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West Germany’s Former Chancellor Predicted Europe Would Have an Assimilation Problem

In 1990 former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt told me in an interview that massive Islamic immigration into Europe kept him awake at night. Between pinches of snuff, Schmidt said he worried Muslims wouldn’t assimilate, and that this would become a big problem for the continent.

Schmidt’s ruminations are worth remembering following French President Francois Hollande visit to President Barack Obama Tuesday to ask for help in what he has called France’s war on ISIS. Hollande, who has been much more assertive than his host on defeating ISIS, to say the least, has been candid that “complicity from the inside” is one of the problems he will have to tackle.

I won’t quote Schmidt directly out of deference to the quarter century that has passed. But I distinctly remember thinking his comment would be the lede paragraph. Some European pols like Jean-Marie Le Pen were saying things like this back then, but here was a big Social-Democrat who had led West Germany for eight years talking this way.

I also remember the disappointment I felt when about a half hour later, Schmidt sought me out—the interview took place in Seoul, South Korea, where Schmidt was attending a big confab—and asked me to please not use what he had told me. It would cause him a lot of problems back home, he explained.

I consented and led with something else. The world was a more genteel place back then.

Schmidt’s death this month—not to mention the fact that in the past 10 years he apparently stopped asking journalists not to print these things—releases me from my undertaking. The terrorist attacks in Paris this month and the fact that Belgium has gone into a virtual lockdown for days now because of the threat of an attack makes this relevant now.

After all, Schmidt was quoted as saying this in 2004: “Multicultural societies have only … functioned peacefully in authoritarian states. To that extent it was a mistake for us to bring guest workers from foreign cultures into the country at the beginning of the 1960s.”

Of course, the jury is still out on whether Schmidt will eventually be proven right or wrong. Governments and societies can always correct course.

Europe’s Assimilation Problem

It would be foolish to maintain, on the other hand, that the different Muslim immigrants in Europe have assimilated flawlessly. At least six of the Paris terrorists were either French- or Belgian-born and grew up in one of these two countries.

It’s not only a French problem. An opinion poll conducted by the firm Survation for Britain’s The Sun newspaper revealed this week that one in five Islamic Britons have at least some sympathy for “young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria.” Detractors on the left say, to be sure, that some respondents may have interpreted the question to include also young British Muslims who have gone to Syria to fight against ISIS.

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