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By declaring ‘multikulti’ a failure, the German Chancellor advances a serious debate (Clemens Bilan/AP)
By declaring ‘multikulti’ a failure, the German Chancellor advances a serious debate (Clemens Bilan/AP)

Margaret Wente

Angela Merkel says the unsayable on 'multikulti' Add to ...

A few years ago, when I visited some of the Turkish neighbourhoods of Berlin, it was obvious that the German experiment with multiculturalism was in trouble. Many of Germany's four million Turks lived in a parallel society. The kids were doing badly in school and jobless rates were high. Girls were ruled by their patriarchal families. Muslim immigrants had become increasingly religious. A brisk trade in brides and grooms from backward parts of the old country ensured that nothing was likely to change soon. Yet few officials dared to raise these awkward facts in public. And the German political class has gone out of its way to avoid a serious debate on immigration.

But now the tipping point has come. In a speech delivered Saturday, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, declared that multikulti (as it's known in Germany) has been an abject failure.

"Immigrants should learn to speak German," she said. "We kidded ourselves a while, we said: 'They won't stay, some time they will be gone,' but this isn't reality. And of course, the approach [to build]a multicultural [society]and to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other … has failed, utterly failed."

Ms. Merkel was careful to say she doesn't oppose immigration altogether, or that people who don't speak German when they arrive are not welcome. Even so, plenty of the European media - and plenty of German politicians - have interpreted her remarks as a lurch to the hard right in the face of recent economic woes. In fact, she merely said what most Germans already believe. She said exactly what I had heard in Berlin from social workers, teachers and government officials who had worked with the Turkish community for years.

The belief that multiculturalism has failed is now widespread across Europe, and it crosses party boundaries. In Germany, a recent survey found that 55 per cent of respondents think Muslims are a burden on the economy. Another study found that nearly a third of Germans agreed that "foreigners come to abuse the welfare state" and that immigrants might "overrun" the country.

How fast things change. As recently as August, controversy exploded over a new book published by Thilo Sarrazin, a member of the Germany's central bank. In Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany is doing away with itself), he demanded a curb on immigration from Muslim and Arab countries, and claimed that Germany is becoming more stupid because its immigrants are poorly educated. "The failure of integration in Germany is due to the attitude of the Muslim immigrants," he wrote. The book - along with his inflammatory remark that "all Jews share a certain gene" - caused such an uproar that Mr. Sarrazin quit his bank post.

Like Canadians, Germans have been swamped by official propaganda celebrating the joys of ethnic diversity. In both countries, expressing doubts over immigration policy has been socially verboten. As the German journalist Sabine Beppler-Spahl explains in the online magazine spiked!, "Being 'pro-immigration' and 'pro-multiculturalism' in Germany today is like a lifestyle choice, a way of proving that you are culturally refined and cosmopolitan, unlike the supposedly uncultured, racist working classes."

The history and composition of immigration in Canada are sharply different from the situation Germany. But our tipping point is arriving too. And once it does, there's no turning back.

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