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German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a speech this past weekend that "multikulti" - multiculturalism - has "utterly failed" in Germany. Given what happened last time Germany stressed cultural uniformity, that announcement may be uncomfortable for some. However, it may still be worth examining the underlying issues Merkel is addressing.

With Germany's postwar economic boom came labor shortages. As a solution, Germany began guest worker - "gastarbeiter" - programs, recruiting labor from economically lagging countries around the mediterranean. Initially, the intent was that guest workers would return home after a period of work, but eventually, many settled in Germany instead, living in barracks or ghettos separated from most of German society and restricted to work that the Germans themselves were not interested in doing.

As the guest workers settled and began having families, Germany established a policy of multiculturalism. Some guest worker communities - in particular the Spanish and Vietnamese - largely integrated into society nonetheless, but others - in particular the Turkish, the largest group, - maintained a separate culture and language, and continued to live in separate ghetto neighborhoods, with little intermixing with the traditional German culture.

The cultural divides seem to have only sharpened over the past decade or two, as the Turkish gastarbeiter maintained their own religion and language, established their own schooling, and supplemented German law with sharia law and even honor killings. The social tensions have now reached the point where Merkel felt it necessary to declare multiculturalism a failure.

It strikes me that the U.S. is going down a similar path, using immigrants, mostly illegal, to do the work that Americans don't seem to be interested in doing. In regions with many such immigrants, they often live in separate neighborhoods with poor quality housing just as the German gastarbeiter did. It behooves us to think about the ways in which we may be able to avoid further development along the German gastarbeiter path, lest the consequent cultural divides and social tensions affect us as well.

On Merkel's speech:
http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2010/1017/Germany-s-Angela-Merkel-Multiculturalism-has-utterly-failed
One extreme consequence:
http://www.pattimccracken.com/live/collection/articles/2732
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