Negative integration in immigration society

Negative integration in immigration society

The trial of Beate Zschaepe, a neo-Nazi suspected of involvement in the killings of 10 people (eight of them Turks), opened yesterday in Munich. In order to grasp the risks for democracy in Germany, these murders need to be contextualized socially: They took place in an anti-Islamic atmosphere.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, parts of German media constructed Islam as the “other” of the European and German “self” and accordingly contributed to resentment against Muslims. However, Islamophobia is not a cause but a symptom for material and symbolic conflicts between immigrants and the majority.

A recent survey (Bertelsmann Stiftung) found that two-thirds of the Germans think that Islam does not fit in Germany. This can hardly be attributed to a general skepticism of religion as 76 percent of the West and 64 percent of East Germans regard Christianity as an enriching factor of society. A great part of Germans also view Buddhism (62 percent / 48 percent), Hinduism (49 percent / 42 percent) and Judaism (53 percent / 52 percent) as an asset to society. However, only 31 percent / 21 percent of Germans regard Islam as an asset, while 49 percent / 57 percent perceive it as a danger to society.

Nearly half of Germans think that Islam does not fit into the Western world. This opinion is in line with the public opinion in other Western countries. In Spain (65 percent), Switzerland (59 percent), France (55 percent) or Canada (65 percent), more than half of the population thinks that Islam does not fit into the Western world.

This can hardly be explained only by the fears created by Sept. 11 and further terrorist attacks carried out by extremists in the name of Islam, although they triggered fierce public debates which identified Islam with terrorism, security affairs and fundamentalism.

Negative attitudes against immigrants, especially those from Muslim countries, are also due to the fact that Islam is exploited by politicians and intellectuals for identity politics. German historian Hans U.

Wehler, for instance, justified his opposition against Turkey’s EU membership by pointing to the historical antagonism between Islam and the West. Certainly, the reference to Ottoman military expansion in the Balkans and Southeastern Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries, which is anchored in the collective consciousness of Germans, makes the mobilization of anti-Islamic sentiments easier. However, Islam meets with strong disapproval also in countries such as Canada or South Korea which were never threatened militarily by Islamic countries.

In order to grasp anti-Islamic resentments, attention to the upward social mobility of immigrants is necessary. Despite disadvantages, discrimination and exclusion, immigrants accomplished a substantial social advancement. This created competitive relations between Germans and immigrants for scarce goods, services, well-paying jobs and access to education. Downward social mobility, which is today also a risk for the middle classes, created further fertile ground for anti-Islamic and anti-immigration resentments. On this ground, pioneers of Islamophobia such as Necla Kelek, Ralf Giardano or Thilo Sarrazin presented culturalist and racist arguments against Islam and Muslims, which were cited in hate forums and anti-Islamic networks without facing legal consequences.

Anti-Islamism resonates especially among those who are unsettled by the worrying side effects of globalization, the reorganization of the social state and immigration. According to the German historian Klaus Bade, the Sarrazin debate, Islamophobia and right-extremist terror are the result of a repressed debate on the new identity in an immigrant society, and reveal a paradox: there is an increasing acceptance of cultural pluralism especially among the younger population. Exclusionary debates and practices are what Bade calls “negative integration” and are a reaction to the acceptance of cultural pluralism and express the self-assurance of the majority by the exclusion of a large – Muslim – minority.

Dr. Yaşar Aydın is from Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik - German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin.