The politics of national identity, long taboo, are on the rise in Germany again

A string of tragedies in Germany and France has raised identity questions in Europe. An axe attack on a German train, a massacre in Munich, a suicide bombing in a pretty German market town and the murder of an elderly priest at mass in a village in Normandy – all coming after a series of mass-casualty atrocities in Nice, Paris, and Brussels.

The Continent is on edge. Yet the reaction of governments is dramatically different. French President Francois Hollande declares that his country is “at war”. But Europe’s defining response will come in Germany, the country which last year officially offered open house to more than a million migrants. And the mood there is conflicted. Which way will it go?

In Berlin, Angela Merkel knows that great strains have been put on the social and physical fabric of her nation by the sheer scale of immigration. Yet she remains convinced that honest discipline and administrative efficiency will enable Germany to cope with the surge. “We can do this,” she says again and again. She believes that the controversial “open door” refugee policy was the right – the morally right – thing to do. And she certainly knows that Germany’s own ageing demographics mean that its powerful economic machine needs the skills the migrants can bring (or acquire through its excellent apprenticeship systems).

There is a dangerous disconnect. What seems rational to Germany’s leaders – the “open door” policy – threatens the identity of many of the country’s voters. Too many migrants suffer an identity crisis born of a toxic mixture of uprootedness and rejection. And too many of their new neighbours see their identity threatened by the alien cultures of others who compete for their jobs. Too often each acts to confirm the other in their mutual fears and resentments. And for those whose living is hard, the resentment boils over into violence, because they have nothing to lose.

Germany is not unique in this. France knows it well. Terror attacks there have also been a more direct assault on a country which sees itself above all as a secular democracy, where the right of free speech is as sacred as the right to peaceful religious observance. This is why the French establishment – not just the far Right – has reached for the vocabulary of war.

And we in Britain know the problem too. The Brexit referendum was in the end about identity. A secularised establishment reared on the principles of the European enlightenment – whether in Germany, Britain or France – finds it hard to recognise that for many voters, identity runs deeper than rational self-interest.

Full article: The politics of national identity, long taboo, are on the rise in Germany again (The Telegraph)

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