Vol. 3    Issue 21   16 - 31 March 2009
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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
The Holy Quran A Pictorial Gallery
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Virtual Museum of Islamic Arts and Culture

Managing diversity: A comparative perspective on India and Germany

Professor A. R. Momin

One of the distinctive features of our globalising era is the worldwide salience and recognition of cultural diversity. Most if not all present-day societies have become or are in the process of becoming multiethnic. The worldwide recognition of ethnic and cultural diversity is reflected in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001), which regards cultural diversity as the “common heritage of humanity”.

France has long emphasised the overriding importance of its national culture, defined by laicite (the French version of secularism), and has persistently regarded diversity and ethnicity as a threat to the nation’s unity and solidarity. However, President Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant, has often spoken about the diversity of French society and recently raised the possibility that researchers might begin gathering statistics on ethnicity in the country. In his inauguration speech, the American President Barack Obama emphasised the diversity of American society and said that the US is “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus—and non-believers”.

By and large, multiethnic societies are faced with two formidable challenges: (i) how to reconcile the conflicting pressures of cultural diversity on the one hand and societal cohesion and national unity on the other (ii) how to integrate immigrants and minority groups into mainstream society.

While addressing the question of the management of cultural diversity in India and Germany in a comparative framework, I will focus not only on German society but also on the wider context of the European Union. The rationale for taking cognizance of the wider European context is that, as a founding member of the European Union, Germany is committed to the various EU conventions and directives and, more importantly, the process of European unification has necessitated a rethinking of the relationship between cultural diversity, citizenship and national identity in European societies.

It is widely known that India is among the most culturally diverse regions in the world. The Indian subcontinent has witnessed one of the most creative and fruitful experiments in cultural cross-fertilization and hybridization in human history. The fabric of Indian civilization has been woven from strands and shades of varying textures and hues drawn from a variety of sources. The country’s ubiquitous diversity is reflected in the ethnic composition of its population, in the multiplicity of languages and religious traditions, in variations in social institutions and customs, and in the system of stratification. There are enormous diversities within the fold of Hinduism in the realm of beliefs, rituals and traditions as well as in the social and cultural domain. The People of India project has documented the enormous scale and magnitude of cultural diversity in the country. There are as many as 325 community-specific languages and dialects, which belong to five language families and are written in 25 scripts. There are 2,795 distinctive communities in the country.

There is now a growing recognition of the fact that Europe is a culturally diverse region. There are nearly 80 indigenous languages in Europe and 20 of them are officially recognised by the European Union. Article 22 of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights deals with cultural, religious and linguistic diversity in the European Union and explicitly states that the Union shall respect the continent’s cultural, religious and linguistic diversity.

Almost all European nations have indigenous communities or national minorities, whose cultural traditions and distinctive identities are protected under the terms of the European Union’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Significantly, the motto of the European Union is Invarietate concordia (united in diversity). The diversity of the continent was reiterated in the Berlin Declaration, approved on March 25, 2007, which said: “We, the citizens of Europe, have united for the better. The unnatural division of Europe is consigned to the past. We preserve in the European Union the identities and diverse traditions of its member states”. The EU is an extraordinary construction which has no parallel in recent history. Over 500 million people from 27 diverse countries have come together to create the modern world’s first transnational political and economic space.

For decades Germany has considered itself monocultural. It is only recently that it has come to acknowledge the fact that it is a culturally diverse society and a country of immigration. The Immigration Act of 2004 recognised Germany, for the first time, as a country of immigration. As a matter of fact, the various regions of the country have their distinctive traditions, dialects and identities, which have remained intact through much of the country’s history.

There are four officially recognised national minorities in Germany: the Danish, the Friesian, the Sinti or Roma, and the Sorbs. The Sorbs are Germany’s oldest national minority, having migrated more than a thousand years ago. Article 27 of the German constitution guarantees the protection of the cultural traditions, languages and identities of the national minorities. The Federal and state governments provide substantial funds for the protection of the national minorities’ cultural rights and autonomy.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, there are a total of 15.1 million people in Germany—about one-fifth of the country’s population—with an immigrant background. The majority of them—7.9 million—are ethnic Germans who migrated from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Across the country, a third of all children under 15 have a migration background. In cities with more than 200,000 inhabitants, nearly 45 per cent of children under 15 have a migration background, in the sense that either they migrated themselves or have parents or grandparents who were migrants. In Stuttgart, capital of the state of Baden-Wurttemberg, almost 40 per cent of the city’s residents have a migration background.

Muslim migrants and their descendants who are living in Germany number about 3.3 million, or 4 per cent of the population, and form the largest group of immigrants after ethnic German immigrants. The Turks, who form the largest group among Muslim immigrants, number about 2.7 million.

The constitutional framework

The constitutions of India and Germany share certain fundamental principles and provisions in common, such as fundamental rights and civil liberties, including equality, liberty, justice and freedom of religious expression. These rights are enshrined in Articles 25-30 of the Indian constitution. Article 29 of the constitution protects the rights of citizens to conserve their distinct languages, scripts and cultures. Article 30 guarantees the right of all minorities to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. Article 4 of the German constitution states that “the freedom of belief and conscience and the freedom to profess religious and philosophical beliefs are inviolable” and that “the free practice of worship is guaranteed”.

Both India and Germany follow the federal system of democratic governance, which has a positive bearing on the management of cultural diversity. Both countries place great emphasis on the rule of law as the central principle of governance and administration.

It is interesting to comparative the concept of secularism in the constitutional and political discourse of India and Germany. India is a deeply religious society with a highly differentiated social structure and a multiplicity of religious traditions. The composition of the Constituent Assembly, which was entrusted with the onerous responsibility of drafting the country’s constitution after independence, represented the plural character of Indian society. It spent several years deliberating over a crucial issue: how to transform a heterogeneous, hierarchical and fragmented society into a unified, egalitarian, modern and forward-looking nation.

Though the term secularism was added in the Preamble of India’s constitution in 1976 by the 42nd Amendment, it is very much embedded in the country’s constitutional philosophy. The constitution lays down that the conduct of state shall be governed by the principle of secularism, that state action must be determined by fairness, non-partisanship and impartiality. The principle of secularism, which is defined as a matter of state policy, stipulates that the state shall treat all religions in the country with equal respect, that it shall not privilege one religion or community over others, that it shall provide equal opportunities to the followers of all religions. The institutions of the state are expected to ensure that the principle of secularism is observed in letter and spirit in public life.

There are evident ambiguities and anomalies in the practice of secularism in many European countries. There exist broadly two models in Europe which define the relations between church and state. One of them is premised on a union of church and state while the other espouses a separation of the two domains. Britain, Denmark and Sweden have an official or established religion, with constitutionally guaranteed freedom for all other religions. Greece and Spain confer a preferential status on the dominant religion of the country. The second model, which is premised on the principles of neutrality of the state in matters of religion and equal treatment to all religions, is followed in France and the Netherlands.

The relation between state and church in many European countries remains porous. In Denmark, for example, churches are state-owned and the Christian clergy are state employees. In Britain and the Scandinavian countries, the king or queen is also the head of the established church. Countries like Britain, Denmark and Greece believe that there is no conflict between secularism and having a state or established religion.

Historically, there has been a close relationship between church and state in Germany. The German constitution accepts, in principle, the separation of church and state and the tenet of neutrality of the state in matters of religion, but not in an absolute sense, unlike in the case of France. Article 140 of the German constitution, which regulates the status of religion in the country, grants the Protestant and Catholic churches the status of a corporation under public law, which guarantees certain privileges, such as the collection of church taxes and the organisation of religious instruction in state schools. Nearly 80 per cent of publicly funded nursery schools in Germany are run by the churches on behalf of the state, and so are a number of hospitals and other welfare institutions. The state collects taxes from the Protestant and Catholic communities and hands over the money to the churches after deducting the administrative charges. Some scholars describe the relations between church and state in Germany as an instance of “imperfect separation”. Germany and India espouse an expansive, accommodative model of secularism.

There are some notable differences in the constitutional and political philosophies of India and Germany. First, a spirit of pluralism and accommodation of cultural diversity pervades the constitution of India as well as the dominant political discourse in the country. Secondly, the constitutional and political philosophy underlying the discourse of human rights in Germany and other European countries focuses on individual rights. It is only in the last few years, following the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that certain rights specific to members of ethnic, religious and cultural minorities have been added to the catalogue of human rights protected by international law.

More than six decades ago, the constitution of India guaranteed to the citizens of the country not only wide-ranging individual, civil and political rights but also community-specific cultural, religious and linguistic rights. The constitution of India recognises and endorses a system of legal pluralism whereby it grants substantial autonomy to religious and cultural minorities and guarantees the protection of their religious and cultural rights, including the right to maintain their family laws, religious schools and welfare institutions.

Third, the constitution of India provides for affirmative action in favour of marginalised groups and communities such as the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and nomadic communities. Tribal regions in the north-east of the country and the state of Jammu and Kashmir enjoy an additional measure of political and cultural autonomy and preferential treatment.

Though the German constitution does not specifically mention minority rights, the cultural rights of minority groups in the country are protected under various constitutional provisions and amendments. Three points in this connection are note-worthy. As mentioned in the foregoing, the constitution recognises four national minorities and guarantees the protection of their traditions and distinctive identities. In a significant development, in 2002 immigrants came to be included within the ambit of minorities as defined in Article 27 of the German constitution. Second, the German constitution grants certain special rights and privileges to the minority Jewish and Orthodox communities. Jewish rabbinical courts (Beth Din) for the settlement of family disputes are officially recognised in Germany as well as other European countries and in the US and Canada. The right to slaughter animals according to Jewish ritual, constituting an exception to the Animal Protection Law, was granted to the Jewish community since the end of World War II. The Muslim community gained the same right in 2002 in a case in the Federal Constitutional Court. Third, the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religious expression has been invoked by Muslims in Germany to demand the right to wear the headscarf by teachers and for exemption for Muslim girls from swimming lessons if these lessons are not sexually segregated.

Both Germany and India uphold the principle of independence of the judiciary. It is also note-worthy that in both countries, courts, especially the Supreme Court in India and the Federal Constitutional Court in Germany, play a highly significant role in enforcing constitutional provisions and in redressing the legitimate grievances of minority groups. The intervention of the Supreme Court in the 2002 riots cases in Gujarat is a case in point. Incidentally, the success of Muslims in Germany in gaining recognition for minority rights has stirred intense reaction in a section of the media.

Immigration and citizenship in Germany

Certain issues, which have a significant bearing on the management of cultural diversity and societal cohesion, have a particular relevance in the context of Western societies. One of these is the complex interface between immigration, citizenship and integration.

For a long time, Germany has considered itself culturally homogeneous. Romantic philosophers and literary writers in the 19th century formulated the notion of “culture nation” (Kulturnation), which emphasised the inseparable linkage between the German nation and the culture of the dominant community. The notions of nationality and citizenship in Germany reflect the classical theory of the nation state which was founded on the assumption of a culturally homogeneous society. The notions of nationality and citizenship, as enshrined in the German constitution and articulated in the political discourse, are essentially embedded in descent or ancestry. People of German ancestry (Volksdeutsche from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are considered automatically eligible for German nationality and citizenship, even if they no longer speak German. The issue of immigration necessitated a rethinking of the concepts of nationality and citizenship in the1990s.

When workers from Turkey began to be recruited in the 1960s and 1970s, they were perceived and treated in terms of what came to be known as the guestworker model. It was believed that guestworkers would return to their countries of origin after the expiry of their work contracts. This, however, did not happen and most of them chose to stay back in the country. In the 1990s the German government permitted family reunification for guestworkers.

The contribution of immigrants to German economy and society can be better appreciated in the context of the post-War situation and the demographic context. Immigrants relieved the shortage of skilled labour in war-ravaged industries and manned its coal mines and factories. Furthermore, they have filled in the vacuum created by an ageing population and falling birth rates in the ethnic German population. Germany’s current population of 82 million—the largest in the EU—is expected to plummet to 68 million in the next five decades. Germany, like other European countries, needs immigrants.

Until the citizenship reforms of 2000, it was extremely difficult if not impossible for immigrants (other than ethnic German immigrants), including their descendants born and raised in the country, to acquire German citizenship through naturalisation. The citizenship law was amended and passed by the Bundestag in 1999 and came into force on 1 January 2000, in which an element of Jus soli was introduced for the first time, whereby a child born in Germany to non-German parents would automatically be eligible for citizenship. The new law enable 787,217 immigrants to obtain German citizenship between 2000 and 2004. The amended citizenship law incorporates two principles of citizenship: Jus sanguini (citizenship by descent) and Jus soli (citizenship by birth).

In Germany, unlike in the Netherlands, it is often stated that granting citizenship is the conclusive part of the integration process, not its beginning. Consequently, the naturalisation conditions and procedures have been made quite tough and expensive, which deter many potential applicants. The matter is complicated further by the freedom available to states in Germany to enact their own legislation related to the conditionalities of citizenship. In February 2006, the government of Baden-Wurttemberg introduced a set of new “discussion guidelines—consisting of 30 questions—for applicants for German citizenship. The tenor of the questions weighs heavily against Muslim applicants. One of the questions in the “discussion guidelines” says: “Imagine that your son comes to you and declares that he is a homosexual and would like to live with another man. How would you react?” An opinion poll found that 76% of Germans agree on these questions.

The tough conditionalities associated with naturalisation perhaps explain why about 7.49 million people living in Germany are non-citizens and why only about 500,000 of the estimated 2.7 million Turks living in the country have German nationality.

Societal cohesion and integration

The issue of national unity and societal cohesion is of deep concern to all nations, including India and Germany. However, there are variations in the context, framework and strategies of integration in national societies.

In the Indian context, the issue of societal cohesion and national integration are embedded in the ethos of the constitution and the country’s centuries-old composite cultural tradition. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, observed that the idea of unity-in-diversity represents the essence of Indian civilization and the central ethos of the constitution. A remarkable manifestation of India’s composite culture, which was mainly an outcome of centuries of social and cultural interaction and exchange between Hindus and Muslims, can be seen in architecture, music, arts and crafts, languages and literary traditions and folklore.

The pervasiveness of India’s cultural diversity may lead one to suppose, as did British colonial rulers, that Indian society is essentially atomised and fragmentary. This is a grossly distorted view. There have existed, since ancient times, extensive economic, social and cultural linkages and networks in Indian society, which have knit together diverse regions and communities. These linkages and networks continue to exist in contemporary Indian society, especially in the villages and small towns. Most groups and communities in the country are located within specific cultural-linguistic regions, where they share material culture, social and cultural paces, kinship organisation, languages and dialects, customs and rituals, and regional identity, which often cuts across religious and ethnic distinctions. Furthermore, these groups and communities are characterised by a great deal of interdependence in respect of the endowment and utilisation of material and ecological resources.

Diversity and ethnicity are Janus-faced phenomena in that they have positive as well as dysfunctional implications and consequences. Deep ethnic cleavages and conflicts are conspicuous in Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, India and several African countries. In many parts of Africa, ethnically-related civil wars and inter-tribal conflicts have taken a toll of tens of millions of lives and led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people. The formidable challenges that pose a threat to India’s unity and solidarity include deep-seated caste-based inequalities, ethnic and religious conflicts, regional and linguistic chauvinism and the continued marginalisation of large sections of the population.

In Germany the context of societal cohesion is provided by the recognition of cultural diversity and the integration of immigrants in mainstream society within the constitutional framework. Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the integration of migrants into Germany’s economy and society is decisive for its well-being. In recent years successive governments has taken wide-ranging initiatives aimed at the welfare of immigrants and at facilitating their integration into the wider society. A number of federally financed language and civics classes, aimed at promoting the integration of Muslims and other minority groups, are being run across the country. Several schools in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg offer classes on Islam, in addition to the usual courses on Christianity.

A highly significant initiative taken by Germany’s interior ministry in the last couple of years is the organization of Islam conference. In September 2006, Germany’s interior minister, Wolfgang Schauble, organised a hugely successful conference on Islam in Berlin, to which key state officials as well as representatives of Muslim organizations were invited. The minister began his opening address by declaring that Muslims are indeed a part of Germany, which sent out a highly significant signal to Muslims as well as to the wider society. The conference set in motion a process of dialogue and conciliation. Another conference in the series was organised in 2007.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has convened two integration summits so far, which have been followed up by a National Integration Plan with more than 400 concrete measures, including language and integration courses and cultural and sports projects.

Civil society

The issues of societal cohesion and national integration cannot be adequately addressed only through constitutional safeguards and state-led programmes. They need to be reinforced and sustained through civil society. Civil society institutions, such as NGOs, human rights groups, business houses, inter-faith groups and trade unions, can play a highly effective role in combating racism, inequality and discrimination and in fostering an environment of tolerance, goodwill and accommodation.

A political scientists, Ashutosh Varshney, made an interesting study of the dynamics of inter-communal violence in India between 1950 and 1995. He selected six cities and arranged them in three pairs, each pair having a city which was prone to communal violence and another which did not experience communal riots at all or experienced it only in rare cases. Varshney found that the main reason why one set of cities was riot-prone and the other relatively riot-free was that the riot-prone cities were marked by an absence of networks of civic engagement between Hindus and Muslims. This engagement could be either in the form of professional associations (business chambers, trade unions, political parties, professional groups, NGOs) or through loose and random everyday interaction. Varshney argues that though both forms of civic engagement promote communal peace and harmony, institutionalised inter-ethnic engagement plays a crucial role in saving a city or town from outburst of communal violence.

A major stumbling bloc in the integration process in Germany is the role of far-right political parties and organisations and neo-Nazi groups. These groups often protest against the opening of new mosques in the country and are sometimes involved in physical attacks on immigrants. The construction of a new mosque in Cologne, which was approved by the city council, stirred protests and demonstrations by the city’s far-right groups.

On 20 September, 2008, about 200 far-right activists from different parts of Europe descended on the German city of Cologne to hold a rally against what they called “the Islamization of Europe”. The rally was organised by the local Pro Cologne group, set up to protest against the construction of a mosque in the city, and was joined by prominent members and leaders of Europe’s far-right political parties such as Belgium’s Vlaams Belang and the UK’s British National Party.

The organisers and participants in the rally had not anticipated that they would be confronted and blocked by the city’s residents. An estimated 40,000 protesters turned up in Cologne’s downtown Heumarkt area to disrupt the rally. They blocked urban trains to keep participants in the rally away and raided a tourist boat where the far-right group was hoping to hold a press conference. Some demonstrators flung paint bombs at the organisers. Police cancelled the rally after 45 minutes. Pro Cologne organisers had to dismantle microphones and other equipment in Heumarkt.

There was widespread resentment among the residents of Cologne against the anti-Islam rally. Taxi drivers refused to reach the far-right delegates to their destination and hotel owners cancelled room bookings. The city’s bars hung huge banners declaring “No Kolsch for Nazis”, refusing to serve beer to the organisers and participants. The demonstrators comprised all sections of Cologne’s population, including Christian Democrats, trade unionists, Muslim groups, Left-Party members and students, writers and intellectuals, and Christian groups. The hugely successful demonstration in the heart of the city sent a clear message to the far-right groups in the country and across Europe that the people of Cologne would not tolerate racist ideologies and outbursts in their city.

Germany’s biggest mosque opened in the city of Maxloh in Duisburg district on October 26, 2008. Unlike in the case of some other mosque projects in the country, there were no protests from the local community. In fact, politicians, church representatives and other public figures welcomed the opening of the mosque. Before the construction began, the group responsible for the mosque project arranged meetings and discussions with local residents, including Catholic priests. The governor of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Jurgen Ruttgers, said, “We need more mosques in this country, not in the backyards, but visible and recognisable”. The mosque has a conference centre in the basement, which caters to all the residents of the district of Maxloh. The state of North Rhine-Westphalia invested €3.2 million on the construction of the conference centre.

In recent years there has been an upward swing in what has come to be known as diversity management or diversity charter in both private and public sector organisations in Western countries. The idea of diversity management emerged in the US in the early 1980s. where it has been associated with affirmative action and equal opportunity in the multicultural context. Under Diversity Charter, launched by the European Union in 2000, companies pledge themselves to creating a working environment free of prejudice and discrimination. In 2005 the European Commission published the findings of a major survey of diversity management practices in the (then) 25 member states of the EU.

Several German companies, including Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Telekom and DaimlerChrysler signed the Diversity Charter in 2006, which emphasised the need to promote diversity, equality and non-discrimination both within and outside the company. In some German companies, such as Ford in Cologne and Fraport in Frankfurt, special spaces for prayers have been set up for Muslim employees and consideration is given to their dietary requirements in canteens.

Muslims in India and Germany

Muslims form the largest minority group in India and Germany. India has the second largest Muslim population (nearly 140 million) in the world. Muslim presence in the country dates to the first century of the Islamic era (7th century AD). There has been a vibrant process of cultural exchange and syncretism between Muslim traditions and Indian culture. An overwhelming majority of Indian Muslims have an indigenous origin and consequently share substantial social and cultural spaces with the Hindu population.

Muslims in India enjoy wide-ranging religious, cultural and political freedoms which are not available to their coreligionists in many Muslim countries. At the same time, however, they are faced with numerous problems, including a deep-seated feeling of insecurity (especially when communal riots break out), social and economic marginalisation, educational backwardness, stigmatisation and demonisation, and inadequate representation in national life. Muslims are trying to grapple with these problems through political negotiation and dialogue and judicial intervention.

Muslims in Germany—who constitute about four per cent of the population—have substantial religious, cultural and political freedoms, some of which are scarce in many Muslim countries. There are some 2,500 mosques and places of Islamic worship in the country, many of them with domes and minarets. Incidentally, mosques in Switzerland are not allowed to have minarets. Muslim women in Germany have the freedom to wear the headscarf in school and at the university, which is not permitted in France and even in Turkey. In Hamburg, language teachers, even with Turkish nationality, are treated as civil servants.

Though Muslims and other minority groups in Germany enjoy substantial freedoms, they also experience racism, discrimination and stigmatisation. More than two-thirds of Turks in the country see themselves as victims of racially-motivated discrimination. A major grievance of Muslims is that the status of Public Religious Corporation, which is conferred on the Catholic and Protestant churches and which entails certain important privileges, is denied to them.

Integration processes take place at the micro level—in residential neighbourhoods, at work and in school. Unfortunately, the integration process at the micro level in Germany has not been successful. There is much coexistence between immigrants and ethnic Germans, but little solidarity, sharing and togetherness. Though there are no immigrant ghettos in Germany, unlike in France, immigrants and ethnic Germans live in parallel societies. A new study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development says that even after decades of living in Germany, many Turks are poorly integrated in mainstream society.

Two factors seem to account for this state of affairs. First, the perception of Germans towards immigrants reflects a certain ambivalence. On the one hand, the culture of immigrants, especially of Muslims, represents the quintessential “Other”. On the other, they are not considered as enemies because they live and work in the country and intend to stay for good. There is a fear in the wider society, not only in Germany but across Europe, that the growing Muslim presence will change German culture and alter the balance of power between Germans and outsiders.

Large numbers of immigrants, including their descendants born and raised in the country, continue to experience exclusion, discrimination and stigmatisation on account of their ethnic and religious background. An increasing number of highly qualified professionals of Turkish descent in Germany are leaving the country because they feel unwanted or denied opportunities on account of their ethnic background.

A consortium of European organisations, backed by the European Union, carried out a study on the integration of immigrants and minority groups in the EU in 2008. The study pointed out that EU nations are doing only half as much as they could. It noted that despite strong legal guarantees in the constitution and laws, anti-discrimination measures in Germany were found to be not as effective as they should be.

Second, it is widely recognised that education, proficiency in the local language and professional skills are among the important determinants of success and integration in the wider society. Muslim immigrants in Germany are less educated than ethnic Germans and have a higher unemployment rate. Children of immigrants are much more likely to be in the lower division schools and leave school without a diploma. A sixth of migration-background pupils drop out of school, compared with less than a tenth of native Germans. Forty-seven per cent of foreign-born people have less than secondary school education and fewer than 15% have a university degree. Though the second and third generation Muslims are better educated than their parents, they are far behind the ethnic Germans in education. In the 2003 international PISA test the maths score of second-generation Turks placed them more than two years behind their German peers. The problem is worsened due to the ignorance of large numbers of Turkish immigrants of German language. Most Turkish parents fail to attend the get-togethers over coffee that schools offer.

The unemployment rate among Muslims is more than double the overall national rate of 7.8 per cent. The immigrants account for 36% of the population at or near the poverty line and 29% of the unemployed. The latest “Report on the Situation of Foreigners”, published by the Integration Commissioner of the Federal Government, says that nearly 40 per cent of all young people with a foreign passport have no vocational training, and only 8 per cent manage their Abitur (Germany’s top secondary school leaving certificate). The highest proportion of adults with no job qualifications is 72 per cent among men and women of Turkish origin. A study by the Bertelsmann Foundation estimates that failed integration is already costing the country up to €16 billion per year.

There are indications that the integration scenario is changing for the better. The share of Germans who think too many foreigners live among them has shrunk from a very large majority a quarter century ago to a narrow one now. The government, mainstream political parties and civil society institutions are increasingly adopting inclusive and accommodative policies. Germany’s influential Green Party elected Cem Ozdemir, a Turkish-born politician and social worker, as its co-leader in November 2008. Catholic churches are now extending support to the construction of new mosques in the country. Cologne’s St Theodore Catholic church has decided to raise funds for a new mosque that is under construction in the city. The architect of the mosque is Paul Bohm, who specialises in building churches. Muslims in Germany, especially the younger generation, are increasingly speaking from within German society and are seeking a redress of their legitimate grievances within the country’s constitutional framework and through negotiation and dialogue with the wider society.

Multiculturalism, assimilation and integration

During the past three decades, multiculturalism has enjoyed great popularity in quite a few European countries and has enthusiastically been supported by immigrants and minority groups. However, it has been subject to a great deal of criticism and controversy in recent years. The critics of multiculturalism point out that it presupposes a view of cultures and ethnic groups as fixed, bounded and absolute and thereby solidifies cultural difference. It is accused of encouraging ethnic cleavages and ghettoization and of legitimizing separatism and atomization. Certain events in Western countries at the turn of the century have prompted an increasing number of politicians and public figures to rethink the viability of multiculturalism as a model of societal integration. Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark seem to be moving away from multiculturalism.

Notions of multiculturalism were discussed in the early 1990s by a small group of scholars and politicians as a counter-discourse to the dominant conception of German culture as a homogeneous entity. They called for a change in the ethnically defined concept of nationality and for a substantial reform of citizenship laws. Their major goal was to emphasise that Germany had turned into a country of immigration and hence into a multicultural society. But their views did not find much favour with mainstream opinion in the country.

Some German writers formulated a folkloristic version of multiculturalism, popularised in the phrase multikulti. Berlin started a multikulti radio. The notion of multikulti celebrated those foreign cultural elements which found common acceptance among people. For example, Doner kebabs invented by Turks in Berlin are highly popular among German youth across the country. According to the multikulti view (some described it as the “Doner principle”), only those cultural differences were recognised which could enrich the national culture. Other differences—such as the Islamic headscarf—were regarded as belonging to the domain of the “Other”, to be tolerated in the private, personal realm.

By and large, multikulti, which is sometimes referred to as the Dutch model, is not considered an acceptable model of integration in mainstream German society.

The term Leitkultur (leading culture or core culture), coined by the German-Syrian sociologist Bassam Tibi, has figured prominently in the political debate about immigration and integration. The notion of Leitkultur is based on the assumption of a monocultural German society and presupposes a one-sided assimilation of immigrants and minority groups into the dominant culture of German society. The idea of Leitkultur, like all models of assimilation, is based on the assumption that political unity and national integration are not possible without cultural homogeneity.

There is a striking similarity between the notion of Leitkultur in Germany, the discourse of Hispanidad in Spain and the doctrine of Hindutva in the Indian context. These three versions of national identity could be loosely described as cultural nationalism. Spanish national identity is now sought to be defined in terms of the discourse of cultural nationalism or Hispanidad, which refers to a homogeneous, exclusive community of Spanish-speaking Catholics, to the exclusion of Jews, Muslims and all non-Spanish speakers. In India, the far-right political parties and quasi-political organisations espouse the doctrine of Hindutva as the corner-stone of national identity, which is defined in terms of the ethos and cultural traditions of the majority Hindu population, to the exclusion of minorities.

Currently, the model of societal cohesion and harmony that is espoused by mainstream political parties in Germany is described as integration, which is seen as an alternative to multiculturalism. While the model of integration is fairly inclusive and accommodative of the cultural rights and distinctive identities of immigrants and minority groups, it entails an unstated assumption of assimilation into mainstream society.

It may be pointed out that the idea of assimilation entails a fundamental contradiction between the importance liberal democracies in the Europe assign to individualism and liberalism and conformist pressures. Furthermore, the model of assimilation has proved to be a failure in the long run. National minorities in European countries and in Canada have steadfastly safeguarded their distinctive traditions and identities and have launched movements and political parties to assert their cultural autonomy. The Scandinavian countries, Belgium, Spain and Britain have granted regional autonomy and substantial cultural rights to their national minorities. In the US the model of the melting pot is no longer in vogue and has been replaced by the metaphors of the salad bowl and the glorious mosaic. It is being increasingly recognised around the world that cultural homogeneity is not a prerequisite for national unity and societal cohesion.

The European Union has taken a balanced and realistic view of integration. It has endorsed the principle that integration is a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by immigrants and mainstream society. In a recent document “White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue 2008”, the Council of Europe has emphasised that neither multiculturalism nor assimilation represents an adequate response to the management of cultural diversity. What is required, the document says, is the approach of intercultural dialogue, which is understood as an open and respectful exchange of views between individuals and groups with different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds and heritage on the basis of mutual understanding and respect.


It is note-worthy that both India and Germany have made and continue to make sincere efforts in respect of the management of cultural diversity in a humane, inclusive and accommodative framework. In this matter India and Germany can profitably learn from each other’s experiences as well as from those of other multiethnic societies around the world.

The integration model, which is currently espoused in Germany, reflects a measure of ambiguity and incoherence. It bears an affinity with the model of assimilation (which is favoured in France and Switzerland), which is at variance with the democratic ethos, the diversity of German society and, in the European context, with the cherished principle of liberalism. It is, however, gratifying to note that the government, mainstream political parties and civil society institutions are increasing moving towards an inclusive, expansive and accommodative model of integration. Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s Federal Foreign Minister, recently spoke about “solidarity in diversity”. India has much to offer to Germany in respect of an inclusive, culturally sensitive vision of societal cohesion and national integration. The model of integration as a dynamic, two-way process can foster shared social, political and civic spaces and infuse a sense of togetherness and belonging among citizens and can become a vibrant and viable instrument of societal cohesion and national integration.

India has much to offer to Germany in respect of a comprehensive framework of minority rights, as enshrined in the country’s constitution. Though there is an implicit recognition of minority rights in the constitution and in the shifting political discourse in Germany, the country needs to have a thoroughgoing, inclusive and comprehensive regime of minority rights. Specifically, the rights and privileges that are available to Catholic and Protestant churches, Jews and Orthodox Christians and national minorities should be extended to naturalised immigrants. The simplification and rationalization of citizenship procedures in a national framework will go a long way in fostering a sense of belonging and solidarity among immigrants. The principle of affirmative action, enshrined in India’s constitution and endorsed by countries like the US, has a relevance for the integration of immigrants and minority groups.

India can learn much from Germany as well as from other Western countries in certain crucial areas. There are differences among Germany’s mainstream political parties but at the same time there is a broad consensus across the political spectrum over issues that are of central concern to the German state and society, such as an uncompromising commitment to liberal democracy, the rule of law, the need to curb racism and xenophobia and the integration of immigrants into the economy and society. Unfortunately, such consensus is conspicuously absent in Indian politics, which continues to be mired in narrow electoral considerations and parochial compulsions.

The rule of law is considered the guiding principle of governance and administration in both countries. Unfortunately, this principle is often flouted and violated by politicians, political parties and organisations in India with impunity. India has much to learn from Germany in this respect.

Many Western nations have created legal institutions or instruments to combat inequality and discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity and religion. There is, for example, the Equality and Human Rights Commission in the UK while the US has the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Netherlands has set up, for the same purpose, Committee for Equal Treatment while Australia has Equal Opportunity Commission. The Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s cabinet has a minister for equal opportunities. In Germany there is an Anti-Discrimination Law, derived from Article 3(3) of the constitution. In 2008 the European Commission organised the first ever Equality Summit under the German EU presidency and identified non-discrimination mainstreaming instruments in the formulation and implementation of policies, legislation and programmes.

There is no overarching, comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in India. The country can learn from Germany and other Western nations in this regard.

The Diversity Charter has great relevance in all multiethnic societies, including India. Public and private sector organisations in the country need to follow the lead given by European countries in this direction.

Muslims in India can learn two significant lessons from Muslims in Germany. One is to seek a redress of their legitimate grievances within the constitutional framework. Secondly, in doing so, they need to solicit the support and cooperation of the wider society in a spirit of negotiation and dialogue.

(Paper presented at an international conference “Shifting Images and Discourses: Revisiting Linkages and Exchanges between India and Germany”, organised by the Departments of Sociology and German and Bonn University, Germany in Mumbai on March 12-14,2009)

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