Paris Attacks Widen Gap Between Germany And Rest Of West – Analysis


Although the ISIL is a convenient common enemy, the Paris attacks have widened the “deep rift within the Western world” and worsened the clash among the “Western Civilizations” themselves over the “inclusion of ‘the other’” which were highlighted in Diana Pinto’s article at Project Syndicate [Note 1].

Such a divide can be noted in some commentaries on the leading American journals. The latest, though not yet the last, straw added to the camel’s back is James Poulos’ Nov 18 Foreign Policy essay “France is at war … with Germany” which calls for regaining control over Europe back from Germany. If it is deemed as some sort of echo to John Vinocur’s “Germany turns against the West on Russia” in the Wall Street Journal [Note 2], then there is no surprise that the “United States did not just tap chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone but also eavesdropped on several of her ministers” [Note 3].

Berlin remains firm on its positions. Responding to the harsh criticisms of Merkel’s refugee policy and also the French airstrikes of ISIL’s territories, Deutsche Welle voiced German disapproval without ambiguity:

  • “Merkel ally Michael Fuchs … urged France to reflect on why it happened to them” [Note 4]
  • “In France … there are debates about how Muslims should have to eat pork as well in school canteens.  We don’t have that in Germany, thank God. We can be proud of that.” [Note 5]
  • “Some of what he (Hollande) said was wrong; namely, that he wants to wage war on terror.   This is the same political trap former US President George W. Bush fell into …” [Note 6]
  • “Germany’s success contrasted with the relative inadequacies of Britain and especially France is about how it has managed to define a more open national identity for its citizens, improved the socio-economic status and mobility …” [Note 7]

This intra-Western cleave, however, is not irreconcilable. Germany nowadays shares with the Western peers the same values of democracy, liberty and the like, and is surely a core member of the West camp.    What has caused the collision is Berlin’s commitment to dismissing the West-vs-Rest theme.

After the highly controversial ‘crucifix-case’ 1995, Germany has been  struggling to fend off the ‘Self/Other’ notion of ‘identity politics’ — one of the conceptual foundations of Samuel P. Huntington’s ‘clash of civilizations’ [Note 8] — to evolve into a ‘tolerant republic’. This legal case, in short, is that by a 5-3 vote, the Federal Constitutional Court declares the Bavarian General School law “requiring a cross or crucifix in the classroom is unconstitutional” on the ground that the “right to religious liberty requires the state to exercise religious neutrality in the form of treating religions and beliefs equally, thus a state cannot force students to be taught ‘under the cross’ … Both minorities and majorities can equally claim a ‘positive’ liberty of religious expression, and there is no reason why the majority should prevail” [Note 9]. Having gone through the shocks, the public debate turned to deliberate what a republic is and how a ‘tolerant’ republic should cope with the challenge of cultural diversity.

The next decade saw “a ‘paradigm shift’ in German immigration and neutralization policy” which included a new law in 1999 awarding citizenship to children born to settled foreign residents, a ‘green card’ program in 2000, and a commission report in 2001 on better integration of immigrants into the community [Note 10]. No one is sure whether this discourse of German republicanism could keep on exerting influence on Berlin’s foreign and domestic policies amid the large influx of Muslim refugees, but obviously Chancellor Merkel is embracing it without hesitation.

It appears unfair to only complain about the immigrant countries like the USA, Canada and Australia (new world) and the affluent OECD states and their reluctant admission of Syrian (and African) refugees since ‘identity politics’ are also disseminating in the Third World — Kurds vs Arabs in the Middle East, Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist Myanmar, the Tutsi clan in Rwanda, just name a few. Nonetheless, most ethnic conflicts in these developing countries are stemmed from the arbitrary slice of ‘national’ boundaries in the post-colonial Asia and Africa, and then further aggravated by certain Self/Other- or West/Rest-based foreign policy measures adopted by the Western powers. The leaders of the West should take the German toleration concept for reference so as to reassess what they should and could do to reconcile with Berlin on one hand, and root out the implacable ethno-cultural violence in the failed states on the other.

If unchecked, intensifying ‘identity politics’ worldwide would not just widen the West-Germany crack but also ignite more confrontations between the West and the unstable “Rest”.

[Note 1]
Project Syndicate, “A Clash of Western Civilizations”, Oct 13, 2015.

[Note 2]
Foreign Policy, “France is at War … with Germany, Nov 17, 2015.

Wall Street Journal, “Germany turns against the West on Russia”, Apr 28, 2014.

[Note 3]
The Guardian, “WikiLeaks: US spied on Angela Merkel’s ministers too, say German newspaper”, July 2, 2015.

[Note 4]
DW, “German politican: ‘France needs to investigate why its own citizens become so radical’”, Nov 17, 2015.

[Note 5]
DW, “Islamic scholars in Germany fear consequences from Paris”, Nov 16, 2015.

[Note 6]
DE, “Opinion: War is no remedy for terrorism”, Nov 17, 2015.

[Note 7]
DW, “Culture of violence trumps a culture of hope”, Nov 18, 2015.

[Note 8]
See p.8-12 in Mark B. Salter (2002), “Barbarians and Civilization in International Relations”, London and Sterling, Virginia: Pluto Press.

[Note 9]
Rainer Forst, “A Tolerant Republic?” See p.214-5 in Jan-Werner Müller (ed.) (2003), “German Ideologies since 1945”, NY: Palgrave.

[Note 10]
William A. Barbieri, Jr, “The Many Faces of the Republic: Or, What’s in a Name?” See p.231 in Jan-Werner Müller (ed.) (2003), “German Ideologies since 1945”, NY: Palgrave.

This article was also published at FPIF.

Keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate, a Fellow of The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (UK), a former Manager (Asset Management) at HK Monetary Authority and now a retired businessman; and the author of “Helmsman Ruler: China’s Pragmatic Version of Plato’s Ideal Political Succession System in The Republic”.

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