Integration of Muslims progressing in Germany, study finds

The German Bertelsmann Foundation has published a new report examining the lives of Muslims in Europe. Taking a comparative approach, the study’s authors rely on data from five countries – Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, and the UK. More than 3,000 Muslims participated as respondents in the surveys for the report.

Enhanced labour market participation

According to the study, successful integration is visible particularly from second generation onwards. Particularly in the field of labour market participation, the sample drawn from Germany’s Muslim population did not diverge significantly from the country’s average: 60% of respondents held a full-time job; 20% were employed part-time. Unemployment figures of the two groups were similarly comparable. (Pay remained unequal, however.)

According to the study’s authors, the advances in Muslim labour market participation are linked to the high demand for labour in Germany, as well as to the eased labour market access for newly arrived migrants.

Growing societal integration

Growing rates of labour market integration appear to be based on enhanced linguistic skills: 73% of children born to immigrant Muslim parents assert that German is the language they speak best. The share of native German speakers is further increasing with every successive generation.

Successful integration, however, goes beyond the purely utilitarian sphere of the labour market. 84% of Muslim respondents regularly spend their free time with non-Muslims, and two thirds assert that their circle of friends is made up of pre-dominantly non-Muslim acquaintances. While only every second Muslim holds a German passport, 96% of respondents asserted that they felt a close bond with Germany.

An inegalitarian educational system

Yet even the Bertelsmann study concedes that significant challenges remain. The most notable one is linked to Germany’s educational system. The country’s schools have been repeatedly criticised by national and international experts for entrenching and reinforcing existing social divides through an early and rigid separation of children into different academic tracks.

Consequently, the all-important factor determining pupils’ educational achievement remains their parents’ social and economic capital. Unsurprisingly, the sons and daughters of the large group of Muslim blue collar immigrants tend to fare poorly in such a context: in Germany, 36 per cent of young Muslims leave school before the age of 17 – compared to only 11 per cent in France.

Hurdles for ‘pious’ Muslims

Nor is ‘integration’ equally easy for everyone: the group of (visibly) pious Muslims struggles to participate in the labour market and to find employment that matches their qualifications.

The researchers attribute this at least in part to discriminatory practices in the workplace: in Great Britain, where rules and regulations concerning e.g. the wearing of the hijab while at work are more permissive, the more pious segments of the Muslim population are active in the same jobs as their less observant co-religionists.

According to Yasemin El-Menouar, one of the Foundation’s experts, there are considerable improvements to be made when it comes to the full legal recognition of Muslim religious communities, as well as to the fight against discrimination in Germany: “Religious symbols should not lead to disadvantages in job applications, and religious needs such as obligatory prayers and mosque visits should be reconcilable with full-time employment” – or so El-Menouar argues.

Reactions by policymakers

El-Menouar’s demand was taken up by Volker Beck, the Green Party spokesman for migration and religious affairs: he stressed that – in line with existing legislation – the discrimination of hijab-wearing Muslim women in the workplace needed to be addressed and prevented.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/08/26/bertelsmann-studie-stoesst-auf-gespaltenes-echo/ )) Beck’s comments are interesting particularly against the backdrop of renewed wrangling in German courts surrounding the hijab.

Beck’s counterpart from the Social Democrats, Kerstin Griese, focused on the inequalities in Germany’s educational system and challenged all political forces to address them in a systematic manner.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/08/26/bertelsmann-studie-stoesst-auf-gespaltenes-echo/ ))

Questions concerning the reliability of the findings

Generally, the study’s positive findings were received as something of a pleasant surprise by many commentators.((https://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/video/video-321263.html )) Yet there have also been critical voices.

Some have questioned the reliability of the study’s findings. The pro-business think-tank Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft, for instance, has drawn attention to other data sets that paint a different picture. Here, Muslims do appear to be significantly less likely to hold a job than other members of society.(( https://www.iwkoeln.de/presse/iw-nachrichten/beitrag/holger-schaefer-arbeitsmarktintegration-von-muslimen-vermeintlicher-erfolg-358606 ))

Moreover, the Bertelsmann Foundation’s research only incorporates the voices and the data of Muslims who have arrived in Germany prior to 2010, meaning that its findings do not cover the recently arrived Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans. Of course most of these men and women are still relatively far removed from firm and lasting labour market participation and social inclusion.

Politicised critiques

Other criticisms were less technical and more ideological in nature. Conservative daily Die Welt complained that the study had failed to tease out supposed “mental or cultural hurdles to integration”. More particularly, the paper demanded that Muslim respondents be systematically questioned about their affinities to religious fundamentalism.(( http://hd.welt.de/politik-edition/article167983092/Einseitiger-Blick-auf-Integration.html ))

The chairman of the Islamist-leaning Islamic Community Millî Görüş (IGMG), Bekir Altaş, came at the results from a different, albeit equally intransigent angle. Altaş read the study’s findings less as a sign of successful societal participation than as a damning indictment of the German state’s treatment of its Muslim citizens.

German Muslims, according to Altaş, were victimised by a “restrictive policy on Islam” and by the “inadmissible and generalistic demands” placed upon them by politicians. Especially in the area of foreign policy, he argued, German Muslims had become a mere “plaything” of policymakers’ attempts to “settle accounts” – a thinly veiled reference to recent German-Turkish diplomatic spats.(( http://www.islamiq.de/2017/08/26/bertelsmann-studie-stoesst-auf-gespaltenes-echo/ ))

UK integration report ‘divisive’ say Muslim groups

A government report on integration of immigrants in the UK has been described as “inflammatory” and “divisive” by its critics.

The Casey Review says that segregation is on the rise in the UK among other findings. It suggests that immigrants swear an “integration oath” to maintain British values and that these values be taught in schools.

Social welfare expert Louise Casey was asked to lead the review at the request of then-prime minister David Cameron as part of the government’s efforts to tackle extremism.

The report, which was published on Monday, said that some Muslims and members of other minority faith groups showed less progressive views, for example towards “women’s equality, sexuality and freedom of speech”.

But Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said it was an “inflammatory” and “divisive” report, that deliberately targeted one community over others.

“Sadly in today’s Britain, Muslims are seen as an easy target to attack by politicians, commentators and parts of the media without any regard for the impact this has on communities.

“There was no mention about the responsibility of the white community to help with integration, as many white families flee mixed areas as ethnic minorities move into a particular area,” Shafiq said in a statement.

“We are saddened that once again British Muslims have become a political football which is bashed from time to time without any regard for the impact this has on individuals who then are subjected to threats and violence,” he added.

On his part, Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he feared the report was one-sided, focusing on Muslims without tackling the role of other British nationals in welcoming immigrants and helping them to integrate.

In a statement, Khan said the report could be a missed opportunity. “We need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslim.

“As former Prime Minister David Cameron has stated: ‘integration is a two-way street’. The report has little discussion on white flight, and could have delved deeper into the economic structural barriers to integration.”

He also disputed misconceptions that Muslims and Islam are incompatible with the British lifestyle and culture, and the notion that Muslims are not civilised enough to be part of the British society.

Meanwhile the Joint Council for the Wefare of Immigrants (JCWI) said in a statement that Prime Minister Theresa May needed to rethink the socially destructive immigration policies she implemented while home secretary.

“Integration comes when immigrants and the communities they live in can trust each other,” said Saira Grant, its chief executive in a statement. “Negative rhetoric against immigrants perpetuated by certain media and politicians permeates into the public psyche and results in racism and xenophobia.”

Reaction on Twitter was also critical.

However, Casey also admitted that there was a “vicious circle” in which Muslims felt they were being blamed for terrorism and extremism, leading to suspicion, mistrust and hostility.

“Every time there’s a terrorist attack people automatically blame a person that’s called a Muslim. That’s wrong. Muslims are no more responsible for terrorist attacks than I am for the IRA,” Casey told BBC 4’s Today programme.

The report referred to a 2015 UK poll showing that more than 55 percent of those interviewed believed that there was a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society. At the same time 46 percent of British Muslims felt that being a Muslim in Britain was difficult due to prejudice against Islam.

Casey said people should be able to discuss issues in the report without being “worried about being called racist or Islamophobic”.

The Casey review also states that the Crime Survey for England and Wales states that the actual level of hate crime experienced – including anti-Semitic and Islamophobic attacks – is more than four times the number of recorded incidents.

These attacks apparently increase following “trigger” events, such as the conflict in Israel and Gaza, and following the EU referendum, as perpetrators appeared to feel emboldened by the events and the language used around them.

Casey Integration Review: Muslim Council of Britain’s Initial Response

Today the long awaited review on integration by Dame Louise Casey has been published. Though the review has already been championed by those who pursue a divisive agenda and a hostile attitude towards Muslims, the Muslim Council of Britain will carefully consider the details of Dame Louise’s findings and offer a substantive response.

In the meantime, Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain offered his initial response:

“Any initiative that facilitates better integration of all Britons should be welcomed, and we certainly endorse the few, fair and supportable suggestions proposed by the Casey Review. This includes the promotion of the English language, sharing of best practice across the nation and a range of measures to tackle exclusion, inequality and segregation in school placements. And while we agree that forced marriages, FGM, honour based killings and other practices have no place in modern Britain, we would argue that our faith tradition can be deployed to tackle what are essentially cultural practices.”

“I hope we can facilitate robust and active conversations in British Muslim communities where we are frank about the challenges facing us and creative enough to meet them head on.”

“Sadly, however, I fear that this report could be a missed opportunity. We need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims. As former Prime Minister David Cameron has stated, ‘integration is a two-way street’. The report has little discussion on white flight, and could have delved deeper into the economic structural barriers to integration.”

“In our submission to the Casey Review, the Muslim Council of Britain highlighted the ‘culture of fear is emerging which is a big driver in preventing a more united and cohesive society.’

We said: ‘We must recognise that our public discourse and conversation has a part to play in furthering integration. Integration is fostered when the media reports on stories that speak of achievement of minorities, of people coming together and where national moments are shared by all.’

We also said “for too long Muslims have had to endure a media echo chamber which amplifies the misconception that Muslims and their faith are incompatible with life in Britain. We dispute these notions. It assumes that Muslims are not equal, and not civilised enough to be part and parcel of British society. It leads to discrimination against Muslims, alienation amongst Muslims where the national conversation dictates that they are not part and parcel of society, and, at worst, violent attacks against Muslims.”

We hope this Review does not feed into that narrative.

Casey report criticised for focus on UK Muslim communities

Muslim groups have raised concerns about the government’s community cohesion report, arguing that it confuses race, religion and immigration and focuses too heavily on Muslim communities.

The study, commissioned by David Cameron as prime minister and carried out by Dame Louise Casey, recommends a new strategy to help bridge divides in the UK, including an “integration oath” to encourage immigrants to embrace British values, and greater focus on promoting the English language and securing “women’s emancipation in communities where they are being held back by regressive cultural practices”.

Critics said its focus on Muslim communities ignored other issues such as equality and racism, and was potentially damaging to community relations.

Bana Gora, chief executive of the Muslim Women’s Council, said: “I am not denying that there is a problem in Muslim communities, but I would not put it down to self-segregation. We have to look at the broader picture, at education qualifications, at economics, at social mobility, at barriers in the jobs market.

“There are many inter-related factors and to put it all down such basic sensational terms by saying that the Muslim community is self-segregating does so much harm and is is totally unnecessary.”

Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said “any initiative that facilitates better integration of all Britons” should be welcomed. But he said the Casey report was a missed opportunity. “We need to improve integration, and it needs to involve the active participation of all Britons, not just Muslims,” he said.

He welcomed the promotion of the English language and initiatives to tackle exclusion, inequality and segregation in schools. But he highlighted a “culture of fear” that he said was “a big driver in preventing a more united and cohesive society”.

“We must recognise that our public discourse and conversation has a part to play in furthering integration. Integration is fostered when the media reports on stories that speak of achievement of minorities, of people coming together and where national moments are shared by all,” Khan said.

He said the MCB in its submissions to the Casey report had pointed out that Muslims had to endure “a media echo chamber which amplifies the misconception that Muslims and their faith are incompatible with life in Britain”.

“We dispute these notions,” he said. “It assumes that Muslims are not equal, and not civilised enough to be part and parcel of British society. It leads to discrimination against Muslims, alienation amongst Muslims where the national conversation dictates that they are not part and parcel of society, and, at worst, violent attacks against Muslims.”

Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network, welcomed the report, but said segregation could not be blamed only on Muslim communities. “We need a nuanced debate that looks at these hard questions that Casey raises but that also looks at the racism and xenophobia these communities face,” she said.

Gohir said there were many other factors fuelling segregation. “Segregation is always a two-way issue and we have to look at what is happening in the Muslim community, but also what is happening in the white community too – why they don’t want to integrate, the issue of so-called ‘white flight’, where white people leave an area when Muslim families move in. This has to be a starting point for a wider and more thoughtful debate.”

The report mentions Muslims 249 times, while there are only 14 references to Polish communities.

The first Muslim to sit in cabinet, Sayeeda Warsi, a former communities minister, said the year-long study’s focus on Muslims – and particularly Muslim women – was unfair. Responding to report’s use of the phrase “the emancipation of Muslim women”, she tweeted: “Yes, those words are in the report. The empire strikes back!”

Warsi argued that many of the statistics in the report were out of date, and it failed to talk about the challenge of raising aspiration among poor white Roma communities. She said the focus on Muslim women was unjustified, pointing out that white women were most likely to be victims of domestic abuse. In conclusion, she said the report had “some good bits, a few bad bits and lots of confused bits”.

The report says the single most important thing the government can do for effective integration is to take action to get more people speaking English. Stephen Hale, chief executive of Refugee Action, welcomed that, saying refugees were “determined to learn English to enable them to contribute to their new communities through work, volunteering and socialising with their neighbours”.

But he said funding for English courses had been slashed by more than half since 2009. “[Refugees] are deeply frustrated by the lack of English language classes available,” Hale said. “Refugees, particularly women, face huge barriers to learning, from a lack of local provision to long waiting lists.”

He said the government must act quickly to address the issue. “An investment of just over £40m per year would make it possible for every refugee to learn English and give them the opportunity to contribute and rebuild their lives successfully.”

Ukip’s immigration spokesman, John Bickley, welcomed what he described as a “damning” report. “It pulls no punches and is an excoriating critique of the Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrat parties’ support of mass immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness,” he said.

German National Day celebrations in Dresden overshadowed by bomb blasts and right-wing agitation

A history of far-right activity

On October 3, Germany celebrated the 26th anniversary of its reunification. This year, the official festivites were hosted by the city of Dresden. For two years now, the capital of the East German state of Saxony has been the site of weekly demonstration by the Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the Occident), a far-right anti-immigration collective with close yet somewhat oblique links to Germany’s new right-wing party, the Alternative for Germany.

Concomitantly, Saxony has recorded the by far highest rate of anti-refugee violence of all German states in recent years. ((https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/10/03/germany-reunified-26-years-ago-but-some-divisions-are-still-strong/ )) Critical questions have been raised about the State’s security and judicial apparatuses, and their personal links with as well as broad institutional sympathies for far-right movements – a criticism that was recently made even by the Saxon Minister of the Economy, Martin Dulig (SPD). ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/sachsen-polizei-sympathisiert-laut-minister-martin-dulig-mit-pegida-a-1080343.html ))

Bomb attacks on a mosque and a conference centre

Consequently, security fears ahead of the National Day celebrations ran high. Whilst the authorities’ main attention was focused on potential Islamist plots on October 3, the city was actually rocked by twin blasts on a mosque and a congress centre less than a week before Unity Day.

The self-made explosive device caused extensive damage to the entrance area of the mosque, although the Imam and his family, who had been inside the building at the time, remained unhurt. ((http://www.mdr.de/sachsen/dresden/sprengstoff-anschlaege-in-dresden-100.html )) Due to security concerns, the Imam now contemplates returning to his native Turkey, after nearly 20 years in Dresden. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-10/einheitsfeier-dresden-sachsen-deutsche-einheit-pegida ))

Investigators have not yet been able to apprehend a suspect in this case. Initially, a claim of responsibility was published on a militant left-wing website. Whilst this claim was widely picked-up upon in conservative publications, it subsequently turned out to be a falsification. ((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/bekennerschreiben-dresden-105.html ))

“Traitors of the people”

The subsequent celebrations on Unity Day thus occurred under tight security control. However, in a widely-criticised move, police planners allocated a central spot to Pegida demonstrators, allowing them to congregate in the very heart of the historic city outside the Church of Our Lady, destroyed during WWII and reconstructed a few years ago as a memorial to peace and understanding. As leading politicians such as Chancellor Merkel and President Gauck arrived at the scene, they were insulted as “Volksverräter” (“traitors of the people”) by the angry crowd. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-10/dresden-tag-der-deutschen-einheit-einheitsfest-farce ))

Demonstrators had already directed the same slogan at Dresden’s mayor the previous day when he received representatives of the city’s three mosques in the city hall on the occasion of the Islamic New Year. As the police sought to calm the situation, scuffles broke out that also targeted the mayor. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2016-10/dresden-oberbuergermeister-dirk-hilbert-pegida-poebeleien ))

Rehabilitating old vocabulary

The Unity Day Pegida rally appeared to be even more heavily frequented by full-fledged neo-Nazis than the movement’s usual congregations. Quotes by Joseph Goebbels adorned some of the protestor’s signs, and a black man walking past was vilified by the crowd as spectators broke out in ape-like sounds and shouted “Deport him!” ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-10/einheitsfeier-dresden-sachsen-deutsche-einheit-pegida ))

The term “Volksverräter” – originally used by right-wingers in the Weimar Years to disparage the supporters of peace and of the German democratic constitution – has become the battle cry of the Pegida movement. ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/dresden-proteste-volksverraeter-aber-gerne-doch-kommentar-a-1115094.html )) Concomitantly, Frauke Petry, leader of the Alternative for Germany, recently suggested that the term “völkisch” should once more receive a positive connotation – again, a word and concept strongly associated with far-right racial ideas of the inter-war years. ((https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158049653/Wir-wollen-keinen-Buergerkrieg-in-Deutschland.html ))

In this view, the existence of the German Volk as a blood-based community is most strongly threatened by the arrival of Muslims: at Pegida’s main rally on October 3, speakers accused the German government of seeking to exterminate the German population by using “Islam as a weapon of mass destruction”. ((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-10/einheitsfeier-dresden-sachsen-deutsche-einheit-pegida ))

Questions about police complicity

In a move that appeared to vindicate their critics, the Saxon police not only did not step in as pro-Pegida protestors disrupted the Unity Day celebrations; police in fact appeared to condone these actions: aside from giving pride of place to Pegida by allocating them a spot outside the Church of Our Lady, a policeman used a loudspeaker to wish the gathering crowd of Pegida supporters “a successful day”.

The crowd responded by chanting: “One, two, three, thank you police” (“Eins, zwei, drei, danke Polizei”). Whilst the individual policeman is now facing disciplinary action, the Dresden police as a whole re-emphasised that it conceives of itself as “a guarantor of neutrality”. ((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/dresden-einheitsfeiern-polizist-wuenschte-pegida-erfolgreichen-tag-a-1115009.html ))

Day of the Open Mosque

Incidentally, October 3 also serves as the ‘Day of the Open Mosque’ in Germany, and thus as an opportunity for the country’s roughly 1,000 mosques to present themselves to the public. The day had been initiated by the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD), one of a number of rivalling Islamic associations, in 1997.

The government’s Commissioner for Integration, Aydan Özoguz (SPD), called upon Germans to use the day of the open mosque to take a stand against Islamophobia. ((http://www.epochtimes.de/politik/deutschland/bewusst-am-tag-der-deutschen-einheit-rund-1000-moscheen-oeffnen-ihre-tueren-a1360804.html )) After the events in Dresden, this stance is surely needed.

Expert on geopolitical conflicts, Alan Salehzadeh, urges to ban head scarves in schools and face veils in public spaces

Alan Salehzadeh, who has gained publicity in the past years as an expert on geopolitical conflicts and researcher for the Finnish National Defence College, urges in his blog for a ban on head scarves in schools and face veils in public spaces. Salehzadeh, an immigrant from Iran, has previously as well spoken out for issues that touch upon issues in multicultural Finnish society, such as migrants’ difficulties in the job market due to language skill requirements.

In his blog post from May 21st Salehzadeh maintains that in democratic Finland it is not acceptable that certain religious groups – with this implying to Islam – force their children to embrace a religion and at the same time force little girls to wear the headscarf to the school. He notes, that it creates inequalities between students for example when a girl who wears the headscarf is not able to attend gender-mixed swimming lessons. Hence, he urges for a citizens initiative that would call for a law which can forbid parents from determining their children’s dress style.
Salehzadeh argues that the headscarf should be allowed to be used only after the child has reached 18 years of age, which is the age of majority in Finland. However, he finds that even then, when a woman is able to decide for herself about her religious dress, face veils should be banned as they are not compatible with democratic values.

The issue of the face veil in the public space has been a topic of discussion also earlier this year, as MP Nasima Razmyar, like Salehzadeh with an immigrant background, expressed her concerns against the face veil in an interview. For Razmyar it would be necessary to ban the face veil in cases in which a woman is wearing it in her profession in the child education sector. Although she criticized the face veil as part of an employee’s dress in schools and nurseries, she extended her argument so that the face veil does not support the integration of its wearer into the Finnish society.

Dutch Vice Prime Minister Asscher Lodewijk: “Task of Muslim community to bar hate imams”

Minister of Integration and Vice Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher thinks it is also a responsibility of the Dutch Muslim community the bar preachers of hate from the Netherlands. He has stated that he sees it as a task for Dutch Muslims to not invite these characters. The minister has stated so after a meeting with Muslimas in Amsterdam.

According to the minister a role might be played by Islamic organizations that are united in the CMO (English: Contact Organization for Muslims and Government). “They can make sure these creeps will not be invited and can alert the government when these kinds of imams come to the Netherlands,” Asscher said.

If it were to the minister these “hate imams” would not be given entrance to the Netherlands. Their coming does not help in the protection of Muslim youth against “the poison that they spread.” We cannot purify the society totally from this hatred,” Asscher said. “But we can make the youth more able to defend itself.”

New Political Party Established by Dutch Muslims

Two former Dutch Labour Party (Partij van de Arbeid) members – Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk – have established a new political party called “Denk” (English: Think). The two parliamentary members left the Labour Party after a conflict about the integration policies of the party.

Kuzu says in an interview with the Dutch news paper Het Parool: “We’re implementing an integration policy in this country while it has only resulted in the fact that we are further apart then ever.” Öztürk: “The Labour Party has a Minister of Integration, we want a Minister of Acceptation.” Kuzu again: “In the Netherlands there are many more people who should accept integrated people than there are people who are supposed to integrate.”

Open the link below to read the whole interview (in Dutch):

http://www.parool.nl/parool/nl/224/BINNENLAND/article/detail/3847611/2015/02/09/Ex-PvdA-ers-komen-met-nieuwe-partij-in-een-naar-Geert-Wilders-gevormde-wereld.dhtml