As native populations in Europe decline, they’re increasingly being replaced by immigrants from different and sometimes hostile cultures. The long-term question bothering many Europeans is whether the complex cultures in Europe, carefully cultivated and which have contributed much to the world, can survive this infusion.
Demographic predictions are notoriously subjective, vulnerable to distortion and misinterpretation. Short-term movements can be mistaken for long-term perspectives. Germany is the dramatic example of the phenomenon.
In 10 years’ time there will be a shortage of at least 3 million skilled workers in Germany. Economic growth will otherwise slow if not collapse. Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to simplify recognition of foreign vocational training degrees and the government no longer requires employers check whether native Germans are available to fill job openings. She would issue temporary residence permits to qualified foreign German-speakers to live in the country while they search for work.
Germany is the second most popular migration destination in the world, after the United States, and is home of the second highest percentage of immigrants in its general population, after Britain. By United Nations estimates that 12 million people living in Germany are immigrants, nearly 15 percent of the total population.
In the aftermath of World War II, the West German government signed agreements with Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and Yugoslavia enabling recruitment of guest workers with few qualifications. Children born to such guest workers received the right of residence, but not citizenship, though many of them eventually did become German citizens.
Arab clans have aligned in organized criminal activity with Chechens, and Albanians and Kosovars have mimicked these clan-based gangs. In a German society with maximum personal freedom, as reckoned by European standards, clans serve those eager to live in peace under the protection of the state. But some clans do not recognize the rule of German law.
German demographics are daunting. The latest Federal Statistical Office figures show that almost every fourth child born in Germany in 2016 was born to a foreign mother, and immigrants have contributed significantly to the German birth rate, which is rising again. One out of five German residents has immigrant roots.
There are, of course, positive aspects to this demography. The German population would otherwise be aging overall, and this has been a troubling political issue for decades. But many Germans are less than pleased, worried about what their homeland will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years. Horst Seehofer, the German Interior minister and an officer of the conservative Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Frau Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union, stirred considerable controversy when he said that “Islam doesn’t belong in Germany,” arguing that while Islam is a religious concept in the Abrahamic tradition, many Muslims are eager to establish a parallel authoritarian state.
The growth of Islam in Germany troubles many Germans. The construction of at least one mosque in almost every large city in Germany attests to the growing influence of Muslims. Polls show that large segments of the German population agree with Herr Seehofer’s remark, if only as a way of expressing uneasiness with how their country is changing. Cornelia Koppetsch, a professor of sociology at the Technical University of Darmstadt, argues that politicians who have sought to “create a sense of community within their political camps” inevitably promote “rampant feelings of rootlessness.”
German culture has frequently been beset by cultural debate; for example, the constant argument over whether to ban the burqa, the Muslim women’s veil, although few women in Germany wear them. These discussions serve largely to provide skeptics with a way to say that “tolerance” has gone far enough. The Christian Social Union has promised that Germany will remain a nation shaped by Judeo-Christian traditions even though membership in Christian churches has been shrinking for years. In 2016 alone, 350,000 people dropped their formal membership in churches, though this does not necessarily mean that they have abandoned their faith or its traditions.
As churches close in many places, Muslims are building new mosques or have taken over buildings that are empty. In Hamburg’s Horn neighborhood, Muslims are converting an abandoned church building into a mosque, with funding from Kuwait. The building had been empty for more than 16 years as its members died, left the church or moved away. Nobody is being pushed out, and although Muslim congregations are often merely transforming an abandoned building, many Christians and non-believers nevertheless regard the conversions as ominously symbolic.
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