Recent developments in Germany and Sweden are the latest catalysts for international focus on Muslim immigration to Europe. The socio-political storm currently preoccupying Germany‘s public consciousness following the publication of Germany Does Away with Itself, which posits several highly controversial theories regarding the plight of Muslim immigrants, joins the success of the radical right wing party in Sweden’s recent parliamentary elections – a party whose platform focuses on limiting the number of Muslim immigrants.

Muslim_Immigration_EuropeA survey of the European Union political map demonstrates that almost without exception, right wing parties with a radical populist bent waving the anti-immigration banner have become an inseparable part of the European political landscape. In some countries (Holland, Denmark, and Hungary, for example) they have become central to the political map. In others, their political weight is (still) smaller or is not (yet) relevant (such as Germany, Spain, and Great Britain).

Despite the differences between the various parties (stemming in part from different intra-national circumstances), the common denominator includes criticism of the more established parties (whether in the government or the opposition) for their failures in handling the various issues surrounding immigration and the call for taking steps to limit Muslim immigration; the exploitation of prejudices and racism; promotion of resentments against the minority; anti-Semitism – for some an inseparable part of their platform, whether implicit or explicit in written publications; and charismatic leadership.

Why have political parties with anti-democratic, nationalistic, chauvinistic philosophies that fan the flames of hatred against minorities in general and Muslim immigrants in particular managed to acquire a hold on EU nations, which were supposed to have internalized the lessons of the Holocaust and the background to it? The answer is that this phenomenon is a symptom of problems that individual EU members and the EU as an institution have not tackled to date with the appropriate measure of seriousness.

The most pressing problem is the (non)integration of Muslim immigrants. The second and deeper problem has to do with the ramifications of integration for European identity at a time of demographic changes; these will leave their mark on the cultural, religious, social, and political nature of the continent for the foreseeable future. How Germany deals with these issues may not reflect the European reality as a whole, but its approach (or lack thereof) points to the problems inherent in the attempt to tackle the double challenge.

In the early 1960s, because of the need for cheaper labor than what was available in southern Europe (Spain, Portugal, and Italy), West Germany recruited Turkish workers from the Anatolian plateau. The Germans called these Turks, who were supposed to return to their homes when the job was done, gastarbeiter (guest workers). Instead, the Turks were later joined by their families, and the guests eventually became a permanent fixture of Germany’s industrial cities. In the decades since their arrival, the population of Muslim immigrants in general and Turkish immigrants in particular has grown: according to official data, the total number of Muslims in Germany is now somewhere between 3.8 and 4.3 million, of which 2.5 million are Turks. Of the Turkish immigrants, 1.8 million have received German citizenship. The number of Muslims from other Mediterranean countries stands at about 330,000. Disregard and neglect were the hallmarks of German society and the political establishment towards these immigrants, who live in total isolation from the German environment, speaking their own language, practicing their own religion, and steeped in their own culture.

The prevalent approach in right wing circles was that Germany is not an immigrant nation; conversely, “Germany must become a multicultural society” was the slogan of the left and the Greens. It took German society and politics many years to dismiss both stances: neither one comes close to describing Germany’s current reality. A similar awakening took place in Holland after the brutal murder of film director Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam, killed by the son of Moroccan immigrants who had enjoyed all that Holland as an open, tolerant, and welcoming society offered immigrants, and in Great Britain after the attacks on the London underground, carried out by suicide bombers of British Pakistani and British Jamaican descent. These events revealed the failure to integrate the children of immigrants from the subcontinent.

The most recent economic and monetary crisis serves as the backdrop to the book by Social Democrat, former senator, and member of the board of the Bank of Germany Thilo Sarrazin. The bottom line of the book, of which almost 700,000 copies have been sold, is, plainly speaking, that “the Muslims are our disaster.” Their growth, which is larger relative to a shrinking German society; the possibility that within a few generations they will become the dominant force in German society; the difficulties Muslims face in merging into German society; their inherent inferiority; and the burden they place on the German social support system are the book’s central messages. The positive feedback the book has received are clear indicators of the depth of the problem that German society – and above all German politics – faces. The book does nothing to help solve the problem – this was Chancellor Merkel’s reaction to the book. The genetic reasons Sarrazin gave in order to explain the inferiority of the Muslims on the one hand, and his reference to a Jewish gene on the other, resulted in a call to the chairman of the Social Democratic Party to expel the author from the party’s ranks.

These responses will not suffice to cope with the challenge to German society posed by the integration of Muslim immigrants. Despite the questions surrounding the Muslims’ capacity for integration into European societies, it is clear that generations of the German (and European) political establishment have not yet managed to formulate a comprehensive strategy, including education, jobs, and values, that would allow those Muslims who are interested in integrating (and according to polls, they are the majority) to overcome the obstacles they face.

The desire to maintain the successes of the welfare state on the one hand and the dire demographic forecasts predicting a significant drop in German workers on the labor market on the other leave little choice but to increase the number of immigrants. Because East European societies (including those of Russia and Ukraine) are also aging, the work force from the south – the Middle East and Africa – represent the only pool of workers that can help Europe overcome the problem of finding working hands.

When Germany and the other members of the EU create the conditions that will make it easier for immigrants to integrate, the societies will have to deal with the ramifications for Europe’s identity. In a recent interview, Chancellor Merkel said that Germans will have to get used to mosques being an inseparable part of the German urban skyline. She added that it will be necessary to make sure newcomers know their obligations. Social Democratic Party chairman Gabriel raised the discourse ante in saying that those refusing to integrate would have to leave. Such statements make it clear that politically correct language has given way to more straightforward talk demanding that immigrants accept European laws and norms. At the base of these avowals (as opposed to what lies at the base of the considerable support for radical right wing parties) lies the concern about the loss of a particularistic and European identity.

Aside from the (Christian) religious component, many feel strongly about maintaining the values of Western democracy, culture, and morals. The worry, however, is that they are incompatible with the values of Islam. The struggle over values is only at its beginning. Will the immigrants and the surrounding society succeed in working out their differences in peace? What will be the core of a conceivable compromise?

In the next few generations the changing face of Europe will generate a change in Europe’s identity. This change will have political ramifications, one of which could be the emergence of Euro-Islamic political parties. It is too early to assess the significance of this for Euro-Israel relations. It is clear, however, that the future reality will be far more difficult and complex.

The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) is an independent academic institute that studies key issues relating to Israel’s national security and Middle East affairs. Through its mixture of researchers with backgrounds in academia, the military, government, and public policy,