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In Search of Peace On Integration Problems and Provocations
Apr 1, 2006

After the series of violent events in France, the Muslim immigrants in European ghettos and their integration into society have become a hot topic. People shuddered when watching the burning shops and vehicles. Europe was facing a new nightmare. Were these events really the rebellion of the immigrants left to their own fate or the initial tremors before far greater social problems? More importantly, one wonders whether such events might take place in other European countries, where ghettos, parallel societies, and the integration of immigrants are oft-debated topics, Germany being the first.

There may be some credit to the idea that it is not proper to compare the immigrants in France to those in Germany, due to the historical and cultural differences in their social structures. However, the typical characteristics of ghettos and the similar approaches of the governments to the immigrants imply that such unpleasant events can always take place. First of all, the immigrants who are pushed into ghettos and usually cannot be assimilated are in an isolated position from the main society in terms of language, culture, and education fields. There are clear examples of this in Germany; the large numbers of immigrants living in certain regions bring along serious language and education problems. Many young people start life without a good educational degree, without career opportunities, and after having had negative experiences in school life. Such young people are mostly idle, have achieved nothing close to a satisfactory educational level, and, not caring about human values, they tend to solve their problems through violence as well as being open to manipulation. We face potential danger as long as this situation remains the same. Riots like in Paris might happen in other countries as well. Developing early solutions and maintaining social peace before such unpleasant events happen is in no doubt a better alternative than having to send riot police to the suburbs. Politicians and local administrations should adapt more sensitive approaches to the immigrants, or rather the minorities, who live in the ghettos and similar locations that have such potential.

Germans, for instance, should first of all give up trying to blame the problems on ethnic and religious reasons and form the main frame of a fresh vision of living together. Actually the German constitution does have the relevant essentials for such an approach. However, in spite of the first article of the German Constitution “The dignity of man is inviolable,” Germans in administrative positions often fail to fulfill this principle. Anybody who observes German society in this respect can witness how the dignity of the immigrants is violated, how they are looked down upon, and psychologically isolated at schools, factories, and other workplaces. Beyond violating the individuals’ dignity, insulting words or behavior sometimes even amounts to insulting an entire nation. What is more, unfortunately sometimes even some statesmen present such behavior prompted by the media.

As a matter of fact, the ghettos and similar locations in Germany were not consciously formed by the minorities. The immigrants who came to the country as workers about forty years ago started living around their workplaces in the beginning. Therefore, the number of foreigners at the schools in these neighborhoods started to increase more and more. So the formation of the ghettos started with the dwellings centered around workplaces and then it affected the educational institutions. On the other hand, the fact that in most German cities landlords refused to let out their apartments to immigrants had and still has a role in the formation of the ghettos.

Despite this fact, a minister in one of the parties in Germany made an interesting comment, particularly for the Turks, saying “Turks consider themselves to be superior to Germans, so they prefer to live in ghettos instead of integrating into German society.” On hearing such opinions, one cannot help but remember the old Nazi view of the Jews.

One of the reasons for such attitudes is that some politicians try to gain credit by adopting such policies in order to attract nationalist votes. Surely, these policies do not benefit society and history proves that those who trigger social chaos become the first ones to pay the price. When the hostile and provocative manners of politicians cause unrest, it is the media that should assume the responsibility for maintaining the peace.

Unfortunately, let alone playing a positive role, a significant part of the German media just fans the flames. Almost everyday they exaggerate marginal events and German society is misinformed about Muslims. The result is a biased society that is afraid of all Muslims. Thus, the media is in fact preparing grounds for similar social troubles that happened in France; for ignorance and fanaticism trigger the same kind of reaction on the opposite side.

Even after the provocative events of publishing a caricature that insults the Messenger of God and thereby all the Muslims in the world, most Muslims protested the event within a democratic framework. In spite of this, some European media organs used the freedom of press as an excuse to violate the sacred values of Muslims and they also tried to reflect all Muslims as pro-violence by showing some street demonstrations and violent events, as if millions of Muslims had approved of using violence. The fact that European Muslims protested the provocation within their democratic rights has been overlooked and unfortunately Islamophobia still continues to grow.

The following is a concrete example of the insistent negative attitude of the German media against Muslims. At a news program on the ZDF Channel, the reporter asks questions about the events in the Paris suburbs to Daniel Cohn-Bendikt, the French senator of the Greens in the European Parliament. The program was an evident proof of the terrible need for a radical change in the German mentality about Islam and Muslims. Two points were emphasized by the reporter: the role of religion and the young people’s refusal to integrate! The senator just laughed and his answer revealed how superficial the reporter’s comments were: “the events in the suburbs are in no way related to religion. Some of the people who have been left to their own fate and discriminated against for decades might have turned to religion, but the rebellion doesn’t have a religious motive. Look at the education given in the ghettos. Lots of young people want to benefit from education opportunities, they want to be integrated. But they see how they are discriminated when you look at the terrible condition of their schools.”

The integration policies in Germany, Britain, Holland, and France have all failed. But why? Because the cultural identity of people has been ignored; policies that require them to abandon their religious and national identities and become assimilated into the culture of the country in which they live are being imposed. Today, European countries need to both revise their integration policies to date as well as developing a new “vision of living together” that is beyond integration. The events in Holland at the end of 2004 and the events in Paris in 2005, along with the latest one, the impertinent caricature, give food for thought to state authorities and should allow them to draw important conclusions. The initial precautions to be taken can be to seek ways to enhance educational opportunities in the suburbs and urge the media to give up horror scenarios, rather preparing sensible and informative news to contribute to peace in society.

On the other hand, integration-oriented problems in Europe are generally more common with Muslim immigrants. It is known that in some countries the integration policies towards Christian immigrants have succeeded. The Spanish and Italians in France and the Poles in Germany can be given as examples. The same integration policies didn’t work for Muslims in countries like France, Germany, and Holland. For this reason, terms like “integration” do not make much sense for Muslim immigrants now. After a few decades of integration policies, most Muslims still don’t know with what they are to integrate. No one denies that they should abide by German laws, conform to the social rules, and learn the German language. When the German minister, Prof. Maria Bohmer, said that the immigrants should speak German, learn about German history, recognize the social values, and abide by the legal system of the country this was, of course, approved by all sides.

At this point, both sides need to present a positive approach to reach a healthy solution. On the one hand we have many Muslims who are maintaining their identity and who are citizens that are respected by their German friends. On the other hand, some extremists in the German community just adhere to their bias against foreigners, no matter how they behave. Nevertheless, one shouldn’t jump to conclusions and make an overgeneralization about all Germans.

Sooner or later, good efforts will be shown the respect they deserve. When both sides come together with honesty and good intentions at dialogue activities, we witness that the new “vision of living together” is not a dream, but a reality that is at hand. One should keep in mind that feelings of love, kindness, and the relevant positive responses are inherent in human nature. All of us have the conscience mechanisms to appreciate these feelings. What falls to us is to turn the inherent feelings in human nature in the positive direction, which is already in compliance with what the religions teach.