Berlin reels from attack on Christmas market
For the first time, Germany has become a victim of a major terrorist attack. Twelve people are dead. The nation is in shock. And some are predicting the end of multiculturalism. Why?
On Monday night crowds had gathered in Berlin to enjoy one of Germany’s most cherished traditions: music, mulled wine and the twinkly lights of a Christmas market. But the peaceful scene did not last — at 20:14 local time, a lorry driving at 40mph ploughed through the crowds. At least 12 people were killed and 50 injured. There was ‘blood and bodies everywhere,’ said a witness.
The horrific incident was a reminder of a similar attack in Nice in July. This time, the details of who was involved and why are still unclear — but German police are assuming that it was terrorism. ‘It would be particularly hard to bear,’ said the chancellor Angela Merkel, if the person responsible had ‘asked for protection and asylum in Germany.’
The attack came at the end of a violent year in Europe. From bombs in Brussels to an axe swung on a train in Bavaria, headlines have been full of death and terror. Several incidents were claimed by Islamic State. Others were committed by refugees from the Middle East, or second generation immigrants from Muslim families.
When Merkel welcomed one million refugees to Germany last year, her critics questioned how quickly they could integrate into society. Her response was firm: ‘Wir schaffen das.’ We can do it.
But some are now arguing that Monday’s events prove this wrong: multiculturalism is broken, they say. Its defenders call them racist: most minorities are hard-working and law-abiding citizens (and the attacker’s identity is still unknown).
Kenan Malik, an English writer born in India, says that the truth is more complicated. This is because ‘multiculturalism’ describes both a policy and a reality. Europe is home to people of many different religions and ethnicities — that is the reality. The policy in countries like Germany and the UK has been to treat these groups differently, respecting their individual cultures and addressing their different needs.
But this has also fuelled competition and resentment, says Malik. And multiculturalism, which had good intentions, has become a symbol for other things: immigration, identity, working class decline. These divisions are now coming to a boil — whether through radical Islamism or far-right racism.
Is it worth fighting for?
Side by side
Yes, say some. Things are tense right now, but at its heart multiculturalism is the right approach. People from every background should be able to live together while protecting the cultures and traditions which mean something to them.
It has created too many problems, says Malik. It must be replaced by something which acknowledges the diverse population, but also treats everybody equally rather than making them feel like outsiders in their own country.
- Will the attack in Berlin hurt Angela Merkel’s reputation?
- Is multiculturalism ‘broken’?
- Write a list of three questions that you would ask a refugee in Germany after the attack.
- Write a response to Kenan Malik’s theories about multiculturalism. Do you think the policy can work? Why?
Some People Say...
“Difference should always be celebrated.”
What do you think?
Q & A
- Why are we talking about multiculturalism if the attacker is still unknown?
- Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack last night after the first suspect was released from custody. Even if the attacker is not from a minority, Merkel is already facing pressure to alter her stance on refugees; the anti-immigration party AfD said that the attack proved that Germany’s ‘Christian tradition’ is under threat.
- How has Germany treated refugees since 2015?
- Various housing, education and work programmes have been set up to ease the newcomers into German society. But the public’s initial welcoming response has wavered in the face of the violence in 2016. Although technically refugees are less likely to commit crimes than ordinary citizens, these high-profile cases have caused concern.
- On July 14th a Tunisian resident of France drove a truck into crowds along the promenade in Nice. Islamic State later claimed responsibility.
- The police initially arrested a Pakistani refugee for the crime, but released him after he denied involvement.
- On March 22nd two suicide bombs exploded at an airport in Brussels, another on the metro. Islamic State claimed responsibility.
- On July 18th a young refugee injured four people with a knife and an axe on a train near Würzburg in Germany.
- One million refugees
- Merkel’s ‘open door policy’ was in response to the refugee crisis in Europe; Germany was the most welcoming country. Most of the refugees were fleeing war and terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa.
- This policy is in opposition to — for example — the French policy of assimilation, which treats people as citizens rather than ethnic groups, and asks that they conform to French culture.
- Working class decline
- In recent decades traditional working class communities have often suffered as manufacturing and manual jobs disappeared.