THE streets of Bad Godesberg bustle with idle men in thawb, abaya-clad women and the aroma of Lebanese food. Amid this exuberance of all-halal and Arabic stands a statue of Beethoven in front of the town’s oldest bookstore. At times you hear someone cursing in Punjabi — another oddity for the historic town where Hitler met Chamberlain.
Naveed B, a Pakistani student working in an Arab restaurant, has recently moved to this part of Bonn. “I was glad to find a majority of Arab immigrants here and thought I would adjust,” he says. “My boss would call me bruder (brother) until he learned I was Christian.” Taking orders in a mix of German and English, he says that sometimes he feels weird amongst customers and colleagues speaking only Arabic. For the past four years, Naveed has been striving to integrate in Germany and is frustrated that his German skills may falter if he remains stuck in this job. Once settled, he would not live in this vicinity.
Ayesha Hussain, a Pakistani immigrant, lives in nearby Kessenich. She never really realised what integration was until a German friend lamented, ‘why can’t the veiled women of Bad Godesberg be like us’. Hussain, the mother of teenage girls, wants to be part of German society but is often in a fix as to where she fits well. The influx of refugees has complicated the dynamics of ethnic politics. Arabs now make up the second largest Muslim group in Germany after Turks.
In 2016, the Dalai Lama told reporters that “Germany cannot become an Arab country”. Around one million Arabs live in Germany. Connected through a common faith, many Pakistani immigrants welcome the presence of Arabs and other migrants as a sign of diversity. But the increasing crime rate amongst Arab clans, a wave of sexual violence, and threats of Salafi radicalisation affect the social make-up of Pakistani migrants too.
A few years ago, Hussain, influenced by Pakistani peers, sent her children to Arabic and religious lessons offered by the Al-Huda Trust in Tannenbusch, a hub of Salafist networks notoriously called the ‘Muslim-ghetto’ in Bonn. What followed was chastisement for adapting to the German co-education — so the family quit. She observes that such Pakistani groups feel more akin to Arab cultures than Germans and exploit the cultural centre for propagating their radical agenda. The Saudi-financed King Fahad Academy in Bonn, now defunct, was one such Arab educational institute criticised for jihadist teaching and alleged Al Qaeda links.
Germany-based Pakistani journalist Shamil Shams observes that Pakistani migrants refuse to integrate due to their hostility to Western culture as a monolith. “Pakistani refugees have financial problems therefore they could be easy bait for the Salafists,” he says. “They can be and are exploited by Islamists who cash in on refugees’ suffering and the German state’s lenience”.
According to the German interior minister, there are around 10,000 Salafists in the country, who pose the greatest threat to German security. Shams says that Pakistani migrants need to align themselves with German values but unfortunately, they fail to integrate into German society and fall into the trap of ‘Arabisation’.
Many of Ayesha Hussain’s Pakistani friends oppose integration. They bar their girls from swimming lessons, class trips or mixed-gender parties at schools. “They are convinced that integrating will hurt their core Islamic values,” she says, yet adding that there are others who are open-minded and wish to mingle in society.
For instance, Aisha Haroon, an immigrant in Cologne, thinks Pakistani and Arab cultures are totally different. “We have nothing common except religion,” she comments. Resident of a city where Turkish migrants dominate, Haroon, like other immigrants, is empathetic to Syrian or Iraqi migrants. But after the Cologne attacks, ethnic tensions have changed Germany. An immigrant from Karachi, Haroon never felt insecure earlier but now she has to be watchful during commutes, especially when “ogling Arab men are around”. To face the challenges of integration into a multi-cultural German society, she believes that parents should choose schools with a mixed ratio of all ethnicities. “I would not send my daughter to a purely Turk or Arab school or stop her from anything her German peers are doing. If I do so, like many Pakistanis, we will be left isolated in ghettos,” she asserts.
Both Haroon and Hussain are convinced that Pakistanis should participate actively in German society. “We are as different from Germans as from Arabs,” remarks Hussain. Yet the dilemma of Pakistani identity continues to haunt migrants in Germany as there is no single representative community organisation for an estimated 73,790 Pakistanis.
Irfan Khan, an Ahmadi in Frankfurt, argues that Pakistanis are not organised but divided by their religious and political differences. “We are not yet an ethnic entity with significant representation,” he regrets. “Ahmadis, despite being a recognised minority in Germany, remain outsiders for our own community.” Khan foresees Pakistanis assimilating more into Arab cultures than in German society due to their tendency to identify with dominating religious currents.
Shams links cultural conflicts with a chronic divergence to democracy and secularism. “Unless Pakistanis learn to respect these values they can’t successfully integrate into Germany,” he believes.
Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2018