15.05.2006Zafer Senocak – Abdelkader BenaliMuslims and Integration in Europe
Berlin, 11 April 2006
You write about the globalised world in which we live. This world is a real challenge especially for us writers, since we need a certain slowness in order to work. After all, writing is nothing if it is not slowing down the flow of speech so that we can win something meaningful from it.
But the globalised world also opens up new fields of activity and spaces for communication. Is it merely chance, for example, that we are now communicating in a medium which specifically belongs to the globalised world?
When people talk about the failure of multicultural societies they are, in my view, only expressing their failure in the face of the challenges of the globalised world. And the key element in this failure is "fear" – fear of the loss of the well-worn paths one has taken, of the ways of expression one has used, of the currencies with which one is used to paying. Every moment, the known can turn into the unknown, into something new. These permanent transformations are not seen as something exciting and enriching, but as a threat – especially since they are often linked with the loss of economic and political power.
When the "guest workers" were first brought to Europe a half-century ago, nobody thought of the danger of Islam. Nowadays, people write books in which they prophecy a world controlled by Muslims. Muslim fascism threatens the "free" West, they write. But such scenarios only distract attention from the real problems.
I recently saw a statistic which showed that in recent years it has become very difficult for young people of Turkish origin to get a vocational training place. The number of those who have such places has gone down by almost a third, while the number of Germans has at least remained the same, and in some parts of the country even improved. What will happen to those young men and women? What kind of future do they have? Is it possible to integrate people into society if they do not even have the basic necessities for living?
Our society is an assembly line for outcasts. Many of these young people have nothing to do with religion. It's all the same to them whether the muezzin calls them to prayer or the church bells ring. But in public they are the Muslims: impossible to integrate, potential terrorists, misogynist, homophobic etc.
It's true: we are seeing a brutalisation of behaviour, and to a certain extent there is also a radicalisation of opinion. Many of the young men grow up in a very traditional environment whose values and norms readily find themselves in conflict with those of a free, pluralistic society. But to see this social phenomenon in theological terms doesn't bring us a step further.
There are some 120,000 Iranians living in Germany and most of them ascribe to the Muslim faith. But we never hear about them when people are talking about the "dangers" of Islam. That's because most of them come from the middle class, some of them even from the upper class. The Turks, on the other hand, were let into the country in their hundreds of thousands in the sixties to take up the dirty work in the coal mines and underground tunnels, and they have turned into a millions-strong lower class with small chances of upward social mobility.
The jobs they used to do simply do not exist any more and the people who did them are simply no longer needed. Most of them are poorly trained, if at all, and their children are failures at school. Anyone who manages to crawl out of this hole – and quite a few do – has truly accomplished something. That's the real scandal we should be talking about. The intellectual discussion about Islam is a pointless debate. It doesn't reach the people it's talking about. It's a matter for the cultural pages of the newspapers.
Let's return to the phenomenon of fear. I've got into the habit of sometimes changing my point of view when I write about this phenomenon. I stop being the one of whom others are afraid, and I become someone who is afraid of me.
I imagine I'm one of those Germans who have been living in the same part of Berlin for decades. I work for a small company which is threatened with closure. I'm coming up to fifty, and the chances of finding another job are poor. And now they want to build a mosque in my part of town. People who look foreign, who always go around in groups, will gather there and say their prayers.
I've found out from the media that they don't just say their prayers there. And anyway, their foreign looks, their strange clothes, their broken German all irritate me. I want to live in Germany with people like me. It's my country after all. What are these foreigners doing here anyway? My neighbour told me that most of them live off social welfare at our expense. He also says that we're dying out and that these "wogs" will inherit everything that we have built up with so much effort over the years. They have children like rabbits.
No, when I'm taking part in a panel discussion or at the readings I give, I don't hear such arguments. Then I hear that the Turks don't want to integrate. And that there are simply too many of them here.