Germany is girding for an influx of nearly one million Muslim refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan by year’s end. The greatest proportion of the migrants will be Syrians, whose country has been torn apart and virtually destroyed by four years of civil war. Four million Syrians have already emigrated, and more will flee as Syria burns. It’s perfectly understandable why they’ve left Syria.
Their successful integration into German society will be an enormously expensive undertaking and a daunting challenge. The vast majority of the immigrants neither speak nor understand German and will have to take crash courses to learn a difficult language. Arriving in Germany with little more than the clothes on their backs and the suitcases in their hands, they will need to be placed in decent housing after a short transitional period. Breadwinners will have to find gainful employment or upgrade their skills. Children will have to be enrolled in schools and adapt to unfamiliar surroundings.
Germany is probably ready for them.
Germany, it will be recalled, spent hundreds of billions of dollars absorbing millions of Germans following the collapse of the East German communist regime. Decades may elapse before the eastern part of the country is fully integrated, so this is still an ongoing process. Germany thus has an abundance of experience dealing with problems revolving around integration.
But the latest arrivals from the Middle East and western Asia will be infinitely harder to absorb than the Germans from East Germany. The adult newcomers, having lived in traditional and autocratic Islamic societies, will find it difficult to blend into a Christian nation whose norms, customs, folkways, culture and politics will seem alien. Their children, however, may adjust.
Some of the refugees, particularly the Syrians, will bring antisemitic prejudices with them. Until the eruption of the civil war, Syria was one of Israel’s fiercest enemies, having fought four wars and numerous skirmishes with the Jewish state since 1948. Having been raised in a country where anti-Israel rhetoric often spilled into anti-Jewish animus and wild conspiracy theories regarding Jews, Syrians were thoroughly brainwashed by the Syrian regime, the state-controlled media and the religious establishment.
Christian Syrians, who comprise a minority of the migrants who have streamed into Germany in recent months, were susceptible to the same baneful influences.
Two months ago, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany alluded to these concerns. In an interview with the Judische Allgemeine, Germany’s biggest Jewish publication, Josef Schuster expressed fear that Muslims settling in Germany may transfer their resentments to Jews already living there. “Many Syrians and immigrants of Arab descent have grown up in an environment in which hostility toward Israel and antisemitism are a common practice,” he noted.
He pointed out that this animosity was plainly evident in the summer of 2014, when Israel and Hamas fought a cross-border war. In anti-Israel demonstrations in German cities, Muslim protesters were heard shouting, “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.” This antisemitic obscenity rattled and upset German leaders.
In an interview with the mass-circulation newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Schuster disclosed he had shared his trepidations with Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, and had told her of the urgent need to “integrate the refugees into our community of values as soon as possible.”
According to Schuster, Merkel responded positively. “We must address that,” she reportedly said.
True to her word, Merkel raised the issue in a recent speech in Berlin’s Jewish Museum. No one expects Muslim immigrants to forget their roots, she said, but within the context of contemporary German “values and social order,” they are expected to reject unequivocally “any form of antisemitism.”
Muslims who intend to restart their lives in Germany would be wise to heed Merkel’s sound advice.
Given its unique history as the incubator of the Holocaust, Germany has a special obligation to make amends for the past and build a democratic society that rejects expressions of racism. In this spirit, Germany has moved forward admirably, having been instrumental in the resurrection of a new Jewish community and having formed strong and friendly relations with the state of Israel.
With hundreds of thousands of Muslims pouring into Germany, the German government has a solemn responsibility to ensure they respect the veracity and sanctity of the Holocaust, bury reactionary anti-Jewish attitudes and become useful and upstanding citizens.
With the recent massacre in San Bernardino, California, still reverberating, Germany should make it crystal clear that Muslim refugees who abuse and/or betray the generous hospitality they’ve received will not be tolerated.
To put it another way, Germany cannot afford a Tashfeen Malik in its midst.