Scientists, politicians and religious leaders met at a conference in Berlin to discuss the issues of Muslims living in western societies, stressing that better integration would be pivotal in curbing Islamic extremism.
25 million Muslims call Europe their home
Europe is home to some 25 million Muslims, accounting for 5.5 percent of the overall population. Since most of these Muslims are here to stay, the question of their integration is gaining in importance. But so far, progress on this front has been sluggish, to say the least.
Berlin is currently hosting an international conference that looks into ways of improving the integration of Muslims into western societies, not least against the background of the recent terrorist attacks in London. The two-day event which is being organized by Germany’s Liberal Democrat-affiliated Naumann Foundation is seeking to reduce misconceptions that Europeans have towards the religious and political objectives of Muslims on the continent.
A sense of alienation
Muslims in Europe should not feel isolated
Particularly Europe’s younger Muslims feel themselves increasingly alienated from the western societies they live in, as they do not want or do not have the opportunity to take an active part in shaping these societies. More often than not, ongoing seclusion is the result which, in its turn, is believed to be the ideal breeding ground for radical ideas and terrorism.
Mahmoud Gaafar, a spokesperson for the Egyptian embassy in Berlin, maintains though that current problems are being blown out of proportion by both politicians and the media.
"Muslims living here are like you, exactly," Gaafar said.
"They are law-abiding people. If we have some extremists among them, that that doesn't mean that all of us are the same," he said.
Islamic world is itself diverse
The question of Muslim integration in Europe is gaining in importance
Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, former president of Indonesia, said at the conference that there was no reason to believe that Muslims and native westerners should be at loggerheads for all time. He said both groups should concentrate on their common values, advising Europeans to stop thinking about Muslims only in the context of the Middle East conflict.
"People always make this mistake: they consider Islam by studying and looking at how the Middle East acts, especially the Arabs," Habibie said.
"But there are different Arabs. The Middle Eastern problem, the Palestine problem, for instance, is not an Islamic problem, it's a problem of character," he said.
Accepting western standards
It is difficult for Muslims in Germany to feel wanted: Otto von Lambsdorff
Count Otto Lambsdorff, who heads the Naumann Foundation’s board of directors, left no doubt whatsoever that Muslims living in Europe had to understand that people here would never tolerate actions being done in the name of Islam, such as genital mutilation, forced marriages, intolerance towards other religions and vendetta-type killings. He also called on Muslim citizens to accept the separation of state and religion in western societies.
Lambsdorff criticized that only a small proportion of Muslims living in Germany were entitled to take part in elections at regional and federal level which made it so much harder for them to feel that their integration was really wanted.
Despite current projections, it is unlikely that Muslims will outnumber native Europeans in France or Germany
The conference is also dealing with the prospect of Muslims outnumbering native Europeans in a few decades from now in countries such as France and Germany.
But Siegfried Herzog, who works for the Naumann Foundation, says such projections are unrealistic.
"Those are the projections that are based on the so-called dog-tail theory," Herzog said.
You're projecting existing birth rates into the future even though you see that minority birth rates within Europe tend to come down in line with the society around them. Making a projection based on present birth rates is not very serious. This is a scare-mongering tactic that is not going to help us in this debate," he said.
German politicians have called on Muslims in Germany to reorganize themselves with a view to having a joint political representation rather than a dozen different umbrella organizations. A single representation, they argued, would put Muslims in a better position to make their demands heard.