The Great Debate on Turkey and Turks

21 October 2010


Dear friends of ESI,


On 3 October, on the 20th anniversary of the reunification of East and West Germany, President Christian Wulff spoke in Bremen about the need for a second process of German unity. As he told his audience, in addition to Christianity and Judaism, "Islam also belongs to Germany":

"When German Muslims write to me, 'You are our president,' then I answer, wholeheartedly, 'Yes, of course, I am your president!'"

This was, so the general secretary for the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, a

"clear, explicit and important message to all Muslims in Germany. Wulff's speech is a sign that Muslims aren't second-class citizens."

German President Christian Wulff speaking to the Turkish Parliament on 19 October 2010. Photo: Bundespräsidialamt

German President Christian Wulff speaking to the Turkish Parliament on 19 October 2010. Photo: Bundespräsidialamt

This week Christian Wulff became the first German president to address the Turkish parliament in Ankara. His message was similar and clear. Turkish immigrants "belong in our country." Immigration had made Germany "more diverse, open and connected to the world." In Germany Muslims were able to practice their religion. He pointed to the growing number of mosques being built there. And then he turned to his host:

"At the same time, we expect that Christians in Muslim countries be given the same rights to practice their beliefs in public, to educate new religious leaders and to build churches … Religious freedom is part of our understanding of Europe as a community of values."

On the face of it, neither of these statements should have created a big debate. It should be obvious that in a country with an estimated 2,738,551 German Turks (Turkish citizens resident in Germany, German citizens who were once Turkish citizens and those with at least one Turkish citizen as a parent) Islam "also belongs to Germany".

Ankara. Photo: flickr/brewbooks Berlin-Kreuzberg. Photo: flickr/M Kuhn

Ankara – Berlin-Kreuzberg

It should also be normal that in Turkey, a founding member of the Council of Europe and a candidate country for EU accession, Christian citizens, a tiny minority of less than 1 percent, have the right to freely practice their beliefs.

But today the first is not yet obvious in Germany; and the second is still not normal in Turkey.

ESI's ongoing research into the position of Christian minorities (Greeks, Armenians, Protestants) shows the challenges they face and the mindset they confront. In May 2009 Emruhan Yalcin, a retired captain in the Armed Forces and graduate of the Turkish Land Forces Academy, who has spent some years in Germany in the 1990s, published a whole book on the Halki Orthodox Theological School which is still closed. Its title: "The Last Crusader Fortress" (Son Hacli Kalesi). The final chapter of the book is as clear: "Why the Theological School on Heybeliada should not be opened".

For Yalcin the reopening of the Theological School "has to be evaluated as a political demand symbolizing Hellenic and Orthodox aspirations" Religious education of "men who are enemies of the Turks" will "transform Istanbul under the roof of a cultural and tourism centre into a Vatican-style religious city with the status of a state, dividing Turkey and building on the divided parts, following the framework of the "Megali Idea", a Great Byzantine Empire."

(For more on this debate see Rumeli Observer: Obama, Wulff and Christians as enemies of Turkey and forthcoming ESI Turkey reports.)

At the same time, the heated debate in Germany about Islam and Turks suggests that there too one finds different opinions about Europe as a community of values based on religious freedom.

From today a whole section on our website will be dedicated to what we call Germany's Great Debate on Turkey and Turks. This debate bridges the border between foreign and domestic policy. It links arguments about the integration of German Turks in Berlin with those about the integration of Turkey in a wider Europe. Germany matters and the quality of this debate and, most importantly, the policy responses it generates, will leave a defining mark on German domestic politics and the future shape of Europe.

In order to open this debate up to a wider interested public (including non-German speakers) we begin today by introducing some of the main thinkers and voices: intellectuals such as Necla Kelek, Thilo Sarrazin, Bassam Tibi, Henryk M. Broder, Stefan Luft, Ralph Giordano, Claus Leggewie, Werner Schiffauer, Seyran Ates, Feridun Zaimoglu, Zafer Zenocak, Peter Schneider and Fatih Akin.

In the coming weeks we will expand this section further. And if you want to share certain arguments, publications and materials more widely please visit the ESI Facebook page on Germany's Great Debate.


Germany abolishes itself?

In August 2010 Thilo Sarrazin, a member of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) and until recently board member of the German central bank (Bundesbank) published a book. By the end of October 2010 1.1 million copies of the book had been printed of which 750,00 had already been sold. Its title: "Deutschland schafft sich ab" ("Germany abolishes itself").

"We have to assume that for demographic reasons the underclass section of the population is growing steadily. Among migrants we have seen that the birth-rate is highest among those groups of migrants with the lowest levels of education, in other words those from Turkey, the Middle East and Africa. Studies on the workforce have come to similar conclusions. These show that women who are poorly or not at all integrated into the labour market are more likely to have children or increase the size of their fold. But intelligence is 50 to 80 percent hereditary and thanks to the class-related reproductive rate, this unfortunately means that the hereditary intellectual potential of the population is continually shrinking."

In 2009 Sarrazin had already explained his thinking in a long interview with the cultural magazine Lettre International: "Klasse statt Masse" ("Quality, not quantity"):

"I don't need to respect people who live off the state, despise that state, don't properly care for the education of their children and constantly produce new little headscarf-girls."

"The lower the class the higher the birth-rate. The share in birth-rates of Arabs and Turks is two to three times higher than their corresponding share in the population. Many of them are neither willing to integrate nor capable of doing so. The solution to this problem can only be no more immigration; and those who would like to marry should do this abroad."

"The Turks are conquering Germany in the same way the Kosovars conquered Kosovo: by using higher birth-rates. I would like this if it would be Eastern European Jews who have an IQ which is 15 points higher than the one of the German population."

Thilo Sarrazin

Thilo Sarrazin

Most of Germany's politicians united in a choir of disapproval. Chancellor Angela Merkel described Sarrazin's ideas as "nonsense". Sarrazin's statements were "contemptuous of entire groups of society … His language is socially divisive," she said in a TV interview. Shortly thereafter the chairman of the Bundesbank asked German President Christian Wulff for permission to remove Sarazzin from the bank's board. A few hours later the SPD filed for his expulsion from the party. While the procedure for Sarrazin's expulsion from the SPD is still ongoing, he has withdrawn from the Bundesbank board.

There has been a lot of debate in all the mainstream media. As one article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "So wird Deutschland dumm" ("This is how Germany is becoming stupid"), on 25 August 2010 put it:

"'Germany abolishes itself'" tells the tale of a nation's decline. And the Muslims who make up a mere six percent of the population are being held responsible. It begs the question as to what the remaining 94 percent have spent the past decades doing to secure the future of their country. Sarrazin's book is an attempt by a disoriented elite to exonerate itself. No wonder it is such a success."

The Frankfurter Allgemeine on Sunday observed that the book is an attempt

"to establish a very different understanding of culture … For him, culture is the reflex of a biological process. The fact that in Germany ever more children are being born to families from the underclass milieu automatically results in the dumbing down of society … education, which he refers to contemptuously as a 'mantra', is powerless as a vehicle for intellectual advancement. Individuals and entire nations are limited by their genetic and ethnic dispositions."

Others have come to defend him. Also in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung German Turkish author Necla Kelek asked why Sarrazin had been demonised:

"So he doesn't want to live in a Muslim Germany because he is suspicious of that sort of society. What's wrong with that? The economist in Sarrazin has calculated that the 750,000 Turkish immigrant workers now number almost 3 million and that 40 percent of the able bodied among them live off the state instead of working. This makes no economic sense for him and leads him to ask whether immigration, in its current form, is not a mistake."


"Turko-Islamic Culture" and EU enlargement

Sarrazin also accuses German society of refusing to even discuss the problem:

"In Germany, a host of integration researchers, Islam scholars, sociologists, political scientists, interest groups as well as a flock of naïve politicians work hand in hand and intensively in belittlement, self-delusion, and denial."

This does not seem an altogether convincing claim. In fact, his book – and the debate it triggered – are part of a very intense discussion stretching back at least five years.

Necla Kelek

Necla Kelek

In early 2005 the publication of the book "The Foreign Bride" (Die Fremde Braut) was one of the turning points in the recent German debate on Turks and Islam. Hundred of thousands of copies were sold and the author, Necla Kelek, turned into a media star almost overnight.

At the centre of her argument was the claim that the wide-spread practice of forced and arranged marriages had turned tens of thousands of Anatolian women, coming to Germany to marry German-Turkish men, into modern-day slaves. They live repressed by their husbands and receive insufficient support from a largely indifferent German society. Behind the outrage of modern-day female slavery was what Kelek calls "Turko-Islamic culture", a culture which in her view has remained largely unchanged for centuries.

In 2006 another book appeared. It had the title Farewell to Multikulti (Abschied von Multikulti) and focused on "ethnic colonies trapped in a vicious circle" in Germany's cities: going to bad schools, with no incentives to learn good German, a collapse of values, religious radicalisation.

The author, Stefan Luft, predicted that in the future things will get even worse. In the district of North Neukolln in Berlin 17 percent of those older then 61 are of foreign origin, compared to 42 percent of those aged 3-6. His chapter headings make clear where all of this is leading: "Influence of Islamism", "Ethnic colonies, violence and crime", "Wall of silence", "Youth and violence", "Religion and violence", "Organised crime", "Honour killings".

Stefan Luft

Stefan Luft

Both Kelek and Luft also argue against Turkey's accession to the EU. As Kelek put it: "I am against all forced marriages, whether for young people or for states. For me the 'Turkish bride' is not yet of marriageable age [for the EU]." In a 2006 article Kelek called Turkey a "country without progress." In fact, she usually refers to Turkey in her books as a country sliding backwards in all areas. There is the Istanbul of her youth, "stolen" from her through rural migration, which brought "ignorant brides from the villages, covering the metropolis with a veil." And there is the AKP government setting out to "Islamicize the country."

According to Luft the priority of German policy must also be to stop further immigration into ethnic colonies. This, says Luft, requires a German veto on possible Turkish EU accession. Luft's Turkey is as grim a place as his Neukolln. The Turkey he describes is one where only 68 percent of girls go to school, where entire regions remain underdeveloped, and where a huge reservoir of unskilled potential workers awaits the chance to move to Germany. "It is unclear whether Turkish policy makers and economic growth can solve these problems":

"Germany is the EU member which would be most affected by Turkey's EU membership. Without doubt it is not in the interest of Germany that Turkish citizens obtain the full freedom to move within the EU as a result of Turkish accession."

Are Necla Kelek, Stefan Luft and others winning the argument in Germany? Or does the future belong to people like German author Zafer Senocak?

Senocak criticises those who argue that "integration has failed":

"That one can come to such a conclusion, which is widely accepted in the media and in the public, although everybody knows that a serious integration policy has in fact not even been implemented, compromises the whole debate."

"What conditions do we need to make the migrants identify themselves with the host society and to see themselves as part of this society? Even those who attend beginner classes in psychology know that the first step cannot be to convince the migrant of the inferiority of his culture … A successful host society needs, as a first step, to show the willingness and readiness to receive."

For Senocak the perspective of Turkish EU membership is crucial for the country's reforms:

"If the position of women is to be improved one should be a strong advocate of EU membership, one should want for European institutions and European law to gain influence in Turkey … A Turkey that is left outside cannot be better for women's rights than a European Turkey."

Zafer Zenocak Seyran Ates

Zafer Zenocak – Seyran Ates

Or take Seyran Ates, one of Germany's leading human rights lawyers fighting violence against women, an author of her autobiographical Große Reise ins Feuer (Great Journey into the Fire, 2003)?

"I am absolutely in favour of Turkey's accession to the EU so that people can see that there are also 'other' Turks. Turkey offers a chance to peaceful co-existence of Orient and Occident. Islam is of course compatible with democracy. Other religions are similarly hostile to women, but have developed further. Islam, too, is capable of developing. Europe has to succeed in dealing with Turkey – this is a great opportunity."

(lecture at Humboldt University, Berlin, 29 January 2007)

For more on Kelek, Luft, Senocak, Ates and other voices in Germany's Great Debate go here.


Visa – the final curtain?

On 8 November 2010, EU interior ministers are scheduled to vote in favour of lifting the Schengen visa requirement for the citizens of Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. These are bound to breathe a deep sigh of relief, like their neighbours in Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia did a year ago when the EU did the same for them.

The vote will mean that after almost two decades of "life behind the Schengen Wall", as it has been often described, almost all citizens of the Western Balkans will be able to travel freely to the Schengen area, without having to obtain a visa from a consulate beforehand.

ESI has published a lot also in recent weeks to help ensure that EU decision makers will not lose courage at the last moment. For the press coverage on this debate please go here.

Many best wishes,

Gerald Knaus