How can different cultures coexist?

Europe is a multicultural society. But incidents like the attacks in Cologne on New Year's Eve and the resignation of a Swedish politician who refused to shake a woman's hand for religious reasons keep raising the question of how different cultures can live together peacefully and how migrants can be successfully integrated.

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De Standaard (BE) /

Belgians must define their basic values first

The highest court in Belgium has issued an expert opinion concluding that plans to force non-EU migrants who want to live in Belgium to sign a pledge to integrate are unlawful. The government wanted to oblige migrants to uphold certain values. Such a pledge would have been a mere formality without any real meaning anyway, De Standaard stresses:

“You can't demand that new citizens do any more than obey the country's laws, as all Belgians are expected to do. But promising to do this is purely a formality. After all, the laws apply to everyone. … Our constitution says little about the values we want to impose on people from other cultures today. … We are fond of citing the Enlightenment but many of the values we uphold nowadays are far younger - some only a few decades old. ... It would be worthwhile for us to define for ourselves and others what our current values are. Only if we ourselves take them seriously can they be respected by those who come to us from other cultures.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Crack down on parallel societies

Police have been pelted with stones more than thirty times this year while on duty in Stockholm's migrant neighbourhood Rinkeby. Society must take action, Dagens Nyheter demands:

“It is time to free the suburbs from criminals and fundamentalists. ... Recently a Norwegian television team was chased out of Husby after trying to interview residents. In the Malmö district of Rosengård a reporter wearing a Jewish kippa was attacked. ... Women talk of a kind of suburban caliphate in which their freedom is being increasingly curtailed. Why have we let this happen? Why have we been so tolerant towards those who establish parallel societies? ... We need a joint show of strength for the people who live in these endangered areas. The police must up its presence. ... The suburbs must become functioning parts of society like other areas as soon as possible.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Swedish television too pro-Islam

The Swedish public service television company SVT helped finance a documentary about Islamist crimes but has announced that it won't air the film for the time being, citing formalities yet to be concluded. Erik Helmerson of Dagens Nyheter is sceptical:

“I believe that in that place where decisions are made on art and culture, there is a corridor of opinion. I suspect that within this corridor it is posited that Israel is a bigger criminal than its neighbours in the Middle East conflict. I also suspect that in this corridor it is assumed that there is an unspoken hierarchy in which the Muslim group is structurally subordinate - in a way which doesn't apply for Jews, for example. The fear of Islamophobia is greater than the desire to examine the terrorism committed in the name of Islam. This is why I believe that the film has made those in the corridor of opinion nervous.”

Le Point (FR) /

France needs new approach to integration

The Paris attacks should prompt France to rethink its integration policy, Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun writes in Le Point:

“The Paris attacks were for the most part committed by children of immigrants, and they force us to rethink the integration model in which successful integration is random and depends on the will of those concerned. It's less France that integrates immigrants than the children of immigrant origin who make a point of adopting French society and values. Not all of them are successful, not all of them have this will and ambition. Which explains their frustration and excesses which, without necessarily going as far as the tragic act of terrorism, often lead to criminality and discontent. ... We should see Muslims in France as normal citizens, then they will eventually end up becoming just that.”

De Morgen (BE) /

Self-interest behind Catholic initiative for Muslims

The Association of Catholic Schools in Flanders has spoken out in favour of opening up to Islam in a policy statement. It plans to admit pupils who wear a headscarf in future and to introduce Muslim prayer rooms and lessons in Islam at the schools. De Morgen takes a sceptical view of the intentions behind this interreligious dialogue:

“In these times of widespread criticism of Islam and Islamophobia it is courageous to seek an exchange with other religions. … But we mustn't be naïve. … The Catholic leadership wants to join forces with the Muslims to form a religious front against the advance of secularism. … This goes far beyond the school walls. What is emerging here is a counter-reformation directed not against Protestantism but against the 'godless' society. In such a battle Christians and Muslims become allies. Opening up Catholic schools to Islam may be a sensible and courageous move but the agenda itself is not.”

Expressen (SE) /

Yes to burkinis, no to special swimming times

In Sweden there is a public debate about whether there should be special swimming times for Muslim girls at public swimming pools. The state must not allow this, Expressen warns:

“Introducing special swimming times would send a signal that public facilities are giving in to patriarchal and religious demands. The Swedish state and the local authorities would thus be allowing different rules to apply in different areas in the majority society. Therefore Culture Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke is right to draw a line when it comes to religious freedom at public enterprises. Religious and cultural sensitivities must not be taken into account in such places. But it's equally clear that women wearing burkinis should be welcome at swimming baths.”

Kristeligt Dagblad (DK) /

Swimming lessons to initiate dialogue

A debate has erupted in Denmark about whether it is right for schools to provide separate swimming lessons for girls and boys. This is already done in Copenhagen so that Muslim girls can also participate in the lessons. As far as Kristeligt Dagblad is concerned this can only be a temporary solution:

“Gender-segregated swimming lessons with curtained windows separating boys from girls are hopefully just a first prod to help these girls acquire a taste for freedom and equality. But for that swimming instructors, school teachers and others will also have to seek dialogue with parents and talk about their concerns and views regarding the different genders. These young girls can't be left to do this task on their own. If this dialogue isn't initiated rather than tearing down barriers even thicker barriers will be created between the parallel societies and the society in which we want everyone to be included regardless of their religion, ethnicity or gender.”

Trud (BG) /

Multiculturalism breeds terrorism

The daily Trud deals with the subject of terrorism in Europe and sees it as proof of the failure of multiculturalism:

“When Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron first declared that multiculturalism had failed, the 'Islamic State' didn't yet exist. Now thousands of jihadists born in Western Europe are fighting on its behalf. Two thirds of them come from Belgium, Britain, France and Germany. ... Neo-liberal capitalism created the ideology of multiculturalism, but it has now only achieved the opposite. Multiculturalism provides a breeding ground for ethnic ghettos, terrorism, nationalism, neo-fascism and the clash of cultures. Multiculturalism has deepened rifts because of the failure of social and economic integration. As a result, societies have become divided along cultural and religious lines. A powder keg has been created, and multiculturalism is the fuse.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Wishful thinking guiding integration policy

In an article series the liberal daily Dagens Nyheter examines Sweden's immigration and integration policies and comes to the conclusion that the expectations are often too high:

“As far as immigrants' chances in adult education and speedy qualification for the labour market are concerned, the policies are guided by wishful thinking. This is why government measures and promises quickly come to be perceived as the wrong approach. Promising people a future that never materialises can lead to major disappointment. This is at least as toxic as people being paid different wages for the same job.”