German TV debate between Merkel and Schulz focuses on migration and Islam, catering to populists

German voters will choose a new chancellor on September 24 in an electoral contest pitting incumbent Christian Democrat Angela Merkel against Social Democrat Martin Schulz. After a brief surge in the polls earlier this year, Schulz’ SPD now looks set to lose the election to Merkel, trailing her CDU by about 15 percentage points in recent polls.

Four journalists steering the debate

Against this backdrop, the campaign’s only TV debate took place on September 03. Seen as the highlight of a previously rather lukewarm electoral contest, the debate was supposed to discuss four main topics in equal measure: migration, foreign policy, social justice, and internal security. Yet it was the first item on the list that took up nearly 60 of the debate’s 90 minutes.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

The four TV journalists hosting the programme – and particularly Claus Strunz of the Sat. 1 TV network – honed in on questions of immigration and integration, giving the discussion distinctly populist overtones.

It was above all the hosts who presented refugees and migrants as a threat to internal security and as a drain on Germany’s resources; who insinuated that Islam was inherently irreconcilable with German constitutional principles; and who claimed that Muslims were unwilling and unable to participate in German society – in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Populist demeanour

In order to pressure the two candidates into conceding that politicians were unable to take effective control of migration and to ensure migrants’ integration, the hosts (again with Strunz in the lead) resorted to all available means. Shortly after the onset of the broadcast, Strunz appeared to deliberately falsify a quote by Martin Schulz, in which the SPD politician had stated that refugees were “more valuable than gold” – a fact that Schulz managed to call out.

Other misrepresentations went unquestioned, however – such as the claim that Germany was home to 226,000 people who had no legal right to stay and remained in the country only due to politicians’ failure to expulse them.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/claus-strunz-internetnutzer-empoert-ueber-tv-duell-moderator-a-1165932.html ))

One-sided discussion of migration

Summing up the TV event, the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper noted that it was as if the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) had been a prominent guest in the studio. It also castigated the complete failure to discuss the issue of migration from any other but the most myopic of all perspectives.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/medien/tv-duell-die-angst-der-moderatoren-vor-dem-mob-1.3652046 ))

For instance, not one of the hosts’ questions dealt with the deplorable conditions faced by migrants in Libyan camps or with the deaths of thousands of men and women in the Mediterranean. Neither did anyone inquire about the hundreds of attacks on refugee shelters or the resurgence of right-wing terrorism plots in Germany.

Negative Muslim reactions

The reactions of the targeted ‘foreigners’ and ‘Muslims’ were, predictably, negative. Author and activist Imran Ayata summed up their sentiment when he asserted that the “clear winner” of the debate had been the AfD.(( https://twitter.com/ImranAyata/status/904416160086716417 ))

The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, noted that the hosts had fallen for the own “populist trap”. While moderator Claus Strunz had recently claimed that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing democracy”, Mazyek asserted that “populism is the Viagra of a flailing and ever more shallow media coverage”.(( http://www.huffingtonpost.de/aiman-mazyek/merkel-schulz-muslime-_b_17907854.html ))

Luay Mudhoon, renowned commentator on Islamic affairs, deemed the TV duel a “black day for German TV journalism” and bemoaned the “AfD-leaning leading questions”.(( https://twitter.com/Loay_Mudhoon/status/904426758325366785 )).

“Islam is a part of Germany”

Yet some Muslim observers chose to concentrate on the – rare – positive elements in the debate. The German-Turkish Journal welcomed the fact that both Chancellor Merkel and her challenger Martin Schulz had stressed the positive contributions of many Muslims to German society and that they had agreed to the statement that “Islam is a part of Germany”, albeit in a somewhat roundabout manner.(( https://dtj-online.de/angela-merkel-bekraeftigt-der-islam-gehoert-zu-deutschland-tv-duell-87597 ))

This question – “Is Islam a part of Germany” or “Does Islam belong to Germany” (“Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland?”) – has been a staple of public controversy since a 2010 speech by then-President Christian Wulff. Wulff asserted that Islam was indeed part of Germany’s social fabric.

A question of belonging

Ever since, commentators have argued about whether ‘Islam’ can belong to Germany or whether only ‘Muslims’ can (but not ‘Islam’). The same discussion regularly resurfaces and never yields any conclusion, in part because the question is itself a non-starter and any answer to it always seems to degenerate into nothing more than semantic sophistries.(( An entire academic literature has focused on this debate. For an overview see Spenlen, Klaus (ed.) (2013), Gehört der Islam zu Deutschland? Fakten und Analysen zu einem Meinungsstreit. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press. ))

Many have nevertheless rejected the notion of allowing either Islam or Muslims any part in German identity, citing the country’s inherent and primordial ‘Judeo-Christian’ make-up. (There is always something slightly odd about this claim, given that not too long ago Germany thoroughly erased Judaism from European lands by killing six million of its adherents.)

The Muslim ‘other’

Responding to these pressures, some Muslim voices seek to highlight that they are ‘more German’ than others, also in order to advance their own agendas. Ercan Karakoyun, leader of the Gülen movement in Germany, tweeted during the debate: “A form of Islam that can be reconciled with the Basic Law? There is one! #Gülen movement.”(( https://twitter.com/ercankarakoyun/status/904417326442962944 ))

Ultimately, however, the enduring lesson of an evening spent in front of the television remains that people of Muslim faith are still seen as ‘other’ in significant parts of German society: ‘they’ really do not belong to ‘us’. The TV debate between Merkel and Schulz did nothing to challenge this perception and almost everything to reinforce it.

Chancellor Merkel and the Debate on integration

May 14

 

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has publicly expressed support for the view that Islam is integral part of German society. Doing so, she openly disagreed with opinions voiced in the last months by the Minister of Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) and the head of political Union parties CDU/CSU in the parliament, Volker Kauder (CDU). In front of the pupils of a Berlin school, chancellor Merkel talked about the significant presence of Muslims in German society and their belonging to it. Muslims are part of today’s environment, and many of them are German citizens, Merkel declared. Thus, Islam becomes a part of society, too. Many things known today in Germany have been transported through Islam.

 

This is the first time after the pro Islam speech of former German president Christian Wulff (CDU) in 2010, that chancellor Merkel speaks in favor of Islam as an integral part of Germany. Minister of Interior Friedrich had repeatedly disagreed with recognizing Islam as a part of Germany, emphasizing the Christian-Jewish occidental culture of Germany.

Terror Suspects Arrested in Berlin

09.09.2011

On Thursday, the police in Berlin arrested two young men (24 and 28) of Middle Eastern origin, suspected of buying chemicals for a bomb attack. The two men had been under investigation for several months and were now arrested on the suspicion that a large attack was planned. The arrest was made after one the two men had ordered large quantities of chemicals on the internet. Two companies thought the orders were suspicious and informed the police. While some chemicals were found on one man’s apartment, concrete plans for an attack were not revealed. The suspects remain detained, but refuse to make any statements.

 

Following the arrests, Chancellor Merkel emphasized the threat posed by international terrorism and demanded better control mechanisms, such as the recently debated law on data retention, which would allow authorities to store personal information for up to 12 months.

“Multikulti” or Assimilation? The Question of European Identity

7 February 2011

In this opinion piece, Paul Schulmeister argues that despite the doubts raised by debates concerning the integration of foreigners in Europe, the notion of European identity does exist, and must be promoted. While on the one hand, we should not exaggerate concerning the difficulties that foreigners have had in integrating, on the other hand we should not shy away from wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” or giving a piggy bank as a present.

According to Schulmeister, European identity ultimately rests on the concepts of freedom and justice; the rationality of the Enlightenment; and a striving towards the absolute, which is tempered by scientific relativism. While the German Chancellor Merkel says that “‘Multikulti’ has failed,” what she means is that the ideology of multiculturalism has failed, given that multiculturalism has become a part of everyday life. Schulmeister states that “lip service to European leitkultur” is simply not enough: for immigrants that choose Europe as their new homeland, there must be an unreserved recognition of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and equality of the sexes.

The German Geert Wilders

A former member of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats has formed a party to attract voters enthralled by Thilo Sarrazin and disappointed by Germany’s existing parties. Berlin politician René Stadtkewitz’s new Freedom Party aims to leverage fear of Islam for political ends.

For Stadtkewitz the debate that broke out after Thilo Sarrazin, the former member of the board of the German Central Bank, published a book claiming that Muslims would soon outnumber ethnic Germans and that they were dumbing down the country, went something like this: After reading Sarrazin’s book, shortly after it was published, Stadtkewitz realized that he liked what he was reading. He felt validated and encouraged.

In a poll commissioned by the left-leaning newspaper Berliner Zeitung, 24 percent of Berlin residents stated that they could imagine voting for a “party directed against Islam.” And a survey conducted by the Emnid opinion research firm concluded that 18 percent of Germans would vote for a Sarrazin party. A Sarrazin party doesn’t even exist. But now there is one lead by René Stadtkewitz, a small business owner from Berlin’s Karow district.

What Works Against Forced Marriages?

BERLIN – As part of the Integration Summit, Chancellor Merkel and the Ministry of the Interior invited experts to give testimony on forced marriages to the family committee in the Bundestag. Heiner Bielefeldt, director of the German Institute for Human Rights, was one of many who argued that forced marriage is not a typically Islamic practice.