You speak German very well - Integration of immigrants in Western countries

Chances for state and society

Essay, 2005

11 Pages



The incentive for the topic of integration derived from the personal experience of coping with the forces of integration in Germany and the rise of the matter of integration to a salient part of the domestic agenda of Western European states and the US as well as countries like New Zealand and Australia. Whether the author considers himself as a success story of smooth integration into German society shall not be debated here. With stagnant or even declining birth rates in the above mentioned countries, the inevitable presence of considerably high percentages of immigrants and their children and, probably most importantly, with the international program to promote the unity of the human race[1], Western politicians, “native” societies and immigrants together must reconsider the principles of integration, national identity and citizenship as indicators of a national community. Surely, this exposes the antagonists of this process to serious challenges and changes. Any idea of blood-and-soil identity cannot be upheld anymore, neither by the host-society nor by any immigrant community, and the legal access to full citizenship must be granted by the state. The transition from “guest” to “citizen” is not impossible nor a horribly difficult adventure; it can be achieved with a deliberate and genuine effort and collaboration by all three important parts of society. Thus, this paper argues that there is indeed a “digestible” form of integration that will rule out the breeding of conflict by availability of positive identification with the host society.

On a general note, in all discussions about integration and identity, one should remember the problem of the “softness” of this phenomenon. A widespread problem for any field of humanities is that we cannot hold our research objects in our hands. By trying to do so, we materialize them in language, spoken or typed, and hence, force it into boundaries that deform its natural state of being in society. The intricate encounters in daily discussions which form public opinion about integration and immigration cannot be handled here. We should just be aware that there are influential forces within society that dominate a certain type of thinking, no matter positive or negative towards integration of immigrants. To filter out which phenomena contribute to which attitude is not the goal of this paper[2].

Reviewing Nationalism and Identity

With the rise of Nationalism and the call for democratisation, also a debate about the circle of power arose, a debate about who will be included in the decision-making process, who will be granted citizenship and under which conditions. Donald L. Horowitz explains the struggles of Asian, African and Eastern European countries to define inclusion and exclusion concerning citizenship and access to political power. The ethnically loaded discussion was about who can be considered indigenous and who must be declassified as an immigrant[3]. Citizenship was fully incorporated into the discussion of who could claim true ownership over the territory and hence over political power on grounds of ethnicity. Yet, how changeable and contingent to context this attitude of ethnic domination over other ethnic group is, can be witnessed perfectly in the development of civil rights in the United States.

In post-revolutionary America, there had been strong objections to immigration from the nativist groups, who fought to preserve the WASP ideals and regarded the immigration waves from Middle and Southern Europe as potential threats to their understanding of American identity[4]. Nativists argued that immigrants cannot be integrated into American culture, which implied a very narrow and fixed image of white, Protestant and English-speaking people. This historical period is insofar striking, that first, in contemporary thought, Irish, Italian, or German immigrants would probably be considered as easy to integrate where as Asian and African might be the problematic cases. However, in the beginning of the American nation, even the slightest difference to the WASP picture was considered dangerous. Second, it is interesting to see how this opinion fluctuated with the condition of economy, lost support in times of flourishing economy and gained support when economic performance was poor[5].

The opposition of the cosmopolitan liberals advocated a more confident identity through shared values and the human equality regardless of race, religion and origin. It reached it major breakthrough in and after World War II where many of the human resources were taken from the following generations of immigrants who more and more associated themselves with the United States rather than with their former country of origin; hence a “war unity” widened the space of American identity[6]. This new, more open identity criterion, however failed to embrace other parts of America’s population, namely the Afro-American, Latino, Native-American and Asian residents, of whom the Afro-American developed a policy of distinctiveness and separation from white “domination”[7].


[1] United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, in: The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Oct., 1964), 1082/83

[2] to mention one short experience: A Bavarian once explained how impossible integration is since 85% of all crimes are committed by foreigners. He didn’t know that these statistics even include incidents where a foreigner forgot his passport and was arrested by the police. This kind of “intelligent” racism can be widespread and is often instigated by ignorance that stimulates fears and a defensive attitude towards immigrants.

[3] Horowitz, Donald: Democracy in divided societies, in: Diamond, Larry; Plattner, Marc F. (edt.): Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Democracy, Maryland 1994, p. 40.

[4] Spencer, Martin E.: Multiculturalism, “Political Correctness”, and the Politics of Identity, in: Sociological Forum, Vol. 9, No. 4, Special Issue: Multiculturalism and Diversity (Dec. 1994), p. 549.

[5] Spencer, p. 550., see also Brass, Paul: Ethnicity and Nationalism – Theory and Comparison, Delhi 1991, 335. Brass explains the changeability of ethnic markers and ideas of distinctiveness. He argues against an objectivist idea of ethnicity.

[6] Spencer, p. 550.

[7] for more details, see Spencer, p. 553-557.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


You speak German very well - Integration of immigrants in Western countries
Chances for state and society
American University of Beirut
International Conflicts and Conflict Resolution
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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503 KB
Please note that I cannot give any grade on the paper since I only received a complementary grade at the end of the semester. It was 90 %.
German, Integration, Western, International, Conflicts, Conflict, Resolution
Quote paper
Farshad Mohammad-Avvali (Author), 2005, You speak German very well - Integration of immigrants in Western countries, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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