For more than a century, the emotion of fear seems to have been one of the main determining factors of the debate regarding demographic and social change in the West. Within this context, the Institute for Demoskopie Allensbach (IfD) has published a report on a national survey in Germany. The results can be summed up by saying that, although Germans have seen higher economic living standards in the last few years, many, mostly between the ages of 30 and 59, are not optimistic about their futures. International crises, terrorist threats, and changes in domestic environments are among the top reasons expressed by the interviewees, each of which inhibits a mundus optimus. According to Niklas Luhmann, everything we know about the world is influenced by the mass media. But the reflection of the pictures we are presented with is just a construct, not reality. The trend of skepticism when gazing into the future should not be surprising in an age where good news is no news. However, to rely only on the impact of newer technological developments on human beings – such as the mass media – without investigating the philosophical and historical background of sentiments such as pessimism, prostration, or discouragement will present a short-sided view.
These results can be seen as typical manifestations of the German Angst. However, a view of Europe’s current political landscape proves the opposite. Fear seems to be a regional, or even continental, attitude towards the now-visible Muslim community. But this concept of fear is not a mere expression of an uncomfortable emotion. It has become a major social challenge and even a research field in various academic disciplines: Islamophobia and xenophobia represent the irrational fear of “the other” by having prejudices and creating a discriminatory image of Muslims or other minorities. So, it is not surprising that some European states have revived the “mission to civilize” by banning the burqa and burkini (as in France), or even forcing Muslim students to eat pork (as in Austria). Society and demographics are changing as new types of people are appearing today, such as the German with a migration background or the “New Germans” (Prof. Herfried Münkler). What many populists or plain racists conceal is that change is not a synonym for downfall. As mentioned earlier, the concept of change has its own and sometimes unpredictable logic. It would be naive to believe that a country such as Germany still has the same homogenous populus it had in the 1920s. In places such as Berlin’s Kreuzberg, multi-culturalism is the norm, as it is in many world capitals and in other cities such as Offenbach, where 60% of the inhabitants have a non-German background.
Finally, it should be pointed out that fear can block rational thinking and thereby question ideas that have been fundamentally protected in legal documents for many centuries. As an example, the AfD’s questioning of whether or not Islam belongs to Germany is an irrelevant question in terms of the German Constitution. But the presence of fear, human rights, and constitutional guarantee create an oxymoron such that, for example, if religious freedom is a right provided by the constitution, then it is an essential element of the social contract between the people and the state according to social contract theory. One can add vague legal concepts such as living together (vivre ensemble) to this. But the burqa case in France provides a flexible tool for conservative approaches to limit the freedom of Muslims and move closer to the concept of assimilation. The president of the German Constitutional Court, Prof. Andreas Voßkuhle, referred to the German Constitution as the “constitution of the middle.” This seems to be a wise approach and should be a plea to lead discussions and debates regarding refugees, Islam, and demographic changes; a path advisable for those who represent either of the two extremes: Thomas More’s Utopia on the one hand or John Stuart Mill’s Dystopia on the other.