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German Muslims feel neglected in election campaign
DUISBURG, Germany |
DUISBURG, Germany (Reuters) - Many of Germany's 4 million Muslims feel forgotten and ill-inclined to vote in this month's election, and even politicians acknowledge they have woken up too late to their ballot box potential.
In Duisburg in the industrial Ruhr region that is home to Germany's biggest mosque, conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel and Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Frank-Walter Steinmeier stir little interest, still less political passion.
"I haven't got a job, nor have my mates. Politicians don't care," said Ismet Akgul, 19, standing with friends outside an amusement arcade in the Marxloh suburb where about 60 percent of the population has immigrant, in most cases Turkish, roots.
"Firms see a foreign name on an application form and chuck it in the bin," he said.
About one in five Germans has an immigrant background and the biggest single minority is Turkish.
Of the roughly 2.8 million people with Turkish roots, only about 600,000 can vote, many failing to register or acquire citizenship. Only five lamakers out of 614 in the Bundestag lower house of parliament have Turkish origins.
Some politicians argue that Turks, many with origins in the poorer, more religiously conservative areas of eastern Turkey, should make greater efforts to integrate and learn German.
But the TGD, representing Turkish interests in Germany, has attacked parties for putting the growing number of candidates with Turkish names low on their lists, giving them little hope of winning a seat.
The main parties in Duisburg, which is traditionally an SPD stronghold but has just re-elected its first conservative mayor, are targeting the Turkish community with special campaign events and posters and adverts in Turkish.
"We neglected immigrant voters for too long. But we've woken up now and are starting to win them over," said Thomas Mahlberg, a conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) lawmaker from Duisburg.
In contrast to the situation in Britain or France where underlying racial tensions have occasionally exploded into violence, Germany's Muslims live peacefully alongside mainstream German society but the lack of integration is a problem.
Merkel has hosted "integration summits" to discuss issues like headscarves and Islamophobia but Germany falls down on giving equal educational opportunities to immigrant children, many of whom cannot communicate well in German, says the OECD.
This could widen the unskilled labour force and put Europe's biggest economy at a disadvantage in future.
On the streets of Marxloh, most shops have Turkish names and whole rows of houses are crumbling. At around 16 percent, unemployment here is nearly double the national average.
Yet the suburb is hailed as a model of good integration.
The Merkez mosque, with a 34 metre (110 foot) minaret, is dubbed "the miracle of Marxloh" as it has caused so little friction with residents.
Zuelfiye Kaykin, a woman who heads the mosque's meeting centre, says Muslims need to know they have a stake in the community before they will show an interest in politics.
"You can't treat immigrants as patients who need medicine," said Kaykin, wearing a smart trouser suit and no headscarf.
"There's little motivation to get involved in politics as we are not seen as full members of the German family," she added.
It is slowly dawning on lawmakers that their higher birth rates will give Muslims more influence in future.
"We have an ever increasing proportion of voters with immigrant backgrounds so every party now has an interest in appealing to them," said Soeren Link, who represents the SPD in the state assembly of North Rhine-Westphalia.
A recent poll by DATA 4U showed 55.5 percent of Germans with a Turkish background would vote for the SPD, 23.3 percent for the Greens and only 10.1 percent for the conservatives.
"Despite having religious, conservative views, Germans with Turkish roots reward the SPD and Greens at polls due to their integration policies," said Joachim Schulte, head of Data 4U.
An SPD-Greens government eased German citizenship rules in 2000 and Link says the SPD's focus on education and health help.
The SPD's long ties with trades unions also play a role as most Turks who came to West Germany in the 1950s and 1960s and contributed to its economic boom worked in plants with unions.
The Greens are set to profit from Cem Oezdemir, the son of Turkish immigrants who last year became the first major party to elect a leader from an ethnic minority, the DATA 4U poll showed.
Merkel's CDU, which opposes Turkey's bid to join the European Union, has the most ground to make up -- despite her government's public push to improve integration.
Not only is the "Christian" in their name a barrier for many Muslims, but Merkel also panders to her traditional voters by insisting minarets should be no higher than church steeples.
Many Muslims have also been put off by conservative rhetoric, especially last year's campaign by CDU Hesse state premier Roland Koch which focused on foreign criminals.
In Marxloh, Muslims warn Germany is storing up trouble by allowing an undereducated, unskilled subclass to develop.
"I worry about what chances my daughter will have and that's bad for everyone," said Lale Ceran, mother of a four-year-old.
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