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.
A Difference of Facts and Opinions
SPIEGEL: Mr. Bahners, is this about a collapse of dictatorships? Do you see what's happening in the Arab world now as the same thing that happened in Europe in 1989?
Bahners: That's the great hope. It that happens, people could live under civil conditions with things such as legal protections for people of other faiths. If people there invoke Shariah, it could also mean they want a government that makes laws in keeping with God's commandments. Of course, these laws must develop as part of a political decision-making process. Tareq el-Bishri, the legal philosopher who was appointed chairman of the commission tasked with revising Egypt's constitution, argues that religious freedom is an Islamic tradition in need of rediscovery. An Islamic democracy doesn't have to be viewed as something impossible.
Kelek: That's an empty hope. When I look at the situation of women in Egypt, I'm worried: They may have put oppression under Mubarak behind them, but they might now face oppression under Shariah Islam. Of course, I hope that young people will finally choose a different path, and we should support them in that endeavor. But I am paying very close attention to what the Muslim Brothers are doing -- and I insist on having the right to criticize the social model that the Egyptians ultimately choose.
Bahners: But you've already compared Islam with fascism in the past.
Kelek: If people decide on a system and feel comfortable with it -- whether it's Islam or fascism -- then I'm entitled to criticize that system. Why shouldn't I have that right, Mr. Bahners?
Bahners: Of course you have the right to criticize -- even in very hurtful and incisive terms. What I take issue with is the effect you have on the public.
SPIEGEL: Late last summer, Necla Kelek wasn't the one to have the greatest effect. Instead, that prize went to Thilo Sarrazin, the then-member of the board of Germany's central bank, with his controversial book "Germany Is Doing Itself Away." Why is it that you're more upset about Ms. Kelek's ideas than his?
Bahners: As far as Sarrazin is concerned, I agree with (Chancellor Angela Merkel's comment that) this book is "not helpful." And when it comes to his criticisms of Muslim immigrants, he embraces Ms. Kelek's ideas. Ms. Kelek stirred up the broader public with her book "The Foreign Bride" -- and rightly so because, in it, she sharply criticizes customs such as forced marriages and honor killings. However, large segments of the public -- including many politicians -- have accepted the greatly exaggerated notion that these barbaric and deplorable customs derive from the religious tenets of Islam. Ms. Kelek has made a considerable contribution to furthering this phantom conception.
Kelek: What you call a "phantom" actually helped lead then-Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble to convene the Islam Conference (in 2006) to address these issues. Laws have been changed, and the public has begun talking about schools with large populations of immigrant students. We have achieved a lot. This isn't a "phantom;" it's a reality, an Islamic reality.
Bahners: But you manipulate the public…
Kelek: …and you accuse it of being racist.
Kelek: I play a role in making sure that certain problems are finally taken seriously. We have young people who are lost because their parents are praying for the afterlife rather than taking care of their children. These parents would rather send their children to a Koran school than ensure that they live active lives in and become a part of German society. As a sociologist, I analyze what I see in addition to what I've experienced in person. I'm trying to find clear answers, but you claim that I incite resentment -- and that's because you have no faith in German civil society.
Bahners: You emphasize authoritarian control. I have a lot of faith in civil society, and that's why I hope that this phantom conception -- these dark myths about the Islamic system that every Muslim supposedly carries in his DNA -- will vanish as quickly as it arose.
Kelek: Mr. Bahner, how can you ignore the fact that Muslim girls are not allowed to take part in swimming lessons, that they are not allowed to make friends with German girls, and that they have to be guarded by their brothers instead of being able to learn things in school that will help them make a future for themselves in Germany?
Bahners: Those are extremely sweeping generalizations because the so-called "facts" in your books, Ms. Kelek, consist of anecdotes, which are then exaggerated through your radical criticism of religion. For years, you've claimed that there is a growing number of lawsuits over whether Muslim girls should have to take part in swimming lessons. This is completely made up; it's simply not true. In reality, the number of these kinds of lawsuits is extremely small. In most cases, the problems are resolved in face-to-face meetings with the parents.
Kelek: How many Muslims do you know? What gives you the right to say I don't know anything about real life?
Bahners: In 2006, at the behest of the Islam Conference, you submitted an expert opinion on the problem of girls being removed from physical-education and swimming classes. It turned out that it was based on rumors rather than on solid data.
Kelek: Did you ask about this at any schools?
Bahners: Fellow journalist Martin Spiewak from (the center-left weekly newspaper) Die Zeit made inquiries at the schools and found evidence contradicting your account. The (state) education ministries are unanimous in their view that the problem is not significant. Instead of empirical evidence, you offer conspiracy theories holding that a select group of do-gooders is making sure we're not allowed to talk about the problems.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Kelek, are your "facts" anything more than mere impressions?
Kelek: While composing my expert opinion, I went to several schools and discovered that they no longer even offered swimming classes. The teachers told me the girls didn't come to class even when they were held. Mr. Bahners, I accuse you of never having spoken with Muslims. You have never gotten in touch with me once. I have been writing for the features section of the (center-right daily) Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for five years. Even though you're the editor of that section, you've avoided all contact with me.
Bahners: That's completely untrue. I have not avoided any discussions with you. Please don't spread a rumor that I've refused to shake your hand!
Kelek: Well, I'm talking about something else. You've been trying to find out what reasons I have for strongly criticizing Islam. In your book, you analyze me and conclude that I want to do away with Islam because I had a problem with my father for abandoning my family. That's just armchair psychology. Even after having known me for years as a journalist, you accused me of something this banal. That was very hurtful. In this country, people try too often to find some private information they can discredit someone with.
Bahners: You yourself make your life story a subject in your books; you use it to substantiate your theories. In your book "The Foreign Bride," you describe your father as a secular Muslim through and through and as a great admirer of (Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the secular founder of modern Turkey). But when he goes to Germany, the violence of the Islamic system erupts from within him. In your book, your father is your star witness for this violence within Islam, which continues to overcome even those who have liberated themselves from it. Given these facts, it seemed natural to assume that the happiness and freedom you felt after your father left the family -- and which you describe so enthusiastically -- was being used as a literary trope for what you desire for all other Muslims.
Kelek: I am who I am. My name is Necla Kelek. I report from my own life, and I use it to illustrate what I have to say about a system. I am not a member of any party or association. I maintain the right to state my opinion, as I am permitted to do in this country. There are no cliques, no networks, no unwritten agreements.
Who's the One Sowing Panic?
Bahners: In your work, there are strong similarities with those of other scaremongers, such as (regular SPIEGEL ONLINE commentator) Henryk Broder and Thilo Sarrazin, in terms of how you think and express yourself.
Kelek: They incite resentment. But who else contributes to the debate over Islam? If I and others hadn't voiced any critical opinions, would this debate even exist? No, it wouldn't.
SPIEGEL: It's true that the ideas espoused by you and your colleagues strike a major chord. You are popular; people applaud you at lectures and round-table discussions; and audiences occasionally respond to your critics with loud booing. Why do you that's the case?
Kelek: The people coming to these events don't feel that politicians are taking them seriously. Whether it's in schools, unemployment offices or hospitals, they see that there is no integration. They see that immigrant girls are not allowed to do the same things their daughters can. Those girls are watched closely by their brothers; they are not allowed to go on to university; and they are married off. Should we simply accept this? These citizens feel neglected, so they buy books in which the problems and their growing fears are taken seriously instead of ones that just say this is all just racism pure and simple.
SPIEGEL: German President Christian Wulff has said that " Islam belongs in Germany." Mr. Bahners, is that a sentiment you can back?
Bahners: Yes, because you can't say that the Muslims are part of Germany if you also say that Islam will always remain something foreign. In the same way that the church belongs to Christians, the mosque belongs to Muslims, as does an association of several mosques banding together.
Kelek: The president is ignoring the debate we launched about Islam five years ago. That could partially be my fault. We have to be able to ask the people in the Muslim associations where their money comes from as well as which worldview and image of humanity they support. Based on my experiences as part of the Islam Conference, with the exception of the Alevis, all of the associations represented there clearly stated that they will not allow the Germans to tell them how to live their Islam. They are not willing to engage in a critical debate over this religion.
Bahners: As a citizen, it's now my duty to defend the president. From that one sentence, you cannot infer that what he really meant to say was: "Muslim associations, we will no longer criticize you or demand that you open yourselves up to democratic society." With your inferences, all you do is inject more fear into an already anxious German public.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Bahners, do you believe that the fear of Islam is playing into the hands of a new nationalism?
Bahners: Yes, because you now hear radical slogans that, a few years ago, were only popular within the extreme right-wing fringe. These slogans state that the Germans should finally show some self-confidence again and that it is only a sense of guilt regarding their history that keeps them in bondage. These kinds of slogans are expounded by people who want to found a party after the model of Geert Wilders. But the same formulations are also used by more mainstream critics of Islam.
Kelek: You know what, Mr. Bahners? Now you are the one sowing panic.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Kelek, Mr. Bahners, thank you for speaking with us.