It took a while, but by last Thursday the controversy had finally reached a cafe on Hobrechtstrasse in Berlin's Neukölln neighborhood, a place frequented by fans of the Turkish football club FC Phönix 56 Ayyildiz. A group of men with little else to do -- because they are either retired or unemployed -- usually meets there in the afternoon. The men sit in the sparsely furnished room under a ceiling fan, drinking tea from elegantly curved glasses and discussing politics over the electronic blubber of video games coming from the back room.
Servet Kulaksiz starts the conversation on Thursday. A 50-year-old early retiree, he taps his finger against a photo of Thilo Sarrazin on the cover of the Turkish daily newspaper Sabah and launches into a tirade. "The man is right. Many foreigners don't even want to become integrated here. They collect their unemployment payments, but aside from that, they do nothing."
Could it really be that Sarrazin, Berlin's former finance senator, is right, after all? The man who accuses Turks and Arabs in Berlin of being, for the most part, "neither willing to be integrated nor capable of doing so," and claims that they have "no productive function, other than in the fruit and vegetable trade?"
Nevzat Çitlak grabs the newspaper from the table as he walks by. "You yourself don't believe what you're saying," he says to Kulaksiz. Çitlak has been unemployed for six years. "There aren't even any jobs for Germans in Berlin. How am I supposed to get one?" he asks. A carpenter by trade, Çitlak has been living in Berlin since the 1980s. He barely speaks German, and he is currently attending a language course. "But it won't do me any good now," he says. "It's too late." A man sitting in the back corner shouts: "What Sarrazin says is pure racism."
'Little Girls in Headscarves'
A rift runs through the home of FC Phönix 56 Ayyildiz fans, where patrons have been arguing about the same issues that have captured the attention of the rest of Germany since Lettre International, a Berlin publication targeted at intellectuals, published the controversial interview with Sarrazin, now a member of the board of the German central bank, the Bundesbank, two weeks ago.
Should Sarrazin be allowed to say what he said about the Turks -- that they are taking control of Germany in precisely the same way the Kosovars took control of Kosovo, that is, with a higher birth rate? "I don't have to acknowledge anyone who lives off the state, rejects this state, doesn't properly attend to the education of his children and constantly produces little girls in headscarves."
Are Sarrazin's remarks truly that "unspeakable" (as the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote) and "revolting" (Frankfurter Rundschau) that the Berlin district attorney's office has to become involved? Should Sarrazin be thrown out of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), as SPD parliamentarian Eva Högl demands? Or should he at least resign from the board of the Bundesbank, as the Ver.di trade union has demanded?
Social Democrats in Berlin have become used to Sarrazin's over-the-top utterances, rolling their eyes in exasperation whenever their prominent party ally lets loose yet another of his controversial remarks. He has berated civil servants ("pale and foul-smelling"), Berliners ("Nowhere does one see so many people shuffling around in public wearing track suits"), students ("assholes") and the plans to rescue German automaker Opel ("No one needs an Opel"). His remarks, which have always sparked considerable outrage, were sometimes followed by a sheepish apology. Usually the matter was quickly forgotten.
Rude and Unfair
This time, though, Sarrazin has left behind the boundaries of good taste once and for all. His comments were more than provocative, they were offensive, excessive, rude and unfair. As a Bundesbank board member, he should have been more restrained -- indeed, on Tuesday he was disciplined by the bank for his comments. Furthermore, the veracity of his cliché-ridden claims is doubtful.
But should he have held his tongue? "The social reality cannot be wiped away with outrage and silenced with the 'please don't take that tone' approach," writes sociologist and Islam critic Necla Kelek. "The whitewash peels off more quickly than it can be reapplied."
No one is offended when TV comedian Oliver Pocher spends the better part of a Saturday evening program cracking jokes about antisocial Turks. But a politician who addresses one of the country's must pressing problems with brutal openness is still violating a taboo.
But as offensive as they may sometimes be, controversial and sharply worded statements are part of democratic debate. Why not discuss integration policy? Why not ask why second-generation immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, Korea or Vietnam have managed to integrate whereas Turks continue to have difficulties.
Germany does not have a widespread problem with foreigners, but it does have recognizable difficulties with parts of its largest immigrant group, the Turks, some of whom refuse to become integrated. Stuck in their Anatolian roots, archaically organized family groups insist on the preservation of customs and traditions that are anachronistic, and not just in ambitious, up-and-coming, cosmopolitan Berlin.
The insistence on speaking their native language and on male-dominated family structures, the self-righteousness with which parents dominate and often destroy the lives of their daughters, and even the relatively harmless religious custom of covering a woman's hair with the headscarf -- these are all challenges to the liberal constitutional order of German society, an order based on open participation in communication and education, religious tolerance, including within the family, and, last but not least, the right of young people to pursue their own paths and freely select their life partners.
Financial expert Sarrazin isn't the only one whose reaction is one of helplessness in response to those who would refuse to change. Other experts, who have been arguing for years over the integration of German Arabs and Turks, are divided. What should Germany do about this expanding subculture? Ignore it?
Can integration only succeed if it is mutual, as Dutch sociologist Paul Scheffer believes? Is it legitimate to force foreigners to integrate into German society? Or is such forced integration an intolerant intrusion into the freedom of others, as some politicians who support multiculturalism believe? Does it signify a lack of respect for foreign cultures?
The furious response of cosmopolitan Germans to Friedrich Merz's year 2000 insistence that others should be subordinate to the German Leitkultur -- or "dominant culture" -- continues to set the tone of the debate. And a controversial speech given by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Cologne Arena in February 2008 has hardened the fronts even further. Assimilation, Erdogan told his fellow Turks in Germany, is "a crime against humanity."
'You Should Stop Whitewashing the World'
No one disputes that most of the problems are to be found among Turks and Germans of Turkish origin. According to a study by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, only 14 percent of ethnic Turkish 20 to 39-year-olds have completed enough education to make them eligible to go to university -- the lowest figure among all immigrant groups.
Of course, there are also examples that refute the trend, including the many Turkish business owners, the celebrated Hamburg director Fatih Akin, with his films about the world of immigrants, or about musicians like Bushido who have since become part of the mainstream. There are many who have become successful and are well-integrated, including politicians like Cem Özdemir and football player Mesut Özil. Nevertheless, there are still many for whom this is not the case.
The problems are becoming particularly widespread in the German capital. About half of employable Berlin residents with a Turkish background are dependent on government assistance -- a "dismal statistic," according to the Berlin Institute.
Other immigrant groups have demonstrated that integration does work. For example, 48 percent of 20 to 39-year-old immigrants from the Far East have completed the educational requirements to enter university. In Berlin's Lichtenberg and Marzahn districts, Vietnamese already account for up to 17 percent of students in the university-track high schools known as gymnasiums, even though they comprise only 2 percent of the population in those neighborhoods. The Vietnamese community, largely made up of former "contract workers" in East Germany, has managed to quickly ascend the social ladder. "Vietnamese parents," says Christina Morgenstern, a teacher at the Johann Gottfried Herder Gymnasium in Lichtenberg, "are very conscious of education and put their children under great pressure to succeed."
Those hoping to understand the sharp differences among immigrant groups would be well advised to pay a visit to the Berlin district of Neukölln, Germany's most vibrant immigrant community, with 117,000 inhabitants from around the world, and talk to Heinz Buschkowsky, the Social Democratic mayor of the district, who is blunt in his analysis of the situation there.
The stories of tension between immigrants and non-immigrants abound. Recently, an experienced social worker rang the doorbell at the house of an Arab family on Hermannstrasse in Neukölln. He had come to question the father about the constant beatings his daughter had been subjected to and explain the girl's rights to the father. An argument quickly erupted, the father threatened the social worker, and because the social worker had a Biblical name, the father called him a "Jewish pig!" Then he said to his son: "Get him!"
The man ran for his life, running along Hermannstrasse with the son carrying a knife in hot pursuit. It wasn't until he had reached a busier section of the street that the social worker felt safe again. He was so shocked by the incident that he promptly requested a reassignment to different duties.
"All I can say is that you should stop whitewashing the world," says district Mayor Buschkowsky. His own experiences range from shootouts in broad daylight to a drama that unfolded at the local Rütli School, which made headlines nationwide in 2006 when frustrated teachers there asked the city government for help. They could no longer control their violent students.
Descent into Crime
Thirty-nine percent of Neukölln residents are first-generation or second-generation immigrants from one of 160 nations, and in the northern part of the district 80 percent of young people come from immigrant families. "Unfortunately, it isn't rare to see illiteracy in both parents, so that the linguistic development of children is sometimes astonishingly weak when they enter school," says Buschkowsky, noting that often things hardly improve after that. The conclusions he draws are bleak: "Unfortunately, the result is often a failed school career, followed by the inability to find a vocational training position, going on the dole, and all-too-often the descent into crime."
Kirsten Heisig, 48, has a cheerful voice and an easy laugh. From her office, she has a nice view of an attractive park. As a judge on a juvenile court for 17 years, she respects the city's Turkish middle class, which she considers largely well-integrated and an enrichment for society.
However, her courtroom in Berlin's Tiergarten municipal court is a place where dreams of a successful integration policy disintegrate every time she pronounces a sentence against Arabs. Her verdicts bring to bear the severity of Germany law, particularly as it is so often absent on the streets of her district.
"There are large clans that don't have the slightest interest in knowing how our constitutional state works. We cannot accept this," says Heisig. At the beginning of a trial, for example, the injured party will often tell the judge that the parties have agreed to resolve their differences out of court. "Assault and battery, for example, is a crime that, by law, must be prosecuted," says Heisig. "Our code of criminal procedure does not account for internal agreements -- usually in the form of monetary payment.
'Isn't Pretty Either'
The judge sentences more than 400 criminals a year, 80 percent of them immigrants. Their crimes run the gamut, from assault to beatings to rapes. For Heisig, this points to a larger picture: "The obsession with masculinity is particularly strong in some Turks and Arabs, and honor and respect have developed so irrationally that violence quickly ensues. Unfortunately, beatings are commonplace in child-rearing." When fathers suffer from a lack of respect, perhaps because they are unemployed, they establish respect with blows. Violence becomes the norm, and closed societies with their own rules develop. However, says Judge Heisig, "when the unemployed German living in a housing project smashes a vodka bottle over someone's head, it isn't pretty either."
Nobel laureate and Harvard Professor Amartya Sen recently published a book about the "identity trap," into which not only the unpopular Turks and Arabs, but also many well-meaning politicians who support integration have fallen. The upshot of Sen's book is that all of these people shouldn't take themselves so seriously.
Neither religion nor ethnic origin can claim exclusivity when it comes to suitably integrating a person into society. Every person, writes Sen, is made up of a bundle of changing identities, and the issue of origin and faith is only one many aspects. The identity cluster, according to Sen, also includes the question of sexual preferences, membership in clubs and even, in the case of moderate Muslims, whether one eats pork or not.
The conclusion, for German integration policy experts, is that interference in the isolated world of foreigners must not necessarily be viewed as an intrusion on individual freedom. The attempt to integrate is always legitimate when it is necessary to penetrate the self-chosen or imposed identity isolation of immigrant groups. Compulsion is necessary, provided it is compatible with the concept of freedom in German society shaped by Germany's constitution.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, for example, enacted a law aimed primarily at forced marriages among young Turks. Since the law came into effect, spouses "imported" from ones home country must be at least 18 and speak some German. But even this cautious attempt to help Turkish youth escape from marriages arranged by their parents triggered overwrought reactions and accusations of "racism" among some groups.
Why, asks Indian economic philosopher Sen, should "a person's relationship with his country be imparted by the culture of the family into which he was born?" German elements are increasingly becoming part of the identity of young Turks. In addition to inhibiting personality development, holding a person back by his roots, as in the case of Turks in Germany, is a key obstacle to integration.
But doesn't the unlimited religious freedom guaranteed in Germany's constitution force society to respect the Muslim precepts of Turkish communities, even when they are opposed to integration? Is tolerance more important than integration?
In the opinion of Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, a respected Christian constitutional scholar and a former constitutional judge, the limits of tolerance surround the "cultural pedestal" on which the constitutional state "rests."
A Bathing Suit Acceptable to Allah
How much freedom can the state grant people who are suspected of seeking to destroy the underpinnings of the local culture with their maxims? People who hold as dim a view of the equal rights of women as they do of sending their children to school?
None, according to Christian scholar Böckenförde. Otherwise, the very basis of our country's existence would be at risk.
But this seemingly radical response also shifts the boundaries of the reasonable in favor of immigrants. How much assimilation can we expect of them to ensure that society can continue to function? Only the minimum necessary.
Of course, says Böckenförde, Turkish girls must be required to attend physical education class and German class. But is it really necessary to insist that they remove their headscarves? And isn't there a bathing suit that's acceptable to Allah?
It would be a violation of religious freedom and constitutionally guaranteed tolerance to require immigrants to become, to believe and to look like Germans. It would be yet another restriction imposed on their identity.
By Stefan Berg, Thomas Darnstädt, Katrin Elger, Konstantin von Hammerstein, Frank Hornig and Peter Wensierski