In a Christian-dominated Europe, Islam is by and large associated with strict rules and strong religious traditions and more than ever before with terrorism, insurgency and oppression. Many European politicians make the mistake to lump politics and religion together and consider that their democracies are in peril due to the increasing number of Muslims in Europe. That is the main reason why some of them oppose Turkey’s prospective accession to the EU. It is common knowledge that the German speaking countries, are home to large communities of Muslims, especially of Turkish descent and it is also true that integration is one of the top-priorities on their governments’ agenda. But this whole process is most of the time easier said than done and when politics and religion collide, the result is a drawback in a Europe which claims to be more tolerant and multicultural than ever.
After living both in Austria and Germany, I had the chance to have a close look at their multicultural societies. It was a real utopia at the beginning to see how people belonging to so many different nationalities, cultures and religions can live together and get along. I have always felt at home in multicultural environments, as I see them as a wonderful opportunity to learn from one another and exchange ideas. Everything was completely new in comparison to the situation in my homeland, Romania, which is not an immigration destination and therefore there is not much cultural variety. After a while, I discovered that not everything was as perfect and harmonious as it seemed at first glance. After talking to people, reading local newspapers and listening to debates on this topic, I gained a totally different insight. Integration is indeed a hot topic, both in Germany and Austria, as large communities of immigrants have not managed to adapt to the new environment. Muslims are seen as the most problematic group by politicians who can easily be judged as extremists, because not only their nationalities and cultures are different from the local ones, but also their religion. „Right-extremist” slogans in Austria dictate that Vienna should not become Istanbul and Austria should belong only to „pure” Austrians. And they have their supporters. But who is actually at fault? Who is to blame for an integration failure?
But what hides behind the concept of „integration”?
The main reason for emigrating is the pursuit of a better future, which implies having a good job, good living conditions and reaching personal satisfaction. It also implies integration from the very beginning in order to succeed. But what exactly does this process comprise? First of all, learning the language is the cornerstone. Everything one seeks can be achieved only after knowing how to get around in the local language. Secondly, interaction with the new culture and motivation to do something productive, both on a personal level and for the benefit of the new society are the next important steps. Seclusion in one’s own ethnic/religious group and the strong belief that all locals regard immigrants as enemies and, therefore, will not accept them as co-workers/friends/neighbors, etc. are the key-factors that lead to integration failure. And the aforementioned slogans are not of much help in this sense. They influence the local opinion, locals do not see integration failure as a problem which calls for solutions anymore and they learn to put the blame solely on religion. But then again, there are plenty of non-Christian immigrants, be it Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and so on, who managed to be successful in the new society. Are they the exception that proves the rule, or a case in point that shows how integration is not a matter of religion, but rather of personal motivation?
I truly believe that religion should remain just a personal decision and not be taken to a political and national level. It is true that certain religious beliefs are related to certain mentalities, but when it comes to integration, one should only be aware of the differences between the two and accept them. Before going to live in a new country, all prospective immigrants should ask themselves: will I be able to adapt to the new environment, learn the language, respect the local culture but without giving up mine and never forget that I am there with a purpose? We can talk about integration success only when the answer is “yes”. I want to highlight the word “respect” because that is everything that matters from both sides. Laying the blame on religion is just a shortcut that leads to a dead end rather than to the road to improvement.