Germany agonises over Islam

26th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

Concern that religious tensions along the lines of those sparked in the Netherlands by the brutal killing of Islam-critical filmmaker Theo van Gogh could spill over into Germany has triggered a fresh debate among Germans about integrating the nation's large foreign population. Leon Mangasarian reports.

Muslims comprise 4 percent of Germany's population

While Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has stepped-up a campaign calling on the country's big Muslim community to fit with the country's laws and its democratic principles, leading political figures in the nation have claimed that multiculturalism has failed in Germany.

This comes in the wake of a mass demonstration of Muslims in Germany against terror and growing alarm in the country over the torching of mosques, churches and schools in the Netherlands following the van Gogh killing.

There have also been press reports of a link between the van Gogh murder and Germany, with claims that one of those involved in the killing in the Netherlands lived in neighbouring Germany.   

With 3.4 million Muslims comprising 4 percent of Germany's population, the question was put this way by a banner headline in the conservative Bild newspaper: "Is the hate going to come here?" asked the biggest selling tabloid.

The Berliner Zeitung, a left-leaning paper in the German capital where about 200,000 mainly Turkish Muslims live, claims to know the answer: "The feelings of hated against the majority Christian society are growing."

So far there has not been a high profile killing in Germany to match the stabbing and shooting of van Gogh. But a series of attacks on Jews in Berlin by Arab youths have sharply raised concerns.

Germany's tough-minded interior minister, Otto Schily, spoke at the weekend of "a danger" to the country despite successes in integrating the majority of immigrants.

Schily drew headlines earlier this year with a harsh warning to Islamic fundamentalists: "If you love death so much, then it can be yours."

German opposition conservatives are demanding a ban on preaching in mosques in any language other than German.

Calls for such a move were fuelled by a dramatic TV film secretly made in a Berlin mosque.

*quote1*"These Germans, these atheists, these Europeans don't shave under their arms and their sweat collects under their hair with a revolting smell and they stink," said the preacher at the Mevlana Mosque in Berlin's Kreuzberg district, in the film made by Germany's ZDF public TV, adding: "Hell lives for the infidels! Down with all democracies and all democrats!"

Meanwhile, Opposition chief Angela Merkel has declared the multicultural society a failure.

This was echoed by former Social Democrat Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in comments published in a German newspaper. "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," Schmidt said.

Speaking at the Muslims Against Terror rally in Cologne, Guenther Beckstein, interior minister of the mainly Catholic state of Bavaria, told more than 20,000 mainly middle-class Turks: "We ask of you: learn German, work with us, join in our celebrations."

There are also demands for loosening German laws to make it easier to expel foreign extremists, after years of wrangles to win approval for deportation of radical Turkish Islamist Metin Kaplan, the self- styled 'Caliph of Cologne'.

Udo Ulfkotte, a German journalist who has received death threats since writing a book critical of Islam titled 'The War in our Cities', underlines that many of the group responsible for the 11 September 2001 attacks on the US had lived in Germany.

Asked about van Gogh's killing, Ulfkotte said: "The spark could jump over here at any time. We just need a provocation like in Holland. Islamists in Germany approved of (van Gogh's) murder and many of them actually cheered it."

But other experts - while not downplaying threats - warn against being alarmist.

Steffen Angenendt, a migration expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations and member of the German government's Council of Experts on Immigration and Integration, argues Germany is far better off than the Netherlands.

Holland, says Angenendt, now faces "the rubble" of its failed policy of tolerant multi-culturalism, for which it was the European flagship during the past decades.

Only limited efforts were made at integration in the Netherlands, after which the foreign communities were largely ignored, says Angenendt.

Germany has three big advantages compared to the Netherlands, he argues.

First is geography: Germany is not nearly as densely settled as the Netherlands and people have more room. "The Dutch feel as if they have no space," said Angenendt.

A second plus for Germany is that unlike Holland the cities with big foreign populations, such as Berlin and Frankfurt, mostly do not have districts totally dominated by one group. Even Berlin-Kreuzberg, with its big Turkish community, is still a multi-ethnic society, he says.

*quote2*Thirdly, integration has generally worked better in Germany than in countries like the Netherlands, Angenendt says. This will improve further from January 1 when Germany's new immigration law comes into force.

Under this legislation all new immigrants will have to take 600 hours German language instruction plus a 30 hour course on German society. In addition, 50,000 immigrants already here will be eligible to take the courses each year.

A further point, not directly mentioned by Angenendt, is the fact that 75 percent of Germany's Muslims are from Turkey.

A survey by the Islam Archive in Soest - which houses a major collection of Islamic books and documents - found that the majority of Turks in Germany do not practice their religion.

Says Buelent Arslan, head of the German-Turkish Forum: "We have an Islam which is very influenced by Turkey and this is the most enlightened and secular."

Still, even a small percentage of extremists is deeply worrying.

Germany's Verfassungschutz - the domestic intelligence service - estimates there are 31,000 radical Islamists living in Germany, of whom several thousand are prepared to use violence.

The biggest group is a Turkish movement named 'Milli Goerues' with 26,500 members, which fights against integration of Turks into German society.

In a court case which set security establishment alarm bells ringing, a judge ruled last week week that Milli Goerues membership did not justify a German airport's bid to ban an employee from working within its security zone.

The number of reported crimes carried out by foreign extremists in Germany almost tripled last year compared with 2002, warns the Verfassungsschutz.

November 2004

[Copyright DPA with Expatica]

Subject: German news, Muslims in Germany, German integration of foreigners

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