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Gary Herman

A few weeks ago, on 17 March, the third British-German Islam conference took place in London. The conference was entitled 'Beyond Multiculturalism: Islam in Europe and Euro-Islam'  and was organised by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung together with the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, the German Embassy and the Democracy and Islam Programme at the University of Westminster. I found one presentation particularly interesting among the many discussions - led mostly by Muslims themselves - of how Muslim communities should work to overcome the widening gap between them and non-Muslim communities in Europe. The presentation that grabbed my attention was by a non-Muslim German journalist, Jorg Lau of the weekly news magazine, Die Zeit.

Lau's argument was that the German people had been transformed. They had become, in his memorable phrase, "a new 'we'". Lau had much to say about Germany's publishing sensation of 2010, a book by Thilo (or Theo) Sarrazin, 'Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab' - variously translated as 'Germany Destroys Itself', 'Germany Abolishes Itself' and 'Germany Does Away With Itself'. Sarrazin's book has, by common consent, changed the nature of the debate about immigration in Germany. It quickly became the most successful non-fiction book in the German language since 1945.

Sarrazin's argument is simply that Germany's policy of multiculturalism has failed, and that it has failed largely because the country's 4.3 million Muslims, composed of Arab and Turkish migrants, have refused to integrate. "Integration," says Sarrazin, "requires effort from those that are to be integrated. I will not show respect for anyone that is not making that effort. I do not have to acknowledge anyone who lives by welfare, denies the legitimacy of the very state that provides that welfare, refuses to care for the education of his children and constantly produces new little headscarf-girls. This holds true for 70 percent of the Turkish and 90 percent of the Arabic population in Berlin."

So far, so predictable. But Sarrazin is no shaven-headed Nazi; he is not even a right-winger. On the contrary, he is a member of the German Social Democratic Party, a former Finance Senator in Berlin's city administration, and a former board member of the Deutsche Bundesbank - the very model of liberal rectitude. And he is proud to claim that his own surname indicates Saracen roots.

But whatever Sarrazin's motives, Lau believes that his book unleashed a wave of German antipathy towards multiculturalism and the tolerance on which it should be based. Chancellor Merkel commented that Sarrazin's book was "not helpful" just before she began to adopt its rhetoric. Other leading politicians seized the opportunity to suggest, in coded language, that Germany should take steps to reduce the number of Muslims in the country. According to Lau, this has become possible because of the dawning realisation that immigration, once seen as a temporary problem, has become permanent. Germany's Muslims are there to stay. They are part of the new 'we'.

But if there is a new 'we' in Germany, there is one all over Europe. Perhaps it should not surprise us when Sarrazin's arguments are heard issuing from the mouths of politicians in France, Britain, Italy, Spain, Scandinavia and the Netherlands.  The root of the problem in all these places is not that integration has failed. Integration, after all, takes time; it is an evolutionary phenomenon; it takes generations. The root of the problem is that entrenched communities have begun to realise that they must share their space with a new and obviously different population. Multiculturalism's failure, ironically, may be that it has actually been successful.

These thoughts came crowding into my head a month after the conference as I glimpsed moments of the Windsor-Middleton wedding and saw the coverage in the newspapers and television programmes, because here was a ceremonial intended to represent multicultural Britain to a global audience and it was stuck in a deep monocultural rut. If you followed the story from overseas - as most of the royal wedding fans did - you could have been forgiven for believing that Britain was almost entirely white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and now - thanks to Kate Middleton - middle-class.

I confess to not following the story with the closeness that some believed it deserved, but in all the miles of paper, gallons of ink and hours of broadcast time that were expended on the event, I only encountered one journalist dissenting from the general view that the nuptials were a good thing - a moment of renewal, at best, or a bit of harmless fun, at worst. The dissenter - no surprise here - was Mehdi Hasan, political editor of the UK weekly, the New Statesman; Muslim by birth and left-of-centre by inclination.

Hasan told John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the wedding made him angry because it had nothing to do with the reality of life in Britain today. This, of course, was after the event, because in the run-up to the day and on the day itself, the media around the world seemed to conspire to promote William and Kate in an unremittingly positive light. It was, after all, a fairy story - the commoner who marries a prince and will, one day, become Queen.

The BBC, normally so measured, did more than its fair share of gushing, despite noting on its web site that more people told an Ipsos Mori poll in the UK that they would definitely not watch the wedding than definitely would. Just under half the British population, according to the poll, were "not very or not at all interested" in the goings-on at Westminster Abbey. Even so, the broadcaster's former royal correspondent, Jenny Bond, now a breathless freelance but still spewing out the same saccharin-flavoured monarchist froth, claimed that most of Britain would be attending a party for the young couple on the wedding day. "Polls suggest that 66% of us will take part in street parties," she told the Guardian - apparently with a straight face.

The media were undeniably guilty of taking a simple news story of some historic interest ("British royal family embraces new money, allows future king to marry commoner") and turning it into a 'reality' TV show ("Britain's got royal talent"). In doing so, they misrepresented an entire nation and put another nail in multiculturalism's coffin.

Perhaps the single most perceptive comment on the whole affair came from Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. "Royalty," wrote Stephens, "is the most venerable embodiment of British tradition, tradition is the lifeblood of identity, identity generates social cohesion..., and social cohesion is the sine qua non of a viable polity."  But even the WSJ didn't take the logical next step and unmask the tradition as fiction and the identity as fake. The media, it would seem, want us to believe in a whitewashed myth. Perhaps they, like the German people, are frightened of "the new 'we'".

Gary Hermann for the Media Diversity Institute


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