Merkel, Refugees And The Need For Arab Cultural Diplomacy

To bring back the topic to cultural diplomacy, I think Syrian refugees would be doing themselves a great favor if they show more keenness to integrate and respect the culture of their new home countries.
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It was certainly interesting to have been in Berlin over the past few days. Coincidentally, I was participating at an Arab World focused symposium organized by the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy (ICD), when the Syrian refugee crisis once again dominated the headlines and intensified what seems to be an already existing rift within Germany.

On one hand, you had a moral stance by Chancellor Angela Merkel who condemned the recent lone-wolf attacks her country has endured. It should be noted here that the four recent attacks, which have left 13 dead this month, have been all committed by migrants to Germany.

Despite all this, Ms. Merkel courageously refused to 'shut the door' in the face of any/all asylum seekers found to be legitimate refugees. Under her leadership, Germany (a nation of more than 80 million people) took in a million refugees in 2015, making it the most open country for asylum seekers in Europe.

On the other hand, there is an ongoing smear campaign led by Ms. Merkel's right-wing opponents. This has manifested in thousands of angry protestors taking to the streets to demand that their chancellor steps down, claiming that her "open door" policy has resulted in the loss of German lives.

It was almost surreal that all this unfolded as the ICD event on cultural diplomacy in the Arab World took place. To me, what is currently happening in Germany -- and other parts of the world -- are a result of an overall Arab cultural diplomacy failure.

No good deed goes unpunished

I got to listen during the event to some views which claimed that refugees should be sent back to the war-torn Syria. Others argued that Germany couldn't possibly bear the cost of having them settle there permanently, nor would the refugees be able to adapt to the German culture given that their own Muslim culture "clashes with democratic values."

Examples of this 'clash' was that some Muslim females covering their face, refuse to shake hand with men or to be seen by a male doctor for "decency reasons."

However, when challenged, none of those who held these views were able to accurately describe how many of the 1 million refugees who came in share these extreme views?

My guess? They can't be many! This is based on the fact that such practices are only implemented by a small minority of the 1.6 billion followers of the Muslim faith.

Of course, there are the more serious issues such as the recent lone-wolf attacks. The problem here is that such acts are - rightly - seen as a betrayal on behalf of refugees, who were given shelter, when they would have been barrel-bombed to death back in their country.

However, Germans must understand that unfortunately, there is no good deed that goes unpunished. Similarly, there is no security measure that could fully prevent a troubled person from committing an atrocious crime. In addition, one only needs to remember Norway's Anders Behring Breivik and America's Timothy McVeigh to recall that terrorists, and disturbed people, can come in all colors, shapes and forms.

Similarly, the reality is that no bad deed goes unpunished. As such, whether we like it or not, the entire international community is now paying the price for not interfering early to stop the Assad regime's genocide. (Ironically, this seems to exclude Iran and Russia, the two countries which - arguably - should be held more responsible, given that they are still backing Assad).

Germans may find comfort in being grateful that their nation is strong, wealthy and has the institutions to carry the burden. They only need to compare their situation to that of Lebanon; a country of 4 million, which is broke, has had a terrible recent history with the Assad regime, but is still offering refuge to more than a million refugees!

To bring back the topic to cultural diplomacy, I think Syrian refugees would be doing themselves a great favor if they show more keenness to integrate and respect the culture of their new home countries. In addition, Arab countries could do more by expressing gratitude and support (be it verbal or material) to the righteous positions taken by the likes of Angela Merkel and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau.

*This blog was originally published in Al Arabiya News

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