Muslim migration flow to Europe: Cultural crisis?

Muslim migration flow to Europe: Cultural crisis?

One of the most striking developments after the so-called Arab Spring is the rapid flow of migrants toward the EU. According to an EU report, applications of refugees to the EU increased 16.2 percent in 2011 compared with 2010. The rapid flow of predominantly Muslim migrants into the EU has raised an important challenge for European societies, and policy makers should be able to manage cultural diversity and implement a coherent migration policy.

To explore these issues, we need to investigate questions such as: How far do migrants carry their culture with them and to what extent do they absorb the values and norms in their host societies?

First of all, compared with Western societies, Muslim communities are highly conservative regarding sexual liberalization and gender equality. They are living in Berlin, London and Paris in dominant Western cultures, but predominantly continue to reflect the values that they learned through socialization in their family and their local community. Furthermore, they tend to identify themselves primarily by their religion, rather than nationality. This attitude strengthens their affinity to home norms and values and less to the culture and norms in the host countries. This can be detected through their attitudes toward abortion, divorce and homosexuality. That is why the majority of Europeans doubt whether Muslims want to integrate into their countries, and continue to see them as “outsiders.”

Secondly, almost all Muslims in Europe belong to the lower classes and are living in segregated ghettos. The Centre for European Policy Studies explains Muslims’ self-segregation behavior with regard to their lack of language skills, cultural differences and prejudices. They seek urban districts where they can be closer to similar communities in order to “protect themselves.” This accelerates tendencies toward disintegration from the host communities and leads them to crime or drug consumption, although Islam in principle forbids such activities.

Thirdly, there are several differences between Muslims and Western cultures regarding attitudes towards democracy. As generally known, democracy includes the principles of freedom of speech, gender equality, and the separation of church and state. But supporting secularism in Muslim societies is a challenging struggle as religion is seen as the main source of legislation. Also, women’s rights and freedom of speech are restricted in Islamic societies. Thanks to those cleavages, most Europeans believe that Islam and democracy are not compatible, and therefore their integration should supposedly never occur. There are even some voices that argue that Muslims should pack up their “cultural luggage” and leave the country. A recent survey of the University of Muenster demonstrates this. In the study, over 80 percent of Germans said they thought Islam discriminated against women and more than 60 percent associated Islam with fanaticism. According to the well-known German “popular” newspaper Bild Zeitung, 70 percent of Germans living in the eastern part of the country state that the majority of Muslims living in Germany are reluctant to respect the rules of the local constitution.

Broadly speaking, the Euro-Muslims debate seems to be a particularly crucial issue after the Arab Spring, and it may well determine the main European political discourse in the near future. In order to overcome that problem, Europeans should recognize and accommodate Islamic culture and religious practices, from clothing, to language, to education. This does not mean a European capitulation to fundamentalism. In contrast, only by strengthening the democratic rights of Muslim citizens to form associations, join in with political life, and engage in different aspects of civic life can European countries truly integrate migrants.