Tue Oct 19th, 2010 at 05:30:09 AM EST
This past weekend, it was in all the headlines in Germany and beyond: chancellor Angela Merkel declared that "the multiculturalism attempt failed, absolutely failed!". Her actual speech was more nuanced: she described integration of immigrants in positive tones, as something that must be encouraged (fördern) and obligated (fordern). However, she continued with the claim that the obligation side was under-emphasized in recent times, which her government shall mend by imposing stronger demands on immigrants to integrate. A rather insidious and hypocritical argument from the leader of the party that made it policy to block pro-integration policies at every turn in the past three decades (clinging to the "guest workers" fiction to the third generation, opposing the double citizenship law, opposing reforms of Germany's jus sanguinis citizenship law, pursuing deportations, or calling for the codification of a "leading culture", not to mention the "Immigrant youth crime" controversy).
Merkel's burial of multiculturalism is the latest and most grave development in a story that started in the summer, which looks like a re-run of the Netherlands' lurch to xenophobia in the past decade. I described the beginning: the appearance of a well-heeled demagogue over-generalising and magnifying real problems of integration and deftly mixing it with utter paranoia, who was made into a martyr of free speech by the media (Bolkestein in the Netherlands, Sarrazin in Germany) in Green and Oriental Berlin. While Sarrazin was pushed from his well-paid job on the board of the Bundesbank, Merkel held back the top guns of her party. Only conservatives increasingly displeased with her centrism and their own marginalisation kept celebrating Sarrazin (and one of them even invited Dutch Islamophobe -- and freshly jubilant minority government lifeline -- Geerd Wilders for a speech before a paying audience in Berlin). But Merkel had no control over Horst Seehofer, Bavaria's increasingly erratic leader, who last week decided to ride the waves Sarrazin created -- even including a demand to entirely stop immigration from "other cultures".
What Merkel did was, from her position, an attempt to regain the initiative from Seehofer with a milder tone. But for anyone familiar with the media strategies that brought us Bush's America, it is recognisable as a giant lurch of the Overton Window towards xenophobia. And it drowned out what could have induced a move into another direction just a day before. After a Germany-Turkey football match, in which Germany's World Cup star Mesut Özil shot a goal against the team of the country of his parents, the President of Turkey scolded booing fans and declared that he is happy that Özil chose to play for Germany, and said that Turks in Germany should strive to integrate and learn good German.