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The New Berlin Wall
Dealing with Germany's Islamic parallel society
Josef Bordat (DrBordat)     Print Article 
Published 2007-03-05 13:38 (KST)   
Berlin is facing its most serious threat since the rise of the Berlin Wall in 1961: the division of society by an invisible wall built with the bricks of "religious fundamentalism" and "cultural segregation." That is, by the existence of an Islamic parallel society, run by its own rules and manners. This parallel society is growing fast due to migration and a high birthrate among foreign residents.

Muslim Migration and Fertility

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In 2004, the number of foreigners in Berlin was 454,545, or about 13.4 percent of its 3,387,828 inhabitants. This was an increase of 1.6 percent and was primarily based on migration. According to authorities, in 2004, the foreign population of Berlin increased by 12,925 or approximately 2.8 percent, through migration. The number of foreign children in Berlin indicates a higher rate of growth within the foreign population: of the 412,477 children under 15 years in Berlin in 2004, 62,030 were of non-German origin. That corresponds to a relative quota of 15 percent (1).

Approximately 200,000 Muslims live in Berlin. Around half of them are of Turkish or Arab origin. The community is growing at a rate far above average through migration and births. To discuss this in an open way is not easy for politicians, as they do not want to be seen in the bad light of right-wing radicalism. But that does not change the arithmetical certainty.

The Role of Religion

Religion is becoming more and more important for Muslims in Germany. Researchers have noted that religion is important to only 17 percent of Christian students in Germany but to 73 percent of Muslim students. Furthermore, there is a close connection between Muslim religiousness and social isolation. The researchers' conclusion: the more distinctive the religiousness, the worse the language skills and social integration of the children and teenagers (2).

If it is true that religiousness and segregation go hand in hand, the result is an isolated parallel society, organized according to religious moral principles and values -- in this case, Islamic ones. Further, this Islamic parallel society in the future will increase quantitatively because of its high fertility rate, especially with regard to women with a radical Muslim background due to their restricted role of "mothers" under the circumstances and influences of Islamic extremism.

Islamic Parallel Society in Action

The Islamic parallel society is a community structured and organized by families and clans, occupied with both legal and illegal business and applying its own rules, not only in the sense of customs and habits but also in terms of jurisdiction. Tribunals in which civil law disputes are settled in front of a religious committee are part of this outlaw "regulation system" as well as punitive measures according to Islamic principles. The "honor killings" in Berlin of the last few years show to what extent this parallel legal system can operate. The alarming point in reference to these murders is that the "executioners," who killed female family members because of alleged violations of religious moral principles earned broad support from teenagers in the Muslim community. It seems that neither the regulations of German criminal law nor the commandments of humanity count within this parallel society.

Studies which misjudge these circumstances and attribute the segregation to disastrous social conditions or even the macroeconomic framework do not get the point because they ignore the close connection between radical Muslim religiousness, tending to a political Islamic fundamentalism, on the one hand, and unemployment and poverty on the other.

How Can the Problem Be Solved?

To make one point clear, according to authorities in Berlin, only about 4,000 of the 200,000 Muslims in the German capital can be considered extremists (3). But even if one takes into consideration that this only represents 2 percent of the community, one cannot ignore the problem, particularly since one case of murder can destroy more confidence than 100 remarks of regret can build back up. The number of extremists seems to be increasing and, furthermore, one gains the impression that they rule within their municipalities. Nevertheless, everyone in the democratic civilian society should promote peaceful dialogue, at least with the 98 percent who are moderates in the Muslim community. Politicians, representatives of the Christian churches and those who are responsible in business, culture and sports should try to stay or get in contact with that parallel society in order to tear down this new Berlin Wall before it is completed.

A first step: "Days of intercultural dialogue"

In this context it is worth mentioning Berlin's first step to a successful approach to more understanding by means of an interreligious and intercultural dialogue. The "Days of intercultural dialogue" were organized by a committee of activists from the civil-society (Antirassistisch-Interkulturelles Informationszentrum ARiC Berlin e.V.), under the auspices of Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. The "Days of intercultural dialogue" have taken place each autumn since 2003, so this year will be the fifth time. The project is rooted in the experiences of the Dutch cities of Rotterdam and Amsterdam, which organized round-table discussions between migrants and the Dutch population first in 2002. Since then the number of participants has increased, both in the Netherlands and in Germany.

During the last such dialog held from Oct. 5 to Nov. 5, 2006, about 40 round-table discussions took placein several districts of Berlin, attended by nearly 1,000 persons. Workshops on "integration management" and a intercultural street festival completed the program.

In a communication the organizers proclaimed their primarily goals as "dealing with variety and difference on the basis of mutual recognition and esteem, solidarity based on common values, openness, liberty and participation with equal rights." To build up a society of peaceful understanding furthermore it is recognized as important, "to reduce the causes and manifestations of discrimination and hate, to create spaces free of fear and violence, to meet and discuss at eye-level and to discover things in common as well as to accept differences and to learn to bear them." A very important condition of the dialogue is seen in the acceptance of the human rights and the fundamental civil rights provided by the German constitution, the "Grundgesetz." This principle may not be violated at any time.

As a means to reach this honorable ends, the round-table talks "provide time and space for an exchange of perceptions, positions and experiences with equal rights. This exchange contains plumbing and recognizing both individual and social scopes of action." As such the "Days of intercultural dialogue" are a small but important contribution to a change in Berlin's everyday life, an icebreaker as well as a starting point to more understanding and cooperation. Hopefully the "Days of intercultural dialogue" can spur a society engaged in dialogue for 365 days a year.
Notes

1. http://www.statistik-berlin.de/
2. Offenbacher Post (Nov. 21, 2004)
3. Berliner Morgenpost (May 5, 2004)
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Josef Bordat

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