German schools teach Islam to students to give them a sense of belonging

Interesting article on a newer German approach to integration:

It was the second week of Islam class, and the teacher, Mansur Seddiqzai, stood in front of a roomful of Muslim teens and pointed to the sentence on the chalkboard behind him: “Islam does not belong to Germany.”

He scanned the room and asked: “Who said this?”

Hands shot up. “The AfD?” one student with a navy blue headscarf said, referring to Germany’s far-right anti-refugee party. “No,” Mr Seddiqzai shook his head. “Seehofer,” tried another. “Yes, and who is that?” “A minister,” said a third.

Finally, someone put it all together, identifying Horst Seehofer, the head of Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union and chancellor Angela Merkel‘s interior minister and coalition partner, who has on multiple occasions threatened to torpedo her government over the issue of immigration.

“Yes, that’s right,” Mr Seddiqzai said, turning to the others. “And what do you think? Is he correct?”

In a country where the debate over “who belongs?” has deeply divided Ms Merkel’s government, fuelled massive demonstrations and propelled the rise of anti-immigrant populism, these 16 and 17-year-olds confront versions of that question every day, in the headlines and in their personal lives: Do I belong, too? Can I be German and a Muslim?

Public schools in some of Germany’s most populous cities are helping such students come up with answers in a counterintuitive setting: Islam class.

The classes, taught by Muslims and intended for Muslim students, were first launched in the early 2000s and now are offered as electives in nine of Germany’s 16 states, by more than 800 public primary and secondary schools, according to the research network Mediendienst Integration. They include lessons on the Quran, the history of Islam, comparative religion and ethics. Often, discussions shift to the students’ identity struggles or feelings of alienation.

“When a German asks me which country I’m from, I tell them Turkey,” said Gulendam Velibasoglu, 17, who is taking Mr Seddiqzai’s 10th-grade Islam class this year. She was born and raised in this western German city. Still, she says, “If I said ‘German’, they wouldn’t accept the answer. They will see me as a foreigner, even though I’m a German citizen.”

Germany has the European Union’s second-largest Muslim population after France, according to estimates by Pew Research. In 2016, 4.95 million people, or 6.1 per cent of the German population, were Muslim. But less than half of those pray regularly, and even fewer regularly attend a mosque, according to the latest government surveys.

The country’s leaders have expressed an ambivalent view of Islam, at best. Mr Seehofer’s statement that “Islam does not belong to Germany” came just months after the Islam-bashing AfD, or Alternative for Germany, entered parliament. Ms Merkel denounced the statement and ruled out sharing power with the AfD. Nevertheless, the AfD has steadily gained support over the past two years: on 14 October, it scored the biggest electoral gains of any party in Bavaria, Germany’s most populous state.

Last year, the AfD hung campaign posters in Dortmund featuring women in burqas and the slogan “Stop Islamisation”. This year’s poster bore the words “Islam-free schools!” under an image of five beaming, light-skinned children.

Mr Seddiqzai, who was born to Afghan parents in the German city of Bochum and who wears a full beard and Nikes to school, said he worries about the effect on his students. “These posters tell them, ‘We don’t want you here’,” he said.

“They are not accepted in Germany, they are not accepted in the countries of their parents, and that produces this craving for a group to belong to,” he continued. “And then an Islamist comes to you and says, ‘Yeah, you don’t belong to anyone. Therefore just be Muslim.’ They offer them a third way.”

Mr Seddiqzai sees it as part of his job to make his students more informed in their consumption of such appeals.

Earlier this year, when local politicians were discussing a ban on headscarves, a group calling itself Reality Islam launched a social media campaign to protest the proposal and recruit students. Mr Seddiqzai showed his students how to trace Reality’s Islam’s links to Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist group banned in Germany since 2003. He also encouraged them to question the group’s stance on the headscarf, which it claimed the Quran mandates for women.

“I show them the Quranic verses about the headscarf, and we discuss it and we see there is no clear rule that a woman or girl has to wear a headscarf,” he said. “Most of them think the Quran itself has no contradictions, and even that is wrong. There are many contradictions in the Quran.”

Some German politicians are pushing for an expansion of Islam classes in public schools as a way to encourage the cultural integration of Muslim students and to promote an interpretation of Islam that highlights German values.

“We need more religious education,” Kerstin Griese, a lawmaker from the governing centre-left Social Democratic Party, wrote in an op-ed, “because it’s the only way to start a dialogue about our own traditions and values and to understand those of others”.

Such advocates generally don’t envision non-Muslim students taking these classes to gain a better appreciation of Islam. While a few German school systems offer religion classes that include multiple faiths or ethics classes that touch on religion, religion as taught in public high schools and supported by Germany’s Basic Law is generally targeted at specific denominations.

A further rationale for Islam classes is to “immunise” Muslim students from fundamentalism, as Protestant leader Heinrich Bedford-Strohm put it.

Of particular concern is radicalisation that might lead to violence. Since 2013, more than 1,000 people have left Germany to fight with or support the Islamic State and other terrorist organisations, most of them under 30.

But some educators and politicians resist the notion that Islam has a place in German public schools.

“Besides the fact that we have much more important problems in schools, it can’t be true that a German bishop is promoting Islam,” Alexander Gauland, a leader of AfD, said after Bedford-Strohm voiced his proposal.

No studies have examined the effectiveness of Islam classes in preventing radicalisation, according to Harry Harun Behr, a professor of Islam studies and pedagogy at Frankfurt’s Goethe University.

Still, he said, the classes are valuable because they show students their faith is as important as others taught in their schools and because they show Islam as a religion that is open to reflection and self-criticism.

At Mr Seddiqzai’s school, where almost 95 per cent of students are first or second-generation immigrants, Islam class is highly popular. When he crosses the schoolyard, he can barely walk five steps without being stopped by a student wanting to tell him about grades, romances or plans for the future.

“What Mr. Seddiqzai is teaching me is not really something you learn at mosque,” said 17-year-old Yusuf Akar. “How to interact with non-Muslims who may not be sure how to interact with us. Or who are scared of us.”

But it is more than that, too. “It shows me I’m welcome here,” Akar said. “Because the school no longer demands that we distance ourselves from our religion. They accept it and even create an opportunity to learn about it. And that gives me the feeling that I’m part of this society.”


Germany’s Far Right Finds A New Stronghold In Bavaria, And It’s Costing Merkel

Good background for the regional election results:

German support for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservatives is at an all-time low, and in few places is that more evident than Bavaria.

A booming economy and ever fewer migrants crossing the border into the wealthy alpine state haven’t eased a populist backlash against the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the closest ally of Merkel’s party, the Christian Democrats (CDU). The CSU has governed Bavaria for all but three years since 1946, most of the time with an absolute majority.

But its future is in doubt, with conservative Bavarian voters in the midst of a shift toward Alternative for Germany (AfD). Just 5 years old, the far-right party is currently the main opposition in the German parliament and is widely expected to win seats in the Bavarian legislature for the first time when regional elections are held on Sunday.

One of the Bavarian cities where AfD is especially popular is Ingolstadt, which is hardly a typical stronghold for the far-right faction that traditionally plays to Germany’s working class in the less affluent, formerly communist east.

Luxury cars abound on Ingolstadt’s cobblestone streets and the 137,000 residents of the medieval city, where carmaker Audi is headquartered, enjoy the highest per capitaincome in Germany. But as well off as people in Ingolstadt are, many there are nonetheless anxious about their future.

Enter the AfD, which excels at stoking such fears.

The party’s candidate in Ingolstadt is Johannes Kraus von Sande, 48, who embraces the same campaign line the AfD used to win 13 percent of the vote in last October’s national elections: Uncontrolled migration threatens the German identity, security and economy, and the mainstream political parties aren’t doing anything about it.

“As our campaign posters say: The AfD fulfills the promises the CSU makes. The CSU’s failure to keep promises has pretty much defined the whole history of that party,” Kraus von Sande said in an interview with NPR.

But what exactly the AfD plans to do to fulfill campaign promises — or to address the problems it raises — the candidate said is still being worked out.

“The city has changed a lot,” Kraus von Sande said, recalling how when he went to high school in Ingolstadt, everyone knew everyone else by name.

Now, the city and its lucrative job market is far bigger and more international. City officials in Ingolstadt, where the population has grown by more than a third in the past four decades, estimate at least two out of five residents are either immigrants or descended from immigrants. Many of those immigrants are Muslims, who until recently, thought of Ingolstadt as a welcoming place for adherents of their faith.

Kraus von Sande said he doesn’t have a problem with all Muslim immigrants: “We have the Turks and I must say they are strongly integrated in German society and some of them are critical of Islam.”

But he said the migrants coming from the Middle East and Africa since 2015 — when war and poverty, coupled with Merkel’s open-door refugee policy, led to well over a million new arrivals in Germany — are causing more problems.

He said the earlier arrivals he speaks to don’t want newcomers who don’t or can’t fit in or fail to contribute to the German economy. The law needs to change, and they are looking to AfD to help with that, Kraus von Sande said.

“That definitely needs to happen very fast.”

The 53-year-old CSU candidate for the Bavarian legislature from Ingolstadt – police chief Alfred Grob – also has concerns about more effectively managing asylum seekers who come to Germany and ensuring that newcomers integrate.

He said it would be better for his city – and his political party — if the German government wasn’t operating a large refugee processing center for asylum seekers on the edge of Ingolstadt. That center, which housed about 1,400 migrants last year, was transformed in August into an “AnkER” center – a blend of the German words for arrival, decision and repatriation — and houses new arrivals who aren’t likely to qualify for asylum so they can be processed and deported more quickly.

But Grob criticized the AfD for capitalizing on fears rather than facts. Even though crime is up 11 percent in Ingolstadt, “the reality is that we have not had such a low crime rate for 20 years now,” Grob told NPR. “The other side is that refugees are proportionally over-represented in the crime statistics.”

He said that’s easy to explain: Most asylum seekers are young men, and as a demographic, they – no matter what their racial background – are more likely to commit crimes. Grob said many of the crimes by asylum seekers are happening at the transit center. He added that German voter backlash against the CSU and other mainstream parties is about a lot more than asylum seekers or the AfD. He called it “German angst.”

“People are afraid of a societal decline,” Grob explained. “We’re doing very well here. We feel so good that many think it can’t get any better and that in fact, it’s going to go down and maybe faster.”

A diesel emissions testing scandal and other problems at Audi have exacerbated such worries, he said. So have skyrocketing rents in the city. Older residents are also struggling with pensions that aren’t keeping up with the rising cost of living in Ingolstadt.

Another reason AfD is doing well in Ingolstadt is that it isn’t a university town, says Luzia Grasser, an editor in the Ingolstadt office of the daily Augsburger Allgemeine. “Ingolstadt has a relatively conservative voter class, so protest voters may not vote in the left milieu” compared to what’s happening in the rest of Germany, where the left-leaning, environmentally friendly Green Party has climbed to the number two spot in the latest opinion poll.

Much of the support for AfD in Ingolstadt comes from a large community of ethnic Germans from Russia who after the collapse of communism, immigrated to the region in the late 80s and early 90s. The candidates here say those immigrants were less likely to vote in Ingolstadt in the past, but are now worried about their jobs, unemployment benefits and pensions being gobbled up by newer immigrants — fears that AfD has seized on.

The far-right party has put up billboards around Ingolstadt warning of Muslim hordes stripping Bavaria of its Christian identity, pensions and benefits and fostering insecurity. One such billboard showing a white woman looking back in fear at two hooded men, and urging voters to cast their ballots for AfD to “protect our women and children,” stands across the street from a grocery store frequented by the many German Russians in the working class neighborhood of Piusviertel.

The neighborhood, with its apartment buildings, pristine parks and playgrounds, is home to many of Ingolstadt’s Turkish and Middle Eastern immigrants, who are reporting more harassment and abuse — especially of women wearing headscarves — since AfD began campaigning here. The community center there offers a wide range of programs to help residents seeking employment, integration into German society and culture and language. One of the volunteers is Yeser Saygili, who immigrated to Ingolstadt from Turkey a quarter century ago and speaks fluent German.

“I help a lot of immigrant women who are looking for jobs. One office looking for a cleaning woman recently asked me if the applicant wore a headscarf,” Saygili said. “I was, like, ‘Hello, how far have we regressed?’ In the end, she didn’t get the job.”

Saygili says she fears a far-right win in Bavaria on Sunday will only make things harder for Muslims in Ingolstadt. Political observers say it could also lead to a reshuffling or worse of Merkel’s cabinet, as her interior minister, Horst Seehofer, is co-leader of the CSU party and would feel pressured to resign following a poor election result.

Source: Germany’s Far Right Finds A New Stronghold In Bavaria, And It’s Costing Merkel

On a more encouraging note:

When German organizers pulled together a demonstration in Berlin to support “an open and free society,” they had some ambitious goals. They expected roughly 40,000 people to pack the span from Berlin’s city center, from Alexanderplatz to the Victory Column, where they were holding their final rally of the day.

As it turns out, those expectations didn’t measure up to the real thing.

More than 240,000 people showed up for the march and rallies Saturday, according to the organizers behind the #unteilbar event (#indivisible in English). Local police told the BBC that the demonstrators numbered “in the low hundreds of thousands.”

Authorities shut down the 3-mile expanse where the demonstrators had gathered, and overhead photographs showed massive crowds on the tree-lined avenue.

“A dramatic political shift is taking place: racism and discrimination are becoming socially acceptable. What yesterday was considered unthinkable and unutterable has today become a reality. Humanity and human rights, religious freedom, and the rule of law are being openly attacked. This is an attack on all of us,” organizers wrote in their manifesto prior to the event.

Protesters Throng Berlin In Massive Rally To Support ‘Open And Free Society’

‘We Are Facing a Monster’ Right-wing extremism in Germany

Good and thoughtful interview:

DER SPIEGEL: Ms. Knobloch, 73 years after the end of the Holocaust, right-wing extremists in Germany are once again stretching out their right arms in the Hitler salute. Jews are being threatened in public while parliamentary opposition leader Alexander Gauland, of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, recently said that the Nazi period was nothing but a “speck of bird shit” on German history. What is your reaction to the last several months?

Knobloch: These events weigh on us heavily. By “us” I mean the members of all Jewish communities in Germany. I am actually an optimist, something I inherited from my devout father. After the Holocaust, he was convinced Germany would once again have a future. I have thought a lot about my father recently. And I hope the alarming spectacle of the last few months will somehow come to an end like many others have before.

DER SPIEGEL: You don’t sound terribly optimistic.

Knobloch: I never thought it could get so bad again. Recently, I was at a high school with 300 students and told them: Take the responsibility we hand down to you. Be proud of your country. It has achieved a lot and is continuing to achieve. And as I was speaking, I was thinking: What are you even saying? Is it true at all?

DER SPIEGEL: You have your doubts?

Knobloch: There have been worrisome developments earlier. A few years ago, for example, there was a right-wing extremist demonstration in Munich where marchers shouted, “Jews in the gas, Jews out,” and the police didn’t intervene. But it has never been as bad as it is today. For the first time, a party has made it into national parliament whose program can be summarized with the words: Jews Out.

DER SPIEGEL: You are referring to the AfD.

Knobloch: I don’t actually want to even say their name. “Alternative for Germany,” what impudence. But yes, I am referring to the AfD.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you view the AfD as a Nazi party?

Knobloch: What else are you supposed to call a party that disseminates a platform that makes Jewish life impossible? This party is opposed to ritual circumcision and seeks to ban the shechita of animals, through which meat becomes kosher for practicing Jews.

DER SPIEGEL: There are more than a few Jews involved in the AfD. How can the party be anti-Semitic?

Knobloch: Just like a person with Jewish friends can still be an anti-Semite, Jewish party members are in no way a guarantee that a party doesn’t have anti-Semitic tendencies. The simple presence of Jews, in any case, isn’t enough and a group like the one calling itself “Jews in the AfD” is no proof of the lack of anti-Semitism. Particularly since the group isn’t just made up of Jews.

DER SPIEGEL: Among the established parties in Germany, there is a significant degree of uncertainty about how they should confront the AfD. Should they go on the attack? Ignore them? Try to expose them with arguments? They are trying everything and nothing seems to be working.

Knobloch: I like how the single neo-Nazi in the Munich city council is being dealt with. He is simply completely ignored by the other parties. He files inquiries and they simply go unanswered.

DER SPIEGEL: But in Germany’s federal parliament, the Bundestag, every deputy has rights. And with 92 members of parliament, the AfD is the largest opposition party. How can they be ignored?

Knobloch: There needs to be a consensus among all the other parties. The AfD has positioned itself outside of our liberal values. Period. It bothers me that there isn’t even consensus on this point at the moment. What other viewpoint can there possibly be?

DER SPIEGEL: The debate surrounding how to deal with the AfD recently intensified after an extremely emotional plenary speech by former Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, who linked the right-wing populists with fascism.

Knobloch: I thought Schulz’s reaction was absolutely the correct one. Everybody needs to know who they are voting for when they cast their ballot for the AfD. Our task is to clearly draw the line. If we don’t, we are merely helping normalize the right-wing populists. I wanted to write Martin Schulz a letter, but I never got around to it because of the Jewish holidays. His dedication is admirable.

DER SPIEGEL: Among other things, Schulz said that AfD co-leader Gauland belongs on the “manure heap of history.” Should he be stooping to the level of the right-wing populists?

Knobloch: We can’t always obey the rules of politesse when dealing with a Nazi party. When politicians from the AfD refer to the Nazi period as “a speck of bird shit” in German history and refer to the Holocaust memorial as a monument to shame, then we need to strike back rhetorically. We are facing a monster. We have to fight it before it becomes stronger.

DER SPIEGEL: Following the recent riotsin Chemnitz, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier harkened to the collapse of the Weimar Republic

Knobloch: That wasn’t an exaggeration. Weimar collapsed because the democrats, who were actually supposed to be the pillars of the system, ducked responsibility. I find it extremely troubling that people today aren’t taking to the streets in large numbers to demonstrate. There are distressing parallels between then and now. You just have to listen to the things politicians from this party say without facing repercussions. It is reminiscent of the rise of the NSDAP (Nazi party). Personally, I feel like it is 1928 again.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you think the AfD should be monitored by the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency?

Knobloch: I find it completely incomprehensible as to why that wasn’t started long ago. I am stunned. If the AfD was being monitored, their representative would perhaps tone themselves down in public instead of inciting the population. Instead, there are rumors that Mr. Maassen …

DER SPIEGEL: … the former head of the BfV Hans-Georg Maassen, who wasrelieved of his duties recently for allegedly pandering to the far right …

Knobloch: … may have given tips to AfD members on how to avoid monitoring from the BfV. If that is true, that would be a catastrophe from my point of view.

DER SPIEGEL: Maassen expressed doubt about the authenticity of a video from Chemnitz that showed migrants being chased down.

Knobloch: Someone in his position should not just say something like that without presenting proof. That is a break with our political culture.

DER SPIEGEL: The rise of the AfD is inseparably connected with the refugee policies of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Do you think it was the correct decision to not seal off the German border in September 2015?

Knobloch: I view the issue through the lens of my own biography. If the U.S. immigration authorities in the late 1930s had approved the visas that my uncle applied for on behalf of his brother, his mother and me, my grandmother would not have had to suffer such a horrific death. She was too old to be accepted into the U.S. There were similar fates people faced that I heard about at the time. That is why I was very much in favor of Germany taking in the people who were living in horrific conditions in the Budapest train station in September 2015. After all, we became a humane country after 1945.

DER SPIEGEL: The Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s Christian Democrats, believes the chancellor’s refugee policies are misguided.

Knobloch: We can’t take on more than we can handle, I agree with that. First and foremost, we have to help those who have had to leave their homes to escape war. When I see the terrible images from Syria, then we can’t hesitate for a moment. But we need a migration law to decide who fits, who can be integrated, who we need on the job market.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you see a connection between Merkel’s refugee policies and increasing anti-Semitism?

Knobloch: I’m wary on that issue. We don’t have an anti-Semitism problem because people from other cultures are coming to us. That would be an extremely simplistic view.

DER SPIEGEL: You don’t see a qualitative difference between European anti-Semitism from the Christian West and Muslim anti-Semitism?

Knobloch: I didn’t say that. Muslim anti-Semitism works primarily by way of the delegitimization of Israel. And there is a specific form of anti-Semitism that has its roots in the Koran. That also has an influence over how anti-Semitism develops in this country.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you mean?

Knobloch: Anti-Semitism used to be the rejection of a certain group of people. Today, it is simply hatred of the Jews.

DER SPIEGEL: Anti-Semitism has radicalized?

Knobloch: Absolutely.

DER SPIEGEL: Is there a recipe for fighting it?

Knobloch: Not enough is being done, that is the frightening thing. We have been calling attention to the problem for years. And there are actually institutions that should be taking action. Political leaders, for example. Security authorities. Educational institutions. All of them should focus on fighting anti-Semitism, especially given our history. But not nearly enough is being done. Those who are blaming the refugees exclusively for anti-Semitism are making it too easy on themselves. These people, if you will, can’t help it. That’s how they were raised.

DER SPIEGEL: Where do you think the largest shortcomings are to be found?

Knobloch: In education. We are way behind there. You can’t fight anti-Semitism by simply talking about anti-Semitism. You fight it by learning to love your own country and by defending its values.

DER SPIEGEL: In a recent op-ed for the Israeli daily Haaretz, you sharply criticized Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, saying that he has positioned himself as an ally to right-wing populists in Europe. Why did you get involved?

Knobloch: When Mr. Grenell welcomes the rise of anti-establishment populists in a country where the extreme right has won seats in parliament, we Jews feel threatened. The fact that he apparently doesn’t see this connection is appalling. Mr. Grenell uses the same language as the AfD. This cycle of mutual encouragement is a danger to our liberal democracy. In such a situation, I don’t care if he is the U.S. ambassador or whatever else.

DER SPIEGEL: Has Mr. Grenell contacted you at all?

Knobloch: No.

DER SPIEGEL: Would you like to meet with him?

Knobloch: It would depend on the subject matter. I am happy to talk at any time with young people who have adopted different ideas and to try and convince them.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Grenell claims to be a great friend of Israel’s.

Knobloch: Friendship is a rather broad term. Many people use it to put themselves in the center of attention because they think it looks good.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you think of the Israel policies of U.S. President Donald Trump?

Knobloch: I have family in Israel: a daughter, several grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I have a special relationship to the country and advocate for its security wherever I can. The Israeli people want nothing more than peace, I am 100 percent convinced of that. That is why I welcome the fundamental tenets of Trump’s Middle East policy. I wouldn’t, however, have moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. That is such a sensitive issue that doing so merely makes in more difficult to find the solutions to problems.

DER SPIEGEL: You belong to the last generation of Holocaust survivors. How should the memory be kept alive once all those who witnessed it firsthand are gone.

Knobloch: My hopes are very much pinned on young people who are more interested in the history of their own country than was the case 10 or 15 years ago.

DER SPIEGEL: The Berlin municipal official Sawsan Chebli has proposed making it a requirement for young people to visit a concentration camp memorial. What do you think of the idea?

Knobloch: The only camp where it is still possible to really get a sense for the tragedy is Auschwitz. Such visits, though, can only take place if there has been sufficient preparation. Young people have to know what they are visiting. And if one of them doesn’t want to, you can’t force them.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you have against the so-called “Stolpersteine,” the gold-colored paving stones placed in front of buildings in German cities to commemorate Jews who lived there until they were deported by the Nazis?

Knobloch: I find this type of commemoration to be a catastrophe. People trample on the names of those who were murdered and dogs pee on them. The Munich city council has resolved that commemoration must take place at eye level. I hope that our example is followed elsewhere.

DER SPIEGEL: Jews who live in Israel often can’t understand how Jews can continue to live in the diaspora.

Knobloch: In the diaspora or in Germany?

DER SPIEGEL: Does it make a difference?

Knobloch: Of course it does. Given recent developments, I am being asked such questions more often.


Knobloch: The part of my family that lives in Israel has already come to terms with it. My granddaughter is now grown up, but when she was in the ninth grade, she visited Auschwitz with her class. In Israel, it is a visit everybody makes. Afterwards, she wrote me a six-page letter and asked me how I can live in Germany.

DER SPIEGEL: The attacks on Jews in France triggered something of an exodus of Jews fleeing the country to Israel. Do you think there is a danger of something similar occurring in Germany?

Knobloch: Yes, there is a danger. Members of the Jewish community come to me and tell me that they are afraid. It is equal parts irrational and understandable. I try to give them courage, despite everything. That is part of the optimism that I mentioned earlier.

DER SPIEGEL: Ignatz Bubis, one of your predecessors as president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said toward the end of his life that he accomplished “almost nothing.” What are your feelings when you look back on your own life?

Knobloch: He was already quite sick when he said that. I called him and said: How can you say such a thing? I know how much you have accomplished.

DER SPIEGEL: You have a more positive view than Bubis did at the end of his life?

Knobloch: It is a question I ask myself every day, when I see the terrible developments in Chemnitz and elsewhere. But then I always think: I did achieve something. It’s just a gut feeling I have.

DER SPIEGEL: Bubis never wanted to live in Israel, but he wanted to be laid to rest there.

Knobloch: He didn’t want his grave to be vandalized. And given the increasing anti-Semitism, that is a very real danger.

DER SPIEGEL: And where do you want to be buried?

Knobloch: I have our family plot here in Munich.

DER SPIEGEL: Ms. Knobloch, thank you very much for this interview.

New German immigration laws agreed at government meeting

Significant given the political debates and tensions with the coalition:

Germany’s coalition government announced in the early hours of Tuesday that they had agreed on new immigration laws after several months of back and forth over immigration policy. The new laws will be inspired by the oft-touted Canada model, and would make it more difficult for the poor and uneducated to immigrate to Germany, according to a draft of the deal seen by journalists.

The deal “adheres to the principle of separating asylum and labor migration,” and ensures that those who have a legal right to claim asylum under German law will still be able to do so.

The outline of the proposed law states however, that non-EU citizens without higher education or, preferably, a concrete job offer, will not be able to live in Germany: “We do not want any immigration from unqualified third-country nationals,” the deal states.

Like the Canada model, prospective immigrants would be ranked according to level of education, age, language skills, job offers, and “financial security.”

No special treatment for well-integrated rejected refugees

The agreement was signed by the Social Democrat (SPD) Labor Minister Hubertus Heil and Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU). Seehofer has been pushing for immigration reform since taking office, going so far as to threaten to resign in June if his demands were not met.

“Skilled workers from abroad are already making an important contribution to the competitiveness of the German economy,” the paper states, noting the need for more highly-qualified employees.

One issue not included in the deal is a special dispensation sought by the SPD for refugees whose asylum applications have been rejected but are already well integrated in German society.

Heil told German news agency DPA that Seehofer had agreed, however, that the government should more closely take care “not to deport any of the wrong people.”

The government will also retain the right to close off immigration for certain job categories as it sees fit.

Source: New German immigration laws agreed at government meeting

Immigration In Germany: Separating Signal From Noise After Chemnitz

Informative regarding the divide between former East and West Germany and those with an immigrant background or not.

There is a theory in migration and integration studies that the more foreigners one is exposed to the less hostile one becomes to them. It is known as the Contact Hypothesis. The inverse is that the less interaction between groups the more hostility one could expect.

The recent anti-immigrant rioting in Chemnitz and Köthen, two of the cities with the lowest immigration in Germany, appears to bear this idea out in a vivid way. It was a display that shocked many Germans and has caused a somewhat separate political scandal. Above all, the hand-wringing is about how, in politically liberal Germany, such displays of outright xenophobia could be possible. This is where the Contact Hypothesis comes into it and can help us to understand what’s going on.

“I think it makes perfect sense to think (in terms of the hypothesis) because there are so few people coming from abroad or from foreign countries into Eastern Germany,” said Dr. Hans Vorländer, German political scientist and member of the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR). “There is a kind of xenophobia, they just don’t know what these people are all about so they are not used to contact with them.”

As of the end of 2017 both Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, the East German states that contain Chemnitz and Köthen respectively, had around 48 foreigners per thousand inhabitants. That is less than half the national figure of 128.4 and significantly lower than national leaders Berlin (246.7) and Bremen (185.1). In fact, the combined average for all the states of former East Germany (excluding Berlin as the statistics don’t discriminate between former East and West) is 47.1 while the average for the former states of West Germany is nearly three times that at just under 137.

Eastern states, however, show markedly more anti-foreigner attacks than in the west. According to the annual Status of German Unity report for 2016, which looks at the continuing divides between East and West, there were significantly more violent attacks motivated by right-wing extremism in the former East German states, with an average of 45.7 attacks per million inhabitants, compared to the 10.5 attacks per million inhabitants in former West German states.

At the same time, support for the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is strongest in East Germany, and Dresden, Saxony’s second largest city, is the home turf of the far-right anti-Islamist movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West).

But despite all the hand-wringing about the rise of xenophobia in Germany, things long-term might not be quite as extreme as the headline numbers would lead one to think. The SVR just released their 2018 Integration Barometerwhich measures public sentiment on the integration of first- and second-generation migrants into German life. The barometer shows that despite a slight drop in their key metric on integration, from 65.4 in 2015 to 63.8 in 2017/18, people still had a positive attitude overall toward integration in the country.

Drawing conclusions from the barometer is a little tricky, as certain ethnic and cultural groups tend to push the overall number in one or another direction on certain issues. For instance, according to the barometer, 60% of those without a migration background believe Germany should continue to receive refugees, “even if it were the only EU member state to do so.” This overall number is pushed up by the overwhelmingly positive response from people of Turkish descent, while the majority of ethnic Germans were against receiving more refugees.

Despite those caveats, one thing is clear, and it brings us back to the Contact Hypothesis. From the report: “It is above all people without a migration background who have hardly any or no contact with cultural diversity who regard integration more pessimistically, especially those living in Germanyʼs eastern federal states.”

For a long time, Dr. Vorländer has been researching the far-right in Germany, and he says it’s clear there is an anti-immigrant sentiment in East Germany but it is not at the level of an existential problem for the country: “There is hostility, there is xenophobia and there is Islamophobia, to a greater extent than in West Germany. But it’s not that high, it’s a small percentage that makes the difference.”

Nonetheless, and even though studies such as the SVR integration barometer point towards the relative health of the system, it’s understandable some people want to see something done to lessen the hostility in East Germany and improve relations between migrants and “native” Germans.

Though the solution will never be simple, for researchers such as Dr. Vorländer the Contact Hypothesis provides something of a road-map: “The authorities have to support any kind of network within civil society that increases interaction between refugees, migrants and the people.” He said he’s optimistic in the long run but, as with so many problems, integration in East Germany is not one to be fixed overnight: “It takes time, you know, it takes time and it takes an awful lot of constant work, maybe it takes 20 to 30 years to find some forms of successful integration.”

And indeed such integration could be vital to the country’s future overall, and to reviving East Germany’s flagging economy. The same Status of German Unity report quoted above also suggested skilled immigration from the EU and beyond would be beneficial to East Germany, as Dr. Vorländer emphasizes: “We need migration for reasons of the job market, it’s very essential. We need labor migration, we need people coming in and it’s the only solution for the future in East Germany.”

Source: Immigration In Germany: Separating Signal From Noise After Chemnitz

Analysis – Merkel takes a gamble with new immigration law

Skilled labour focus:

Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes a new immigration law will make it easier for foreign workers to find jobs in Germany, but her push to fill a record number of vacancies risks angering voters who still resent her open-door refugee policy.

With an ageing population and a shrinking workforce, Germany needs greater flexibility to fill more than a million empty positions, business leaders say.

“We will continue to depend on foreign professionals,” Merkel said in the Bundestag last week, defending her immigration plans against criticism from opposition politicians.

“Companies should not be leaving the country because they can’t find staff,” Merkel said, adding that many entrepreneurs were more concerned about hiring skilled workers than getting tax relief.

The new law to be discussed by Merkel and her cabinet later this month aims to attract workers from outside the European Union, although they will need a professional qualification and German language skills when applying for a work visa, according to a paper drawn up by officials.

Government officials see the law, which is welcomed by employers, as a game-changer in the global race for talent since other countries are espousing stricter immigration rules.

But it could anger voters who feel left behind after Merkel’s decision to welcome more than a million refugees in 2015.

An opinion poll this month showed 51 percent felt her government did not take Germans’ concerns about immigration seriously. In eastern Germany, the figure was 66 percent.

There are regional elections next year in the eastern states of Saxony, Brandenburg and Thuringia, where the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) is expected to make strong gains at the cost of Merkel’s conservatives and her centre-left coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD).


The unprecedented 2015 influx of asylum seekers, mainly from Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, has already caused popular anger and propelled the AfD, which rejects the new immigration law, into the national parliament.

Deep divisions became apparent last month in the eastern city of Chemnitz, scene of violent far-right protests after migrants were blamed for the fatal stabbing of a German man.

Referring to Chemnitz, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union, Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, described migration as the “mother of all political problems” in Germany.

Merkel may escape a political backlash if she can convince voters the new law will address specific labour shortages and not increase overall competition in the jobs market.

“If she can credibly make the point that this is about Germany’s economic self-interest, it won’t fuel angst among those who already feel alienated in their own country,” said Gero Neugebauer, a political expert at Berlin’s Free University.

“But if not, then this law will backfire on Merkel, especially taking into account that there are three local elections next year in eastern Germany,” he said.

There are also regional elections next month in Bavaria and Hesse, where the rise of the AfD could make it harder to form coalition governments.

Allowing even more foreigners into the country is a risk for Merkel – even if the labour force in Europe’s biggest economy is forecast to shrink drastically and can only be stabilized with net immigration of 400,000 people every year until 2060. [ ]

Due to a prolonged economic upswing, job vacancies have hit a record high of 1.2 million while unemployment is at its lowest since German reunification in 1990, according to the Labour Office. [ ]

Labour shortages cost the economy up to 0.9 percentage points of output every year, according to the IW German Economic Institute.


Among companies struggling to find staff is Eyeem, a Berlin start-up that connects millions of photographers globally with agencies and clients through an online platform.

“We’re 100 percent affected by labour shortages,” Eyeem’s personnel chief, Michael Jones, said at the company’s headquarters in Kreuzberg, a multicultural Berlin district that is home to many European immigrants.

“We’re struggling to fill numerous vacancies in areas such as software engineering and sales,” Jones said. In some cases, it can take six months for a foreign candidate to get the green light from immigration authorities.

In one case, Eyeem wants to hire a specialist from Egypt but is still awaiting final confirmation. This makes it hard for Eyeem to plan and for the Egyptian worker to get on with moving to Germany.

Other sectors affected by labour shortages are construction, education, child care and geriatric nursing.

Arno Schwalie, chief executive of nursing home operator Korian in Germany, says the number of elderly people needing permanent care will rise by more than a quarter over the next 15 years.

“By then, we might have to deal with a shortage of more than 250,000 workers in the care sector,” Schwalie said. “Qualified immigrants can help close this gap. This is not the only solution, but part of the solution.”

Health Minister Jens Spahn has said young people from Kosovo and Albania could help fill 50,000 geriatric care vacancies.

Labour unions say nursing homes could attract local workers by improving pay and conditions.

The AfD rejects the new law, saying it will encourage immigration and lead to “wage dumping” at the expense of less-educated locals.

“If you look at the very small wage rises, then you don’t need to be an expert to say that there actually is not a lack of skilled workers,” AfD lawmaker Uwe Witt said.

Merkel stresses that the immigration law is accompanied by a 4 billion euro programme to help Germany’s 800,000 long-term unemployed find work.


While a growing number of the 2015 migrants are finding jobs, the process is slow given the urgency of the need for workers. It takes three to five years for a poorly-educated Syrian or Iraqi to learn German and get a professional qualification.

In addition, the coalition parties disagree over whether refugees should be allowed to shed asylum status if they have found a job and learned German.

The conservatives say this will encourage immigration by asylum seekers without the right skills. The SPD want a more pragmatic approach.

“It’s about preventing a situation where we send back the right people – and then have to painstakingly search for skilled workers abroad,” SPD Labour Minister Hubertus Heil told Reuters.

A compromise floated by officials envisages that only asylum seekers currently in Germany can make the switch, with future refugees excluded.

Germany has become the second favourite destination for immigrants after the United States, attracting more than 1 million in 2016, according to OECD figures.

Of those, more than 600,000 are European Union nationals, who can choose where to live and work in the bloc.

But Germany expects these numbers to fall as the economic upswing in Europe means people can find work at home. In addition, the number of working age people in Europe is declining due to low birth rates.

“We must make full use of all the domestic potential. But this simply won’t be enough, we also need skilled workers from countries outside Europe,” said Ingo Kramer, president of the BDA employers’ association.

For Kramer, Germany’s economic future is at risk if the government fails to adopt a modern immigration law. For Merkel, the enterprise is part of her efforts to secure her legacy.

Source: Analysis – Merkel takes a gamble with new immigration law

Germans upbeat about immigration, study finds

Interesting results from a large scale poll, providing a more nuanced view of German public opinion than the election results and support for AfD would indicate (article more nuanced than header):

People living in Germany continue to view the country’s multicultural society positively, according to a new study published by the Expert Council of German Foundations on Integration and Migration (SVR).

The “Integration Barometer 2018” is the first representative study on the matter to come out since the start of the so-called refugee crisis in 2015, which saw hundreds of thousands of people escaping war and poverty in their home countries enter Europe.

Despite refugees and immigration policy dominating the news and politician’s speaking points in Germany, the study found that most people still think that life with their immigrant or non-immigrant neighbors is going well.

Main takeaways

  • Some 63.8 percent of local Germans — people described as not having an immigrant background — view the integration situation positively, down marginally from the 65.4 percent logged in 2015. Residents with immigrant backgrounds viewed the integration situation even more positively, rating it at 68.9 percent.
  • The study found a particular divide between the eastern and western states, with 66 percent of western Germans satisfied with the status of immigration, while eastern Germans rated it at 55 percent.
  • The study found that areas where fewer migrants live, such as in the eastern German states, there are more reservations about immigration and integration.
  • Men viewed the status of integration in Germany more negatively than women.

Solution to tensions in education

Researchers noted that skepticism about immigrants can be overcome by having more “personal encounters.”

“The everyday experiences are significantly better than what the [media] discourse would suggest,” researchers wrote in the study.

Germany’s integration commissioner, Annette Widmann-Mauz, said the study’s results were “a good sign” and that it’s important to support schools and other places where people have more opportunities to come into contact with their neighbors. She noted that the attitudes about integration are most positive “wherever there are direct contacts in the neighborhoods, among friends or at work.”

Majority want to help refugees

Attitudes towards refugees were largely positive from both people with and without immigrant backgrounds in Germany. Around 60 percent of local Germans support continuing to take in refugees, also if Germany were the only country accepting asylum-seekers in the European Union. However, a majority of them also want to curb refugee arrivals.

How successful is linguistic integration?

Three quarters of German-born Muslims grow up with German as a first language. Among immigrants, only one fifth claim that German is their first language. The trend of language skills improving with successive generations is apparent across Europe. In Germany 46 percent of all Muslims say that their national language is their first language. In Austria this is 37 percent, Switzerland 34 percent

Split on headscarf bans

Around 80 percent of Muslims questioned in the study supported women and girls being allowed to wear headscarves to school. Only 41 percent of Christians, on the other hand, thought that headscarves should be allowed in schools. Local Germans were more open to allowing headscarves in public authorities, with 52 percent backing the idea.

Muslim women living in Germany were specifically asked in the SVR study about their opinions on headscarf bans. Out of the 29 percent of women who said they wear a head covering, a majority backed measures for them to be allowed at school and public authorities. Around 66 percent of Muslim women who don’t wear head coverings said they should be allowed.

Representative study

The “Integration Barometer 2018” is a representative study of people with and without immigrant backgrounds in Germany. A total of 9,298 people were surveyed between July 2017 and January 2018.

The results of the latest “Integration Barometer” come after weeks of far-right protests against refugees and immigrants rocked several eastern German cities, including Chemnitz and Köthen. Although topics focusing on migrants and refugees dominate headlines and dictate and within the German government, opinion polls suggest that concerns about pensions, housing, education and infrastructure top the list of issues people are most concerned about in Germany.

Source: Germans upbeat about immigration, study finds

Germany’s New Far-Right Campaign Poster Is Unsubtly Racist

Indeed. Reminder of messaging and posters under the Nazis regarding Jews:

The far-right Alternative for Germany party released a new campaign poster last week with a slogan promising “Islam-free schools” beneath a photo of smiling white schoolchildren.

Alternative for Germany, also known as AfD, released the posters in the midst of its election campaign in the southern German state of Bavaria. Recent polls show the party is on track to win the third-largest share of the vote as it saps votes from the traditional conservative party aligned with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But as AfD rallies voters ahead of Bavaria’s elections next month, the party is under intense public and political scrutiny for its links to neo-Nazi organizationsand role in encouraging far-right riots in recent weeks.

AfD’s Bavarian anti-Islam posters have added to the backlash against the party. A German teachers’ associations called the posters dangerous, and an Austrian member of the European Parliament accused the party of promoting fascist rhetoric and racially segregated schools. A British hate crime monitoring group also denounced the poster, tweeting, “Welcome to the new face of fascism.”

Alternative for Germany’s new poster, vowing “Islam-free schools!” and promoting “dominant German culture.”

AfD claims that the posters are not calling for barring Muslim children from schools, Germany’s Der Spiegel reports, but are opposed to Islamic education in schools and face veils. But some Germans on social media criticized the posters for echoing Nazi-era discrimination against Jewish students, HuffPost Germany reported.

The party has a history of anti-Islamic propaganda, and during last year’s national elections it worked with a conservative American ad agency to create a controversial series of posters, including one reading “Burkas? We prefer bikinis” and another with a photo of a pregnant white woman with the tagline “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.”

Although AfD is often careful to distance itself from more politically toxic extremist groups and violent rhetoric, it has repeatedly provoked scandals after its officials made statements downplaying the Holocaust or siding with far-right activists. After anti-migrant riots erupted after the killing of a German man in the city of Chenmitz two weeks ago, a prominent AfD official marched with the founder of anti-Islamic extremist group PEGIDA in a demonstration against migration.

While AfD is still shut out of governing in Germany, its success has caused traditional right politicians to swing farther right in hopes of winning back voters, especially prevalent in Bavaria, where the Merkel-allied Christian Social Union is losing support and increasingly embracing anti-immigration, anti-Islamic views.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer nearly brought down the German government this year after demanding tighter border controls, and more recently he called immigration the “mother of all political problems” and said he would have joinedfar-right anti-migrant protests were he not an elected official. Bavaria’s CSU premier ordered that crucifixes be hung in all government buildings, and the party last year drafted a law banning full-face veils in public places.

Much like in several other countries where establishment parties mimic the far right, most recently Sweden, the CSU’s shift hasn’t worked, and the party is expected to lose its absolute majority government in a state where it once dominated.

Source: Germany’s New Far-Right Campaign Poster Is Unsubtly Racist

Germany’s radical left is fueling anti-immigrant sentiment


Sahra Wagenknecht, the leader of Germany’s far-left Die Linke party, has launched a new movement. It is called Aufstehen (literally translated, “stand up”). This in itself is not exceptional. Many other countries in Western Europe have left-wing parties of varying extremes.

Just think of the Dutch LinksGroen, the Danish Enhedslisten and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party in the United Kingdom. But there is a difference between the movement proposed by Frau Wagenknecht. While the other leftist parties are composed of remnants of the 1968 generation and progressive millennials, with a healthy skepticism toward authoritarianism, Aufstehen is something altogether different. The movement is unashamedly populist — and hostile toward immigration and other liberal causes.
Not surprisingly, such views have received praise from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland.

Wagenknecht is not — as some have said — seeking to build a movement like Momentum in Britain (the left-wing grassroots movement that brought Corbyn to power) or Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s equivalent La France Insoumise.

Her ambition is to create a realignment; to found a movement that appeals to disgruntled working-class voters who feel betrayed by big business, globalism and the low wages in the gig economy.

Her message is not one founded upon hope and solidarity. It is based on an ill-disguised opposition to foreigners. Her analysis is that a message of resentment chimes with low-wage workers.

That has been seen before. It is trite to cite examples of the darker chapters of Europe’s history. Suffice it to say that both Benito Mussolini in Italy and Oswald Moseley in the UK started their respective careers on the political left with a similar message. And further afield Juan Perón, used a combination of social justice and far-right attitudes to seize power in Argentina. Germany is unlikely to go the same way. But the precedents are not to be ignored.

Wagenknecht’s analysis is not entirely unique. In Denmark, the nominally center-left Social Democrats have rebranded themselves as a party that defends the welfare state, while it has lurched to the right on immigration issues.

But unlike the Danes, Wagenknecht has fused opposition to immigration with populist economics. That is a dangerous mix.

She cannot be accused of naïveté. Like Angela Merkel, she grew up in Communist East Germany. But unlike the current Chancellor of Germany, the far-left firebrand is unapologetic about her membership of the Communist Youth Movement FDJ.

She has described the East German communist dictatorship as “the most peaceful and most philanthropic polity that the Germans created in all of their previous history.”

Just for the record, the regime killed 327 people who tried to escape.

The private lives of politicians are not usually of political importance. Wagenknecht is an exception. She is married to Oscar Lafontaine — a former social democrat finance minister — who defected from Gerhard Schröder’s coalition Socialist-Green government and later founded Die Linke, with the members of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS), the successor to the East German Communist Party.

Her husband — 25 years her senior and now retired from politics — always stood for a more socially inclusive form of socialism. He even wrote a book titled “The Heart Beats on the Left.”

His wife does not subscribe to softer sentiments in politics. Her decision to establish Aufstehen should be viewed with concern across the whole of Europe.

Source: Germany’s radical left is fueling anti-immigrant sentiment

Germany Chases a Fix for Its $35 Billion Immigration Problem

The other side of Germany’s immigration issues:

Germany has an immigration problem, but it might not be what right-wing extremists think it is. Rather than too many foreigners in the country, economists fret there won’t be enough.

With baby boomers retiring and not enough young people joining the labor market, the country needs at least 400,000 people coming to work in Germany every year to maintain its competitiveness, according to the IAB Institute for Employment Research. A shortage of skilled workers means businesses won’t be able to produce as much as they could, holding back the economy by about 30 billion euros ($35 billion) a year, research by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research shows.

Labor Squeeze

Germany’s job market is expected to get tighter as older workers retire

Source: German Federal Labor Agency

It’s a delicate issue for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her open-door policy to refugees — more than 1 million asylum seekers came to the country since 2015 — helped foment social tensions and facilitated the emergence of the right-wing Alternative for Germany party. That puts pressure on her to respond to these concerns, while also helping businesses clamoring for more talent.

“It can take up to six months before employees from non-EU countries get their visa,” said Michael Bueltmann, who runs the German operations of digital mapping company HERE Technologies. “This has a negative impact” on recruitment and complicates planning. The company employs 1,200 people in Germany, including programmers from Bangladesh and the Middle East, who lack certainty about their residency prospects.

To address these concerns, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, who recently referred to migration as “the mother of all problems,” is finalizing a law aimed at helping skilled workers come to Germany, while also controlling the influx of low-skilled people who might take advantage of the country’s generous welfare system.

The refugee situation and immigration may be linked in the legislation, with the SPD — Merkel’s junior coalition partner — calling for refugees to be able to switch out of asylum status if they find a job. The so-called “lane change” proposal has been rejected by Merkel, setting up a potential showdown.

The final immigration bill is to be presented this fall, and critics are already concerned it won’t go far enough.

“The planned legislation is a first step, but not what Germany really needs,” said Wido Geis, a senior economist at the Cologne Institute. “A truly modernized German immigration law would need a restructured administration” that centralizes approval processes rather than relies on local authorities.

Source: Germany Chases a Fix for Its $35 Billion Immigration Problem