A senior research fellow at the Brookings Institution has called into question recent claims by Germany's Interior Minister that Muslims are failing to integrate in German society.
Professor Jonathan Laurence claims that not only are young Muslims in Germany willing to integrate into mainstream society, but integration in Germany is actually faring better than expected.
Professor Lawrence severely criticises the 700-page integration report by Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich that expresses skepticism about Muslim integration in Germany. Lawrence sees this as just right-wing political rhetoric.
Lawrence says: "Friedrich is the latest in a line of diversity deniers who have preferred to wear blinders rather than break the news to the German electorate. These politicians share a basic refusal to accept that the categories of Muslims and German might not be mutually exclusive."
Lawrence accuses Friedrich of ignores the new nationality law that means most Turkish-Germans would be born with German citizenship from 2000 onwards. "He has not fully digested the implications of cultural diversity that follow from that reform," Lawrence says.
Professor Lawrence shows many cases that show Muslims are already part of German society and are not the outsiders they used to be.
He cites the transfer of a Turkish-German prisoner to DÃ¼sseldorf last month as meaningful event for the future of Turkish-Germans in the Federal Republic. The family of Murat Kaya, a Turkish German sentenced to four years in a Serbian prison, sought the aid of German authorities to allow him to serve his term at home in Germany - and against expectations, their wishes were granted.
His case was supported by both the German authorites and the German public. They clearly defended Murat Kaya as one of their own.
"German federal authorities fought hard to convince Serbians to transfer Murat Kaya to Germany, including making arguments about required medical attention. A publicity campaign by a major regional news outlet contributed to public pressure."
The Milli GÃ¶rus federation, an Islamist group that seeks ties with German authorities, greeted the news with gratitude for officials' extensive efforts on Mr. Kaya's behalf: "The Justice and Foreign Ministries have sent a strong and positive signal to people with a foreign background. Such signs build trust and strengthen the feeling of togetherness."
This episode is the latest demonstration of the important role played by gestures of institutional inclusion that German governments have undertaken for the past six years, from the Chancellor's integration summit to the Interior Ministry's German Islam Conference, from local schools making space for Islam within their religious curriculum, to universities training theologians and religion teachers.
Since policy competency over religion falls under local state control - not Berlin's - progress is most visible at the local level. The end of 2011 proved to be particularly eventful. Germany's most populous state (North Rhine-Westphalia) recently announced it would offer Islamic instruction in 130 schools, alongside existing religious classes, for the state's roughly 320,000 Muslim public school students.
This fall, the first class of German Muslim theologians began doctoral studies at four different universities. The University of TÃ¼bingen launched a new teacher-training program for instructors of Islamic religion, while OsnabrÃ¼ck University has stepped up its efforts to provide supplementary training to imams for a German context.
Two local state-mosque forums - inspired by the German Islam Conference - also recently saw the light of day. First, the 40 participants in Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg's "Islam Roundtable" discussed Islam's public image, education, basic liberties, and gender roles and "concrete measures to improve the integration of Muslims and Islam in Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg."
And second, the government in North Rhine-Westphalia initiated the "Islam Dialogue Forum," chaired by the local integration minister, to "intensify and improve the dialogue and cooperation with Muslims and Muslim organizations" that will address integration, education, and inter-religious dialogue.
There are now no fewer than three state-government level ministers in German LÃ¤nder who are of Turkish origin: Bilkay Ãnay in Baden-WÃ¼rttemberg, AygÃ¼l Ãzkan in Lower Saxony and Dilek Kolat in Berlin.
The recent arrival on the scene of these three up and coming political stars is a solid rebuke to anyone who thought Cem Ãzdemir's success was a flash in the pan of German "diversity politics." (Adding to Turkish-German pride, Foreign Policy named Ãzdemir one of its top 100 global thinkers.)
Who would have guessed, so soon after Thilo Sarrazin's anti-immigrant best-seller "Germany Does Away with Itself," the endless debates about whether Islam is "from" Germany or not, and then the recent revelation of a gruesome series of neo-nazi murders of Turkish-German residents that daily political integration is going better than expected?
The national and Land-level governments and Muslim organizations are getting to know one another better, and community leaders are being drawn into a context that encourages their continued adaptation to life as a minority in Europe.
The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC., ranked as "the most influential, most quoted and most trusted think tank" in America. It's mission is to conduct high-quality, independent research and, based on that research, to provide innovative, practical recommendations that strengthen American democracy; foster the economic and social welfare, security and opportunity of all Americans; and secure a more open, safe, prosperous and cooperative international system.
Jonathan Laurence, "Don't Be Fooled: Integration in Germany is Making Progress" Brookings March 12, 2012
"Integration" Deutsche Welle March 9, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today