• Berlin's embrace of immigrants a success, by Norman Levine (WT, June 11th 2006)

    Berlin's embrace of immigrants a success

    By Norman Levine
    THE <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:State w:st="on">WASHINGTON</st1:State></st1:place> TIMES
    Published June 11, 2006

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    <st1:State w:st="on">BERLIN</st1:State> -- Contemporary <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Berlin</st1:place></st1:State> is a case study in the strategies of social peace.
        Earlier in the year, <st1:City w:st="on">Paris</st1:City> was rocked by violent urban disorder, but for the past 25 years both the Federal Government of Germany and the city government of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:State w:st="on">Berlin</st1:State></st1:place> have initiated programs that make the metropolis a model in the engineering of social integration.

        <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Berlin</st1:place></st1:State> has 3.3 million people, it has an immigrant population of 500,000, and the largest immigrant group is Islamic Turks. Until 1989, the city was divided by a wall built by Communist East Germany to prevent contact between East and West. After the November 1989 collapse of the wall, the federal and municipal governments acted creatively to prevent construction of an "Ethnic Wall," and <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:State w:st="on">Berlin</st1:State></st1:place> is today an example of the tactics of ethnosocial assimilation.

        The February riots in <st1:City w:st="on">Paris</st1:City>, led by young Muslim immigrants from <st1:country-region w:st="on">Morocco</st1:country-region>, <st1:country-region w:st="on">Algeria</st1:country-region> and <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Tunisia</st1:place></st1:country-region>, were caused in part by urban segregation. The Islamic residents of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Paris</st1:City></st1:place> lived in suburban ghettos, and this residential apartheid was a wall preventing their integration into French society.

        In <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Berlin</st1:place></st1:State>, Islamic nationalities live mostly in the districts of Kreuzberg, Neukolln and Wedding, near the center of the city, and this housing pattern supports ethnic assimilation. Whereas in <st1:City w:st="on">Paris</st1:City> residential apartheid blocked the integration process, in <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:State w:st="on">Berlin</st1:State></st1:place>, residential inclusion eases the way to cultural cooperation.

        Involving newcomers
        In addition to this residential desegregation, the basic thrust of most government programs is grass-roots organization. The strategy is to invigorate civil society so that ethnic groups will feel empowered and that they have a stake in the affairs of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:State w:st="on">Berlin</st1:State></st1:place>.

        The Kreuzberg Democracy Project, led by Doris Nahawandi, a Pakistani, organizes community round-table discussions at which all ethnic groups can voice their ideas. These grass-roots discourses, the purging of ethnic prejudices, and the reaching of thoughtful decisions help establish a sense of community among the multiple religious and ethnic constituencies.

        Another target of Ms. Nahawandi's is "Islamophobia." To help Germans overcome their fear of Islam, she organizes conferences at which academics discuss this subject. The German Senate also paid for the development of youth centers, and these multiethnic meeting halls were designed to encourage grass-roots dialogue and mobilize civic awareness against Islamophobia.

         "These Kreuzberg programs succeeded in reducing ethnic animosity," said Ms. Nahawandi, adding that "the size of gangs has declined, and the past three years have been free of any ethnic disturbances."

        The Berlin Department of Civil Rights for Migrants was created by the Berlin Senate in 1981. Its primary task is to inform all migrants of their constitutional rights under German law.
        Elke Pohl, the department director, supervises a staff of 25 whose languages include Polish, Vietnamese, Turkish, Arabic, Serbian, Croatian and Chinese.

        Legal advice offered
        The office gives legal advice regarding social or religious discrimination. It also advises about the rights of women in cases involving arranged marriages. Ms. Pohl helps bring the concept of civil rights to people of immigrant background. These legal services are free.

        If Kreuzberg can be compared to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Berkeley</st1:City>, <st1:State w:st="on">Calif.</st1:State></st1:place>, Neukolln is conservative lower-middle-class. The population of Neukolln is 270,000 and 30 percent of its residents are immigrants. But it is not Harlem or <st1:place w:st="on">Watts</st1:place> -- there are no immigrant ghettos. Rather the residential landscape integrates Germans and immigrants.

        The single greatest obstacle to integration throughout <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Germany</st1:place></st1:country-region> is the language barrier. A national survey in 2001 found that 70 percent of immigrants did not know German. To overcome this problem, the federal government in 2005 offered an integration course consisting of 630 hours of free instruction. Six hundred of them are devoted to German language instruction, and 30 hours to German history.

        The Schillerpromenade is a neighborhood organization in Neukolln. In 2004, its leader, Kerstin Schmiedeknecht, began offering a language program for prekindergarten immigrant children who were brought to elementary schools to begin learning German.

        Another innovation was Ms. Schmiedeknecht's creation of "Quarter Mothers." To teach immigrant parents about the German legal system, health and nutrition, and the legal steps to obtain citizenship, Ms. Schmiedeknecht recruited Turkish women and called them "quarter mothers." Their responsibility was to contact Turkish families, so Turks would talk to Turks, raising the civic consciousness of new immigrants.

        Help for job seekers
        Aware of high unemployment among immigrants, Schillerpromenade also set up a community program for job seekers.

        For newcomers to <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Germany</st1:country-region></st1:place> aged 9 to 18 years, the program helps boys and girls prepare resumes, fill out employment applications, and emphasizes the great advantage of obtaining a high school diploma.

        The arts also serve as an arena for improving toleration of others different from oneself. The Hall of Cultures administered by Paul Rather acts as a performing arts center for foreigners arriving in Neukolln; all nationalities can stage cultural events from poetry to reggae as guests of the local government.

        With financial support from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the German Sports Association uses private sports clubs for integrating minority populations.

        The German Sports Association designed programs specifically for Islamic women. Orthodox Islamic women do not engage in sports, and don't receive the possible health benefits. To encourage these women to swim, facilities have been constructed to guarantee their absolute privacy from males.

        Aycan Demirel, director of the Kreuzberg Initiative Against Anti-Semitism, and his assistant <st1:PersonName w:st="on">Elif Kayi</st1:PersonName>, are both Turks and leaders in the struggle against "the new anti-Semitism" against Islamic populations in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Germany</st1:place></st1:country-region>. Their organization is funded by the German Federal Government.

         Mr. Demirel acknowledged that "anti-Semitism is a serious problem among the Islamic populations of <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:State w:st="on">Berlin</st1:State></st1:place>. Palestinian immigrants who emigrated to escape the Arab-israeli conflict have infected other Muslim nationalities with racist feelings."

        'New anti-Semitism'
        "In <st1:place w:st="on"><st1:country-region w:st="on">Turkey</st1:country-region></st1:place> there is an anti-Semitic newspaper called VAKIT," Mr. Demirel said. "The German government banned its distribution in <st1:country-region w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Germany</st1:place></st1:country-region>, but it can be read over the Internet on Al Jazeera. VAKIT rekindles the old Nazi conspiracy theory, only this time VAKIT claims that a Zionist plot existed against the <st1:place w:st="on">Ottoman Empire</st1:place>."

        This new anti-Semitism is based on two principles: denial of the Holocaust, which connects it to <st1:country-region w:st="on">Iran</st1:country-region>, and a secret Zionist plot that led to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, thereby providing an open door for the European powers and the <st1:country-region w:st="on">United States</st1:country-region> to colonize the <st1:place w:st="on">Middle East</st1:place>.

        On the wall of their small office is a photo of their organization marching in the street carrying a sign reading: "Kreuzberg Against Anti-Semitism." Mr. Demirel and Ms. Kayi assembled this public demonstration to inform the community that to accept the new anti-Semitism was to create collaborators for Hitlerism.

        The presence of Islamic Turkish and Middle Eastern populations in <st1:State w:st="on"><st1:place w:st="on">Berlin</st1:place></st1:State> is a result of the Muslim Diaspora. Migrations are recurrent in global history, and the Islamic Diaspora is part of the movement of nationalities from the southern part of the planet to the north to fill a general need for labor in <st1:place w:st="on">Europe</st1:place>.

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