German Integration Summit 'We Really Have Nothing to Celebrate'

In advance of German Chanceller Angela Merkel's integration summit in Berlin on Thursday, two prominent German-Turkish women -- the sociologist Necla Kelek and the Social Democrat politician Lale Akgün -- spoke to SPIEGEL ONLINE about their very different views on the successes and problems within Germany's Turkish community -- and the role of Islam in integration.

Necla Kelek: "Boys have no fathers as role models -- because they are sitting in the mosques."

Necla Kelek: "Boys have no fathers as role models -- because they are sitting in the mosques."

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The integration summit is being held on Thursday at Angela Merkel's Chancellery -- but the four biggest Turkish associations won't be there. What should be made of their having backed out?

Kelek: The Turkish associations don't do anything to promote integration in Germany, anyway. They're backpedaling now because they only work for what they think are the interests of their constituents -- Turks and Turkey -- instead of fighting concretely for integration in Germany. It's almost as if they're accusing Chancellor Merkel and Integration Minister Maria Böhmer of insulting Turkishness. (Editor's note: "Insulting Turkishness" is against the law in Turkey.)

Akgün: If the Turkish associations aren't there it won't change the summit, and hardly anyone will notice. The summit process is so bureaucratic and is mostly symbolic anyway. But the reasons they gave for staying home aren't acceptable -- the immigration law they're criticizing has already been decided upon by the parliament. The chancellor can't just scrap a law because of pressure from lobbyists.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There's been a lot of debate over the building of a new mosque in Cologne recently. Ms. Kelek, you've expressed concern over the influence of Islam. Ms. Akgün, you've taken to the streets in support of the new mosque.

Akgün: I can understand that change in the neighborhood scares people. That's why you have to talk to people. But I don't see any signs of an Islamization taking place. There's been a mosque in operation there for 23 years. Now they're building a beautiful new one. What's the problem?

Kelek: We have 2,300 mosques in Germany -- enough room for 500,000 believers to pray. One-hundred more are planned. For me this development that cannot be separated from the issue of integration. Since the Muslim associations have been active -- for some 20 years -- there's been a change in Germany: The world view of Islam -- even if some see it differently and understand it to be democratic -- is closely associated with the failure of integration efforts. Mosque associations won't let women assume public roles. But exactly that would show a clear commitment to democracy.

Akgün: It's senseless to tie building a place of worship to a group's progress on integration. Otherwise you have to ask whether letting Poles build their own Catholic churches interferes with integration. Integration cannot mean that people are forced to abandon their beliefs. For me it's a sign of having arrived when people build resplendent houses of worship. It shows that Muslims in Germany are here to stay and that they want to integrate.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Kelek, what do the Muslim associations have to do to convince you a new mosque is ok?

Kelek: For 1,400 years, Islam has failed to ask critical questions or to detach itself from politics. You can't ignore the fact that Muslim men treat their wives differently when they start going to prayer services on a regular basis. Six-year-old girls are required to wear headscarves. That's the business of parents, the mosque associations say. And, Ms. Akgün, you say let's go and build another one. How is Islam supposed to be secularized if we don't demand anything of its associations? Incidentally, I find it strange to unreservedly call Islam a religion. What is religion? Something that does my soul good and guides me in a democratic society? Or is religion political, saying "serve your God or your father?"

Akgün: Ms. Kelek, you're trying to weed your garden with a flamethrower. I'm critical of certain issues and Muslim organizations, but to impose your demands for religiousness on a world religion is going too far.

Kelek: Any theologian will tell you that religion and politics are inseparable in Islam. There are plenty of examples -- just look at Pakistan.


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