National Geographic : 2016 Oct
114 national geographic • october 2016 into tears—at how much she missed her fami- ly in Syria, at how kind the Germans were, but also at how scared she’d been one night when an angry crowd of them gathered on the street out- side. If she could, she said, she’d tell those Ger- mans she wasn’t there to take anything away. The hate was appalling, but I could understand the apprehension many Germans feel. Even Ah- mad could. “Germans are right to be afraid for their country,” he had told me. “Germany is used to security and order. People are afraid that will change.” But the encounter with him and the others had affected me. I asked Steinbach wheth- er she’d had any personal contact with refugees. “No,” she said. Hostility toward immigrants in Germany has been strongest where the fewest of them live, in the former East German states. They remain poorer than western Germany. The widening gap between rich and poor people in the country as a whole may also promote anti-immigrant sentiment—and yet there’s no material basis for angst about the refugees, said Naika Foroutan. The German economy is strong, unemployment is low, and the govern- ment ran a 19.4-billion-euro surplus last year. Germany could afford to integrate the refugees while still investing in infrastructure to benefit all Germans. “It’s not a real panic,” Foroutan said. “It’s a cultural panic.” Foroutan, 44, whose mother is German and whose father is a refugee from Iran, puts her hope in education. “ You can educate people to see integration as self-evident,” she said—just as Germany has tried, with limited success, to stamp out anti-Semitism. Since World War II a generation of hardened anti-Semites has died, and new generations have grown up confronted by television and also in school, by teachers like Damm, with what the Nazis did. Foroutan’s survey suggests a similar change is under way with respect to immigrants. Young Germans are much more likely to accept circumcision and mosques. But the refugees have arrived in a country that’s still groping for a new identity—“a new German ‘we,’ ” President Joachim Gauck called it in a 2014 speech. That more inclusive “we,” Foroutan said, is part of what it means for Ger- many to be modern: open to the world and to change. German conservatives, however, aren’t the only ones resisting that vision; many Muslim immigrants aren’t ex- actly open and modern either. Some 30 percent of them, ac- cording to a 2013 survey, are fundamentalists: They believe that Islam should return to its seventh-century roots and that its laws take precedence over secular ones. At the Mevlana Mosque in Kreuzberg I met a bearded young teacher, Serkan Özalpay, who spoke, as other Muslims did, of the hostility he gets from Ger- mans. Sometimes, when he passes in his turban and ankle-length robe, they spit. Then Özalpay surprised me by talking like the AfD. “The refu- gees don’t belong here,” he said. “Muslims don’t belong in this country.” He tells his flock to go back to Turkey if they can, that it’s just too hard to live by the Koran in Germany. One precept that brings traditional Muslim men into conflict with Germans, whose con- stitution guarantees equal rights for women, is their rule against shaking hands with one. An- other is their intolerance of homosexuals. In a studio in Neukölln, the day after I met Özalpay, I shook hands with a different kind of Muslim—a chain-smoking, vocally lesbian DJ named İpek İpekçioğlu. She grew up in the Berlin that he considers godless, and she loves it. A large majority of Germans accept immigration and Islam intellectually. But emotionally, not so many.