Being Muslim in Germany Today

In October 2005 the Institute for Human Sciences in cooperation with the Goethe Institut Boston and the American Council on Germany, organized two events exploring the religious and cultural diversity in today’s Germany.

The first event, a panel discussion entitled “Being Muslim in Germany Today,” took place on October 6, 2005, and featured Turkish-German author Necla Kelek and Berlin-based journalist Peter Schneider.  Moderating the discussion was New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer, author of Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds and All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.

Necla Kelek was born in Istanbul but is living and working in Germany, writing about ethnic and religious minorities, parallel societies and integration into so-called “multi-cultural societies.”  At the Institute, she spoke about her new book, Die fremde Braut, 2005 (The Foreign Bride), which tells of the tradition of forced marriages on the increase among Turkish immigrants in Germany.  Kelek herself fled her parents’ home at the age of sixteen to escape a forced marriage.  She estimates that every second woman in Turkish German society lives in an arranged marriage.  Her book is a plea on behalf of women whose human rights are being denied by the German government due to its tolerant stance toward a foreign culture it is reluctant to criticize.  She does not distinguish between “arranged” and “enforced” marriages (now outlawed) calling both far removed from a free decision.  According to Kelek, a parallel society has emerged among Turks living in Germany not because integration policies are failing, or because Turks are disproportionately unemployed or under-educated (though these exacerbate the problem), but because Islam as practiced by Turkish immigrants in Germany fosters a pre-enlightenment, collective mentality and leads to passivity among women who uncomplainingly enter such marriages and later force their daughters along the same path.  In Kelek’s mind it is “acceptance” of the “other” society that is part of the problem, and therefore her book is a call not for a dialogue with Islam but confrontation and discussion.  She asserted, “The protection of foreign cultures ends where human rights are not guaranteed to everyone.”

Peter Schneider’s reflected on the growth of a parallel society in Germany among Muslim immigrants from his own perspective as an “enlightened” liberal.  He noted that it is a recent phenomenon, beginning not with the arrival of guest workers after the second word war, but with the end of the German economic miracle some years later, which hit Turks the hardest.  Active recruitment ended, but Turks continued to arrive according to law of reuniting families, bringing with them traditions of rural Anatolia. “With every new bride,” Schneider commented, “the parallel society grows.”  He cited the upsurge in so-called “honor” killings of young Muslim women in Berlin and other cities.  Drawing on the works of three female Muslim authors in Germany—Seyran Ates (Grosse Reise ins FeuerThe Great Journey into the Fire), Necla Kelek, (Die fremde BrautThe Foreign Bride, München 2005) and Serap Cileli (Wir sind eure Töchter, nicht eure Ehre—We’re your daughters, not your honor– 2002)—he took up Kelek’s criticism of German “tolerance” to a situation that he said was tantamount to slavery.  The books tell what “enlightened” Germans didn’t—and didn’t want to—know

Each of them represents an attack against the Islamic tradition of oppressing women, but at the same time, each is an attack on “the lethargy and moral relativism of the majority society in Germany.”  Part of the problem, according to Schneider, is that until the victory of the Red Green coalition government in 1998, Germany did not have an immigration policy, or any notion of itself as an immigrant country.  But an immigration policy, Schneider argued, is not a guarantee of social integration, and it is time to recognize that “not all immigrant groups can be integrated equally well.”  He continued saying that “[t]he disregard for women’s rights, especially right to sexual self-determination, is an integral component of almost all Islamic societies, including those in the West.  Unless this issue is resolved with corresponding reform of Islam as practiced in the West, there will never be a successful acculturation.  Only by offering separation of religion and state can Western democracies convince Muslim residents that human rights are universally valid and not bound to one tradition.”

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