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No One-track State of Mind: Young Muslims in Germany

Together with researchers from the Universities of Jena and Linz, Austria, as well as the opinion research agency Aproxima, Jacobs professor Klaus Boehnke and his team conducted a comprehensive study on various facets of the lives and opinions of young Muslims in Germany (14 to 32 years). The Jacobs scientists focused on phone surveys as well as in-depth interviews with three generations of Muslim families, while the other researchers concentrated on analyzing media, such as internet forums primarily used by young Muslims as well as coverage of Muslim affairs on German, Turkish, and Arabic TV. The study was funded by the German Federal Ministry of the Interior.

According to the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Germany has a Muslim population between 3.8 and 4.3 million, which represents between 4.6 and 5.2 % of the country's total population. About 45 % of these Muslims have an immigrant background but hold the German citizenship; 55 % are foreign nationals. Even though Muslims are clearly a minority and in no way a homogenous group, parts of the German non-Muslim population perceive them as un-integrated and even threatening with regards to Islamic radicalism and terrorism.

To analyze the attitudes of German-, Arabic-, and Turkish-speaking Muslim immigrants towards issues of integration and radicalization, the Jacobs scientists conducted a two-phase phone panel survey with a first survey round in Fall 2009 and the follow-up in Fall 2010. They interviewed a total of 700 Muslims living in Germany between the ages of 14 to 32. 200 were German Muslims and 500 were non-German Muslims.

According to the survey, the vast majority - almost 80 % - of young Muslims with German citizenship is aiming to integrate, meaning that they identify with and wish to take on the German majority culture while at the same time preserving parts of their traditional culture of origin. Only around 20 % of German Muslims combine a strong reservation against integration with the aim to keep their culture of origin. Of the group of Muslims without German citizenship slightly more than half, 52 %, strongly favors integration, whereas 48 % have pronounced inclinations for separation.

The qualitative in-depth interviews conducted by the Jacobs scientists with six Muslim families - third generation immigrants as well as their parents and grandparents - corroborated the trend of the phone survey that Muslims in Germany usually are wishing for both, to live well integrated within the German society as well as the freedom to keep and actively shape their Muslim identity. Furthermore, all three generations, independently of the participants' individual differences in religiosity and integration into German society, decisively distanced themselves from any form of Islamic terrorism.

On the other hand, however, the interviewees predominantly perceive "the Western world" as negative. This is mainly due to how they perceive the West's dealings with the Islamic world and Islamic threats of terrorism. Especially within Germany the interviewed families have been witnessing a sweeping judgment of all Muslims as terrorists and a too-hasty linkage between Islam and terrorism. To them, these unjust generalizations appear to be forced mainly by the German media.

"Apparently, successful integration of young Muslims in Germany - the best countermeasure to prevent Islamic radicalization - means that the development of a positive bicultural identity of Muslims should be facilitated. The results of the study confirm the continuing need for appropriate social initiatives and measures towards this goal," says Klaus Boehnke, who led the Jacobs part of the Federal study. "To date, unbalanced media coverage, especially on TV, as well as the discrimination against Muslims by members of our German majority society undermine such a development," he continues.

Integration, Boehnke and his co-workers are convinced, needs to be a two-way process: German society can naturally expect immigrants to accept the German constitution and German law as a basis for social coexistence. Also, knowledge of the German language presents a further, indispensable requirement for people who want to live here. However, acceptance of other cultural norms related to everyday interpersonal dealings by the German society represents a requirement just as important, Boehnke argues. "As Germany has become a true immigration country over the past decades, it needs to develop an identity as a true immigration country, which allows for more diversity within the social consensus," Boehnke concludes.

The reception of the study in the German media was highly controversial because before its formal publication results were made available via unknown channels to the Germany's leading yellow press paper, which framed the results in a way that seemed to make it evident that there are vast numbers of young Muslim residents of Germany who are 'unwilling to integrate,' which is almost the completely opposit of the overall tenor of the study.

*The 760+ page PDF document (in German) can be downloaded at:

<www.bmi.bund.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Broschueren/2012/junge_muslime.html;jsessionid=0BDB99103F78C2BDF237192DF3B1C477.2_cid156?nn=110428>.

*For questions regarding the Jacobs part of the study, please contact:

Klaus Boehnke - Professor of Social Science Methodology Tel.: +49 421 200-3401 - Email: k.boehnke@jacobs-university.de

idw :: 09.03.2012

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