On Refugees and Racism: Germany’s Immigration Crisis

German citizens rallied in support of Alternative for Germany, and anti-immigration party.

German citizens rallied in support of Alternative for Germany (AFD), an anti-immigration party.

Wir schaffen das! With these words, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany since 2005, opened the floodgates both literally and figuratively to both millions of Syrian refugees and endless political controversy. Needless to say, the now-famous statement has opened a worldwide debate on the ever-growing crisis, particularly so within Germany, where neither the left nor the right seems to be satisfied with the way things are going. The approval rating of Germany’s beloved chancellor has recently reached an all-time low, and demonstrations from both sides are running rampant. The situation is indeed complicated and has massive implications for global politics, particularly with regard to the European Union.

Daily conversations with my host mother over dinner (often with the evening news on in the background) have provided me with an interesting perspective on the situation, which has also been incorporated well into our FSP courses. The immense social pressure in favor of refugees becomes clear. The right in Germany is already subject to relatively strong prejudice, to the point of taboo, because of the country’s history of right-wing extremism. (Anti-Nazi laws are still quite strong in the country; Hitler’s Mein Kampf is banned, and Neo-Nazi parties are illegal in national parliament, among other restrictions.) Individuals who openly identify with the right, as well as those who speak out against such liberal immigration policies, are often crassly labeled as Nazis themselves, regardless of the fact that the vast majority of such people would likely be as strongly against real Nazis as the left-wingers; this in turn silences the voices of most conservative Germans in the mainstream media and discourse. “But what will they do when they’re here, though?” my host mother loudly proclaims. “They just didn’t think this through.” Interestingly enough, Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, is already the most conservative of the mainstream political parties. Other groups, however, such as Alternative for Germany, have gained increasing support, for reasons ranging from fiscal policy to immigration issues.

Recently, the anti-asylum group PEGIDA, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident, has gained notoriety for their Monday-evening protests in Dresden. Our FSP received a first-hand look at one of these protests. Our professor had already informed us of the group’s planned demonstration that night and advised us that we should travel to Dresden’s famous Semper Opera in groups, particularly those of us of non-European descent. Upon our arrival, it was already clear that PEGIDA does not mess around; thousands of people crowded the square in front of the opera house. Interestingly, there seemed to be more Norwegian flags than German flags (which typically only come out during the World Cup, again due to cultural fears of patriotism stemming from National Socialism); these flags are, in fact, not those of Norway, but of a similar-looking flag used in World War II to denote resistance against the Nazis. One daring individual even bore the flag of the Habsburg monarchy, which fell after the First World War. Unfortunately, the opera was about to begin, so we were unable to stay to hear the speeches from the movement’s leaders. (The Semper Opera’s performance of Der Wildschütz was, however, fantastic, so it would have been difficult to decide which I would rather have experienced.) Regardless, this short experience was enough to confirm my suspicions about the group; it is, quite simply, a horribly organized group with ultimately no regard for holding a rational public image. Its leaders have repeatedly come under fire for ties to neo-Nazi organizations, even going so far as to propose concentration camps for Muslims. They also insisted on booing the attendees of the Semper Opera itself, despite its all-German performance of a beloved German libretto to a primarily German audience in an iconic German opera house. Expressing support for a long-deposed monarchy also tends to be a troublesome statement, especially when said monarchy fought to the death alongside the Ottoman Turks.

A November 7 demonstration in Berlin displayed another interesting look into sociopolitical tensions. Protesters from the Alternative for Germany (AFD) party assembled in Alexanderplatz for a march through the city. The group quite closely resembled the PEGIDA protesters in Dresden, bearing signs with similar messages and countless German flags, in addition to the Nazi resistance flag. Interestingly, these “radical” protesters were the ones doing so peacefully and orderly. Indeed, it was the counter-protesters who more closely resembled the chaotic rabble associated with modern demonstrations. AFD protesters were subject to verbal and physical harassment, were spit on, and had rocks and other objects thrown at them. Chants from the counter-protesters were vicious, ranging from “Deutschland is Scheiße, ihr seid die Beweise!” (“Germany is s***, you are the proof!”) to “Es gibt kein Recht auf Nazipropaganda!” (“There is no right to Nazi propaganda”- a statement which is, interestingly, both true and false), and, of course, the ubiquitous “Fick dich Scheißnazi!” Police were also subject to aggression, and I witnessed several violent scuffles and arrests involving overzealous youth. The AFD protesters were likely outnumbered by the counter-protesters, who also seemed to possess an average age of more than twenty years younger than the AFD protesters, illustrating a fairly strong generational difference in ideology. The liberal use of the word “Nazi” is also striking; though AFD may possess an ideology falling ever so slightly more in line with the radical right views of the National Socialists, the behavior of the left seemed much more brutal and oppressive.

In response to the refugee crisis, right-wing groups are hitting the mainstream in most countries. Poland’s recent elections resulted in a strong victory for conservative Catholics, and most eastern European countries’ political landscapes mirror this. In addition, for the first time since its inception, Schengen Area borders have been closed. Germany set up controls on its border with Austria, and Slovakia did the same on its border with Hungary. Indeed, the influx of refugees into Germany was causing so much chaos that free entry for refugees was simply infeasible. France and Italy are also poised to institute border controls as well. The United States threw its hat into the ring earlier this year as it announced its acceptance of 10,000 refugees, a much more conservative and realistic figure than those of European countries. Interestingly, Merkel herself continues to be depicted as a Nazi by her critics, despite instituting liberal and open immigration policies completely antithetical to what National Socialists would have stood for.

At this point, the refugee population has grown so large that it is near impossible to calculate an accurate number. Europe, however, is not taking the brunt of the refugee population; that honor goes to Turkey, the country through which nearly all refugees travel to reach Europe in the first place. Turkey has accepted nearly two million refugees as of mid-September. Lebanon, another bordering country of Syria, has taken over a million, which amounts to over 25% of Lebanon’s original population. A significant percentage of refugees are forced to live in camps because of the sheer number of them; in addition, roughly half are under the age of 18. It is difficult to find accurate numbers for European countries, but Germany leads the pack, with estimates ranging up to a million. Other participants in Dartmouth’s FSP who also participated in the summer LSA experienced a bureaucratic backlog as they attempted to acquire their student visas. They were forced to wake up before 4 A.M. in order to make it to the immigration center, where they stood in line with refugees to acquire documentation, early enough. After Germany, Sweden has taken the next highest number of refugees. Other countries, however, are playing a much lesser role in the crisis; Germany and Sweden together take more than half of the refugees entering Europe, creating a significant disparity in the burden of the crisis amongst EU member states.

In a situation of this magnitude, it is simply irresponsible to ignore the emotional factors at play. Millions of people, including millions of children, have been forced to flee their homes due to all-out war within their home country. Many in Europe thus see a moral duty to accept refugees and cite their relative wealth as a means to provide for a new population. I recently had a bus halted by a massive demonstration on Kochstraße, just down the street from Checkpoint Charlie. The protesters (accompanied by an unsettling number of Polizei: maybe 30 vehicles and countless officers in varying degrees of riot gear) called for more government money for refugee support, free choice of residence for refugees, and increased asylum. Parallels to American immigration debates become ever clearer, though the German incarnation of our beloved, poorly-toupeed real estate mogul is represented by thousands of flag-bearing East Germans. Ultimately, it would be wrong to turn all refugees away and force them to return to their home country, a playground for Russia and America still rocked by war. However, there are genuine and legitimate concerns regarding the massive influx of refugees, ranging from the national security issues to economic sustainability. With such polarized opinions and issues of international security at play, it becomes clear that Merkel’s position of power in such a tenuous situation is a very, very hot seat.

However, the biggest issue has to do with the politics of the European Union. As a confederate government, true leadership or authority above the member countries is essentially nonexistent. The Eurozone, consisting of countries which utilize the Euro currency, composes only 19 of the 28 member countries. The Schengen Area, where international travel is passport control-free, constitutes only 22 of the 28 countries. Study of EU politics is thus, all at once, interesting, complicated, and irrelevant, due to the sheer weakness of the union. Most scholars claim that the Union is governed by its de facto presidents in the form of the leaders of its most powerful member countries. For many years, this meant the reign of the beloved Merkozy partnership; after the election of the French socialist François Hollande in 2012, however, the Union’s unity has been on the decline. As waves of conservative parties, many of whom have anti-Union views, gain strength in national politics, the strength of the EU seems to be waning.

The biggest issue (though admittedly in my conservative, American opinion) is not the issue of refugee influx; they are already there and will continue to arrive, and not much can be done to stop that. The German government has made its decision. The real issue is that of the strength of the European Union. The disparity in the numbers of refugees taken on by different countries is staggering, with Germany and Sweden miles ahead of the rest of the pack. It was not necessarily a mistake for Germany to let refugees flood into the country unchecked (though this certainly could have been organized better). However, this crisis should have served as an opportunity for the European Union to come together and spread the wealth. Rather than allowing refugees to flood into Germany and Sweden, EU leadership could have delegated refugee quotas to different member countries based upon resources and openness to asylum.

After the reunification of Germany in the early 1990s, international powers feared the resurgence of German power on the global stage. Though Germany has certainly not lapsed into its earlier patterns of evil, they seem to have tempered their influence to a certain degree, also refusing to use their reformed power for good in delegating the adoption of refugees to different countries. Other countries, particularly France and Norway, seem content to sit back and watch others struggle with hordes of refugees. Germany, instead of asserting its dominance over the rest of European Union and working out the refugee crisis in feasible manner, has misjudged the situation and dug an awkwardly-shaped hole.

Questions thus remain regarding the nature of resistance to Germany’s liberal policies. Alone and on Halloween, my birthday, I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Oświęcim, Poland. I received as good a look as one could get at the genocide executed by the Nazis during my six-hour tour. I walked beneath the infamous iron gate, stood in the deteriorating barracks, and peered into the ruins of the crematoria and gas chambers where millions of Jews were ruthlessly murdered. The National Socialists’ agenda was one of racial supremacy and glory for the German people. In the past century, our understanding of racism has changed dramatically. Though it was only a mere glimpse at the atrocities committed, the impact it left on me was undeniable. Growing up, I considered a racist to be someone who actively discriminated or disrespected people of a different skin color. Many would agree that modern college campuses, where a charity party can be shut down for dubious claims and where “microaggressions” reign supreme, define racism very liberally. Nowadays, different groups tend to define the word completely differently, causing conflict in the racially-heated climate of today. Two years ago, I would never have considered myself or probably anyone I knew a racist. Now, due to the term’s liberalization, almost everyone you meet fits or is forced into the definition in one way or another—much like the case of the overuse of “Nazi.”

More and more the definition of racism has shifted to mean discrimination based not on race, but on culture. PEGIDA is classified as Islamophobic and is so in the most basic definition of the word: fear of Islam. Signs carried by the group proclaim not hatred for Muslims based on their skin color or heritage, but rather fear of Sharia making its way to Europe. It comes down to a clash of ideals: the more authoritarian and conservative values of Islam coming into conflict with the liberal and secular-yet-Christian-influenced European mentality. Likewise, America has become more of a battleground of ideologies than anything else, with Black Lives Matter, feminism, progressivism, neoconservatism, social conservatism, and Trump-mania dominating the political landscape. Meanwhile, no intelligent discourse occurs, and most people sit in utterly frustration and apathy waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones. European politics prove more interesting because they are at least based on real current issues and occurrences rather than rehashing the same ideological and cultural conflicts of years past.

The current atmosphere is heading in the direction of irrationality, rather than objectivity, on both sides. On the left, this means claiming vast and active structures of oppression, decrying others for historical injustices, playing the “victim card,” and spreading and falling for lies. On the right, this means abandoning reason and scientific observation, radicalization to the point of resembling dangerous historical precedent, utter refusal to cooperate even with those of similar viewpoints, and also spreading and falling for lies. The truth becomes near impossible to discern. The shift is universal, and it is as evident across the pond as it is at home in the United States. It is likewise impossible to predict what will happen next, especially as the current Democratic frontrunner is under federal investigation for her role in the 2012 Benghazi attack and an email scandal while the hopelessly fractured other side of the aisle is dominated by a reality television star most known for his tremendous hair.

And then something that no one can predict changes the dynamic entirely. The November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris claimed over a hundred innocent lives, threw a city into chaos, and plunged the Western world yet again into a lingering fear that has pervaded society since September 11, 2001. The fact that the attacks were likely perpetrated by militant terrorist group ISIS, which is currently at large in Syria, the source of Europe’s refugee crisis, makes this sentiment all the more grim. Marine Le Pen, president of France’s National Front Party, a right-wing organization, was already leading polls for the country’s presidency before the attacks and is sure to only grow in power. In press releases after the attacks, Le Pen was quoted as saying, “It’s indispensable that France regain control of its borders permanently.” She has also stood for the elimination of the Schengen Zone, which would reinstate full border checks across Europe. Anti-immigration sentiment is poised to strengthen and will likely play a major role in the outcome of the 2017 elections, which will turn over most of the European powers’ leadership. We at The Review offer our thoughts and prayers to the victims, stand with Paris, and hope that justice can be served.

Merkel now stands in a precarious position. The left feels she has not done enough for the refugees and demands more government assistance and even looser restrictions. The right is even more outspoken with its demands, expressing its hatred for her decisions and calling for much stricter restrictions and the end of asylum. The future of not only Germany, but the entire European Union is at stake; if Merkel, who has been the Union’s de facto captain for so long now, were to be ousted, what would become of the confederation, especially with the wave of conservative victories currently sweeping the continent? What would this mean for American-European relations? Finally, how does the refugee situation play out, both in Europe and in the Middle East? Such questions tend not to cross the mind of the average Dartmouth student, but for hundreds of millions of people, the future hangs by a thread. It is well known that Donald Trump desires nothing more than to Make America Great Again. But who, if anyone, can Make Europe Great Again?

  • Observer70

    First of all, this is a great piece of thought-provoking journalism (and I could say the same of the other articles published by The Review in the last several days). If only certain other members of the Dartmouth community (and administration) could address the day’s issues with equal intelligence, reason, and goodwill. A few of the many questions suggested by this article are: To what extent does the future of the European Union depend upon the defeat of radical Islam? And if we want to stem the rise of extremism in Europe, don’t we have to defeat it in the Middle East? All of which tosses us into the briar patch the the US has struggled with since 9/11: To what degree is military force the answer to radical Islam?

    • jebor

      Actually, fairly simple; we kill them or they kill us

      • piper60

        Your children are going to go to school with these children-and your taxes will go ballistic to pay for it!coming to a mosque basement and a scout troop near you!

        • piper60

          At least we’ll finally have something to do with our enormous collection of mint condition (only dropped once!) AK-47’s teaching aids for everybody!

  • truthtalk5

    They have to go. Sorry.

  • Bodart

    Excellent article.
    One factual error needs to be cleared up .
    During WW2 , Hitler entertained the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in Berlin, Haj Amin al Husseini, the most prominent leader of the Muslim world at that time, for nearly one year. Together, both Hitler and al Husseini (who was also the uncle of PLO terror leader Yasser Arafat), devised the Waffen SS, the cruel Nazi /Muslim killing machine designed to kill Balkan Jews , Slavs and Greeks. It was brutally efficent; after WW2, many Nazis fled to the friendly and sage confines of the Middle East (except Israel), especially Egypt. Hitler was said to be enamored with the cultish devotion of Muslims towards Mohammed and his 7th century genocidal military actions.
    This being said, it is a complete error to state that “right wing” movements such as Le Pen’s and PEGIDA are sympatico with Naziism.
    Naziism is National Socialism which is actually left wing socialism and Naziism not only allied with Russian Communism at the beginning of WW2, it later allied with Islam. It is the Western left that is engendering the rise of militant Islam in our midst.
    Ergo, European conservatives and “right wingers” who oppose the current European Muslim “hijra” or invasion are simply trying to protect and preserve Western ideals and institutions from the Islamic Caliphate’s sharia -inspired onslaught.

    • Tholzel

      That lengthy jeremiad is a lot more than the stated “one factual error.”

      • Bodart

        That’s because a lot of us have con siderable .catching up to do on this essential part of history.
        When you get down to it Naziism and Islamism are not only both linked, they are both imbued with fascist socialism.

  • Observer70

    The flood of refugees into Europe creates enormous social and political pressures that play into the hands of extremists (just as World War I and the Great Depression aided the rise of Communism and Nazism in Russia and Germany). It is practically inevitable that further terrorist attacks in Europe and the US will exacerbate the problem, and the longer responsible leaders dally in responding to the threat, the more public opinion will shift in favor of extremist parties. Radical Islam must be defeated, and military force is an indispensable component of the solution. But screaming “kill ’em all!’ or advancing peculiar historical rewrites only confirms the existence of the extremist threat. A coalition, including moderate Islamic states (if possible) would be a positive step. But force alone cannot solve the problem. Just as the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe after World War II (to combat the risk of Communism), so the suffering caused by war in the Middle East must be alleviated in order to offer its people an alternative to emigration and homicidal/suicidal jihad.

    • Bodart

      So Observer 70, are you denying the Hitler – Muslim connection ?
      Are you denying that Nazis were socialist ? It’s in their name !
      Are you denying that Hitler signed a pact with Stalin to attack and divide Poland thereby starting WW2?
      Are you denying that today’s Lefties , enamored with the wonderful Multi Culti stew, think that it’s just great that we’re building mosques here in the USA ?
      Do you believe that the Koran has nothing to do with eternal Western hatred?
      Do you deny that the Koran in Sura 9:5 prescribes “Slay the unbeliever where ever ye find them” ?

      Facts are such a terrible inconvenience for dreamers such as yourself.
      Right , keep feeding the crocodile with a Marshall plan to Islamists who attacked us first in 1993 (first World Trade Ctr. bombing) and let them continue to hate us.
      You should know : Islam was attacking the US 1n the 1790’s, starting the Barbary Wars and forcing us to start the US Navy to protect our merchant fleet off the Maghreb.

      Islamists have been attacking America for a long time but most Americans are unaware of the extent of this problem.

      Observer- you need a little more study of World History !

      • Observer70

        Mark Twain once wrote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” I this case, I think one could also say: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and ‘facts’ in the hands of someone with a political agenda.”

        • Bodart

          Observer :responding to an argument with a silly quip is a losing argument in the absence of countering facts.
          What facts are you in dispute with and for what reason ?
          And what exactly is wrong with having a political agenda when one sees injustices and wishes to correct them ?

          • Observer70

            This web site is frequented by intelligent, educated people who recognize pseudo-historical nonsense when they see it. As for having a political agenda, my problem is with furthering such an agenda by means of fabrication, factual distortion, and cherry picking.

          • Bodart

            Here is Observer descending into gibberish, unwilling to look at inconvenient facts and unable to present a counter-argument with any of his /her own facts. The impuned insult is merely an ad hominem attack combined with a dubious ” appeal to authority” which falls flat . My dual Ivy degrees subsume Observer’s reference to intelligence and education.
            Name calling on an Ivy League website is completely inappropriate. You need not respond, Observer unless you come up with facts that can counter the above historic data.

        • piper60

          Actually there’s another sort of lie. That was Dr. Goebbel’s specialty-bully ragging German Professors into coming up with reams and reams of statisticson the Jews-all in nest statistical form arranged in charts, graphs and tables which the Propaganda Ministry could repackage into “news, press releases and feature articles distributed free to reporters and editors all over Europe who needed stories to submit and weren’t too fussy about content!

      • Bodart

        Regarding the NAZI-ISLAMIC connection, here are some leads :

        http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-Ed Contributors/The-Grand-Muftis-Nazi-connection-347823
        (JPost 4/7/14)

        Jihad’sNAZIconnections
        http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=764

        Hitler’s Mufti, not Hitler’s Pope
        http://www.jihadwatch.org/2005/08 hitlers-mufti-not hitlers-pope

        This reports :
        Adolf Eichmann’s deputy Dieter Wislicency, testified at the Nuremberg Trials that Hajj al-Husseini
        “was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan. He was one of Eichmann’s best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures.” At Auschwitz, al-Husseini reportedly “admonished the guards running the gas chambers to work more diligently.”

        So Dartmouth undergrads : this is great stuff as it destroys the leftist narrative that the NAZI’s were on the opposite end of the political spectrum with Islamism. Great stuff for a term paper for those in Middle East world history classes. I only wish that we Dartmouth undergrads in the early-mid 70’s were aware of this !

      • piper60

        Socialism got a curious extra meaning when Kaiser Wilhelm appropriated the term to describe his program of central economic control in order to foster full mobilization for total war! He called his program “War Socialism”to get it past the Social Democrats.The NAzIs started out as the German Worker’s Party and eventually added the “Socialist”and “National”part to attack support from the veterans and patriotic middle class!Hitler may have used the term “Peace Socialism”-but he didn’t mean tin any sense a Socialist would recognize!He wanted government control of the economy-and there was Socialism, just waiting for somebody to twist into silly putty!

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  • Jackie Blue

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3iki9m_the-real-truth-why-the-refugees-are-flooding-europe-soon-america-canada-ect_news see what really happens when you let thousands of Muslim refugees into your country…..Most people prefer to ignore what the libtard race traitors are doing. They don’t want to confront the shocking reality that libtards are flooding our countries with subhuman mongoloids because they’re afraid that doing so would be racist… That’s how afraid White people have become of being called racists these days. They’d rather become racial minorities in their own countries and get mugged, raped and murdered on the streets than enact legislation that’s even the slightest bit racist….