Friday, October 22, 2010

Immigration issues; being an outsider in your own country.

To ponder this weekend: cultural assimilation, making judgements, seeing people for who they really are, not who you think...

Questions: Who is really a German? Who is an American? Who is Muslim? Who is Catholic? How can you tell? How do you guess what language someone will speak? How much of this is based on appearance? How many snap judgments do we make every day without even thinking about how wrong they might be?

From NYT article: With Film, Afghan-German Is a Foreigner at Home
Published: October 17, 2010
Burhan Qurbani has realized that his audience sees him as an Afghan immigrant who made a movie about Islam, not as a talented German filmmaker.

He suddenly realizes that he is a foreigner at home, and that his audience sees him as an Afghan immigrant who made a movie about Islam, not as a talented German filmmaker who chose to explore issues common to all mankind.

"Of course, I am German," Mr. Qurbani said. "I have Afghani roots, I can't deny that, but mostly, I am German."

Mr. Qurbani's personal narrative should be a tale of immigrant success. His parents fled the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and settled in Germany. His father was an electrician, but his parents divorced, so his mother raised two boys with the help of public assistance. He received a first-rate education and had the chance to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker.


"It is tragic what is happening here," said Hatice Akyün, a writer and lifelong German resident of Turkish descent who, like Mr. Qurbani, must confront the frustrating daily exclamation from other Germans who never seem to tire of telling them, "You speak German so well."

"I'm tired of explaining," Ms. Akyün said. After living here for 40 years, she said, she is so distraught by what is happening that she is considering moving to Istanbul. "The only country I consider home," she said, "is Germany. But it is getting worse and worse."


"My grandfather told me and my brother, 'You are like a bird without legs; You cannot land,' " he recalled. "You will never be at home here and you will never be at home in Afghanistan."

It was not until the film came out that he realized how right his grandfather was. "I'm not the filmmaker who worked with brilliant actors and a talented cinematographer; I'm the Afghani," he said, again dragging on a cigarette.


Like much of Europe, Germany is gripped by anger and mistrust between ethnic nationals and immigrants, especially, but not exclusively, Muslims. The debate in Germany, long simmering beneath the surface, broke into the open with a recent book that condemned Muslim immigrants for "dumbing down" society and accusing them of coming to Germany only because it is a generous welfare state. The book warned Germans they were losing their country.

Ms. Merkel stoked the growing debate over the weekend when she told a meeting of young members of her conservative Christian Democratic Union that Germany's attempts to build a multicultural society had "utterly failed." While immigrants are welcome in Germany, Ms. Merkel said, they must learn the language and accept the country's cultural norms.

A survey released last week by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation reported 58.4 percent of the 2,411 people polled thought that Germany's approximately four million Muslims should have their religious practices "significantly curbed."

These are scary and sad close-minded thoughts.

I hope for the world to be different, yet recognise that it's not. I've seen this in Germany, so I know it's true. It's nothing unique to Germany- it's worldwide, nationwide. If we're to become a multicultural, loving world (and individual societies), I think the only way is through honest open dialogue and self-questioning.

We must change mindsets, the treatment of individuals and groups of people. We must start with ourselves.

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