Germany′s Arabs Struggle to Fit in | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.08.2005
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Germany's Arabs Struggle to Fit in

Germany is home to an estimated 280,000 people of Arab extraction. Many allege that coping with prejudice is a part of their lives, but they also admit that embracing German society doesn't come easily to them.


Integrating without sacrificing one's own culture is a fine line to tread

Ask a random selection of young Arabs what brought their families to Germany and you'll get a broad range of replies. Along with political or religious persecution, one of the most common reasons for pulling up roots is a desire to improve their economic situations, with many migrants heading west so they can better provide for their families. Many hope their children will grow up to enjoy opportunities they themselves never had.

"You don't have to pay much to study here," pointed out one Arab student. But while getting a German education is an obvious advantage, it's often easier said than done. Integrating with German peers and adjusting to the European mentality can be difficult. Even building up a social life can be tricky.

"Not all Germans are reserved," conceded one young Moroccan. "Some of the people here are quite open, but on the whole, I find most Germans very stand-offish."


Others agree that coming to terms with the German way of life is fraught with obstacles. Potential pitfalls range from the practical to the psychological.

"I've never integrated properly here," admitted one Egyptian. "Primarily, the problem is that I never really learnt German properly back home in Egypt, but I've also never really made any friends here."

Neujahrstimmung in Teheran

But it's by no means all their fault. Many Arabs complain that Germans are unaware of diversity within the Arab world and fail to distinguish between different nationalities and cultures. As far as the average German is concerned, they say, there's not a whole lot of difference between a Moroccan and a Saudi Arabian.


If ignorance weren't bad enough, hostility is another daily challenge for Germany's Muslim community. In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and the more recent events in Madrid and London, the western world has made Islamic fundamentalism its number one enemy -- and across Europe, many Muslims say they are now treated with widespread suspicion and hostility.

Even so, others are quick to point out that getting to grips with a country like Germany has a lot to do with one's own attitudes. Many find that being receptive to new ideas and finding the resolve to chart unknown social and cultural ground will make life much easier.

Ausländer in Deutschland Fußgänger in Berlin Kreuzberg

"I'm in a non-Muslim European country," stressed one young Palestinian. "That means I'm speaking a different language, living in a different society and adapting to a new country. But that doesn't mean I have to cocoon myself away. From day one, I've always made sure I went out a lot. And today I feel well integrated."

He also stresses that assimilating doesn't have to mean relinquishing one's one identity. "I'm still very tied to my own culture and my Palestinian roots," he pointed out.

Being able to adapt to new societies is probably not so different from being able to learn new languages -- very easy for the young, more difficult as one gets older.

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