It has been considered not politically correct to talk about challenges of integrating Muslim immigrants in German society. That has changed forever after the New Year's attacks on women in Cologne.
BERLIN — This day will make history.
For the first time, German politicians are talking straight. What we are now witnessing is nothing less than the beginning of a reversal in Germany's entire approach to refugee policy.
To understand just how dramatically Germany's attitude has changed, consider the Nov. 23 interview with the chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Meditative, calm, carefully searching for the right words, Josef Schuster explained how important it was to support people in trouble.
But he also said the day would come when it would be necessary to consider restrictions and boundaries. In the long run, he continued, it wouldn't be feasible to absorb all of the refugees, especially considering that among them were people with a cultural background much different from ours, who would have to move toward the acceptance and incorporation of gender equality, equal rights for homosexuals and Jews.
Schuster never said anything that could be considered immoral or offensive. But in the weeks after the interview was published, he faced the kind of hostile backlash that no other chairman of the organization has ever had to endure. Politicians all across the country denounced his self-evident and rather tepid comments as scandalous, politically incorrect, a derailment from history. One even accused Schuster of "polluting the climate," and another said his organization should be renamed the Central Council of Racist Jews.
But what was considered scurrilous and "far right" less than two months ago is suddenly conventional wisdom all across Germany.
There's no politician, no commentator today who would dare to contradict the basic ideas Schuster laid out. More than that, Social Democrats are now adding to the debate by saying Germany should make it easier to deport refugees under certain circumstances, even though they considered this idea right-wing extremism just days ago. Nobody hesitates now to name which countries refugees suspected of crimes originated — which, until New Year's Eve, had for years been considered in terribly poor taste.
No more walls
Katarina Barley, a Social Democrat leader, now says Germany should take "take drastic measures." Another, Sigmar Gabriel, says the country should "exploit all of options of international law."
Some may mock this sudden turn, while others deplore or welcome it, but one thing is sure now: Jan. 6, the day the official police reports concerning the events of New Year's Eve in Cologne were published, will make history in Germany. That was the official turning point in the country's immigration policy.
It's now finally acceptable to point out the dangers that come with mass immigration from primarily Muslim countries. We have marked the end to the taboos that were, after all, nothing but the prohibition of intelligent reflection.
Decades ago, Social Democrat thinker Peter Glotz characterized major political parties as "tankers," in contrast to the more agile sailing crafts of smaller parties. They were less flexible, he noted, requiring more time to set in motion any kind of change. We can say that the same is true for democracy as a whole. It's difficult to get it moving, and it often remains stagnant for years. And yet, fortunately, democracy is the only political system with the gift of self-criticism and the power to repair its errors.
It's a message that should ring true as well for those demanding a more authoritarian regime in Dresden and the East German regions, where rallies by the far-right Pegida movement want to discard democratic ideals to safeguard the well-being of residents. Now our leaders have the means to achieve the necessary corrections in immigration policy without having to build new walls in our society. Ever since Jan. 6, this is our new reality. Finally.