Can Muslims really integrate?

Absolutely. Provided they’re really bad Muslims.

Borne out by observation over many years, this statement means it’s their religion rather than race that’s the real obstacle in the way of integration.

After all, Muslims who never prostrate themselves towards Mecca may be racially identical to those for whom it’s their favourite form of exercise.

Proceeding from the general to the specific, let’s look again at the Arsenal footballer Mesut Özil, who has announced that he’ll never again play for Germany. His decision, he has explained, is caused by the racist abuse he has suffered throughout his career.

Said abuse intensified no end after he and another ethnically Turkish midfielder had their picture taken with Turkey’s president Erdoğan just before the World Cup.

Germany’s subsequent collapse in the tournament, says Özil, was blamed on that photo opportunity. And the only possible reason is the Germans’ innate racism. “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose,” says Özil.

Now Germany does have some form in racial abuse, which makes this a plausible explanation. But it’s not fool-proof.

A German saying that, say, a Jew is a cheating Schweinhund may do so out of anti-Semitism. But a possibility does exist that this particular Jew may indeed be a cheating Schweinhund. In that case, it’s not racism but a statement of fact.

Similarly, when German football fans blame Germany’s debacle on the discord Özil introduced into the dressing room, they may be right – and his race may have nothing to do with it.

After all, Özil didn’t simply pose for a photograph with Erdoğan. He and his teammate presented to Erdoğan the resulting photo with the inscription ‘To our president’.

That’s what caused an outburst of indignation all over the country and, critically, among the Germany footballers.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the president of Turkey. The president of Germany is called Frank-Walter Steinmeier. By describing Mr Erdoğan rather than Mr Steinmeier as ‘our president’, Özil and his teammate thereby declared that they consider themselves to be not Germans but Turks.

“It wasn’t about politics or elections, it was about me respecting the highest office of my family’s country,” explains Özil. Not just his family’s, by the sound of it. He did write ‘our president’, meaning also his.

Hence we’re looking at a third-generation [sic] German, who pledges loyalty to the country of his grandparents’ birth. If I were a German, I’d be incensed – with nary a touch of racism anywhere in sight.

For the record, German football authorities explain Özil’s international retirement differently. Özil, they say, jumped before he was pushed.

He should have been off the team for purely footballing reasons. Uli Hoeness, president of Bayern Munich, expressed this view with characteristic German bluntness: “He had been playing scheisse for years.”

Many Arsenal supporters will doubtless agree, but I’m interested in something else. How come a third-generation German perceives himself as a Turk foremost?

If someone told my American grandchildren that they’re really Russian, and Putin is their president, they simply wouldn’t understand what he’s talking about.

Even I, a first-generation Briton, tend to respond in a most ungentlemanly fashion whenever a similar suggestion is made to me. The head of my state is Her Majesty the Queen, God bless her, not Putin or Trump (I also have a US passport).

True, my family and I are racially similar to the ambient population. But I know quite a few Britons of, say, Indian descent who are as British as Jacob Rees-Mogg – though, unlike him, they grew up in India. Tell them that Ram Nath Kovind is their president and they’ll laugh in your face.

I don’t know Germany well enough, but I suspect the situation is similar there. Some Turks must be seen as Turks, some as German. And the difference largely depends on how they see themselves.

In other words, the perception is cultural, not chromatic. (This is of course not to deny the existence of many kneejerk racists in Germany or for that matter Britain – just look at Corbyn and his jolly friends in the Labour Party. But such troglodytes don’t set the tone, not yet at any rate.)

Özil and presumably the two previous generations of his family must have fought integration tooth and nail. Otherwise it’s hard to explain how he can still self-identify as a Turk. Does he even speak Turkish? I’m sure that, even if he does, it’s extremely limited.

Now I’m convinced that Özil refuses to regard himself as a German not because he’s ethnically Turkish but because he’s religiously Muslim.

Had he lost his ancestors’ religion, he would have also lost their ethnicity, at least as self-perception. He’d be German, and his president would be Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

There’s something about Islam that makes it alien to even a residually Christian culture. I won’t bother to cite any of the 300-odd Koran verses explicitly calling for killing infidels or at least rejecting them as friends – many others, and indeed I myself, have done so thousands of times.

The issue isn’t so much scriptural as cultural.

Our culture can accommodate and absorb other cultures, as it has done for 2,000 years. But other cultures must meet it halfway. It’s easy to befriend someone who wants to be your friend anyway, but impossible to befriend a chap who loathes, or at least despises, everything you stand for.

That’s not to say that a new arrival has to be a Christian to fit seamlessly into the culture of a European country.

As an illustration, you’ve probably heard the story about one Irishman asking another if he’s Protestant or Catholic. “I’m an atheist,” comes the reply. “Yes, but are you a Protestant or a Catholic atheist?”

The message underneath the jocular façade is that there’s more to a religion than just worship. Each religion excretes and wraps around itself a particular cocoon of ethics, morals, social and political organisation, culture, overall way of looking at life.

This cocoon may outlive its source for a long time, though never indefinitely. Thus, even though only few Europeans may be devout Christians, we all live in a Christian civilisation – or post-Christian, if you’d rather.

We respond to life in a Christian manner even if we may not know why. Yet observation shows that someone conditioned within a different civilisation may, with desire and effort, adopt our ways – provided his civilisation is only different, not hostile.

Thus I don’t think a good Muslim can ever become a good Briton, although I’m sure a bad, which is to say atheist, Muslim can. The gap is too wide to bridge – even, as Özil shows, over three generations.

2 thoughts on “Can Muslims really integrate?”

  1. Indeed.

    Why does no-one question why ‘The Muslim Council of Britain’ is so named ? (or even exist!). Surely, such a foreign grouping, wishing to integrate, i.e. be a part of, a host society would name themselves something along the lines of ‘The British Muslim Council’, or ‘The Council of British Muslims’…

    Language matters – especially the difference between adjectives and nouns when insinuating an identity and a dominance.

    We need a definition of ‘tolerance’ which explores its limits.

  2. .”The head of my state is Her Majesty the Queen, God bless her, not Putin or Trump (I also have a US passport).”

    Any person living under the protection of the Queen [King] owes allegiance to the Queen [King].

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