Take Your Integration and Shove It!

When discussing immigration in Western Europe these days, the big buzzword is “integration”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently convened an integration summit to discuss strategies to help Germany’s large Turkish minority to accommodate themselves to German society — and, coincidentally, to steal some of the thunder from Thilo Sarrazin, whose anti-immigration book has proved a huge popular success.

But what does “integration” mean for practical purposes? And the big question, which largely goes unasked: Is it really possible to integrate Europe’s huge Muslim population in any meaningful way?

An interview transcript from an October 29 program on Denmark Radio should give pause to anyone who still thinks “integration” is doable. The young woman interviewed for the program was born in Denmark, but she makes it quite clear that she has never integrated into Danish society, nor does she ever intend to do so.

Henrik Ræder Clausen sent the tip for this interview, and he included these comments:

We are discussing ghettos in the Danish media (mostly about knocking down high rise apartment blocks, unfortunately), and here is an interesting interview with a resident who has a whole new take on the issue. She feels safe because it’s an area for Arabs.

Many thanks to Anne-Kit of Perth, Australia, for translating this post from the Danish blog Uriasposten:

“New Dane” on National Radio: “You can’t force me to live with you, our ways of thinking are different”

This week Denmark’s State Radio is featuring “Ghetto” as a headline, Tuesday’s broadcast is worth a listen if you still think ghettos are about socio-economic issues. The interviewee was an 18-year-old girl from Gellerup [a culturally enriched suburb of Århus], born in Denmark but mentally “resident” in Lebanon, something which she didn’t see as a problem — indeed segregation seemed to be a goal in itself.

26/10/10 — “Apropos”, P1 — Ghetto and identity (interview with Iman Rabeh from Gellerupparken).

Mikkel Krause, P1: My guest is Iman Rabeh, who is 18 and has lived in Gellerupparken [an immigrant housing estate] her whole life. Tell me what you think it’s been like living in Gellerupparken.

Iman Rabeh, Gellerup: Well, Gellerupparken, it’s been my life, it’s been — all my friends, because everywhere in Gellerupparken there are both good memories and bad memories, but, you know, I can’t leave Gellerup.

Mikkel Krause: But what are the values in what we now call a ghetto, that are important to you?

Iman Rabeh: Well, the value is that community … that we all understand the same language, which we all speak, that we stick together, you know, my neighbor — all my neighbours are Arabs, and if they’re not Arabs then they are Lebanese, and if they’re not Lebanese then they are — we have that love for one another that you’re an Arab, I’m an Arab, we can talk with each other, we can discuss everything, we come from the other countries…

Mikkel Krause: But what does it mean to you, that you come from Gellerupparken specifically, you know, that you’re Iman from the ghetto rather than Iman from Vejlby or wherever else you might come from?

Iman Rabeh: Oh, it means everything! Because if I moved to a Danish area then it wouldn’t mean that much to me because one thing is that I know the language, but you know, Danes as such, they are not like us, they — in everything we have different customs, we have different — you know, we are different and have different ways of thinking. Take our neighbours, if we want to borrow some things from the neighbours we just do that. It’s just overall, in everything, that you’re an Arab, I’m an Arab, we give some things to each other, it doesn’t matter.

Mikkel Krause: You’ve said straight out that if you were to one day leave Gellerup, and maybe you will be forced to leave Gellerup because they want to tear down the apartment blocks or whatever, then you’ll just move to another ghetto.

Iman Rabeh: Yes that’s right. I would move to another ghetto.

Mikkel Krause: But why would you do that?

Iman Rabeh: Well because I can’t — I’ve lived my whole life with … well let’s ask another question — why do we go to Lebanon every year? I haven’t done that but, you know, I’ve gone there the last two years. But everyone else, why do they spend hundreds of thousands of kroner going to Lebanon every year? I wonder why. To be able to chat, sitting with each other, hearing the language, to hear, to be able to say that this is mine, you have that good feeling that this is me. It’s mine! This is where it makes sense.

Mikkel Krause: But let’s say you were out walking about the streets at three o’clock at night, I don’t know if you ever do that, but where would you feel the most safe. In the centre of Århus or out in Gellerupparken?

Iman Rabeh: In the ghetto, in Gellerupparken. Because we all know each other, no one would dare harm anyone else. But if I were in a Danish area or something like that, I would feel unsafe and scared.

Mikkel Krause: We could say that something that’s been discussed an awful lot recently during the ghetto debate is how the ghettos function as kind of parallel societies, or closed areas. What you are saying here, the picture you are painting, doesn’t it sort of confirm that view?

Iman Rabeh: That’s possible, but no — all Danes are welcome to come to Gellerup to live together with us, but if for example I walk around there on my own then there wouldn’t … then I’d be 100 percent certain that no one would lay a finger on me, or steal my handbag or my bicycle, because I’m one of “them”. You know, we all know each other, they would never do that.

Mikkel Krause: Your parents, how much contact have your parents had with Danes outside the ghetto, or for that matter with Danes inside Gellerupparken, and with Danish society in general during your childhood and adolescence?

Iman Rabeh: No contact at all. They have no Danish friends and they have no acquaintances, so all they have are the schools; when they are invited to school celebrations then they go for the sake of my brother or sister, you know, whatever. Or the local government [social services], they have contact with the local government and that, but they have no common friendships with Danes like, for example if a Dane says to my mum ‘let’s go out tonight!’, then my mum would think ‘you must be crazy — you want me to go out at night, to go out for a meal or something like that? I do that with my family, I wouldn’t do that with my friends.’ Or go to the public swimming pool for example, my parents would never to that, or even think about it. The problem is that my parents have this way of thinking that’s a thousand years old, generations old, from our great-great ancestors [sic]. They follow this tradition, and of course the Danes follow their culture.

Mikkel Krause: But what has it meant to your parents’ relations with Danish society. The fact that they have never felt “anchored” here and lack any significant contact with Danes?

Iman Rabeh: It has meant that they can’t understand us who were born here, and raised here. If I tell my mum that I’m going out with a girlfriend at 6pm, and we’re just going out for a meal or to see a movie, then they wouldn’t understand it, because [my mum] has this way of thinking that she would never do that, not unless I’m going out to eat with my family, then that would be completely different. But when I say that, she doesn’t understand me. You know, I’m not going out to do something wrong, I’m just going out to eat a meal, and to the cinema.

Mikkel Krause: So there’s a big difference between your parents’ contact with Danish society and their way of interacting with other people, and then your own contact.

Iman Rabeh: Yes that’s right — a big difference.

Mikkel Krause: One of the possible solutions to the ghetto problem, which the politicians talk about, is to dissolve the ghettos by forcing people to mix with each other. In other words having more Danes move to Gellerupparken, for example, and more immigrants move out into the general society. What would that mean to you and your family?

Iman Rabeh: We can’t do that, just like you and I and they can’t decide where other people should live, we can decide for ourselves. No one can force anyone else to move out.

Mikkel Krause: What would you do if they tried?

Iman Rabeh: Oh, of they tried I would rebel - Where is the freedom of expression you talk about? Where is that exactly? I will decide where to live. Just like you decide for yourself. Great, if you want me to live … if you want to force me to live with Danes then I’d like to live with Pia Kjærsgaard, for instance.

Mikkel Krause: There is another, much discussed, solution, which is to demolish some of the apartment blocks in Gellerupparken. What do you think of that kind of solution?

Iman Rabeh: Not at all. That is the wrong solution. You should build something instead of tearing something down. You could make it a nicer place, but why would you tear it down? There is no reason for that.

Mikkel Krause: Thank you very much for coming, Iman Rabeh.

Iman Rabeh: Thanks for the invitation.

[Emphases by Kim Møller of Uriasposten]
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