FaithWorld

Islam emerges as divisive issue in French local polls campaign

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(Marine Le Pen, the anti-immigrant National Front leader whose success has prompted President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party to veer to the right before a local elections runoff on Sunday, photographed after voting in the first round on March 20, 2011/Pascal Rossignol )

Islam has emerged as a central issue in the campaign for French local elections on Sunday that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party hopes to win by taking a tough line on the integration of France’s large Muslim minority.

Sarkozy, who faces an uphill battle for reelection next year, has set the tone by blurring the border between his UMP party and Marine Le Pen’s National Front, the once-shunned anti-immigrant party that recently overtook him in opinion polls. Interior Minister Claude Guéant, until recently Sarkozy’s chief of staff in the Elysee Palace, has fleshed this out with a series of statements flirting with the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has made National Front leader Marine Le Pen so popular.

“The French don’t feel like they’re at home here anymore,” Guéant said this month in a verbal wink and nod at voters upset by the large numbers of Muslims in the country. “They want France to remain France.”

The minister has called the Western-led air strikes against Libya a “crusade,” evoking Christian-Muslim conflict, and suggested that patients in public hospitals must avoid wearing religious symbols — another issue concerning mainly Muslims.

Erdogan urges Turks in Germany to integrate, not assimilate

erdogan 1

(Confetti is released as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan leaves the stage following a speech to some 15,000 Turks living in Germany at an arena in Duesseldorf February 27, 2011/Wolfgang Rattay )

Turkish immigrants in Germany should integrate into society but not assimilate to the point where they abandon their native culture, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to Germany on Sunday. Speaking to some 10,000 members of Germany’s large Turkish community in the wake of last year’s heated debate over the place of foreigners in the country, Erdogan took up the theme of integration amid what he sees as persistent European xenophobia.

“You must integrate, but I am against assimilation … no one may ignore the rights of minorities,” he said, adding that individuals should have the right to practice their own faith.

In France, far right seizes on Muslim street prayers

paris street prayers (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers  in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

A call to prayer goes up from a loudspeaker perched on the hood of a car, and all at once hundreds of Muslim worshippers touch their foreheads to the ground, forming a sea of backs down the road. The scene is taking place not in downtown Cairo, but on a busy market street in northern Paris, a short walk from the Sacre Coeur basilica. To locals, it’s old news: some have been praying on the street, rain or shine, for decades.

But for Marine Le Pen — tipped to take over from her father this weekend as leader of the far-right National Front party — it is proof that Muslims are taking over France and becoming an occupying force, according to remarks she made last month.

Her comments caused a furore as she seized on the street prayers to drive home the idea that Islam is threatening the values of a secular country where anxiety over the role of Muslims in society has deepened in the past few years.

Germans more negative towards Muslims than other Europeans

germany (Photo: Anti-Muslim campaign posters by a far-right party in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state, with slogans saying  ‘Ban minarets – also for NRW’ and ‘Vote pro NRW – Stop Islamisation’, in Bonn, April 23, 2010/Wolfgang Rattay)

Only about one third of Germans think positively of their Muslim neighbors, a much lower proportion than in other western European countries, according to a new poll published on Thursday. In contrast, 62 percent of Dutch and 56 percent of French people responding to the TNS Emnid survey indicated they had positive attitudes toward Muslims.

Detlef Pollack, a Muenster University sociologist who led the study, attributed Germans’ views to their lack of contact with Muslims compared to people in other nations surveyed. “The more often you meet Muslims, the more you view them as generally positive,” he said.

The survey broke down the German results into western and eastern responses, reflecting continuing divisions in the once-divided country. Only 34 percent in the west and 26 percent in the east had positive impressions of Muslims, it said.

Scathing U.S. view of French unrest and Muslim integration in WikiLeaks

burbs 1 (Photo: Local youths watch firemen extinguish burning vehicles during clashes in the Paris suburb of Aulnay sur Bois, early November 3, 2005/Victor Tonelli)

The U.S. embassy in Paris turns out to be one of the sharpest critics of France’s track record in integrating its Muslim minority. Thanks to WikiLeaks, we now have its unvarnished view of the 2005 unrest in the poor suburbs of Paris and other large cities. It is a scathing indictment that goes beyond even what many of the government’s domestic critics at the time were saying. It may also go beyond most if not all of the criticisms of domestic policy found in cables from other European capitals (has anyone found anything more devastating elsewhere?). Here is our overall news report on the cables. Some excerpts from the key cables are copied below.

burbs 2For FaithWorld, it’s especially interesting to see what the embassy says about “what the violence is not”. Back in those days, some American media were throwing around terms like “Paris intifada” and “Muslim riots” as if Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” had reached the outlying stations of the Paris Metro network. The cables are clearly written to refute that view. Yes, many of the rioters came from a Muslim background, but this was a socio-economic protest by a growing underclass, as we have argued in earlier posts such as  “Smoke without fire – there was no ‘Paris intifada’ in 2005″ and “Why we don’t call them ‘Muslim riots’ in Paris suburbs.” (Photo:  Hooded youths from poor suburbs of Paris taunt riot police during a nationwide protest against a youth jobs law,  in Paris March 28, 2006/Jacky Naegelen)

If religion had to be brought into the issue, it would have to be mentioned as an underlying cultural background on both sides — something that French politicians and editorialists didn’t do and don’t like. But this cable did do that in one of its most striking quotes — “The real problem is the failure of white and Christian France to view their darker, Muslim compatriots as real citizens.” As Le Monde put it: “The Americans’ logic has never been explained in such transparent fashion.”

250 years of integration vs debate over Muslims in Germany

judgePercy MacLean can call on 250 years of experience to weigh up how immigrants integrate in Germany. Since his Scottish ancestor arrived in 1753, the family has produced mayors, members of parliament and even a Nazi.

Today, the 63-year-old MacLean, a chief judge in Berlin’s administrative court, says Germany risks losing the openness that allowed his family to flourish for generations because of a divisive national debate over the integration of Muslims. (Photo: Percy MacLean at his office in Berlin November 25, 2010/Tobias Schwarz)

In an interview with Reuters, MacLean said tendentious arguments now being aired publicly contained the seeds of what could spawn the kind of right-wing populism and xenophobia Germany witnessed in the run-up to the Holocaust.

Merkel: Germany doesn’t have “too much Islam” but “too little Christianity”

merkel (Photo: Chancellor Angela Merkel in Karlsruhe, 15 Nov 2010/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans debating Muslim integration to stand up more for Christian values, saying Monday the country suffered not from “too much Islam” but “too little Christianity.”

Addressing her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, she said she took the current public debate in Germany on Islam and immigration very seriously. As part of this debate, she said last month that multiculturalism there had utterly failed.

Some of her conservative allies have gone further, calling for an end to immigration from “foreign cultures” — a reference to Muslim countries like Turkey — and more pressure on immigrants to integrate into German society.

The slow death of multiculturalism in Europe

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Ibrahim Kalin is senior advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman in Istanbul and is reprinted with its permission.

multiculti europeBy Ibrahim Kalin

Has multiculturalism run its course in Europe? If one takes a picture of certain European countries today and freezes it, that would be the logical conclusion.

The European right is thriving on anti-immigrant attitudes and is likely to continue to reap the benefits in the short term. But there are forces that are sure to keep multiculturalism alive whether we like it or not.

Muslim religious demands on French state schools rising: report

lyceeThe sometimes difficult integration of Muslims is climbing the ladder of public concerns in Europe. It’s been hotly debated in Germany and figured in recent elections in the Netherlands and Austria. Now, a French government body called the High Council for Integration (HCI) has drawn up a critical report about the problems faced by — and posed by — school pupils with immigrant backgrounds. It’s not only about Muslim pupils, but they are mentioned so frequently that it’s clear who’s mostly involved here. (Photo: Lycée Condorcet in Paris,  27 June 2009/Juan Antonio Cordero)

Among its findings, the report says Muslim pupils and parents in France are increasingly making religious demands on the state school system and that teachers should rebuff these demands by explaining the country’s principle of laïcité, the official separation of church and state. Among the problems it listed were pupils who upset classes by objecting to courses about the Holocaust, the Crusades or evolution, who demand halal meals and generally “reject French culture and its values.”

For more of its findings, read our news report on the study here.

“It is becoming difficult for teachers to resist religious pressures,” said the report, posted in draft form (here in French) on the website of the newspaper Journal du Dimanche (JDD), which published an article in its paper edition entitled “School threatened by communalism.” “We should now reaffirm secularism and train teachers how to deal with specific problems linked to the respect for this principle,” it said. The final report will be presented to the government next month.

Islam part of Germany, Christianity part of Turkey – Wulff

wulff 1 (Photo: Presidents Christian Wulff (R) and Abdullah Gül, followed by wives Bettina (R) and Hayrünnisa, during official welcome in Ankara October 19, 2010/Umit Bektas)

When German President Christian Wulff recently declared that Islam “belongs to Germany,” Christian Democratic  politicians there howled and Muslims living in Germany and Turkey cheered. Now Wulff, on an official visit to Turkey, has told the Turkish parliament that “Christianity too, undoubtedly, belongs to Turkey.” This time there was applause in Germany, and  silence from the Turkish deputies listening to him in Ankara on Tuesday.

wulff 3In both cases, Wulff’s words could not have come at a better time. (Photo: President Wulff address the Turkish parliament, with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bagis (L) in the background/Umit Bektas)

Germany is in the grip of an emotional debate about Islam and Muslim integration. When Wulff said in his Oct. 3 German Unity Day address that Islam was now part of German society, given the large number (about 4 million) of Muslims living there, it was demographically obvious and politically risky. Several of his fellow Christian Democrats have challenged his view and insisted Germany had a “Judeo-Christian heritage” that Islam did not share. But Wulff, who was considered something of a lightweight for the ceremonial role when he was elected last July,  has taken a clear stand on a political and moral issue — just like Germans want their head of state to do. He is, as the Financial Times Deutschland entitled its editorial on Wednesday, “Finally A President.”

The overwhelmingly Muslim but officially secular state of Turkey is slowly reconsidering the tight restrictions it has long imposed on its tiny Christian minority. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government has made a small and cautious opening to Christians, allowing religious services at a historic Greek Orthodox monastery and Armenian Orthodox church, allowing an art show at a forcibly closed Orthodox seminary and helping the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch’s succession problem with citizenship for foreign prelates.