Immigration in Germany Young Turks Increasingly Favor Integration and Religion

Hardly a year goes by in Germany without a shrill debate on immigration and Islam. Despite the public hand-wringing, however, those in the country with a Turkish background are increasingly eager to integrate, according to a new survey. But younger Turks are also becoming more religious.
Many Turks say they feel at home in Germany -- but still want to leave.

Many Turks say they feel at home in Germany -- but still want to leave.

Foto: Sean Gallup/ Getty Images

When news hit the headlines this spring that Salafists in Germany were handing out free Korans in city centers across the country, the outcry was immediate. Politicians called for the campaign to be banned, journalists wrote extensively about Salafist radicalism and even the publishing house printing the free Korans distanced itself.

One group of people living in Germany, however, was not nearly as put off by the promotion. According to a new survey among those of Turkish descent living in the country, almost two-thirds of those aged between 15 and 29 consider the distribution of the Koran to be "good" or "very good," and one-third of them would donate money to the cause.

The result, says Holger Liljeberg, who heads Info GmbH, the company that conducted the survey, "could be the result of a resurgence among young people of religious values from their parents' homeland."

Liljeberg, however, warned against concluding that the survey results -- based on interviews with 1,011 people of Turkish heritage in Germany over the age of 15 -- indicate a trend toward radicalization. Indeed, even as the number of those who identify themselves as strictly religious is rising (from 33 percent in 2009 to 37 percent this year), so too is the share of immigrants who wish to integrate completely into German society.

Eagerness to Integrate on the Rise

It is the latter trend that is perhaps the most surprising. Hardly a year goes by in Germany without a bout of highly public hand-wringing over the country's population of 4 million Muslims (out of roughly 82 million total inhabitants). This year, it was the Salafists and their subsequent violence in response to anti-Islam agitation  at the hands of the right-wing populist party Pro-NRW -- and the brief debate about circumcision . In 2010 and 2011, it was an extended debate kicked off by the breathtakingly facile book on Muslims by Germany's provocateur-in-chief Thilo Sarrazin , which argued among other things that immigration was bringing down the country's IQ.

Yet, despite the at times shrill nature of the debate, the survey published on Friday seemed to indicate that overtly racist verbal assaults on those with Turkish backgrounds are dropping. Whereas a similar survey in 2010 found that 42 percent of respondents claimed to have been publicly insulted because of their Turkish appearance, that number has now dropped to 29 percent, though it is close to 50 percent among those under 30.

Furthermore, the willingness of Turkish migrants and their descendents to integrate into German society remains high and is climbing. Whereas 70 percent said in 2010 that they want to "absolutely and without reservations integrate into German society," the new survey found that 78 percent of respondents agreed. Similarly, whereas 59 percent said two years ago that they wanted to belong to German society, 75 percent say so now. Fully 95 percent say that all children with Turkish backgrounds should go to day care facilities so as to learn German prior to entering school.

Increasingly Religious

Overall, the survey released on Friday paints an image of a Turkish community in Germany that is split between a trend toward increased religiosity, particularly among the younger generations, and a desire to fit into German society. For example, whereas only 8 percent of those surveyed said they were in favor of purely Turkish-language elementary schools for children with Turkish backgrounds, 62 percent (up from 40 percent in 2010) said they prefer hanging out with fellow Turks.

In addition, even as the willingness to integrate appears to be on the rise, the number of those who identify Germany as their homeland appears to be dropping. Whereas 21 percent said they saw Germany as more of a homeland than Turkey in 2010, that number has now dropped to 15 percent. Furthermore, the number of those who say they plan to eventually return to Turkey has risen from 42 percent to 45 percent -- though the most common reasons given are a desire to spend one's retirement in Turkey and the considerably better weather there.

Interestingly, however, it is the under-30 demographic that is most likely to identify Germany as their home -- the same group that appears to be growing increasingly religious. Fully 70 percent of those under 30 expressed a desire for more mosques in Germany, 15 percentage points higher than the average for all respondents. Seventy-two percent say that Islam is "the only true religion."

"The study shows that there is an increasing focus on traditional and religious values," says Liljeberg.

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