German-Turkish Author Seyran Ates 'Islam Needs a Sexual Revolution'
In the run-up to the Frankfurt Book Fair, German-Turkish writer Seyran Ates discusses her new book, which describes the necessity of a sexual revolution in the Islamic world, the recent integration debate in Germany and the arrogance of German women's rights activists.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Ates, in your controversial new book, you call for a sexual revolution in the Islamic world.
Ates: You don't know how necessary that is.
SPIEGEL: But what exactly do you mean by a sexual revolution?
Ates: My use of the term is based on Wilhelm Reich and his book about the sexual revolution. I believe that the Islamic world must grapple with the consequences of rigid sexual morals, not unlike the way, as he describes, the Soviet Union dealt with its own circumstances. It must pursue the path of change, just as any totalitarian system must do when it wants to become a democratic society. Part of the process is that sexuality has to be recognized as something that every individual determines for himself or herself. Institutions like moral and religious police must be abolished. People who have sex before marriage cannot be punished or ostracized by society. Parents must be confronted with the question of why they do not allow their 16-year-old daughter to have a boyfriend, while their sons can brag about how many girlfriends they have. Sex education must be taught in the classroom. Parents shouldn't have to do it, but they should accept it when the schools do it. Young and old people who are already living a self-determined sexuality in the Islamic world have to be more confident and make their voices heard.
SPIEGEL: Where do you see signs that the time has come for such a development?
Ates: Many young people have sex before marriage, and many aren't even great believers in the institution of marriage. Just look at these young people. They are burning up with passion. They have such a lust for life, and yet they are so inhibited. People in the Middle East are poets, writing poetry from morning to night, and what do they write poetry about? About desire. The little boy in the street does it, and so do the construction worker and the academic. They are all writing poetry about the same subject, the subject that is suppressed more than anything else.
SPIEGEL: You mention people in the Middle East, but there are Muslims all over the world. The world's largest Islamic country is Indonesia, an Asian country. In fact, it's impossible to refer to Muslims as a uniform group.
Ates: I think it is possible. There is a strong cultural connection among the world's Muslims: religion. I find that it's a wonderful religion, but the cultural interpretation of this religion has led to sexual repression. It wasn't terribly different in the West not very long ago. But I don't want to make a blanket judgment and treat all Germans and Muslims the same.
SPIEGEL: It's also difficult to pass judgment about a community that may not be all that homogeneous. Thilo Sarrazin, a board member at the Bundesbank (Germany's central bank), came under fire recently when he complained about German Muslims, particularly in Berlin. Was he right?
Ates: I believe that Mr. Sarrazin's remarks were to the point and correct. We have serious problems in our multicultural society. Mr. Sarrazin isn't the first to have brought them up.
SPIEGEL: In other words, he was completely in the right?
Ates: No, it's more complicated than that. Mr. Sarrazin is a German, and when a high-profile German publicly refers to Turks having no "productive function," there is great potential for misinterpretation. I know Turks on the street who say things like that, but they're allowed to. Mr. Sarrazin isn't -- no matter how good the rest of his article was, and regardless of whether everyone who is so upset about it now actually read it. But we Muslims have to lead these discussions, because they are about us.
SPIEGEL: Okay, then tell us what you've experienced. You were one of those supposedly typical girls, living with your parents in Berlin and being kept away from love.
Ates: Sex was not discussed in my family. And steps were taken to ensure that I had as little contact with boys as possible. Naturally, I wasn't allowed to have a boyfriend. None of it was actually said. They didn't sit down and say: Dear daughter, you are a girl, and that's why you can't have a boyfriend, because we don't want you to sleep with a man before marriage. Or: Dear daughter, you have a hymen, and we have to make sure that that hymen remains intact until your wedding. The entire system is designed so that everyone is given unspoken instructions on what to do -- or rather, what not to do.
SPIEGEL: Why is the hymen so important?
Ates: Because it was capital, capital between my legs.
SPIEGEL: How do Muslim parents manage to enforce this obedience you describe? Many German parents can't even get their children to carry their plates from the table to the dishwasher.
Ates: German parents have forgotten how much they can rely on their children's affection. Children are loyal. From the moment they are born, they grow into a system from which they want acceptance, love and acknowledgment. Many German Turks severely isolate themselves from the world around them. That too creates a sense of community.
SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, in your book you describe a world that is internally divided in several ways. You argue that there is a double standard, a discrepancy between the façade and the inner life.
Ates: Yes, that's the way I see it. I conducted interviews for my book. Many young people I interviewed complained that they could only have anal sex, because of the hymen. The parents suspect and know about it, and yet they do not release their children from their absurd demands. If that isn't a double standard, what is?
- Part 1: 'Islam Needs a Sexual Revolution'
- Part 2: 'I'm Not Saying Everything Works Perfectly in the West'