Parallel Societies Start at School

A recent study entitled “Learning to Live Together at School” commissioned by the Ministry of Education has led to “alarming” discoveries, according to the head researcher Edit Schlaffer. Claudia Schmied, the Minister of Education, has herself stated that the study is for internal use only, and that details will not be given, though a summary has been published in the magazine Erziehung & Unterricht (Education & Instruction).

The study shows how children with an immigrant background and those without not only have very little points of contact with another, but often reproduce the same stereotypes as their parents. Children without any immigrant background accuse immigrants and their children of having come to take advantage of the Austrian welfare state, and associate them with large families, headscarves, and aggressive, macho behavior. Conversely, children with immigrant backgrounds (the majority of whom are Muslim) believe the “Austrians” drink too much alcohol; do not believe in god; are generally hostile towards Islam; and “take home a different girl every night.”

Despite these prejudices, the study also shows that both sides “respect” one another, and the “bad immigrants” are usually to be found in other classes, whereas the “good immigrants” are those with whom there is more contact. Nonetheless, such contact is often difficult to bring about, due to the fact that many Muslim girls do not participate in communal activities like excursions or sports weeks. According to the study, the Muslim girls in general do not live like other Austrian girls, as going out, relationships with men, and sleep-overs at friends’ homes are in general not allowed.

Schlaffer believes that it is precisely with regard to the different conceptions of gender roles that both groups could be better brought together within a framework of discussion and debate. Alev Korun, integration spokesperson for the Green Party echoes this sentiment, saying that the time of “living together and past one another” is over and that it is now time to come together and debate our different views, and that schools should do more to encourage such productive encounters.

Are Berlin’s Muslims a Model for Integration?

Far from living in closed-off communities, Muslims in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district live in a culturally diverse area. However, a new report finds that they still suffer from high levels of discrimination, particularly within the city’s school system.

Berlin’s Kreuzberg district has a reputation for vibrancy, creativity and multiculturalism. Yet in the public imagination there is often a flipside to the area’s cultural diversity with a perception that its large Turkish and Muslim populations live in “parallel societies,” cut off from their ethnic German and non-Muslim neighbors and enclosed within their own communities.

A new report from the Open Society Institute (OSI) takes some steps to dispel this notion. This week, the organization released its “Muslims in Berlin” study — with Kreuzberg firmly in the spotlight — and the findings point to a decidedly positive story of integration.

The report is part of the organization’s “At Home in Europe” project — which focuses on 11 cities in Europe with sizable Muslim populations, including Paris, Marseille, London and Amsterdam. The OSI, a non-profit founded by billionaire financier George Soros, aims to protect and improve marginalized communities as part of its stated mission is to work toward “vibrant and tolerant democracies.”