Debating Integration Competing Views on Germany's Immigrants

Immigration is a heated topic in Germany. SPIEGEL recently sat down with two experts -- a Turkish-born sociologist and a German-born journalist -- to explore the issue. And found that a reasoned debate is difficult to come by.

A Turkish girl buys a German flag in the run-up to a soccer match.
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A Turkish girl buys a German flag in the run-up to a soccer match.


SPIEGEL: Ms. Kelek, are you a scaremonger in the debate over the role of Islam in Germany, as Mr. Bahners claims in his book?

Necla Kelek: I just write down what I see, I participate in this absolutely necessary debate, and I have assumed an aggressive stance. But I'm not at all engaging in scaremongering.

Patrick Bahners: In this country, there is a degree of panic as well as a widespread -- and solidly justified -- fear of terrorist attacks. But there is also a fear that every Muslim who lives according to the Koran is a potential terrorist. Authors and journalists feed this unease and you, Ms. Kelek, are the most effective one and have acquired the most authority.

Kelek: I speak and write about Islam as a political system, one in which people live and one that is supported and controlled by people. But you, Mr. Bahners, always only focus on individual Muslims and defend their right to live a religious life. I have no problem with people being entitled to practice their own faith.

Bahners: The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (or BfV, Germany's domestic intelligence agency) and a vigilant public are concerned about political Islam, which aims to do away with Germany's constitution. But, in your criticism, you take things a bit further. You don't like the idea that (political Islam) puts God's law above all secular agreements. But even the Bible states that man must obey God more than other people, and there are Christians who still view this statement as valid.

Kelek: Not all religions are the same. There are religions that have modernized and found a place for themselves in the secular world. They adjust themselves to work for people who can calibrate their faith according to their own needs. Their societal framework also allows them to do this. Islamic countries don't give people this right; they have no religious freedom. Even the question of whether or not someone is a Muslim is a political question that can bear consequences. One cannot join or abandon this religion.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Kelek, how would Islam have to change to be more acceptable to you?

Kelek: I live Islam in the way that I think religion should be lived. After all, I'm a religious person.

SPIEGEL: What does religion mean to you in your day-to-day existence?

Kelek: When I find myself in situations without solutions from this world, I pray. When my mother died a few months ago, we gave her a religious burial. In that situation, my faith was very important to me. That's when I'm grateful that I can pray and that my faith can support me in a crisis. I can say that I sent my mother to Allah, and that He will take good care of her. But then I return to my life as a critically thinking person and re-assume my prerogative to think rationally about the Islamic system.

SPIEGEL: In that respect, Mr. Bahners and Ms. Kelek, your positions aren't really that far apart.

Bahners: We wouldn't be that far apart, Ms. Kelek, if your political criticisms were only directed toward the pathological forms of the Islamic system that have developed in some Islamic countries and have been imported to Germany by immigrants. But your books have a rousing and disturbing effect on Germany's non-Muslim public, and they have an influence on how it construes this Islamic system -- as something that was poorly designed from the start because the Koran is viewed as the true word of God and Muhammad as His prophet. In your view, everything else follows from this interpretation, including the complete subjugation to paternal authority. For this reason, reforming Islam would mean throwing everything overboard. If Christians were asked to accept something similar, most would say no.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Kelek, the Arab world has been in turmoil since the revolution started in Tunisia. Could Islam be reformed by something like the new constitution in Egypt, which is supposedly being worked on right now?

Kelek: I'm obviously happy these people are no longer willing to accept oppression and are trying to get rid of the dictatorship. But I'm not so sure that Egyptians also want to liberate themselves from Shariah Islam, that they want religious freedom, and that real equality between men and women is on the agenda. In Egypt, they're saying that democracy is the will of the majority. But, as far as I'm considered, that is not the only thing democracy is about; it also includes having a constitutional state.

Bahners: I find that interesting. The world is thrilled about the events in Egypt and sharing in the Egyptians' excitement. But here you in Germany are telling the Egyptians: "You aren't democrats yet. You've only arrived at the point of view of (Austro-British philosopher) Karl Popper, and I cannot accept you as democrats."

Kelek: I didn't say that. But what sort of a country would it be if the Muslim Brotherhood won a majority and introduced Shariah -- the Islamic legal system that is already one of the foundations of Egypt's current legal system -- complete with its draconian penalties and misogyny? If that happened, women in Egypt would be required to wear headscarves. In places where Islamists are strong, women also have to wear veils. Shariah means living in accordance with God's laws. If things keep going in this direction, I wouldn't consider it a democracy.

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