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Experts: Coexistence of Czechs, Muslim community conflict-free

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Prague, Oct 5 (CTK) – The coexistence of Czechs with the local Muslim community is absolutely conflict-free, since a crushing majority of the Muslims have got smoothly integrated in the Czech society, but the rising fear of Islam may change this, daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes Monday, citing experts.

According to sociologist Karel Cerny, the number of Muslims among the 10.5-million Czech population is many times higher than what the official statistics say.

About 3,000 people claimed their adherence to Islam in the last census in 2011, but there are in fact 22,000 of them in the country, Cerny said.

“They do not consider it necessary to present themselves as Muslims. A large part of them have integrated in the majority society so deeply that they no longer feel as Muslims. Another reason is the rising Czech Islamophobia, which has discouraged a number of active Muslims [from openly claiming their religion]. They do not want the state to know about them,” Cerny said.

Muslims started coming to the Czech Republic in the early 1990s. In 1998, there were several hundreds of active Muslims in the country, said sociologist Daniel Topinka.

“The number of immigrants has been growing since 1989. Islam has been imported to the Czech Republic by refugees, businesspeople, students and other migrants,” Topinka said.

Cerny said Muslims in Europe, including the Czech Republic, have proved their capability of assimilation into the western society and their usefulness for it.

“A typical assimilated Muslim claims his adherence to Islam, but does not pursue its religious practices, he has integrated in the Czech environment, has a job and friends here,” Cerny told the paper.

“To some of them, their favourite Czech soccer club is even more important than whether they are Shiites or Sunnis. On the other hand, they cling on some customs firmly. For example, they would never eat pork or a bloody steak,” Cerny said.

Muslims in the Czech Republic consider the religion, family and education their top values. A number of them go to mosques and prayer rooms to practice Islam. At the same time, they have a job and friends among the majority population. They are often active in society. Their children attend quality schools, Cerny said.

He said this is a situation different from Western Europe, where many Muslims, whole families, live separated from the majority society. They try to ignore the environment they live in and they create their own, including “pipes and carpets.”

By all their activities, including intensive prayers, they cling on the homeland they left behind, Cerny said, referring to Muslims in Western Europe.

The women watch Turkish and Syrian soap operas, they permanently talk with their relatives back at home, they have no contact with the [host country’s] majority population. They feel dissatisfied, separated. This is how whole neighbourhoods look in France and Germany, Cerny said.

Another category in the West are marginalised Muslims who gave up their culture and religion but they feel ashamed for it. Moreover, they failed to establish contacts with the majority society, they feel unsuccessful and isolated and they have got radical. A typical example of this are the housing estates in northern Paris, which even the police fear to enter at night, Cerny said.

Muslims in the Czech Republic represent a rich variety of ethnicities, including people from the Arab world and the former Soviet Union, such as Chechens, Uzbeks and Kazakhs. Foreigners from the sub-Sahara Africa frequently end on the margin of society. Most often, they are rejected by both the Czech majority and Muslim minority, Cerny said.

Nevertheless, most Muslims have smoothly integrated in the Czech society because they studied here, learned Czech, no Muslim ghettos have ever appeared here, and the Czechs never actually paid any special attention to them. When Muslims were settling down in the Czech Republic, no Islamophobia existed, Cerny said.

In the USA and Canada, Muslim immigrants are even a part of the upper middle class including lawyers, doctors and dentists. They behave like the white Protestant majority. Ethnic diversity plays a role there like in the Czech Republic. While Algerians prevail among the Muslims in France, Turks in Germany, Pakistanis in Britain and Indonesians in the Netherlands, Muslims in the USA are spread evenly without forming segregated streets or neighbourhoods with a prevailing single ethnicity, Cerny said.

Unlike the Czech society, the American one is formed by immigrants and is open to them, he said.

The Islamophobia that recently prevailed in the Czech Republic may affect the so far smooth integration of Muslims negatively. Already now, some Muslims are starting to withdraw to isolation, they are annoyed and fed up with permanently being labelled terrorists, though the Czechs often mean it as a joke, Cerny writes.

A part of Muslims are ceasing to feel safe in the Czech Republic, which, according to the latest Eurobarometer poll, is one of the most Islamophobic countries. They prefer teaching their kids at home to sending them to schools. Some are starting to withdraw to the safety of the religious and ethnic community, Cerny said.

He says Czechs fear Muslims now because they learn about them only from the media. In Germany, where everyone has an acquaintance, colleague or friend among Muslims, people’s fear is weaker.

In the Czech Republic, politicians have insufficiently explained and excessively dramatised the situation regarding the recent migration wave. Czech experts are also to blame, because they discuss the situation in expert journals only, without communicating with people through the media, Cerny told MfD.

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