September 15, 2015 By Shameer. KS

Does Germany indeed welcome you?


To watch Almanya : Willkommen in Deutschland is quite fitting in this time. In translation, it is ‘welcome to Germany.’ We wake up every morning to the gory news reports about Syria and the nightmarish reveries of people dying in droves. Juxtaposed with this is Pope Francis’ benevolent appeal to Christendom to open its gates for refugees and Angela Merkel’s positive gestures by opening the German gates to them. Since we live in the present and historical memories don’t hound us too often, we are forced to forget the role of Europe in the present crisis, especially the colonial legacy of its balkanisation and the imperial blood-thirst ignited by the Crusades, and jump to the conclusion that the large-hearted West bears the brunt of despotic East and incorrigibly aggressive Arab. However, It is, of course, not the time to downplay the fact that Syrian refugees are welcomed in a country like Germany and given at least a chance to breathe air without fear, while those Arab countries that are hell-bound on advocating interventionist moves to get Bashar Al Assad deposed in any manner possible are negligent in addressing the refugee crisis, thereby, by the logic of realpolitik, taking in the rein of the issue.

The relevance of the film Almanya to the present context is the larger question of assimilation (or integration, to use a more appropriate word) of refugees to the inviting country and the political economy of refugee/immigrant-friendliness. Also relevant is the fact that Angela Merkel comes up in the film as a sort of pivot around whom we imagine and construct the narratives of immigration and refuge. In the film she invites the first one millionth immigrant (representative of the first one million batch) to let them know that their contribution to the nation was invaluable and express their gratitude to the nation that provided them bread and butter (or at least, in the case of Syria, bread sans butter).

The crux of the film is the decision of the German companies in association with the Labour Department to invite ‘only the Turkish Labourers’ to Germany at time that appeared to be five or six decades back, post World War II. The meaning is clear: besides the fact that Turkey shares border with Germany, Turkish immigrant labour is cheaper. The punchline of the film is a quote of Marx Firsch cited towards its end, saying “we invited labour; but people came.”

Here is the larger question of integration. The identity of a labourer is graspable and manageable, viewed from the perspective of the state that ‘generously’ permits transition across the borders. He (use of masculine pronoun is justifiable in that even women are not allowed as scavengers forcing a character to dream of becoming a female scavenger) is not a threat hemmed as he is in the 10-hour working schedule and the stringent company rules of labour. It might be a threat if the identity provided by labour and fixed and grasped by the state and corporate power, was allowed to be subdued by other identities, especially the non-rationalised cultural and religious identities. In the film, the fear of the state is counter-intuitively projected on the Turkish family that has taken up the invitation.  They fear if, to obtain a German passport, they will have to eat pork in the interview chamber. They fear if, by going to Germany, they will have to be cannibalised as Jesus was represented as having been cannibalised. Is this not an inverse of orientalism, which made a career out of inventing imaginary narratives about the east and other? Hidden behind that invented narrative about the Turkish Muslim fear of German Christian world is the west’s fear of Muslim difference and its problem of integrating, in lieu of accommodating, that difference. To understand this issue more concretely, one has to turn her attention to the legacy of France, once trumpeted as a haven of dissidents and refugees, being discoloured by the Islamophobic legislations and anti-immigrant laws. To say that a mongrelised foreign Muslim is easily issued a German passport as is seen in the film is not to emphasise or even justify the self-righteous claims about authentic Islam but, instead, it helps us deconstruct the European constructs of its own generosity, magnanimity and open-mindedness. The film, if it is seen in between its frames, helps us argue that Europe welcomes labour and people with labour power, not their cultural and religious identities. One should read this statement in the light of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s request to Germany to transport only those Jews to the Zionist land who are not handicapped and since and, hence, can work. In short, what would be the answer if we reframe the above-mentioned punch line: we invited labour; but came the Muslims and blacks, the epicentre in European imagination of violence and terrorism?

The film, only in between its shots, is buster of the claims about the refugee-friendliness of Europe as being a token gesture of multiculturalism. The fear of multiculturalism in the European consciousness, aligned with its Islamophobia, is located deep in the frames of the film. Also the fluidity of migration and settlement depicted in the film are thrown into relief if we set the film against Fatih Akin’s films like Edge of Heaven, where the Turkish-German identities and migration are depicted as being besotted with tensions. That is why, while one welcomes Angela Merkel’s welcome of Syrian refugees as a sane realpolitik gesture, one doubts the sublimation of that gesture, or the gesture of the larger Christendom that may follow suit,  into a claim of multiculturalism that transcends the exigencies of political economy like cheap labour and the need for showcasing and advertising western benevolence as against oriental despotism.

Posted in: Movies