Why do Turks consider themselves Europeans

Qantara.de - Dialogue with the Islamic World

Contrary to the claims of parallel societies and the demarcation of immigrants, a new EU study shows that third or fourth generation Turks living in Europe feel connected to the values ​​of the EU and have developed a "cosmopolitan identity" there. Details from Daniela Schröder.

If you have a complex identity, you don't have to be a split personality. Ayhan Kaya believes that Turks living in Europe identify with both their homeland and their host country can serve as a bridge between the European Union and its largest and most controversial candidate country.

The migration researcher at Istanbul Bilgi University examined the self-image of Turks living in Germany, France and Belgium in a series of studies. His conclusion: "Euro-Turks" play an important mediating role.

"Hyphenated identities"

Around two-thirds of people with Turkish roots living in Europe consider themselves both Turks and Europeans, Kaya said recently when he presented his study in Brussels. Young and educated Turks in particular described themselves as European-Turkish or - quite cosmopolitan - as Europeans, which he also called so-called "hyphenated identities".

A concrete definition of European identity does not exist among the Turks. Nevertheless, the European Turks saw themselves as just as European as German or French citizens, according to Kaya.

According to the migration researcher, what constitutes the European identity is interpreted differently depending on the social affiliation of the European Turks. While the working class - according to the debate in Turkey - equates Europe above all with values ​​such as democracy, equality, human rights and modernization, the middle income groups associate science, research and legislation with the European Union.

The third or fourth generation of Turks living in Europe no longer strive for a European identity because they have already developed a cosmopolitan identity based on cultural differences.

The EU is not a "Christian club"

The majority of European Turks see the EU as an economic association, said Kaya. Few perceive it as a Christian community - one reason why the EU has a positive image among the European Turks. The majority still support Turkey's accession to the EU, although this number has declined in the past two years.

"Most EU Turks believe that EU membership would have positive effects on human rights, democracy and job opportunities in Turkey," says the migration researcher. "At the same time, however, they fear a negative impact on traditional moral concepts and family values."

Although Turks in Germany in particular are pessimistic about the country's economic future and the prospects for Turkey are very optimistic, only 30 percent of European Turks would move back to their home country after joining the EU. The EU Turks see themselves as an enrichment for the labor market, the cultural life and the consensus of values ​​in their new home countries, said Kaya. "However, she is also concerned that some Europeans suspected that they were exploiting the social systems and refusing to integrate."

Factors for radicalization and disintegration

Kaya sees the fact that the Turks in Europe are concentrating more on Islam again as a sign of a search for protection and justice in a modern western society characterized by capitalism, selfishness, insecurity and loneliness. They perceive Islam as a threat to their lifestyle and see Islamic fundamentalism as the cause of xenophobia, racism and violence.

"Orientation towards religion and cultural and national concepts is not the reason for these phenomena, but rather the result of unemployment, poverty and social exclusion", says Kaya. In addition, a good 40 percent of European Turks - including the generation of the third generation of immigrants born in an EU country - do not want to take on the citizenship of their host country.

However, young Muslims in Europe would only become radicalized through anti-Islamic and xenophobic tendencies in their European home countries. Religion is used as a symbol, it serves as a way to become politicized and to fight against exclusion from public life, said Kaya.

"In order to counteract this, the EU states with Turkish populations can no longer define themselves as guest worker countries, but must see themselves as immigration societies and expand their integration policies accordingly."

Daniela Schröder

© Qantara.de 2008

Daniela Schröder works as a freelance EU correspondent in Brussels.

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Kaya's latest study on Turks in Belgium and the EU can be found here