Broadway” at the time…. A subway ride through New York is a trip from one parallel society to the next.
In Israel, where the vast majority of residents have “immigration backgrounds,” there used to be at least a dozen different German groups that stayed true to their culture from back home. Jews from the Rhineland celebrated Carnival, those from Bavaria had Oktoberfest and the ones from Königsberg commemorated the birthday of Immanuel Kant. Jews from Austria, Hungary and Bukovina all stayed true to their own cultures as well, as did the Poles, the Romanians and the Lithuanians.
Today, Russian Jews represent the largest parallel society in Israel, and have their own newspapers, radio stations and clubs. Indeed, there are four parallel societies in the Jerusalem Old City alone: Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian. Then there are the Samaritans in Nablus, the “Black Hebrews” in Dimona, the Bahai in Haifa, the “Jews for Jesus,” and finally the leftists, who meet every Friday afternoon in Café Tamar in Tel Aviv’s Sheinkin Street. Nothing but parallel societies – and they have very little contact with one another.
Indeed, it would seem that only Germans have difficulties realizing that parallel societies are unavoidable and perhaps even desirable and useful. They give people the feeling of belonging to something that they can grasp – provide the kind of security that society at large cannot. And they reflect society’s diversity, an asset that even Germany cannot live without.