European Minorities Torn Between Worlds

The Associated Press
Saturday, November 25, 2006; 11:35 AM

PARIS -- Nacera Berrouba, a young Algerian in Paris, says she couldn't get the job she dreamed of until she dyed her hair blond.

Karima Ramani, who calls herself "addicted to freedom," says the Dutch love her hip black jeans and bright red nails but can't accept her Moroccan mind.

Straight-A student Gokboru Ozturk was born in Germany and waved the German flag during last summer's soccer World Cup tournament, but wants to be buried in Turkey because "as much as I feel German, I cannot be buried here." Meanwhile, his mother jokes he should change his name to Schmidt to boost his job prospects.

As Europe goes through a wrenching debate over integrating immigrant populations _ and at a deeper level about what it means to be European in a globalized age _ the children of those immigrants also find themselves grappling with issues of identity in an environment where tensions are complicated by the scarcity of jobs and distorted by the fear of terrorism.

The wave of riots that engulfed impoverished, largely Muslim French suburbs around this time last year awakened many people to the reality that something was fundamentally broken in one prominent European model of assimilation.

Terror attacks in Madrid and London, the slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam, menacing protests over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad _ a series of crises since Sept. 11, 2001, involving young homegrown Muslims has given urgency to the debate on integration.

The effort to assimilate the younger generation and separate it from the terrorist minority in its midst is one of Europe's biggest 21st century challenges. But how deep and widespread is the disaffection? How do minority youths cope with the sometimes conflicting expectations of society and family? What safety valves kick in when the stresses become too intense?

Interviews with more than four dozen minority youths in six European capitals _ Paris, Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Madrid and Rome _ present a multifaceted picture of dynamic young people dreaming of success and love, and finding ingenious ways to cope with the double lives many feel they are leading.

There is one recurrent theme: A sense of "otherness."

"I am a stranger in Turkey and also in Germany," said Ozturk, an 18-year-old living in Berlin. "I am trapped in a hole in between two cultures."

Ramani, the "freedom addict," put it bluntly: "Sometimes I feel like ripping myself apart."

Many of the tensions spring from family life _ when the tight-knit network brought from their ancestral homelands conflicts with the looser family structures of the West.

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