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Diversity debate

German chancellor's remarks highlight concerns about multiculturalism in Europe

Issue: "At the wire," Nov. 6, 2010

Germany's approach toward building a multicultural society where different ethnic and religious groups learn "to live side-by-side and to enjoy each other," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a speech Oct. 16, "has failed, utterly failed." Her comments underscored a growing concern and urgency about changing demographics not only in Germany but across Western Europe, largely due to immigration from Muslim-dominated countries. A recent survey in Germany reported that 55 percent of citizens think Muslims are a burden on the economy. Another study reported that nearly one-third of Germans believe "foreigners come to abuse the welfare state" and immigrants could "overrun" the country. Turks make up a growing 3 percent of Germany's population, with Muslims overall comprising nearly 4 percent of the population.

"We kidded ourselves a while," Merkel said: "'They won't stay, some time they will be gone,' but this isn't reality." The chancellor, speaking at a meeting of young members of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said she did not oppose continued immigration but that immigrants must learn to speak German and to accept the country's cultural norms. But Merkel will need to convince her own education minister, fellow CDU member Annette Schavan. In October Schavan announced that three German universities will introduce state-funded Islamic study courses-courses that allow Muslim clerics to receive full training to become imams. The study centers at Tuebingen, Muenster, and Osnabrueck are scheduled to offer bachelor degrees in Islamic studies as early as next year, using $5.5 million in state funding over the next five years. Said Schavan: "We want Islamic religion classes in as many schools as possible in Germany."

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