Integration policy is chiefly a policy for Turkish Muslims. Or have we ever had a Vietnamese integration politician? Or have Hindus in Germany ever demanded a Hindu holiday?
A picture of harmony, not a picture of harmony: still life with a flag in front of a Swabian mosque. Photo: picture alliance / Frank Rumpenh
I had a glimmer of hope recently as I read in the newspaper that Minister of the Interior Thomas de Maizière sought to make wholesale changes to the Islam Conference, which has proved grueling and unfruitful.
Finally, I thought, finally a minister who asks what many others—including myself—have long asked: Why just an Islam Conference? Why not a conference for a Hindus, Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox? Why not a Polish, Vietnamese, or Africa Conference?
Finally a conference for all immigrants, where Vietnamese and Polish immigrants can explain to Turkish immigrants how integrating their children in the school system works and why they haven’t had any need for their own conference or similar things.
But it was clear just hours later that the representatives of Ditib and other Turkish Muslim associations had understood Maizière much better than I had. The result dashed my tentative hopes and left me unnerved and perplexed
Yet another catalog of demands
Maizière’s vague announcement encouraged the Kolats, Kizilkayas and other Muslim spokesmen to submit a catalog of demands to the minister. The catalog is one they apparently hold ready for every auspicious opportunity. It calls for a Muslim holiday, chaplains in the military and prisons (there especially), hospitals, cemeteries, exclusive control of the associations in the advisory boards for Islamic religious education and, according to a demand by Ditib spokesman Bekir Alboga, “positive remarks by politicians” in order to improve “public opinion” of Islam in Germany.
Let’s imagine that I demanded German literary critics make positive remarks about my books in order to improve public opinion about my work. “Write better books” might be the reply of some critics. But they would probably just deem me to be insane.
Ditib, the organization that Bekir Alboga speaks for, is the German representative of the Turkish religious authority, Diyanet, which is directly controlled by the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. And apparently they are attempting to succeed in Germany where they are encountering resistance in Turkey.
15 million citizens with immigrant backgrounds live in Germany. 4.5 million are Muslims, three million of which are Turkish. How many Muslims actually feel represented by their religious associations is not clear.
Why a Muslim holiday for everyone?
But even if they all were, they would only make up 5% of the German population. That means 95% of the population would have to observe a holiday that they have no traditional or religious connection to.
This demand alone appears to me absurd. Complete religious freedom is guaranteed in Germany. Believers of every faith are entitled to time off during religious holidays.
I’ve asked myself for a long time how Muslim associations manage to regularly outrage the entire republic by means of their absurd demands, leaving the impression that we already in fact live in a semi-Islamic state. One whose secular constitution is to be slowly buried by the religious demands of Muslims.
Veiled teachers, prayer rooms in schools, Burkinis in public swimming pools—if Muslim officials had their way, public life in Germany would, in the name of 5% of the population, continue to change until it accorded with Islamic requirements. I sincerely hope that at least half the population of German Muslims wants that as little as I do.
Politicians and their conciliatory tone
What I understand least of all is why German politicians speak with Muslim representatives in this conciliatory tone. It’s as if they had just completed a de-escalation course conducted by the Neukölln police department*. They are the elected representatives of all Germans and are obligated to defend the secular principles of the state in a clear and unmistakable fashion.
If the religious requirements of Muslims collide with the constitutional principle of equality as set out in the German Basic Law, then we should follow the proposal outlined by Egyptian-German writer Hamed Abdel Samad. He argues that the privileges enjoyed by Christians need to be curtailed where possible in order to stave off the push being made by Islam in public life.
It is an illusion to believe the problems associated with Islam can be solved in a German context alone. Devout Muslims see themselves as a worldwide community, as an ummah, whose conflicts and battles also extend into the German classroom.
Turkish, Iranian, Palestinian
The hope of preserving the peace by allowing hard-earned values to be hollowed out is as illusory as the lauded peace of the “Miracle of Marxloh” **.
Politicians in every party elect to take a tolerant course instead of drawing a clear line when it comes to the religious demands of one part of the population. They do this by appointing a Muslim man, or more preferably a Muslim woman whenever possible, to every integration policy post that opens up.
Why not a Vietnamese woman or a Polish man, a Russian or Bulgarian whose religious affiliation will not be especially highlighted? Is integration policy mainly a policy for Muslims, Turks in particular, or does it include the other ten million citizens with migrant backgrounds?
Aydan Özoguz, Minister of State for Integration since December 2013, complained shortly after assuming office that Germans knew too little about Islam and the Islam Conference. Following that, she demanded the abolishment of the law governing dual citizenship—”no ifs ands or buts”.
It is imperative to protect the German Basic Law
The verb “integrate” has both a reflexive and non-reflexive meaning: one can integrate something or someone, and one can integrate oneself.
A minister for integration should consider both meanings of that word in formulating her policies. Otherwise, there is the danger of political patronage and of ignoring the interests of the country as a whole.
The task of integration in German society and politics is to clear away the obstacles faced by people from other cultures and countries, to open doors to schools and universities and to guarantee freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
The task of immigrants is to accept these offers and to observe the Basic Law, which is also to say, the secular identity of the country. And it means that they integrate themselves—as Muslims, atheists, orthodox, Hindus, Jews, Catholics, Protestants—each in their own way.
* Neukölln is a district in Berlin with a large Turkish population and a high crime rate
** The largest mosque in Germany was opened in Duisburg-Marxloh in 2008
By Monika Maron
Monika Maron is a novelist living in Berlin. Her most recent book is Zwischenspiel (Interlude).
Published in Die Welt on February 2, 2014.