German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with force and clarity. There was no euphemism. She came straight to the point. Islam, the chancellor said, is now a part of Germany. Addressing members of her conservative Christian Democratic party Wednesday, Merkel said Germans “should be open about it and say, ‘yes, it’s part of us.’” Christians should may start thinking and talking more about their own religion again “rather than having fear of Islam”, she added.
It was not for the first time a German politician was stressing the bond between his country and Islam. In fact, President Christian Wulff had used the occasion of the 20th anniversary of German unification on Oct. 3, 2010 to affirm Islam’s place in Germany more ringingly and convincingly than Merkel. Still her speech urging her fellow citizens to show tolerance for Muslims deserves Europe’s attention.
Because of strict citizenship laws and the fact that “multiculturalism” as a term has largely negative connotations (“Kultur” in German means something rather different than culture in French and/or English), Germany is supposed to be one European country where immigrants find it hard, if not impossible, to join the mainstream. It was thought the continent’s battle for multiculturalism will be won or lost in Germany.
There is another reason why Merkel’s speech should come as a great relief to Germany’s four million Muslims and those Europeans who passionately believe in and work for integration of immigrants. Ever since 9/11 attacks, Muslims in Europe are going through a very difficult period. They are viewed with deep disdain and suspicion.
Every one is tarred with the brush of terrorism. Islamophobia is on the increase. On the one side are right-wing parties who have always thrived on anti-immigrant rhetoric. Now they are concentrating their venom and attacks on Muslims. On the other are pro-Israeli neocons, who in a bid to depict the Palestinian resistance to Zionist occupation of their lands as part of Muslim opposition to Judeo-Christian civilization, conjure nightmarish visions of a Muslim take-over of Europe. The terms Eurobia and Londanistan are self-explanatory.
To make an already bad situation worse, there are people like Richard Millet who knowingly or not give intellectual respectability to the right-wing rants against immigrants. Millet, a respected figure in French literature and journalism, carries his opposition to the immigrants’ presence in Europe to the point of praising Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik who was sentenced to 21 years in prison last month for killing 77 people in a bomb attack in central Oslo and a bloody rampage at a summer camp on the island of Utoya. According to Millet, this young Norwegian artist was not just the “child of a broken family (but) of the ideological and racial fracture that non-European immigration has created in Europe.”
Millet had to step down from a top position with France’s prestigious publisher Gallimard this week after a group of 120 writers branded the pro-Breivik pamphlet “fascist.” But that someone of his stature would praise a mass killer and rail against “the restocking of Europe by populations whose culture is alien to our own” shows the tough challenges confronting the forces that try to keep multiculturalism alive. The battle is not going to be easy but leaders like Merkel assure us there is no room for despair.