With refugees, Germany's Muslim population could be Europe’s largest

Updated 26 September 2015
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With refugees, Germany's Muslim population could be Europe’s largest

BERLIN: When the flood of Middle Eastern refugees arriving in Europe finally ebbs and asylum-seekers settle down in their new homes, Germany could unexpectedly find itself housing the continent’s largest Muslim minority.
The arrival of so many Syrians fleeing their country’s brutal civil war is bound to change the face of Islam in Germany, which until now has been dominated by the Turks who first came as so-called “guest workers” in the 1960s.
While refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and other Muslim countries are also arriving, the Syrians make up the largest single contingent — estimated at about 45 percent — and have the best chances of being granted political asylum here.
The longer-term impact on Germany, which unlike Britain or France has no tradition of taking in immigrants from former colonies, is unclear. Many are still struggling through problems all refugees face such as learning the language and getting a job. The number of those yet to follow them is also unknown.
Some trends are emerging, though, and Germans familiar with the Muslim minority see reasons for both hope and concern. The first change is simply in the numbers.
“We could suddenly have five million Muslims,” said Thomas Volk, an Islam expert at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a think tank associated with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.
France now has Europe’s largest Muslim minority with five million, followed by Germany with about four million. But the French figure is an estimate several experts say is too high.
Germany expects 800,000 refugees this year, most of them Muslims, and “this trend will continue,” Volk told Reuters. “It will not stop abruptly on Jan. 1, 2016.”
In addition, most are young adult men, so the numbers will rise further when those who settle here start families.

Multi-faith society
Merkel’s critics have raised security concerns about letting in so many unchecked refugees, but German security officials say they have not found any proof that jihadists are among them.
A broader question is what kind of Muslims will be joining a minority dominated by the local Turkish community, which makes up two-thirds of the German Muslim population.
Many Turkish immigrants were poor workers from rural areas who struggled to integrate into German society. Turkey has reinforced the diaspora’s link to their homeland by building mosques and sending imams, many of whom speak no German.
Lamya Kaddor, a German-born academic of Syrian descent, said Islam in mostly Sunni Muslim Syria was “conservative and open.”
“This is because of the religious composition of the country,” she said in an interview. “There are many different Christians, Druze, Alawites and some Shiites. Religion was never in the foreground. They’re very tolerant.”
Being accustomed to life in a multi-faith society, Syrians could integrate more easily into German society, Kaddor said. Syria also has no religious institution like Turkey’s well-funded Diyanet that oversees many Turkish mosques in Germany.
While individual Syrians may integrate more easily, their collective presence could further splinter a Muslim minority that already is unable to speak in public as a group.
Arabs are a tiny minority among German Muslims now but their total could rise to about one-fifth of the overall community, a change that could exacerbate rivalries among Muslim leaders.
“Arabic-influenced Islam will become more visible and German Islam more diverse,” said Aiman Mazyek, the son of a Syrian father and German mother who is chairman of the small Central Council of Muslims representing mostly non-Turkish Muslims.
A lively speaker in fluent German, Mazyek has already irritated some Turkish German leaders by outshining them in public and appearing as an unofficial spokesman for Muslims here. Rivalries like this have stymied efforts to get Germany’s four main Muslim associations to work together.
“Let’s face it — Arabs have a superiority complex,” said a German analyst who asked not to be named. “They think they know Islam better because they can read the Qur'an in their language.”

Better change of integration
Birol Ucan, spokesman for the large Omar Ibn Al-Khattab mosque in the Berlin’s multicultural Kreuzberg district, said some Syrians had turned up at his and other mostly Arabic-speaking mosques in recent months, but not that many yet.
“They’re still busy with refugee problems like finding shelter and getting their papers in order,” he said.
In general, the Syrians are better educated than other migrants coming here and have better prospects of integrating. “Syrians have a reputation for being hard workers,” Ucan said.
“They’re not classic guest workers,” Kaddor observed. “They’re middle class, even upper class — they’re always the first who can flee.” The most urgent task now, she said, is to provide them with German lessons and jobs so they can start a new life rather than languish in refugee shelters.
Ahmad Al-Kurdi, a 26-year-old sports instructor from Hama, lives up to the image Syrians have here. In the 10 months since he arrived, he has learned German well and will soon begin studying at a Berlin university for a masters degree.
“Life here is super,” he said in the flat he shares with another refugee. “But I want to go back — Syria is my country,” he added, without knowing when that might be possible.
Racist movements
How Germany will accept the changing face of Islam on its soil is also unclear.
Volk said the current public welcome for the refugees could morph into a more divisive debate about Merkel’s policies next year when four federal states hold elections.
Last winter, before it took the moral high ground in the refugee crisis, Germany saw a wave of anti-Muslim rallies led by a right-wing movement called PEGIDA, an acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West. Merkel condemned that movement as racists “with hatred in their hearts.”
Recalling that anti-immigrant parties won seats in several state legislatures in the 1990s after an earlier refugee wave, Volk said Merkel’s CDU had to start a broad public debate to counter prejudices against the Muslims.
“We must be careful. The populists could make (the refugees) into their issue,” he said.


Indonesia sending back 547 containers of waste from West

Updated 46 min ago

Indonesia sending back 547 containers of waste from West

  • Nine containers with at least 135 tons of waste were sent back to Australia on Wednesday
  • They were among 156 containers held in Tangerang port near Jakarta that will be returned soon to other countries

JAKARTA, Indonesia: Indonesia is sending 547 containers of waste back to wealthy nations after discovering they were contaminated with used plastic and hazardous materials, amid a growing backlash in Southeast Asia against being a dumping ground for the developed world’s trash.

Nine containers with at least 135 tons of waste were sent back to Australia on Wednesday, customs director Heru Pambudi said at a news conference in Jakarta.

“Some food still remains there with liquid flowing,” Pambudi said as he showed the contents of several containers.

He said 91 other containers will be returned to Australia after administrative processes are complete.

They were among 156 containers held in Tangerang port near Jakarta that will be returned soon to other countries, including the US, New Zealand, Spain, Belgium and Britain, he said.

Pambudi said the government has stopped more than 2,000 containers this year in several ports in East Java, Jakarta, Tangerang and Batam near Singapore. So far it has sent back 331, which will be followed by 216 others to French, Germany, Greece, Netherlands. Slovenia, Canada, Japan and Hong Kong. Authorities are still investigating the rest.

The government announced in July that it had sent back nearly 60 containers of waste from Australia that were supposed to contain only paper but included household waste, used cans, plastic bottles, oil packaging, used electronics, used baby diapers and used footwear.

Pambudi said several Indonesian-owned companies that imported the waste must return it to the countries of origin within 90 days. No other sanctions were declared, although importing hazardous waste is a criminal offense with penalties of up to 12 years in prison and a fine of up to 12 billion rupiah ($850,000).

China banned the import of plastic waste at the end of 2017, resulting in more used plastic being sent to developing Southeast Asian nations.

A study published in June last year in the journal Science Advances that used United Nations data found other nations will need to find a home for more than 110 million tons of plastic waste by 2030 because of the Chinese ban.

Indonesia and China themselves are among the world’s biggest producers of plastic waste, which is increasingly fouling their land, seas and beaches.