Based on your experience with the Arabic community, what is your perspective on the issue of integration? What do you think does and does not work?
Despite the extensive experience I have gained during this project and working on both the film and the book, it would be much too arrogant to say I have a solution. But I do have some ideas and some good insights into the issue.
I think the number of migrants will only increase in years to come. In the nearer future, as the aftermath of the global pandemic we are currently facing, there will unfortunately be much more poverty and much more need. But also the ongoing issue of global warming is not just going to disappear and I believe that sooner or later we will have the climate refugees as well.
Europe is the continent of migration – we have always had it, it is not new and we could do much better to handle it. I think our main task is to define the society we want to live in. Establish not the borders of countries but the borders of values. Make it clear that we want a society where human rights are accepted and valued regardless of where you come from. A society where the same rights apply to all and where attitudes against women, LGBTQ people or other minorities are not tolerated. You have to say “yes” to diversity, to human rights, to democracy and to solidarity if you want to be part of Europe. If we establish such rules and make them the basis of the European Constitution, in my opinion, anyone should be welcomed to Europe. And those who fail to really adopt and follow such principles can go somewhere else. If you do not want to be part of the European way of life, that is fine – you do not have to be here. I call it “the contract of European society”.
I would also say that we should maintain secularity in public life. We have now had a couple of hundred years where we tried to get away from religion as the main drive of society. I have a lot of respect for religion but it is a private matter. It is perfectly fine to follow the principles you believe in when you are in the privacy of your own space but I think schools, universities and the judicial system have no place for religion – whatever faith it may be.
“Establish not the borders of countries but the borders of values. Make it clear that we want a society where human rights are accepted and valued regardless of where you come from.”
We should teach our kids universal values, including those of solidarity and diversity. I believe that if we had done this back in the early 90s, when the family of Yehya [the central character of “Gangsterläufer”] came to Germany, if we had welcomed them with principles of human rights and respect, their story could have been different.
I am talking about this Arab family because I got to know them so closely but this not something that is only relevant to Muslim communities or to Germany, or Europe. We can go across the world: there are German minorities in Australia that are so conservative and so closed up in their communities that there are real Nazis among them, some of them still believe in Keiser! So this is not a problem of Islam, or Arabs – this is a problem of isolation.
It is a really big problem that foreign people, migrants and refugees are not normally allowed to work. I think the biggest drive of integration is working together. If you do not allow people to work for 10–15 years, how are they supposed to become part of society? Give them a chance to prove themselves. And if they fail, if they do not want to work, if they do not accept the principles of our society, then OK, they have to face the consequences. The problem is we do not even give them this chance. We are focusing on the wrong things at the moment.