Moroccans in Europe
Tuesday, September 8th, 2009
A little tale of political integration
The political integration of immigrants, particularly those with a Muslim background, is regularly made a subject of discussion by immigrant groups, Turkish and Arab organizations, and occasionally even by the press. Despite the large number (close to 3.3 million) of devote Muslims in Germany, their presence is little felt in politics. Many are plagued by the thought that the prejudice against and fear of Islam are so great in this country that one does not even dare to give this segment of the population its legitimate voice in politics.
Our neighbor Holland, of all countries, which has rather made a name for itself through negative headlines linked to Islam, has shown proof that there is another way. Despite the scandal surrounding the filmmaker Van Gogh, who was murdered by an Islamic extremist for his film critical of Islam, and the hate campaign led by the rightist populist Member of Parliament, Geert Wilder, the Moroccan, Ahmed Aboutaleb, has been head of the second largest city in the country since October 2008, Rotterdam. It can be seen here that they are basically not concerned about the clash described by the American theorist, Samuel P. Huntington, between the hostile opposing cultural groups of Christians and Muslims. The fact is that Aboutaleb is a fan of the Amsterdam Ajax soccer club and that raises the tempers of the good people in Rotterdam far more than his Arab and Muslim background.
Aboutaleb, son of an Imam, came to the Netherlands at the age of 15, worked at first as a journalist, and then climbed the political party career ladder, rung by rung, until he was elected mayor of Rotterdam. He stands for the rather conservative camp of his party, decidedly rejecting all forms of religious extremism, and is considered in the debate on integration to be some one who considers both problems and opportunities equally, without glossing over or exaggerating them. The Netherlands has thus proven that even in times of international terrorism, Huntington’s “Clash of the Cultures and having politicians like Geert Wilders, it is possible to make a rational judgment about a person with a Muslim background. And, by the way, this has made our neighbor a shining example of political integration in Europe. This has made the devote Muslim Aboutaleb known outside his administrative district as well, which is evident in the visit made to Rotterdam by Heinz Buschkowsky, Mayor of Berlin’s problem district, Neukölln, in 2008, and Aboutaleb’s reception about three-fourths of a year later in Berlin for an exchange of project ideas, integration measures, and strategies for dealing with problems.
This visit, and the attention of the German press that Aboutaleb gained along with it, is perhaps a first step toward the integration of Muslim immigrants. Perhaps Aboutaleb can also make it clear that there is no well-defined, antagonistic culture here, but rather common ground and values. At any rate, no Muslim has been elected to head a major city in Germany or to any other similarly significant post to date. But even in the issue of political integration there is a small shimmer of hope. Strangely enough, it is the youth organization of the CDU, the Schülerunion, that shows how close Islam and Christianity can be. None other than the next generation of the party that enjoys a rather negative claim to fame in immigration policies through Roland Koch’s escapades with the issue of foreigners and the rejection of the Turkish entrance into the EU, and on top of that is the only European political party with a reference to Christianity in its name, presents itself as a trailblazer of political integration.
Younes Ouaqasse, the national chairman of the CDU’s Schülerunion, is living proof of this. Just like Aboutaleb, he is a devote Muslim and attended school for considerable time in Morocco. It was particularly the conservative Christian values that convinced the son of Moroccan immigrants of the Union’s political program, and so he stands for the fact that the religious and cultural divide between Muslims, Christians, Germans, and Arabs is not so great and as incompatible as the media often represent. The problems seem to start when the irrational fear of the violent terrorist stereotype built up over the years runs rampant, preventing measured dialog from providing clarity. Aboutaleb and Ouaqasse not only stand for being members of a particular major segment of the population and their catalog of values in the political process, but also enable a wider public to revise the negative image of Islam common today and to separate the tolerant Muslim majority from the small Muslim minority of extremists.
By Natalia Gorzawski