The German Bertelsmann Foundation published an interesting research: Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Religion Monitor 2017. According to its press release:
The integration of Muslim immigrants in Western Europe is making clear progress. By the second generation at the latest, the majority have entered mainstream society. This is evident in the findings of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Religion Monitor 2017, which investigated the language competence, education, working life and interreligious contacts of Muslims in France, the UK, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The successful integration is all the more notable because none of these five countries offer consistently good opportunities for participation, and Muslims encounter open rejection from about one fifth of the population.
As the authors note, the definition of integration is a crucial factor for every evaluation:
We do not take this to mean assimilation in any kind of mainstream culture. Rather, integration in a pluralistic country is measured in terms of the extent to which opportunities for participation are realized and plurality – based on the constitution — becomes viable. In this sense, religious differences do not indicate inadequate integration, although this is sometimes viewed as a premise in public debate. Like any other faith and worldview, Muslim religiosity can enhance a country’s diversity, especially when accompanied by a strong commitment to that country, as is evident in our study. Therefore, successful integration is also the responsibility of the mainstream society: It must take its own claims to plurality seriously, and its willingness to respect other religious practices must not be determined by how familiar or unfamiliar they may seem.
Therefore, the primary challenge today is to link creating equal participation with promoting the acceptance of religious and cultural diversity. On the one hand, this requires appropriate framework conditions that ensure participation. On the other hand, it requires the willingness and openness of the resident population and immigrants to maintain a flourishing life together in a pluralistic democratic community.
Although I would prefer this type of definition above many other definitions (that often emphasize a culturalist assimilation) it remains a very problematic one. I will turn to that later. First the main results taken verbatim from the above mentioned press release.
The integration of Muslim immigrants in Western Europe is making clear progress. By the second generation at the latest, the majority have entered mainstream society. This is evident in the findings of our Religion Monitor 2017, which investigated the language competence, education, working life and interreligious contacts of Muslims in France, the UK, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The successful integration is all the more notable because none of these five countries offer consistently good opportunities for participation, and Muslims encounter open rejection from about one fifth of the population.
Despite their different countries of origin, different creeds and different reasons for migrating, the integration of the nearly 14 million Muslims in these five countries tends to run a similar course. Muslims seize the opportunities for participation that arise, and they want to continue practicing their religion. Although the latter is not readily accepted by mainstream society, it does not hinder integration.
Religious Affiliation does not impede integration
Thus, in all these countries the educational level in Muslim families rises from generation to generation. In the second generation, 67 percent of children stay in school past their 17th birthday. However, there are variations in the pace at which the mean school completion rates for Muslim children align with those of all children. France is particularly successful; there, only 11 percent of Muslims leave school before their 18th birthday. The results are less satisfactory in Germany and Switzerland, where the school systems separate children at an early age.
However, it is in Germany and Switzerland that Muslims are most successful in integrating into the job market. In both these countries, the rate of gainful employment among Muslims no longer differs from that of the total population. Immigrants there benefit significantly from the high demand for labor. But contributing factors also include expedited work permits that open up the labor market, along with community job placement initiatives and language courses. In France, with its tight and relatively impermeable job market, even Muslims with good school-leaving qualifications are more likely to be unemployed and less likely to work full time.
Strong connection with the new homeland
Overall, almost half (49 percent) of Muslims in these five countries learned the national language during childhood as their first language. Here too, there is a definite increase from the first to the second generation (from 27 to 76 percent). By far the leader is France, where 93 percent of the immigrant children born in the country grow up with the French language.
Another indication of successful integration is that 75 percent of Muslims regularly spend their free time with non-Muslims. Interreligious contact also increases with each generation, as does identification with the receiving country. Overall, nearly all of those surveyed (94 percent) feel connected to the country where they live.
This level of integration is not always appreciated; 20 percent of citizens questioned say they do not want to have Muslims as neighbors. Wariness of Islam is lowest in France (14 percent), highest in Austria (28 percent). Muslims who profess their faith and practice their religion also encounter discrimination in the labor market. Everywhere except in the UK, highly religious Muslims—and 41 percent of Muslims can be identified as such—have more difficulty than less devout Muslims finding a job that corresponds to their qualifications.
Three core strategies for advancing integration and cohesion
In France, many Muslims are frustrated by discrimination in the labor market. The result: France is the only country in which the feeling of being connected with the country declines among Muslims in succeeding generations. In the UK, the institutional parity of Islam with other religious groups enables Muslims to practice their religion without detriment to their careers. On the other hand, there is relatively little contact between Muslims and people of other faiths. They are more likely to live their everyday lives in parallel rather than in the community.
The Religion Monitor 2017 has identified three core strategies for advancing integration and cohesion in Western European societies: First, improve opportunities for participation, especially in the employment and educational systems. Second, accord Islam the same legal status as other institutional religious groups, thereby recognizing religious diversity. And third, promote intercultural contacts and interreligious discussion, for example in schools, in neighborhoods and in the media.
And now for the problem
The question of integration is one, as the authors note, how people can be incorporated into an ethno-nationalist community: for example the Germans. It is a difficult question as every ethno-nationalist community is diverse in itself with at the same time political leaders trying to homogenize the community based upon their idea how a particular community ought to look and ought to behave. So how do people get the idea that asking Muslims about integration and taking their religious affiliation into account makes sense? Would the Bertelsmann Foundation also ask similar questions to and about Christians. Probably not, in most European countries Christians would probably be regarded as part of the moral community.
Yes, most Muslims may indeed by migrants or descendants of recent migrants. But in the former case Islam as a social category does not interfere with nationality, residence and so on. In the later case one may ask how long do we apply the integration framework to descendants of migrants? First, second, third, tenth generation? The authors note that integration of Muslims may not be the problem and that Islam does not hinder integration but there is a lack of acceptance. To what extent does research like this contribute to the lack of acceptance of a particular group of people when it frames those people on the basis of their religious affiliation as outsiders that have to be integrated and accepted?
Yes, the research does indeed make necessary nuances to black and white approaches that paint Islam as intrinsically incompatible with European national identities and communities, but it does not fundamentally challenge the problems that come with the integration approach. In doing so, the relation between race, nationalism, secularism and Islam in Europe remains unexplored.
Read the report in English HERE.