I am writing this because I am increasingly frustrated with the nature of the contemporary debate on migration and security. On the one hand, you have right wing groups seeking to benefit from events like the murder of a young man in Chemnitz by two people with Arab citizenships. On the other hand, you have liberals (I hesitate to call them lefties) who condemn even the mildest critique of immigration and Islam as racist and xenophobic.
I don’t think I belong to either of these groups, and I feel that many people feel equally disoriented.
Let me get things straight: I am strongly in favour of open borders within the European Union. Moreover, people escaping war and political persecution ought to be granted asylum and refugee status. However, I also think that there should be limits to migration to Europe and Germany. I am afraid that if 2015 repeats itself, we will have nationalist parties getting into power in Europe’s core.
The other day, I was sitting in my backyard talking on the phone to my sister. We discussed the political aftermath of Chemnitz. I basically told her that I thought it was unfortunate that the Chemnitz incidents were used to launch a debate about right-wing extremism in Saxony, because too many Saxons partly agreed with the demonstrations. I don’t mean that they agreed with the Nazi salutes and the fascist idiots dreaming of the 4th Reich, but with the people who thought that public security is deteriorating.
I told my sister that crime at Leipzig’s Central Station had gone up ridiculously over the past 10 years, and that this is bound to get noticed, possibly more than in West German cities.
I was surprised when I heard someone yelling, “Stop talking right-wing bullshit” from their balcony after I said that.
Ironically, I don’t think I’m known to be a right winger. I am a proud member of the SPD and back when Legida was marching through Leipzig, I went to more than one demonstration against them.
However, even when I went to those demonstrations, I always felt slightly uncomfortable. Once I took my European flag along, only to be told, “throw that fucking flag away” by a protester next to me.
I never liked that “Haut ab” (“Piss off”) was the most popular chant at many anti-Legida demonstrations. When I went to protests against neo-Nazis in Heidenau, people were shouting, “Germany has to die, so we can live!”
Now, I wouldn’t mind Germany being absorbed into a European federation, but that’s a different issue. What bothered me was that those slogans exclude the political centre.
What we currently experience is the monopolisation of the migration debate by extremists on both sides.
If you are critical of migration and Islam, left-wing liberals will quickly accuse you of being an AfD supporter.
That is unfortunate. It ought to be possible to say that patriarchal family structures, violence against women, anti-Semitism, and parallel societies are problems that are particularly visible among Muslims without being called a racist.
Moreover, it ought to be possible to show opposition to contemporary migration management, and even to the open border regime of the European Union, without having to join rallies organised by neo-Nazis. On the other hand, it ought to be possible to protest against nationalism, racism and bigotry without having to join a demonstration organised by the radical left.
On 12 January 2015, 30,000 Leipzigers took to the streets to defend the openness of our city. The people I walked next to that day were people from all walks of like, and there was no particular group that was under- or over-represented. The reason for that success was the existence of a broad coalition of actors across the city, reaching from the political left to the political right. It was not a march of the left or of the right, but a march of democrats.
What we need is for the political centre to become the dominant arena for the contemporary debate on immigration and security.
This requires the liberal left to look beyond some of its PC sensitivities and the centre right to open its eyes to the dangers of right-wing extremism. If this is not accomplished, more and more people will start to believe that their views can only be expressed at the fringes of the political spectrum.
Another perspective: From Syria to Chemnitz: lessons to learn