Another day in Europe

One response has come from Danish-born Muslims. A poll by Politiken, a daily, of 315 young Muslim students, found that two-thirds of them were considering emigrating after graduation. Most gave as their reason “the tone of the Danish debate about Muslims”. Jakob Lange, head of studies at Copenhagen University, says that children of immigrants deliberately choose portable qualifications. “They want an education they can use abroad, where the tone of the debate is different. Which is why they often choose medicine, engineering or business-related disciplines.”

Covering up,” The Economist, 29 May, 2008.

I think there may also be another piece to why these young people are taking up “portable” fields of study. Whether in Europe, North America, or the Middle East, professional fields are favored by Muslims (and others within their societies). One notices a preponderance of engineering, biology, business, pre-medical/pre-dental, and other such majors among American Muslim (and Muslim international students) undergraduates. Accounting is also quite popular. Art, English, art history, political science, and general studies are frowned upon or even viewed contemptuously. Why study something “useless?”

When it is revealed that one is of a Muslim or Middle Eastern background and not in one of these fields there is quite often an element of surprise, if not disappointment from others of a similar background. “What do you plan on doing with a [liberal arts] degree like that?” Or, with eyebrows raised, “Oh.” Useful and lucrative fields are generally preferred (and the more prestigious the better). While my parents are generally supportive of my academic pursuits, my cousins and friends parents are often shocked that they are so willing to indulge a field of study with no solid job prospects. When it was revealed that I wanted to eventually study art — in the visual sense — my mother and uncle (one who is especially prone to offering his opinion where it is not always wanted or appropriate) were quite disappointed. My uncle, who is a surgeon, and whose son has followed in his footsteps, told our holiday dinner table that “From day one I have made it abundantly clear to your cousin that the son of immigrants does not study art.” Thus went my mother’s logic: There is no security in art; if you like to draw, become an architect. I suspect that the preference for the professions begins before these students encounter hostility and/or bigotry in Danish society.

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5 thoughts on “Another day in Europe”

  1. You are probably right. The way Muslims are treated in Denmark (or the Netherlands for that matter) is certainly not ideal, but answers to this kind of poll are so obviously biased that it is easy to debunk. Someone who is (rightfully) angry about someone else’s behavior is more likely to quote this as a reason for his own negative behavior in a poll. Would it be only to send a message.
    What would be more accurate in a sociological study would be to count what is the variation of the migratory ratio in this category of population. It would still register a mood change, but at least it would mean something. “Considering going abroad” is a very weak criteria.

    And of course, your point about immigrant children making utilitarian choices for their studies is completely valid. As an immigrant myself, I regret every day my choice of studying political science rather than computer science…

  2. Could it also reflect the values of the parents? Growing up in Algeria in the 60s & 70s there was a HEAVY emphasis on engineering & medicine as viable fields of study and I suspect similar attitudes prevailed elsewhere in the region. When emigrating those people may have communicated their views about what is “useful” to their children. Which may have nothing to do with them being Muslims or with the current situation in Denmark.
    I wonder if polling the children of Chinese and Indian immigrants would not produce the same results.
    I also wonder what kind of place “abroad” (where they would use those portable skills) would be more appealing for Danish-born Muslims. Going back to their parents’ (or grand-parents) lands? I don’t think so.

  3. I think it is certainly tied to the values of their parents, and I don’t think their religion has anything special to do with it, save for that those values seem to be heavily imprinted among Muslims.

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