Merkel and multi-culturalism seen from Notting Hill, London

We are all here to stay and we like it this way
Peyvand Khorsandi
19 October 2010

Golborne Road, on the outskirts of Notting Hill in west London, is home to two Portuguese cafés, Stella McCartney, and my favourite burger van, run by two Moroccan men. I’ve been a regular for almost 10 years – the van offers no ordinary fare. A ball of meat goes splat on the griddle as it’s evened into shape while onions sizzle.

Money and Arabic banter are exchanged – when the meat is crispy brown an egg is cracked open, stuffed alongside the patty into a heated bun with a sprinkle of chopped salad, fries and some warm, homemade, tomato sauce (fried prawns optional).

I am usually finishing off my second bowl of soup – they do a mean bean, lentil and pea – when the beaming parcel of beefy goodness is handed to me, smiling as a good burger should.

On Fridays Mohammed and Aziz repair to a mosque in the converted building opposite – customers find the van shut from around 12.30pm to 2pm. Caterers should hold these hours sacred but Mohammed and Aziz, as their prices testify, are not about money. The van’s closes for Ramadan.

The punters are largely Moroccan men but you do see Bohemian non-Moroccan women and men of all ages stopping off for a bite, too.

In the background the magnificent Trellick Tower – a hive of different people and cultures living next-door to, and on top of, each other – literally looks down on the rest of us.

This week the German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that multiculturism has “failed” in Germany – a reference to the country’s four million Muslims having apparently missed the mark in their efforts to “integrate” (note that it’s not “us” who have failed “them”).

Somewhat unbelievably she said that in the 1960s when Germany courted foreign workers, “we lied to ourselves for a while, saying that they won’t stay and that they will have disappeared again one day.”

She added: “We should not be a country either which gives the impression to the outside world that those who don’t speak German immediately or who were not raised speaking German are not welcome here.”

This softer tone, however, was no sop to liberals: “Companies will go elsewhere because they won't find the people to work here anymore” – this is why she believes “integration is one of our key tasks for the times to come.”

Ms Merkel’s remarks are as unhelpful as they are contradictory. Does she expect the skilled labour Germany still needs to “disappear” in time?

“Lurch to the right” is becoming a hackneyed expression as governments respond to people’s fears during this recession and a German leader should know better.

Last week, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation – a think-tank with links to the centre-left Social Democratic Party – revealed that 13% of Germans would like to be ruled by a Führer. The Christian Science Monitor calls this “a German word for leader that is explicitly associated with Adolf Hitler – to run the country ‘with a firm hand’.”

The backdrop to all this is the German government’s efforts to persuade the electorate that Greece – whose economy it has rescued with a multi-billion dollar bail-out – is part of “us” and worthy of “our” cash during a downturn, in the face of a xenophobic press.

So, what to do? Hit out at the least popular religious minority of course.

The fact is even if Germany is “overrun” by foreigners, multiculturalism cannot have failed “utterly” as Ms Merkel claims.

Earlier this year, the winner of TV talent quest Deutschland sucht den Superstar was an Iranian singer called Mehrdad Marashi. Last year, in Britain, a black dance act called, of all things, Diversity won Britain’s Got Talent.

I would humbly advise Ms Merkel to go for a Turkish kebab in Berlin or visit the Moroccan burger van on Golborne Road or even talk to Stella McCartney.

As for does multiculturism work – ask yourself next time you have a curry.

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