Who would refugees vote for? Recent immigrants to Germany observe the election

As Germany prepares to go to the polls, there are many inside the country who will not be able to cast a ballot on September 24th: roughly 10 million of Germany’s 82 million inhabitants do not hold German citizenship. Of these, 5.7 million residents have a non-EU nationality. (( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2017-06/auslaenderzentralregister-deutschland-auslaender-zuwanderung-gestiegen ))

No vote at the end of an immigration-centred campaign

Roughly 1.3 million men and women from outside the EU have arrived since 2014 – most of them refugees from Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East. Whilst they will not be able to vote themselves, they have nevertheless figured prominently in political debates running up to the election, which displayed an ample (if often ill-informed) focus on immigration, crime and terrorism, as well as Islam.

In spite of their outsized presence in the electoral campaign, refugees’ own political leanings have remained by and large unexplored. In the last days prior to the vote, some of their voices are, however, being heard.

Disillusionment with a lack of opportunities

Two years after Chancellor Merkel’s momentous decision in early September 2015 to open Germany’s borders to refugees stuck on the Western Balkans route, the initial beneficiaries of this policy are by no means uniform in their view of the election.

For some, the journey through Germany’s immigration system and bureaucracy has been a thoroughly disillusioning experience. Speaking to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, Iraqi artist Akil expressed this dissatisfaction: “We are stuck in Germany”, he said. Whilst Merkel had opened the door to people fleeing war and misery, Germany’s rigid legal framework continued to prevent him gaining a foothold and starting a new life.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundestagswahl-2017-wenn-fluechtlinge-waehlen-wuerden/20359154.html ))

Continued support for Chancellor Merkel …

Disenchantment might also lead refugees to remain aloof from politics altogether, since different parties are perceived to be mirror images of each other. For some, politics is also a bête noire for other reasons: having lost friends and family to the ongoing conflict in his home country, Syrian Mohammed al-Naid asserted that “politics only brings trouble”.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundestagswahl-2017-wenn-fluechtlinge-waehlen-wuerden/20359154.html ))

Yet for a large number of those who have come to Germany in recent years, Angela Merkel continues to be a much-respected and even revered persona. They stress the Chancellor’s willingness to take them in at a time when neighbouring states and Muslim-majority countries refused to step up in solidarity((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/bundestagswahl-2017-wenn-fluechtlinge-waehlen-wuerden/20359154.html )) – a sentiment shared among many in the Arab world.(( http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2017-09/bundeskanzlerin-angela-merkel-araber-fluechtlingsdebatte-wahl ))

… but an uneasy relationship with the CDU

Whether this could eventually translate into a higher level of support for the CDU among Germany’s Muslims remains to be seen. Not only will it take a long time for the recently immigrated refugees to acquire German citizenship (provided that they choose to do so); refugees’ loyalty is also oriented more towards Mrs. Merkel than her party.

Over her twelve years in office as Chancellor (and 17 years as chairwoman of the CDU), Mrs. Merkel has steered her party sharply to the political centre on a number of social issues, including immigration. Whilst she is expected to win a fourth term at the Chancellery this Sunday, her tenure will not last forever, raising the spectre of a return to a more conservative profile under a potential successor.

Particularly since Mrs. Merkel’s decision to allow the arrival several hundred thousand refugees, she has faced pressures from the party base. At the CDU’s last party congress at which Mrs. Merkel announced her intention to run for another term as Chancellor, the party forced her against her will to shift to the right on immigration, burqa ban, and dual citizenship.

German Muslims’ stance on immigration

Socially conservative Muslim immigrants and their offspring have long been touted as a potential electoral reservoir for the CDU. Yet at the ballot box many German Muslims may continue to feel that the Christian Democrats (and CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU, even more so), do not govern in their interests.

This does not mean, however, that German Muslims are automatically supportive of a permissive immigration policy. Among the country’s Muslim population, fears about immigration seem almost as widespread as among members of mainstream society.

To be sure, German Muslims have been active volunteers in charitable efforts to help refugees. Yet many established Muslim voters also view new immigrants as potential rivals on already tight labour and housing markets. Others fear that immigrants from war-torn Middle Eastern countries might bring social unrest or even jihadist violence to Germany.((For such opinions, see http://www.spiegel.de/panorama/umfrage-stimmen-zur-deutsch-tuerkischen-beziehung-a-1137631.html or http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/2016-01/michel-abdollahi-angst-migranten-koeln ))

Stability and change in Muslims’ voting behaviour

In sum, even without the votes of refugees who could express their gratitude to Mrs. Merkel, electoral analysts expect a slight uptick of the Muslim vote benefiting the Chancellor’s Christian Democrats. A recent poll suggested that 12 per cent of German Turks now support the CDU, compared to 9 per cent in 2013.(( http://taz.de/Wahlverhalten-der-Deutschtuerken/!5449200/ ))

This comes against the backdrop of a dynamic in which the traditional bond of Germany’s Turkish Muslims with the Social Democrats appears to be weakening. The scale of Germany’s Turkish, immigrant, and Muslim communities distancing from the SPD remains to be seen, however.

Recently, a rapper, enormously popular also among young refugees for his rags-to-riches story – his family had come to Germany in the 1990s as asylum-seekers from Iraqi Kurdistan – posted a photograph of his ballot paper on a social networking site. He had ticked the SPD’s boxes.(( http://hiphop.de/node/307308#.WcUBh7JJbBU ))

Islam in crisis: Observations by German religious scholar Michael Blume

The assumption that ‘Islam’ – usually conceived as a monolithic force – is on an expansionary path is widely shared. Islamists herald the onset of an age of Islamic renewal and dominance; anxious Westerners take to the streets against the ‘Islamisation’ of the occident; and colourful videos highlighting that Islam is set to overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religious group in the coming decades regularly go viral in social networks.

Declining levels of orthopraxy

It is in order to go against this conventional wisdom that German religious scholar Michael Blume has written his latest book Islam in Crisis: A World Religion between Radicalization and Silent Retreat. Blume asserts that Islam is not about to conquer the world but rather that it is in existential trouble.

Blume paints a picture of a religion that is rapidly losing in relevance in the lives of those who are commonly seen as ‘Muslim’. Focusing particularly on figures taken from his native Germany, Blume shows how Muslim communities are marked by a pronounced decline in orthopraxy: young Muslims in Germany pray less than their ancestors, fewer girls wear headscarves, and fewer boys go to the mosque.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

Detachment from the religious tradition

Concomitantly, Muslims are increasingly heterodox in their religious outlook: in 2013, 42 per cent of German Muslim respondents asserted that in their spiritual lives they “draw upon the teachings of different religious traditions”.(( http://cicero.de/kultur/islam-die-saekularisierung-als-symptom-der-krise ))

At the same time, Blume sees most Muslims as more and more distant from and disenchanted with the traditions of their own faith. Violent groups such as the ‘Islamic State’ only foment this disenchantment, according to Blume: their despicable acts further alienate many Muslims from the religion of their parents.

In fact, the warriors of the ‘Islamic State’ are engaged in a battle against the progressing secularisation of the Islamic world. In this respect, they are a product of the present age and of the crisis of Islamic thought, rather than an organic outgrowth of the religious tradition.

Intellectual and theological stasis

According to Blume, this civilisational crisis goes back to Sultan Bayezid’s fateful decision to ban the printing press from Ottoman lands after its invention in Europe in the 15th century. This decision, according to Blume, led to societal and intellectual stasis in the Arab heartlands of the Islamic world – a state of affairs that was perpetuated by subsequent authoritarian regimes buttressed by oil rent.(( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgN5dsls0M ))

Ever since the 15th century, the Islamic religious establishment has been unable to develop answers that could be meaningful to all those Muslims who seek to live in the modern age, or so Blume argues. Yet inevitably Muslims do lead modern lives – a fact that fosters their increasing disconnect from petrified religious traditions.

Looking beyond jihadism

The refreshing element of Blume’s discussion resides in its unflinching focus away from the flashy band of religious radicals who, in spite of being small in number, have managed to capture the world’s attention by their jihadist violence. Instead, Blume seeks to shed light on the religious dynamics among the majority of the world’s Muslim population.

Equally important is the related observation that these ‘Muslims’ are not a homogeneous mass. The implicit assumption in popular discourses as well as in official statistics (for instance from the German government) is the fact that being born to parents from a Muslim-majority region makes one ‘Muslim’ – irrespective of actual levels of belief and observance.

A long-standing argument made anew

At the same time, the observation that the rise of political Islam and of present-day jihadism has gone hand in hand with – in fact proceeded via – a weakening of the authority of the Islamic tradition and its institutions is scarcely new.

There are, after all, entire bookshelves filled with studies demonstrating how local Islamic traditions have been remodeled by the rise of authoritarian nation-states,((For a concise overview of this phenomenon across the Muslim world, see Part I of Jocelyne Cesari’s book The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). A particularly insightful study of a single case is provided by Brinkley Messick in The Calligraphic State: Textual Domination and History in a Muslim Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).)) how traditional modes of Islamic reasoning have ossified in this process,((For a monumental work in that category, see Wael Hallaq’s Shari’a: Theory, Practice, Transformations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).)) and how Islamist laymen have stepped in to fill the void.((An excellent introduction is provided by the essays in the collection edited by Ali Rahnema, Pioneers of Islamic Revival (London: Zed Books, 1994).))

Differences between Islamic heartlands and the immigrant context

Nor have the processes of change undergone by Muslim communities across the world been completely uniform everywhere: Muslims lives in Germany are, surely, necessarily different from Muslim lives in Indonesia. One is left to wonder whether Blume at times underestimates the resulting diversity.

After all, detachment from traditional religion seems easier and more likely in immigrant settings, where religious networks are less deep, religious expertise less profound, and where Muslims are permanently forced to come to terms with a plurality of lifestyles and with an often hostile perception of Islamic religiosity.

Put differently, in a context where there are hardly any mosques and few well-educated Imams; where headscarf-wearing women are often seen with suspicion; and where halal meat is difficult to come by, it is not surprising to observe declining levels of orthopraxy.

Reaffirmations of orthopraxy

Yet even in the European or German context, from whence Blume draws most of his hard figures apparently demonstrating the decline of Islamic orthopraxy, we also observe countervailing dynamics.

Well-educated daughters of secularist Turkish parents are choosing to don a headscarf, in a statement of ostentatious orthopraxy serving to reaffirm their Muslim identity. Salafis carry this identitarian reemphasis of (allegedly) traditional behaviour to its extremes. Yet while Salafis use orthopraxy to withdraw from a mainstream society seen as ‘infidel’, the young woman wearing the hijab may have very different reasons.

A recent study observed that urban, well-educated Muslim women covered up more often in order to reconcile their Muslim faith with the demands of being out of their homes and with employment in gender-mixed environments.(( http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2016-09-02-veil-worn-muslim-women-may-signal-they-are-integrating-more )) Here, ‘modernisation’ – understood as female participation in the labour market – actually reinforced rather than undermined religious orthopraxy.

Modernisation = secularisation?

One is thus left to wonder whether the “silent retreat” and the “radicalisation” observed by Blume are really a convincing (let alone an exhaustive) portrayal of the possibilities of Islamic religiosity in the modern world. For Blume, these are the twin reactions in the face of the secularisation processes undergone by the Islamic world and by Muslim communities.

Yet at the heart of this argument lies the supposition that ‘modernisation’ always goes hand in hand with ‘secularisation’ – a teleological claim that social science has long abandoned for being overly simplistic.

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/ ))

Historical high number of Muslims elected in UK elections

In the British elections earlier this month, 16 Muslims were elected to the British Parliament, a dozen of these Members of Parliament (MPs)  from Pakistani backgrounds.

Labour party Muslim MPs include Khalid Mehmood, Shabana Mehmood, Rozeena-Allin Khan, Yasmin Qureshi, Naz Shah, Imran Hussain, Afzal Khan, Mohammed Yasin and Faisal Rasheed, Roshanara Ali, Rupa Huq, and Tulip Siddique.

Conservative Muslims MPs in the new parliament include Nusrat Ghani, Rehman Chishti, and Sajid Javed, the communities minister.

Scottish National Party politician, Tasmeena Sheikh, lost her seat. Liberal Democratic and Conservative parties had reduced the number of Muslims running for election.

This increase was not affected by the fact that the  Liberal Democratic and Conservative parties had reduced the number of Muslims running for election by nearly half.

 

Prime minister Recep Tayip Erdogan is visiting Austria

Tags: Austria Turkey relations, Integration & Migration

June 2, 2014

On June 19, 2014 the prime minister Recep Tayip Erdogan will arrive for a short visit at Vienna. According to Turkish and Austrian newspapers, it is not an official visit. There will be no official meetings between Turkish and Austrian ministers or representatives. Nonetheless, the timing of this visit is not chosen accidentaly, but it is related to 50th  anniversary of the labor recruitment agreement celebrations.