Chris­to­pher Cald­well

When Wolf­gang Schäuble con­vo­ked a multi-year “Islam Con­fe­rence” in 2006 to ease rela­tions between Ger­man society and its Mus­lim minority, the interior minis­ter made a state­ment – “Islam is a part of Ger­many” – that was viewed as a ground­breaking and generous con­ces­sion.

Today it looks more like a state­ment of the obvious. At the final ses­sion of the con­fe­rence on Thurs­day, the­Fe­deral Office for Migra­tion and Refugees (BAMF) released a study on “Mus­lim Life in Ger­many”. It found that there are vastly more Mus­lims in Ger­many than most spec­ia­lists and pun­dits had assu­med. Where most esti­ma­tes held the Mus­lim popu­la­tion at around 3m, the more com­pre­hen­sive BAMF study places it around 4m, and pos­sibly as high as 4.3m. That means Mus­lims make up not 4 per cent of the popu­la­tion, but 6 per cent.

Does this mat­ter? Of course it does. The new num­bers are grist to the mill of those who say the aut­hori­ties have not been straight with them about the scope of immi­gra­tion. More impor­tant, the size of a com­mu­nity affects a country’s options for inte­gra­ting it. The big­ger it is, the har­der it is.


Against this, the BAMF study offers one basic rea­son for opti­mism: diver­sity. We should think not of a mono­lith of mil­lions of like-minded newco­mers but of a mosaic of com­mu­nities, 10,000 here, 10,000 there. If Germany’s Mus­lims can­not agree among them­selves, then how, in the end, can they develop a loyalty or alle­gi­ance to any­thing other than the Ger­man state? The multi-faceted­ness of Ger­man Mus­lim life is an impli­cit rebut­tal of the sense that Mus­lims are “taking over”.

But there is a pro­blem. Rela­tive to that of other immi­grant countries, Mus­lim life in Ger­many is not diverse. Almost two-thirds of Ger­man Mus­lims (2.6m) are of Tur­kish descent. No simi­larly pre­pon­derant natio­nal-ori­gin or lin­gui­s­tic group exists among, say, Sweden’s or Italy’s immi­grants. A third of Germany’s Mus­lims live in one state, North Rhine-West­pha­lia, and 98 per cent live in the for­mer West Ger­man Län­der.

What is more, Germany’s immi­grants of Mus­lim back­ground are reli­gious in a way that nati­ves are not. Accor­ding to the BAMF study, 87 per cent describe them­selves as eit­her very reli­gious or rat­her reli­gious; 81 per cent obey Isla­mic die­tary laws and 31 per cent of women wear the heads­carf. Only 4 per cent describe them­selves as not reli­gious at all.

No Mus­lim com­mu­nities diverge much from this reli­gio­sity, though the report draws com­fort from the fact that Ira­ni­ans (70 per cent belie­vers) are not quite so reli­gious. Mus­lims, whether they are one com­mu­nity or seve­ral, have cer­tain shared values they can be expec­ted to pur­sue – and are entit­led to pur­sue – in the pub­lic sphere. A lot of impor­tant poli­ti­cal ques­tions today, from gay mar­riage to sexual edu­ca­tion, revolve around how deeply reli­gious prin­cip­les ought to inform pub­lic law. How diverse, poli­ti­cally speak­ing, will Ger­man Mus­lims be?

While Mr Schäuble’s Islam Con­fe­rence can be applau­ded as a ges­ture of wel­come, its focus on the diver­sity of Mus­lim com­mu­nities is beset with con­tra­dic­tions. If Islam in Ger­many is as diverse as the BAMF report says, then why is a big natio­nal ini­tia­tive the right way to deal with it? And what is the desi­red out­come?

A con­clave such as the Islam con­fe­rence tends to ele­vate the invi­tees to semi-offi­cial sta­tus as com­mu­nity repre­sen­ta­ti­ves. This gives them a strong incen­tive to forge a “Mus­lim com­mu­nity” where none existed. The les­son of decades of such con­fe­ren­ces from the US civil rights move­ment is that they make the groups they deal with less diverse.

Necla Kelek, the Tur­kish-born socio­lo­gist and essay­ist who was a mem­ber of the Islam Con­fe­rence, belie­ves that the fai­lure of immi­grants and their descen­dants to inte­grate is “becoming the cen­tral pro­blem of the entire society”. She cites some asto­nish­ing num­bers about immi­grants’ tendency to marry wit­hin their eth­nic group. Only 8 per cent of Tur­kish men who grow up in Ger­many marry Ger­man women and only 3 per cent of Tur­kish women who grow up in Ger­many marry Ger­man men. In a speech last month, she placed the blame on the Mus­lim extended family. “What a lot of people here in Ger­many view as a model for security and mutual care,” she said, “often comes at the price of indi­vi­dual auto­nomy.” Free­dom means free­dom to prac­tise Islam.

We should lis­ten very care­fully to such descrip­tions as Ms Kelek’s. A com­mon ste­reo­type about the par­ti­cu­lar dif­fi­cul­ties of assi­mi­la­ting Mus­lim immi­grants is that they come from a repressed cul­ture and have trouble get­ting used to western free­doms. But that is not it. The Mus­lim way of life in Ger­many, Kelek warns, rests on a vision of free­dom, dif­fe­rent though it is from Ger­mans’. Fifteen per cent of Mus­lim parents, the BAMF found, keep their daugh­ters out of sexual-edu­ca­tion classes. What should be done about that? The report recom­mends Überze­u­gungs­ar­beit – an effort to con­vince tra­ditio­na­lists of the error of their ways. Should the state com­pel fami­lies to send their daugh­ters to sex-ed? If so, who has the pro­blem with liberty?

This is why the size of immi­grant com­mu­nities is impor­tant. It is not that Mus­lim efforts to Isla­mise local insti­tu­tions, where they occur, are fana­ti­cal. It is that they are natu­ral, sen­sible and in line with western democracy. Most people want a society that reflects their values. The pro­blems with Islam in the west are somet­hing more com­pli­cated than pro­blems of oppres­sion. They are pro­blems of free­dom.

The wri­ter is a senior edi­tor at The Weekly Stan­dard. His book, ‘Reflections on the Revo­lu­tion in Europe: Immi­gra­tion, Islam and the West’, was pub­lis­hed in May.

Opp­rin­ne­lig 4. juli 2009

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