Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Immigrants in some European countries

Muslim women take charge of their faith

Marlise Simons

International Herald Tribune DECEMBER 4, 2005

Paris. Hanife Karakus, the soft-spoken daughter of Turkish immigrants, is a thoroughly European Muslim. She covers her hair with a veil, but she also has a law degree and married the man of her choice. There was no pressure from matchmakers. The couple met on the Internet.

Adding to this mix, Karakus recently became the first woman to preside over one of France's 25 regional Islamic councils.

"At first, the men didn't speak to me," she said. "They were uncomfortable - they didn't know how to work with a woman."

Karakus, 24, does not call herself a feminist; she simply says she is a French lawyer. But she qualifies as part of the quiet revolution spreading among young European Muslim women, a new generation that claims the same rights as their Western sisters while not renouncing Islamic principles.

For many, the key is education, an option often denied their mothers and grandmothers. These daughters of the poor immigrants from mostly Muslim countries are moving into universities, studying law, medicine and anthropology. They are getting jobs in social work, in schools, offices, business and media. French, English, German or Dutch may be their native languages.

Unlike their homebound elders, these emancipated Muslim women use the Internet and spend hours in the proliferating Islamic chat rooms. Web sites are now favorite trysting places, a chance for risk-free "halal dating" - that is, interacting with men in a way that violates no social or religious codes.

In the crowded immigrant suburbs ringing Paris, the scene of recent riots mostly led by young Muslim males, teachers say female students are the most motivated because they have the most to gain. This mirrors findings in young Muslim communities throughout Europe.

In interviews in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, young women repeat this like a mantra: studying offers an escape route from the oppressive housing projects, from controlling young Muslim fanatics and from strict social codes enforced by fathers and brothers.


"We all understood that education was our passport to freedom," said Soria Makti, 30, who left her Marseille housing project and now works as a museum curator.

The emancipation of Muslim women, like that of Western women before them, is uneven in its progress, often slow, sometimes deeply painful when women feel they have no choice but to break with their families. But some changes are pointing to a new form of Islamic feminism.


Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of religion, the centuries-old domain of men. Young women have begun carving out their spaces by following Islamic studies, a fast-growing field across Europe that offers a blend of theology, Koranic law, ethics and Arabic. Diplomas from the two-year courses allow women to teach in mosques and in Islamic schools or to act as religious advisers.


"This is a big shift," said Amel Boubekeur, a social scientist writing her thesis on Europe's "new Islamic elites."

"Instead of having to be passive, women become teachers. It used to be taboo for women to recite the Koran," she said.

Boubekeur has interviewed scores of Islamic studies graduates in France and elsewhere and said many felt that the knowledge of religion was empowering them.

"It offers them a new prestige, new jobs and, not least, it gives them a stronger voice in dealing with their parents, brothers and husbands," Boubekeur said. "To defend their rights, these women find that arguments based on religious texts have more effect than secular ideas."

Today, Islamic studies, often taken on weekends and accessible to secondary school graduates, are expanding in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. An informal survey for this article of France's six Islamic studies institutes showed that of this year's near 1,000 students, almost 60 percent are women.

La Grande Mosquée in Paris, a large white and green compound from the 1920s with a finely chiseled minaret, is France's leading Islamic religious institution. It has its own theological school, largely financed from Algeria. On a recent Saturday, students were milling around under the arcades for a mint tea break from psychology classes.

Abdelkrim Bekri, the director, said that in 2002, the school had begun a new program, unavailable elsewhere, to train young women as spiritual counselors for hospitals and prisons, much like the ministry of Christian chaplains. Twenty have already graduated and other women are in training. "There is a great need here," he said.

Religious tasks are low-paying, even for male clerics, and women are not allowed to perform the most prestigious ritual of leading the mosque in Friday prayers. Boubekeur said that for now women care about having a voice, participating in the debate. "What is new is that they want direct access to religion, without depending on the rigid views of the clergy," she said.

Change can be measured in other small steps. At the Islamic University of Rotterdam, a small group of theology students, most of them speaking Dutch but all tightly veiled, chatted after classes about Islamic segregation of men and women. They said that in Europe it was important to end this.

"In class we sit anywhere we choose," said a student who gave her name only as Aisha. "In the mosques we don't want to sit in separate or hidden spaces."


Ertegul Gokcekuyu, the university registrar, said more than 60 percent of his students were female. "The motivation of the girls is very remarkable."

As educated Muslim women assert their place, they appear to be forging a strand of Euro-Islam, a new hybrid that would at least attempt to reconcile the principles laid out in the Koran with life in a secular, democratic Europe.

They draw ideas from various Muslim writers and philosophers.

Among them is Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss university professor whose grandfather founded Egypt's Islamic revival movement, the banned Muslim Brotherhood. While Washington revoked his visa last year to teach in the United States, Ramadan has a large following in Europe. He urges Europe's Muslims to make their mark as active citizens rather than get trapped in a what he calls a "victim mentality."

Fatema Mernissi, a Moroccan sociologist, is read for her defense of women's rights and her writing on early Islam, when women, she argues, held a more favorable position than they do today.

In France, Dounia Bouzar, a respected anthropologist who is both Algerian and French, is following in Mernissi's footsteps. "I tell women, 'we can honor the Koran from our perspective and apply it to our experience today,"' she said in a recent conversation.

"Women now have access to knowledge, so we must recover the religious texts. We have to free them from an exclusively male interpretation that belongs to the Middle Ages. Most important right now is that women get into the universities."

The implications of women flocking to Islamic studies are disturbing to some, who see a potential for more radicalization. Tokia Saïfi, a former deputy minister for development and one of the few women of Arab descent to reach a high post in the French government, said she worried that many young women were flocking to religion as a refuge.

"I see it as a regression," she said. "It means we need less discrimination, more ways to promote integration."

Such debates are far from the concerns of Muslim girls who are abused by their brothers because they are not submissive enough, or who are pressed into marrying virtual strangers because it suits their parents. In France's large housing projects, home to many immigrants, jobless young men often take out their frustration on women, the latest trend being gang rape. Rape in the housing projects has increased 15 percent per year since 1999, according to the government.

Theology has meant little to Latifa Ahmed, 25, who arrived in the Netherlands from a Moroccan village when she was 8. As she grew up near Amsterdam, her family turned against her because she preferred her Dutch classmates.

"They were bad, they were infidels, I was told," she said. "My parents and my brothers started hitting me." She was told she could study as long as she eventually married a Moroccan.

At home until she was 23, Ahmed said, "I was going crazy from all the fights and the lies, but I was afraid to run away and lose my family." One evening, returning from a concert with a Dutch friend, her father yelled: "Let's take a knife and we'll finish with her," she recalled. "He didn't kill me, but he put a curse on me. It was very frightening."

Now living alone in another city, she is hiding from her brothers, who have sworn to kill her. She has put herself through college doing odd jobs and does not care about religion. "I don't feel discriminated here," she said. "Moroccan girls can find work easier than Moroccan boys. Boys have a bad name."

Changes in the lives of Muslim women in Europe come at different speeds, at different places. They are hard to gauge in France, where the law forbids the census to collect data by ethnic origin or religion. One telling signal is the rise in divorce among immigrants in the Netherlands. According to Dutch government statistics, divorces among Moroccan families have increased by 46 percent since 2000 and in Turkish families by 42 percent, with a majority believed to be instigated by wives.

Some daughters of immigrants, now educated and well-placed to throw light on practices little understood in Europe, have begun to study the obstacles and abuse women face. Seyran Ates, a Turkish-born German lawyer, and Necla Kelek, a Turkish-born sociologist, have both recently published widely read books on the fate of Muslim girls in Germany. Kelek's "The Foreign Bride," a best-seller, denounces the plight of often illiterate girls, brought in from the Turkish countryside "as modern slaves" to act as obedient servants to their husbands and in-laws.

Other immigrant women are fighting for change through parliaments. In Belgium, Mimount Bousakla, whose family is from Morocco, and in the Netherlands, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, born in Somalia, are both members of Parliament who were raised as Muslims. They are pressing for changes in policies affecting women, including tougher sentences for men who kill women to "save the honor" of their families. In France, a movement called "Neither Whores nor Doormats," created in 2003, addresses the problems of underclass women who suffer violence or discrimination.

At the group's spartan office in eastern Paris, Algerian-born Sihem Habchi said conditions were improving, but that many young women still had to lead double lives. "They feel they have to lie all the time, put on head scarves not to be hassled," she said. "It's very hard to become an adult. Many girls have psychological problems." Now working in multimedia, Habchi, 30, recalled her own efforts to leave home, which took years of begging and negotiation.

Reminded that even French women do not enjoy full equality in the workplace, she said: "Immigrant women have to fight even harder because we are doubly discriminated," she said. "We are not fully accepted in France. But we are beginning to be everywhere; there are many of us now."

As Muslim women take advantage of democracy and civil liberties in Europe, the question remains whether the impact of an educated minority will be continually blunted by the arrival of often poorly educated young brides from North Africa, Pakistan or Turkey.

And as Europe rethinks its faltering integration policies, the question of importing brides is a new target of scrutiny. Critics, including immigrants themselves, argue that importing young women who are kept in the home perpetuates segregation. They say that such marriages violate European standards of freedom for women and are used as false pretexts for family reunion permits.

In Germany, Kelek said, up to 15,000 such girls are "imported" every year through arranged marriages and she is now campaigning for a new law to set age limits.

A study prepared for France's Council for Integration in 2004 says that about 70,000 young women are living in France in arranged or forced marriages. In Denmark, the Institute for Social Studies found that in recent years, 90 percent of the immigrants had imported a spouse from their homeland, and a Dutch study put that figure at 70 percent in the Netherlands. In Britain, bringing a bride from the homeland is still the norm for many Pakistanis. Several European countries have recently raised the age limit for "imported spouses" - in the case of Denmark and Sweden to 24.

"Obviously women are a key to integration," said Senay Ozdemir, an opponent of importing spouses and forced marriages. She is the editor of SEN, a Dutch magazine aimed at immigrant women. "If the woman cannot or will not integrate in a new country, it affects the whole family. She will isolate her children."

Karakus, the lawyer, believes more change will come. When she arrived in Limoges, in central France, she was the first law student to wear a veil, and was asked to remove it. Now, as a lawyer with a veil, she is accepted by both the men of the Muslim Council and the local French authorities with whom she negotiates.

This fall she was working on obtaining plots for Muslim burials at the local cemetery and arranging the site for the slaughter of sheep for Eid-el-Kebir, a major Muslim holiday. She is now helping to organize courses for imams arriving with little knowledge of French or French traditions.

How does she feel about being the first woman to head a Muslim council? She hesitates, then replies: "I'm pleased if my work helps change the image of women."


At home in Italy, but still apart

Elizabeth Rosenthal

International Herald Tribune NOVEMBER 16, 2005


Sassuolo, Italy By almost all measures, the Qasim family are model citizens, the kind of people you would want as neighbors.

Zahi Qasim, a serious man in V-neck sweater and slacks, is a machine factory foreman, a hard-working community leader. His wife, Khalwa Ghannam, is a teacher, fluent in three languages. Osama, 12, is popular - the top in his class. Ebullient Ali, 1, likes to crawl the scrubbed tile floor of the living room - decorated with proverbs from the Koran - pursuing soccer balls under tables.

In a recent visit to this northern industrial city just outside Modena, the Qasims were obsessively apologetic that they could not offer lunch, because they were fasting for Ramadan.

But in Italy, the Qasims, who were born in Palestine, are not citizens, even though they have spent half a hard-working lifetime here, raising a family. Italy's restrictive citizenship law only allows immigrants to apply after 10 years of residency, and it is filled with hard-to-meet requirements. Their children, both born in Italy, will only be eligible at age 18. "We would love to be Italians," said Ghannam, 37, six months pregnant, dressed in a maroon hajib.

Their lives, though financially comfortable, are filled with little nasty reminders that they are not fully accepted in a country they have called home for 20 years.

After the London bombings this summer, Qasim, 42, was interrogated by the police, who also searched his home. He believes his cellphone is tapped. When friends from Turin came for Ramadan dinner, the police called to ask who they were and chastised the Qasims for not reporting them. Qasim's efforts to purchase a building for a Muslim Sunday school were blocked for two years by local leaders who objected that the site lacked parking. Sassuolo's churches do not have parking lots, he noted.

"Sure it bothers me, because this is because I am a Muslim and they wouldn't do it to a European," he said. "We tell our children you have to work harder, to be the best in Italy, that hate gets us nowhere. This isn't our city and they have a right to control us if they want."

European leaders have been forced into uncomfortable introspection these past two weeks, as cars and buildings burn in France, set afire by second- and third-generation Muslim immigrants, who have never felt that Europe offered them a welcoming home. If it is happening in France, where most Muslims are at least citizens, could it happen here in Italy, or in Germany, or England - or any one of the more than half a dozen other European countries that have large Islamic underclasses.

"If we do not intervene seriously with social programs and with housing construction, we could soon have many Paris's here," predicted Romano Prodi, the former president of the European Union and now an Italian opposition leader.

While it was a particular mix of alienation, unemployment and anger that set the suburbs of Paris ablaze, government policies and social attitudes in many European countries conspire to isolate, rather than integrate, immigrants in general - and Muslim immigrants in particular - even if they have lived in Europe for years.

Many Muslims say they have felt particularly vulnerable since the London bombings, as European governments intensify scrutiny of their communities to ferret out terrorists who may be hiding there. One suspect in the July bombings was discovered in Italy weeks later.

In Sassuolo, a northern industrial city of 40,000, known for its ceramic factories, there have been no fires or violence. But there have certainly been a few figurative sparks and a good dose of tension since Muslims - generally recent arrivals in Italy - started pouring in a decade ago.

This summer, there were angry protests by immigrants and leftist labor groups after officials evicted the residents of a hulking green apartment building, called Casa San Pietro, who were almost all Muslim immigrants from Morocco.

"There were drug dealers, the lights and drains didn't work anymore, it was falling apart," said Mayor Graziano Pattuzzi, explaining his decision. "Citizens said there were weapons in the building, and police refused to answer calls there, for fear of being pelted with rocks and bottles. The situation was untenable."

Another motivation, the mayor said, was to end the ghettoization of new immigrants and to promote integration, noting that many experts believed that districts should contain at most 4 percent immigrants. Higher concentrations only isolated immigrants from Italians and vice versa, he said.

About 9 percent of Sassuolo's population is non-Italian, and 68 percent of those foreigners are Muslims. A few apartment buildings had become almost entirely Moroccan, the mayor said.

While protest leaders acknowledged that the neighborhood around Casa San Pietro was beset by petty crime, they said it had nothing to do with the residents, most of whom worked and even owned their apartments.

In fact, the leaders said, Sassuolo's government has helped to foster a climate of racism, or at least has done little to counteract it.

"We're at the point now that if a call center or a Pakistani restaurant opens, you've got a resident's association put together to protest against it," said Paolo Brini, a union leader who has helped organize the immigrants.

Currently a residents' association in the city's Rometta neighborhood is trying to block the construction of a housing complex because it is likely to attract immigrants, Brini said, adding, "It's a ticking social bomb."

Unlike France and Britain, whose Muslim immigrants started coming from former colonies many decades ago, those in Italy are relatively new. In Sassuolo, single men began to arrive 15 years ago, followed by their families in the last 7 to 10 years. Today, about half the schoolchildren in some neighborhoods are from immigrant families, Pattuzzi said.

It has been something of an uncomfortable adjustment. Ghannam said her son had endured teasing about his name, Osama, especially after 9/11. On the other hand, teachers have been understanding when the boy missed Muslim Holy Days, and one even called for advice on how to figure the direction of Mecca, so that Osama could pray during a school trip.

When the Qasims first moved into their apartment, on the third floor above a fruit store, their Italian neighbors were cold and hostile. But that has improved with time, they said.

Qasim said he did not participate in the protests over Casa San Pietro, believing that Muslims should mix more with the locals, no matter how difficult that is.

Many Italian families complain about the influx, the mayor acknowledged, equating Muslims with petty crime. In fact, he said that one of the reasons Casa San Pietro had turned into a ghetto was that many Italian landlords were unwilling to rent to Muslims.

"We've got a way to go to arrive at inclusion or integration, when it comes to work, culture, education and civic life," the mayor said.

Still, many experts say that Sassuolo is not a potential tinderbox, like the Paris suburbs, since jobs are still relatively plentiful and "foreign" laborers are needed in these industrial towns.

"I don't want to be a cock-eyed optimist, but one important difference is that there is a lot of unemployment and that isn't a problem here," said Antonio Oriente, a principal of one of Sassuolo's high schools.

Indeed, Qasim says he has always been treated with respect at work, even given a place to pray five times a day, for example. At work, he said, he feels "like an Italian."

But with Italy's economy declining, Brini said the factories would soon be laying off 500 workers, which could prove a flash point. Italian society has not been welcoming, offering platitudes about brotherhood and little else.

"We never thought of immigrants as people who would stay and live here for the future," said Renzo Guolo, a sociologist and Islamist at the University of Padua, adding, 'We just don't know how to build a society of different ethnic groups."

One important first step, he and others say, would be to allow easier access to citizenship. "How can we expect them to follow the law, unless we give them something to make them feel part of the nation?" Guolo asked.

Italy is one of the few countries in Europe where birth does not confer citizenship. And, although immigrants may apply after 10 years' proven legal residency, the state has no obligation to respond in a timely manner and the process often drags on, experts said.

But if Qasim is not Italian, then it is hard to know what he is, since he has no other place that he considers home. The family keeps a house in Ramallah and returns there for summer vacations, but Osama no longer fits in with the boys there his age, who he said are mostly working part time. Qasim, who lived in Italy through the two intifadas, does not feel safe in Palestine. When Osama speaks Arabic with his parents, it is peppered with Italian.

"I will never lose my roots, but we have to live as Italians because it is our country now," said Qasim, who, though devout, has given up some of the more orthodox trappings of Islam - ones that he considers cultural but not essential to religious practice.

For example, men and women mix and work side by side in the Islamic Association that Qasim runs, even though they would be separated in the Middle East. Also, while he would like a daughter to wear Muslim dress - like his wife - he says he would let the girl choose. "There are aspects of Islam that work in Palestine that don't work here," he said.

Many Muslims in Italy, including the Qasims, have followed the riots in France closely, on Al Jazeera, the Arabic cable TV network. Ezzedin Fatnassi, 41, the Tunisian-born Imam of a prayer hall in another northern industrial city, Bassano Del Grappa, opposes the violence, but said that "once it starts, one must try to understand the reason for it." He was shocked when his home was searched after the London bombings.

Like Qasim, he believes arrests and curfews have only aggravated the situation in France. "It's wrong to use police," Qasim said. "When you speak with people, you make them feel as though they're part of a larger society. If you make them feel marginalized, they'll put up a fight."

It is a lesson that many European countries are struggling to learn. Sassuolo's two Muslim prayer halls, home to thousands of worshipers, are makeshift plywood structures in old industrial spaces, and forever fighting for their survival.

After two years of delays, Qasim was able to open his Islamic Center - which includes a prayer hall and a weekend school - though he warns members to park far away, so as not to provoke authorities. The imam he hired, a Yemeni who had already been screened for a visa by the Italian authorities, was reinterrogated by local police.

When he talks to his son, Osama, after 20 years in Italy, Qasim still repeats the immigrants' mantra: ignore the slights, work harder than classmates. "Anyway, I tell him, Palestinians are used to being controlled: just think what it is like in Ramallah."


Turks in Germany are in bullish mood


Carter Dougherty

International Herald Tribune NOVEMBER 15, 2005

At a time of soul-searching among Europeans about their large and growing Muslim communities, Germany's Turkish businessmen are surprisingly optimistic.

They see a boom in trade and investment in Turkey coming as that country negotiates the tricky path toward its eventual membership in the European Union, and expect this to translate into profits for the vibrant entrepreneurial community here in Germany.

Some, like Vural Oger, who runs Oger Tours, a flourishing travel company, believe they can capitalize on their success in business to help push forward Turkey's political efforts to become part of Europe. He is one of several Turkish businessmen who have also entered politics to change the image of Turks here.

Others, like Kemal Sahin, head of the Turkish-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, say the private sector, unlike the European public at large, views Turkey's accession to the EU as inevitable, despite significant political opposition to it.

The evidence is there, Sahin believes, with many Turkish-run companies reporting heightened interest in their work in Germany, similar to the interest that major investors took in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s as that region's integration into the EU looked increasingly likely.

"The private sector has understood what's going on here, but the people of Europe have not yet reached that step," said Sahin, who is also chief executive of Sahinler Holding, a multinational ready-to-wear clothing firm. These days, he added, "I'm finding it easier to sell Turkey to Europe."

As sales jobs go, that looks like a tough assignment given the skepticism of a broad swath of Europeans on the wisdom of inviting a large Muslim nation like Turkey into the predominantly Christian European club. Here in Germany, 60 percent oppose Turkey's entry to the EU, according to a poll conducted by the research institute Emnid in March, when the European Commission recommended negotiations.

The rioting this month in French cities, which has involved many North African youths, has sharpened negative feelings about Muslims in Europe among those already opposed to immigration - a factor brought home this week when the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, urged Turks in Europe to avoid getting caught up in civil disturbances.

For the last 10 years, Oger has campaigned for the Turkish community, pressing the flesh with politicians and appearing on enough talk shows and news programs to make him a celebrity in Hamburg. He was elected to the European Parliament last year as a Social Democrat, and lobbied hard for EU membership for Turkey ahead of the start of accession talks on Oct. 4.

In tune with the current optimism, Oger says his place in the business community that gives him privileged access to speak up for Germany's Turks.

"Turkish entrepreneurs are integrated here better than almost any immigrant group," said Oger, 63, a tall man with a fondness for fat cigars. "Someone who runs a business is someone whom German society always welcomes."

Germany's corps of Turkish entrepreneurs emerged from a peculiar set of circumstances in the early 1980s to become an economically significant group in the 1990s.


The country's Turks now number 2.6 million overall and make up about 3 percent of the population and one-quarter of the non-ethnic Germans in the country. The majority call Germany home thanks to a 1960s program to recruit "guest workers" amid a shortage of people willing to perform hard manual labor. Others, far fewer, came to Germany to study.

Both groups expected to return to Turkey with the skills they had obtained. But, for a mix of political and personal reasons, many stayed on. Oger, for one, felt more tied to Germany as he started a family here. For others, a 1980 military coup in Turkey enhanced Germany's appeal.

Those who entered on student passports were barred from working for German companies. But self-employment was an option, and many took it. Turkish businesses - from kebab stands and grocery stores to food processing plants - took off.

Oger founded his small enterprise in 1982, ferrying Turks back to their homeland for visits. Business exploded in the 1980s as Germans discovered Turkey's pristine beaches and booked his package tours en masse.

Others encountered similar success, so much so that Germany's 64,600 entrepreneurs of Turkish descent - many of whom are now German citizens - had sales of 29.5 billion in 2004, according to Sahin's Cologne-based chamber of commerce.

In 2004, with the approach of accession talks, bilateral trade between Germany and Turkey rose to 19.6 billion, an increase of 34.1 percent over 2003.

Overall trade between Turkey and the EU began increasing after a customs union was cemented in 1996, rising to 42.5 billion in 1998, up from 31.8 billion the previous year. It suffered because of a banking crisis and earthquakes in the next few years, but resumed a steady march upward to 49.2 billion in 2003 and 66.6 billion last year.

Yonus Ulusoy, a researcher with the Center for Turkey Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen, anticipates that the trend will continue now that EU negotiations have begun. "Turkey suffered from uncertain political conditions and the occasional economic crisis," Ulusoy said. "Now, it's perspectives toward the EU have changed entirely."

Ulusoy said that interest in Turkey had risen substantially as EU negotiations drew near and then began. These days, he said, his institute is fielding numerous inquiries from German cities and states that want to organize trade missions to Turkey for local businesses - a sign that not only large German companies, but also smaller ones, are turning their attention toward Turkey.

Hans-Dieter Fricke, the Hamburg representative of the finance arm of Turkish shipping giant Turkon, recalled a period in the early 1990s when he was placing orders with shipyards in Poland as outside interest in that country rose sharply. Turkey, he said, is reaching a similar point in its relations with Europe, and he is already working with banking giants like Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank.

"I no longer have to justify doing business with Turkey," Fricke said. "What I have to do is beat our national competitors."

The problem, according to Turkish entrepreneurs like Oger, is translating their success in business into positive headlines in Europe - or even in Germany. Oger says Turkish businessmen are partly to blame for failing to create a more positive image of Turks. For one thing, their calling nudges them toward conservative parties that favor lower taxes and deregulation, but these parties have also anchored German opposition to Turkey's EU bid.

But opposition is entrenched on the German left as well. Although Chancellor Gerhard Schröder helped get negotiations between the EU and Turkey started last month, the bitter reality is that many other members of the Social Democratic Party - his party - were against it.

Oger's decision to enter politics dates to the early 1990s, when the wave of rightist violence that engulfed Germany after unification arrived on the doorstep of the Turkish minority. In 1998 he established a foundation devoted to German-Turkish understanding, and later served on a government commission drafting a new immigration law. Last year, he handed over active management of his company to a daughter after joining the European Parliament.

Efforts like this win kudos from other leaders in the Turkish community as long overdue, but those leaders caution that public relations will not be enough. Turkish entrepreneurs, said Bulent Oztoplu, a Turkish activist in Vienna, "also have to play a role in the integration of the other Turks in Europe."

Oztoplu worries about what he calls Europe's Turkish "Lumpenproletariat." These Turks, often young people in the second or third generation, speak neither proper German nor Turkish, offering a searing reminder of failed integration.

Sahin acknowledged the failure and said that Turkish-German organizations like the chamber, which is only a few years old, would expend more resources on training Turkish workers in Germany. That, combined with a vigorous political effort to court conservative politicians, has the potential to give Turkish entrepreneurs political influence consistent with their commercial heft.

"At some point, the conservatives will have to take notice of what they are missing here," Sahin said. "Perhaps in the coming years."


New Islam in an old English town


Graham Bowley

International Herald Tribune NOVEMBER 7, 2005

Leicester, UK. As Europe gropes for answers to the recent surge of questions regarding its large and growing population of immigrants, many of them Muslims, one place to look might be this slightly down-at-the-heel town smack in England's center.

Leicester, surrounded by rolling fields, was historically a small, prosperous manufacturing town rooted in the traditions of the English countryside. Farmers brought their cattle and sheep to be sold near the cobbled medieval heart of the town, where red-brick Victorian buildings hark back to a less complicated era.

The picture has changed, however. Leicester today is a multicultural city of 300,000 where descendants of the textile workers and farmers share the streets with Hindus, Sikhs and, increasingly, Muslims from the Indian subcontinent, East Africa and the Balkans.

Over the past 30 years, immigrants poured into Leicester - and were welcomed thanks to the progressive policy of city elders, who convinced local people of the value of a multicultural future. The newcomers established peaceful lives, turning Leicester into a model for the rest of Europe of a mixed city that works.

Yet Leicester is now being challenged by troubling new dynamics, officials admit, one of which is a growing Muslim assertiveness. The city's success with multiculturalism is being put to the test by ethnic tensions between Muslims and Hindus, fresh Muslim immigration from countries like Somalia and Bosnia, and a simmering resentment among the city's poor white groups toward the immigrants. This last factor has assumed a darker meaning in Britain's charged atmosphere since the Islamist terrorist bombings in London in July.

The local government, meanwhile, projects that Leicester - whose white population is now about 65 percent - could become the first city in Britain with a nonwhite majority by the start of the next decade.

That would make Leicester a still more prominent battleground in Europe's struggle to sketch a blueprint for multiculturalism with a place for Islam in Western society.

"What you see on the surface is quite fragile," warns Manzoor Moghal, a prominent Muslim leader in Leicester and a self-made businessman who arrived here from Uganda in the 1970s. "There are different currents running that threaten to split this asunder."

Moghal, chairman of the Muslim Forum, an umbrella group dealing with Muslim issues in Leicestershire, is one of many who worry that Leicester's tradition of peaceful coexistence is threatened by the pace of change.

Leicester's racial transformation has been breathtaking. The town of 30 years ago, where a boy could sit with his grandfather beside the cattle and sheep stalls at the market, has segued into a city where offices and shops cleared at sunset in October for Ramadan and Indian districts prepared for Diwali, the Hindu winter festival of light.

In Leicester today, northern districts like Melton Road have a profusion of Hindu temples, Muslim centers, halal butchers, and Indian and Pakistani restaurants, jewelers, banks and clothes stores. In the 700-year-old covered vegetable market, a multiracial mix of shoppers pick through piles of mushrooms and papayas, jumbled tables of belts, underwear and Chinese kites. The cattle market went under concrete years ago and is now a supermarket.

Local opposition to this transformation peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, when nationalists marched through town. But Leicester's leftist local government, declaring that the city's future was multicultural, successfully responded with a progressive policy that is still finely attuned to the cultural sensibilities of the newcomers.

"We don't talk about what the immigrants have to do to fit in with us," said Trish Roberts-Thomson, a policy officer at Leicester City Council. "Leicester has a very softly-softly approach."

The council embraced ethnic leaders in a multiplicity of race committees and interfaith councils. This civic integration was combined with economic integration as Leicester got a willing pool of labor to work in its textile and shoe factories, hospitals and other areas of the public sector. There was soon a prosperous ethnic middle class of entrepreneurs who now have begun to move into the city's leafier outer suburbs.

"Some have gained a lot of wealth, and bought hotels and property," said Jiva Odedra, chief executive of the Leicester Asian Business Association.

The result of civic and economic integration is that Leicester is without the edginess of its bigger Midlands neighbor Birmingham, where clashes between Asian and Afro-Caribbean gangs this month ended with two people dead and left officials and leaders asking why.

When race riots broke out in a string of northern English cities - Bradford, Oldham and Burnley - in the summer of 2001, Leicester stayed peaceful.

"Leicester is successful," said Robert Colls, professor of English history at Leicester University. "People of many ethnicities have come to live here in less than a generation, and there is no civil disorder and never has been - in spite of early attempts in the 1970s to foment it."

Hindus traditionally dominated the city's ethnic politics, but the Muslim population has grown in recent years through a higher birth rate and immigration; each of the two groups now accounts for about 15 percent of Leicester's population.

Muslims "are becoming more articulate," says Paul Winstone, an officer with the council who came to Leicester in the 1960s, worked against the early racist backlash and has been an important witness and guide of the city's multicultural transformation.

Muslims are demanding more on a number of fronts, such as their own faith-based schools and the freedom to wear their religious dress at work or to have halal food in the city hospitals, as well as broader political power within the city council. Winstone says the change is leading to "the perception that Hindus could leave the city - and Hindus have been Leicester's economic motor."

A further challenge to Leicester's equanimity is the risk of the re-emergence of white opposition toward the immigrants.

In 2002, in the wake of the northern riots, Leicester's council commissioned a report that found hitherto unnoticed and worrying levels of hostility among people in poor, white working-class districts toward their ethnic neighbors. This was mainly caused by resentment about the perceived generosity of public resources being channeled to the Asian districts. "The biggest threat to multiculturalism is from the white working class because multiculturalism gets the attention the white working classes don't," said Roberts-Thomson.

Asian leaders fear the resentment could be inflamed by antiterrorism legislation being put forward by the British government that is designed to crack down on Islamic extremism. Among other steps, the government proposes banning some Islamic groups, but Muslim leaders fear such action would encourage the white British public to view them as foreign rather than British.

Leicester's reputation as a strife-free city was not helped when two Leicester men originally from Algeria were arrested in the city and jailed in 2003 for providing financial support for Al Qaeda. Another was deported to France.

Even today, officials like Winstone report occasional attempts by Muslim extremists from nearby towns like Nottingham or Derby to infiltrate Leicester's mosques, "although they were roughed up and sent back," he says.

Colls, of Leicester University, says that in his experience there is a thirst among younger Leicester Muslims for more enlightened teaching and a rejection of the hard-line Islamists: A lecture at the university by a Muslim teacher on the need for a Muslim enlightenment drew in hundreds, he said.

One reason why Leicester's multicultural experiment has worked so well in the past, experts say, is that many of its Muslims and Hindus arrived indirectly via East Africa, from countries like Uganda or Malawi, where their families had settled in earlier generations. When they reached Leicester, they were already urbanized entrepreneurs used to British administration.

In contrast, English cities like Bradford took in thousands of Muslims directly from Pakistan's rural hinterlands, Leicester officials say.

But Leicester's newest wave of arrivals - Somalis, Bosnians, Kosovars - represent a new type of immigration: smaller, diverse groups in contrast to the Hindus and Muslims who had arrived en masse.

The biggest new group is from Somalia, a Muslim country. More than 10,000 Somalis have moved to Leicester over the past two to three years, according to city officials. Many have come from the Netherlands, where, they complain, they could not find work and faced dispersal under the strict housing policy.

Some of the Somalis are highly skilled professionals and are integrating well into the business community, according to Odedra of the Asian business group. But others have moved into the poorest inner-city districts, such as the tatty streets behind the city railroad station, the usual destination for the poorest new arrivals, and where, according to Winstone, some have clashed violently with West Indians.

According to Roberts-Thomson, who has worked with the Somalis, many are still deeply affected by the Somali civil war, which makes integrating harder.

In the newly febrile atmosphere, a debate has begun - even here in multicultural Leicester - about the degree of assimilation required by immigrants.

"When you want to live in a society, when you want to be part of that society, you have an obligation to blend in," says Moghal, who dresses in an impeccable business suit.

Others, like Ibrahim Mogra, a younger Muslim and one of Leicester's leading imams, take a stricter line and believe Muslims should be allowed to live and work in Britain on their own terms.

"I do not want to live in a Britain where my culture is second-class," said Mogra, who greets visitors to his small terraced home in one of the heavily Asian districts of Leicester in turban, robe and full flowing beard. "I have integrated as best as I could. I have done almost anything."

Mogra, who was one of a small group of Muslim leaders called to meet with Prime Minister Tony Blair after the July bombings, believes businesses should accommodate Muslim dress in the workplace. But his views are not limited to clothing: He calls Blair a "tyrant oppressor" for his policy in Iraq and is equally scathing about the West's policy of restricting Iran's nuclear program.

Such conflicting views on assimilation reflect the current questioning and probing of Western Europe's multicultural model that is going on across the Continent.

It is an open question whether the experience of the past three decades will protect Leicester as a beacon for the rest of Europe, or whether the jolts of colliding populations will inevitably bring conflict to this once-tranquil place.

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