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March 2, 2012

According to a study published by Germany's Interior Ministry, many young Muslims in Germany have rejected western values - a quarter of them were found to be reluctant to integrate into German society.

Men in a mosque
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

According to a study about young Muslims in Germany commissioned by the interior ministry, a quarter of those surveyed were reluctant to integrate into German society. Politicians from the pro-business Free Democrats and from other opposition parties have criticized the findings. The chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, Kenan Kolat, said the study was putting young Muslims under general suspicion and was "pure populism."

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said he was surprised to find that 24 percent of young Muslims had a dislike for the West. In Germany's biggest tabloid, the BILD newspaper, Friedrich said most Germans respected the young Muslims' background and their identity. "But we don't accept that they should be able to import authoritarian, anti-democratic and fanatical religious views," Friedrich added. Hans-Peter Uhl of the ruling center-right coalition told the Osnabrücker Zeitung he was appalled about how many young Muslims were neither integrated into German society nor willing to be integrated.

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees estimates that there are some four million people who adhere to Islam in Germany. Almost half of them hold German citizenship. Some 700 young German and non-German Muslims aged 14 to 32 were interviewed on the phone. The researchers also analyzed some 700 television reports. The study characterizes those respondents unwilling to integrate into German society as "very religious, with an aversion to Western society, an acceptance of violence and no inclination towards integration."

An imam in Berlin
There are some four million people in Germany who believe in IslamImage: picture-alliance/dpa


Politicians from the Free Democratic Party were among many who criticized the study. Serkan Tören, the party's spokesman for integration, told DW the study established the same connection between religion and violence that had often been suggested in the past. "Often they measure religiousness where it cannot be measured," he said.

For Tören, the study holds no new insights. Other reports have already shown that the attitude towards integration is based on very personal reasons. For many young Muslims, a belief in Islam constitutes nothing more than an attempt to differentiate themselves from others and strengthen their own identity. "What are we supposed to deduce from this study?" Tören asked. "It doesn't add anything to domestic security."

"Religion is only one of many aspects to consider"

Tören is joined in his criticism by Rauf Ceylan, a sociologist at the University of Osnabrück. Ceylan finds fault not only with the study in itself, but also with how it was released. For years, he says, the discussion about integration has been reduced to a debate under the label "Islam". Many young Muslims, Ceylan says, have simply applied this label to themselves, professing to be followers of Islam without actually having any deep religious convictions. "It is important to find out what people mean when they say they are worshippers of Islam," Ceylan told DW. Most of the time, he added, "it is the young people's social situation which determines their attitude towards Islam."

But according to Ceylan, the publication of the study means that all opportunites to analyze people's beliefs and motivation thoroughly have been lost. "What's here to stay is the headline 'Islam: unwilling to integrate'," Ceylan says, adding that the debate about integration in Germany has to be conducted differently: "Religion is only one of many aspects, and we have to consider other aspects like the level of education, participation in society and poverty."

Serkan Tören
Tören has criticized the studyImage: FDP

Jena-based psychologist Wolfgang Frindte, who conducted the study, told a German news agency the figures did not surprise him. However, had the parents and grandparents been included in the study, it would become clear that the share of those Muslims with radical views was declining and that Muslims did in fact clearly distance themselves from Islamist terrorism.

No matter what conclusions the study has drawn - interpreting the figures warrants great caution. A lot depends on the questions put to respondents - as well as on the media coverage. After all, the study shows, too, that the great majority of young Muslims in Germany are happy with the country and its democratic system, and disapprove of fanatical Islamism.

Autor: Günther Birkenstock/ ar
Editor: Joanna Impey