West Germany’s Former Chancellor Predicted Europe Would Have an Assimilation Problem

November 25, 2015 Updated: November 27, 2015
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In 1990 former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt told me in an interview that massive Islamic immigration into Europe kept him awake at night. Between pinches of snuff, Schmidt said he worried Muslims wouldn’t assimilate, and that this would become a big problem for the continent.

Schmidt’s ruminations are worth remembering following French President Francois Hollande visit to President Obama Tuesday to ask for help in what he has called France’s war on the Islamic State (ISIS). Hollande, who has been much more assertive than his host on defeating ISIS, to say the least, has been candid that “complicity from the inside” is one of the problems he will have to tackle.

I won’t quote Schmidt directly out of deference to the quarter century that has passed. But I distinctly remember thinking his comment would be the lede paragraph. Some European pols like Jean-Marie Le Pen were saying things like this back then, but here was a big Social-Democrat who had led West Germany for eight years talking this way.

I also remember the disappointment I felt when about a half hour later, Schmidt sought me out—the interview took place in Seoul, South Korea, where Schmidt was attending a big confab—and asked me to please not use what he had told me. It would cause him a lot of problems back home, he explained.

I consented and led with something else. The world was a more genteel place back then.

Schmidt’s death this month—not to mention the fact that in the past 10 years he apparently stopped asking journalists not to print these things—releases me from my undertaking. The terrorist attacks in Paris this month and the fact that Belgium has gone into a virtual lockdown for days now because of the threat of an attack makes this relevant now.

After all, Schmidt was quoted as saying this in 2004: “Multicultural societies have only … functioned peacefully in authoritarian states. To that extent it was a mistake for us to bring guest workers from foreign cultures into the country at the beginning of the 1960s.”

Of course, the jury is still out on whether Schmidt will eventually be proven right or wrong. Governments and societies can always correct course.

Europe’s Assimilation Problem

It would be foolish to maintain, on the other hand, that the different Muslim immigrants in Europe have assimilated flawlessly. At least six of the Paris terrorists were either French- or Belgian-born and grew up in one of these two countries.

It’s not only a French problem. An opinion poll conducted by the firm Survation for Britain’s The Sun newspaper revealed this week that one in five Islamic Britons have at least some sympathy for “young Muslims who leave the U.K. to join fighters in Syria.” Detractors on the left say, to be sure, that some respondents may have interpreted the question to include also young British Muslims who have gone to Syria to fight against ISIS.

The Difference Between America and Europe

Research such the Manhattan Institute’s Jacob L. Vigdor’s assimilation index demonstrates that Muslim immigrants in Europe do not assimilate as well as they do here. Vigdor’s index looks at economic, cultural and civic indicators such as unemployment, home ownership, marriage rates and military service, but is imperfect in that it does not measure patriotic attachment.

Polls, such as this one from the Pew Research Center, show that by large margins most Muslims in European countries think of themselves as Muslim first (in Britain, Spain and Germany only 7 percent, 3 percent and 13 percent saw themselves as citizens first). The same poll also shows that substantial majorities in those countries think Muslims do not want to assimilate. In a different Pew poll, 46 percent of American Muslims see themselves as Muslim first, 26 percent as American first.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 1970s and 80s has made assimilation harder to accomplish for all countries, of course. As to why Europe has a harder time assimilating Muslim immigrants, there are several explanations:

  • Most of Europe, with the exception perhaps of France and the U.K., really is blood and soil. You can never become German, Italian, Hungarian or Portuguese. Ethnicity and citizenship are intricately tied. As the Italian Giuseppe Mazzini put it in the 19th century: “Where there is a nation, let there be a state.”
  • Socialist policies do not create a dynamic, fluid society. As can be seen in this OECD chart (also below), America’s per capita GDP simply grows at a much faster rate than Europe’s, creating employment and more prosperity for all.

  • Many countries have a history of battling Muslims for centuries. This is of course felt strongest in Spain, Italy, Greece and throughout the Balkans, where Islamic empires ruled for centuries, but it also holds true for France, Austria, Hungary and the rest.
  • Perhaps more important, European post-colonial intellectual elites have been even more ashamed of their past than ours, which creates a problem. As the British Member of the European Parliament Daniel Hannan put it, “Ultimately, though, the best way to defeat a bad idea is with a better idea. There is surely no more squalid idea than that propagated by the death-cult calling itself Islamic State. And there is no finer idea than the freedom that defines Western societies. Let’s not be shy about saying so.”

It is doubtful that Obama and Hollande mentioned any of these items. Which is too bad if the prophesies that Schmidt made to me 25 years ago are ever to be disproved.

Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is a widely experienced international correspondent, commentator and editor who has reported from Asia, Europe and Latin America. He served in the George W. Bush Administration first at the Securities and Exchange Commission and then at the State Department. He is the author of “A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans.” Copyright The Daily Signal. This article was previously published on DailySignal.com

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.