Football team tackles German perceptions of integration

By Helen Maguire, IANS
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

BERLIN - At this year’s World Cup, Germany has been enraptured by a national football team in which almost half the players are from an immigrant background.

Eleven of the 23-man squad were either born outside Germany or are German-born but with roots elsewhere.

This may come as a surprise within Germany, according to migration expert Klaus Bade, who thinks the country’s history still makes it difficult for Germans to deal with the foreigners living in their midst.

“There’s a great collective insecurity over the subject of integration,” the professor said in an interview with DPA.

And yet, Bade said his country should be proud of managing to peacefully integrate large groups of immigrants. “Germany is far more successful than it thinks.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel has described Germany’s “international team” in the World Cup as a symbol of successful integration, while people from all ethnic backgrounds have celebrated the German goals.

The country’s largest flag was raised in Berlin by 39-year-old Ibrahim Bassal, who fled the Lebanese civil war 25 years ago. Ironically, he was threatened by left-wing extremists who were upset by such a display of nationalism.

Despite such visible examples of integration, Bade said Germany still faced key problems, in particular low standards of education in immigrant communities and the growth of an ethnically defined underclass.

“These two issues absolutely must be resolved, otherwise they will lead to problems that could threaten social peace in Germany,” said the head of Germany’s Expert Council of Foundations for Integration and Migration (SVR).

The causes, he believed, stem from Germany’s difficult history and a resulting lack of national pride, after the atrocities of two world wars.

Unlike France or the US, Bade said Germany lacked a sense of confidence and greatness for immigrants to identify with and aspire to.

In contrast, he pointed out that Germany’s large Turkish population respected and honoured the “great country and tradition” of their homeland.

“We’re proud of being Turkish, are you proud of being German? No, you’re somehow embarrassed to be German,” Bade paraphrased their attitude.

Germany’s main waves of immigration occurred during the 1960s-70s, when so-called guest workers were invited from southern and eastern Europe and Turkey during the economic boom. Expected to return home, many were followed by their families and settled in Germany.

While Germany belatedly realised that German nationality was a passport to integration for second- and third-generation immigrants, Bade said the country had failed to make the option appealing.

After living in Germany for eight years, foreigners receive full social, economic and legal rights. But crucially, non-EU citizens who are eligible for German nationality must renounce their original citizenship in the process.

By ruling out dual citizenship, Bade said Germany was presenting migrants with a choice the country could not afford.

“Germany can no longer choose its immigrants, as they are already there - and have been for decades. The Germans simply didn’t notice,” he said.

In addition, he said the country was now reliant on these people as Germany’s ageing population and drop in birth rates meant there would be a shortage of 3 million workers by 2015.

Having finally woken up to the issue, Bade said it was too late to entice foreigners with German nationality, which offered little more than the ability to vote for the federal government.

In Bade’s words, a common response was, “Even if I am German I won’t get the job, because my name is Mechmed and not Hans”.

This turns to another key issue, as an ethnically defined sense of German nationality has further dogged integration.

“Many people carry the notion that you can be German, but not become German,” Bade said.

As a result, people with foreign roots who have lived in Germany all their lives are often irked when they are complemented on their language abilities, or asked where they “originally” come from.

Bade believes that this tendency to define people by their otherness has set additional barriers to Muslim integration.

“Germans need to learn that a Muslim is not first and foremost a Muslim,” the migration expert said.

He referred to surveys in which Muslim families were asked what was important to them. The answers usually included their children’s education, a stable job or being able to go on holiday - but not their ability to visit a mosque.

At the same time, Bade said it was commonplace in Germany to hear people praise their friendly Muslim greengrocer - or indeed the national footballer with a Turkish name - while also viewing Islam as a dangerous threat.

On an upbeat note, Bade said the situation was steadily improving.

“The relationship of Germans towards immigrants is getting progressively more relaxed, pragmatic and positive,” he said.

Germany’s World Cup performance by a young, talented football team has set a further example of ways in which Turkish, Nigerian, Polish, Ghanaian, Brazilian, Spanish, Tunisian and Bosnia-Herzegovinan talent can benefit the nation.

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