Will Germany be a Divided Nation Again?

The Turkish-born German sociologist and critic of Islamism Necla Kelek and the classical liberal economist Karen Horn discuss the failure of integration with the Editor of Standpoint, Daniel Johnson, in Berlin

Daniel Johnson: Thilo Sarrazin, who was then a member of the board of Deutsche Bundesbank, recently published a book entitled Germany Abolishes Itself. This book has added fire to the already heated debate in Germany about the failed integration of immigrants with a Muslim background. What, if anything, do you think Britain could learn from the way Germany discusses integration?

Necla Kelek: The German debate didn’t begin with Sarrazin’s book. Until recently, however, the debate here was dominated by the point of view of the immigrants themselves as well as various leftist opinion-leaders in this country, claiming that Germany must do more to help the immigrants. We saw a lot of this in the schools, where the widely-held view was that all education policy must aim at supporting and confirming the cultural background of immigrant families. Approximately five years ago, however, a second position began to be voiced by another group of people, to which I belong. We argue that integration is not about Germany having to go through great pains to make immigrants feel at ease here with their traditions. Integration should instead take place on the grounds of the opportunities granted by a treasure that Germans share with the immigrants: our constitution, our democracy, the gift of freedom. By insisting on this, we have turned the debate round. It was high time. We missed so many chances. We have already lost at least three generations since 1961, the moment when Germany began to invite Turkish Gastarbeiter [guest workers]. So many of these people have since been unable to find their place in a free, democratic society. But this is what we should have helped them with, instead of pumping millions into social welfare for immigrants. Money doesn’t help to broaden culture and develop identity. Instead, we must challenge immigrants with concrete demands, obliging them to endorse and support the values of our society. Sarrazin argues exactly along these lines, and I think it is very helpful to have yet another source making this point in the public debate. 

Karen Horn: One cannot overstate the importance of having this relatively new, more self-confident voice in the debate. It stands for a point of view that is not chauvinistic or exclusive in any way, but is acutely aware of the values of Western civilisation that we should wish to protect. Necla Kelek has enormously contributed to this new focus. She has fostered the debate on exactly what these values consist of, how we can safeguard them, and where there may be problems. Answering your question, Daniel, I am not sure Germany should pretend it has anything to teach. But should there be something worthy of an “example” in this field, it would be, I think, this new focus on the values of a free, democratic society.

DJ: For historical reasons, Germans value liberty particularly highly. We are holding this discussion in what was until 20 years ago part of East Berlin. Nazi and communist totalitarianism held people in this country hostage for too long. Necla, do you fear that Muslim citizens, particularly women, are not fully able to enjoy the liberties supposedly guaranteed by the free and democratic German constitution?

NK: Yes, I do. By the way, I see a parallel between socialism or communism and Islam. Both are collectivist ideologies. The individual has no rights of his own. The individual is part of a larger whole and is obliged to do everything to make the community flourish. The system supports the group, not the individual. In the case of Islam, the relevant group is the Umma, and the group decides in very dictatorial ways — the need to do so proves that individuals do not follow the rules of the Umma voluntarily in all cases, as is often claimed. I very strongly fear that the dictatorship of the group might win. This type of ideology, based on seventh-century pre-modern traditions, is spreading rapidly in many Muslim countries. Some people claim that Islam is only a religious faith. But that’s only part of the story. The other facet is Islam as an illiberal political ideology. When we talk about Islam these days, what is at stake is not freedom of faith, but individual rights. A collectivist ideology is about to take over, together with an oligopoly of power. I’m worried about this.

DJ: Necla, you were recently awarded the Freedom Prize of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. In your speech during the prize ceremony at the Frankfurt Paulskirche, where the first German parliament met in 1848, you opposed Christian Wulff, the German President, who had said a month earlier, “Islam is part of Germany.” You countered that sharia, the unity of state and religion, the infallibility of the Umma and the segregation of men and women may possibly be allowed to become part of Germany. You even spoke of “treason” with regard to freedom, to the German constitution, and even with regard to Muslims themselves. Those are strong words. How bad is the situation really? In England, legal courts apply sharia. Forced marriage, for example, is illegal but goes mostly unpunished. 

NK: I was truly surprised when I read Wulff’s speech in the newspaper — a speech he delivered, interestingly, on October 3, the 20th anniversary of German unification. It was a very important occasion. Wulff did not simply say that Muslims (rather than Islam) are part of Germany, which would be more understandable, even though I would even find this formulation problematic. Why should we now suddenly look at ethnic groups or nations in religious terms? The largest group of Muslims in Germany comes from Turkey. These people not only have a religion: they are also citizens of a state. As Wulff’s speech indicates, Muslims have managed effectively to present themselves in public as if their identity was defined exclusively by religion. When Wulff said that “Islam is part of Germany”, I was also shocked to realise the debate that we have had for at least five years now about Islam not only as a faith but also as a collectivist political ideology had gone unnoticed by the President. This calls for a correction. He could not have made such a bold statement had he first checked properly what Islam really was, if he had understood how this religion was being practised. I know of no secular, progressive Islam anywhere. How come Wulff claims that there are such instances? They don’t exist. Islam is not just an innocuous faith. It is practised as a model of society. Islam implies sharia, and sharia is definitely not a part of Germany or Europe.

KH: This case refers us back to the softer tone of the earlier, more left-wing debate about multiculturalism, which Necla mentioned at the beginning. Wulff just lent his voice to the usual cheap, well-meaning “group-think”, according to which we must be open-minded, and generously support and embrace different lifestyles and cultures. He just meant to make a conciliatory statement, reaching out and promising that we wouldn’t arbitrarily exclude anybody who was “different”. Unfortunately, he omitted to point to the preconditions of such a promise. He left out what it meant when “different” became “defiant”, threatening the very foundations of our community, and how we must guard ourselves. However, this is what I would wish and expect a head of state to think and talk about when it comes to the issue of immigration, particularly when he delivers his much-awaited first important public speech on a symbolic day for Germany. Twenty years earlier, East Germany became part of the Federal Republic, expressly endorsing its unique democratic constitution. 

DJ: Necla, you clearly define yourself as a German: Turkish-born, but still German. Is that also true for most other people of Turkish origin in Germany? 

NK: Oh no. Most people of Turkish origin in Germany, especially the Muslims, define their identity as Turkish and/or Muslim. In the case of Muslims coming from Arab countries or North Africa, the focus on being a Muslim is even greater. A Moroccan-born or Egyptian-born person in Germany not only usually doesn’t introduce himself as a Moroccan-born or Egyptian-born German, and not even as simply a Moroccan or Egyptian, but he tends to define himself exclusively as a Muslim. 

Being a Muslim is becoming a self-sufficient identity. And this identity consists only of being different — different from the Europeans, different from the Africans, different from the Indians. And this frightens me. Indian- or Portuguese-born immigrants also say that they are different. But in their case, this isn’t a declaration of war. They do not state their difference in terms of an utter rejection of the society that hosts them, preparing to take over one day. I often hear those Muslim youngsters bragging that one day this country will be theirs. Cultural difference as such is nothing to be afraid of, nothing to be eradicated by force. But that is not what this is about. The Islamic identity of difference is an ideological identity. It is based on sharia. For a long time, we haven’t taken this seriously. We thought that just a few crazy people were dreaming of Islamic states governed entirely by sharia. But now even the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan talks along these lines. This means a strictly institutionalised Islamic life, structured by Islamic councils, Muslim associations and organisations. Hundreds of thousands of youths go to these places and pick up their Muslim identity there, and they walk around denouncing Westerners as being “infidels” — “impure”, uncircumcised, drinking alcohol. Sharia provides a whole list of criteria according to which a Muslim can dramatically distance himself from the Western society.

KH: For the prize ceremony at Paulskirche in Frankfurt, you had consciously chosen an outfit in Germany’s national colours: black, red and gold. In my view, that was a very moving symbolic endorsement of the values of the German constitution. And it was very unlike those footballers of Turkish origin in the German national team who keep their mouths firmly shut when the national anthem is being sung in the stadium — not because they have terrible voices, but because they are afraid of hurting their families. Maybe this is not important, but it always strikes me as an unfriendly act. “Unity and Law and Freedom”, the opening line of the national anthem of the Federal Republic, the country that has enabled you to flourish — how can you knowingly distance yourself from these beautiful Western values? Well, you do distance yourself when it seems more important to be different. Here it is again: difference as ideology — a destructive ideology.

NK: My son and I have debated this issue quite often. As a little child, he struggled with his identity, being half German and half the offspring of a Turkish-born German. At some stage, I taught him the lyrics of the German national anthem, and that made me realise once more just how meaningful and beautiful this text is. My son is aware of the values of the Grundgesetz, the constitution, about the values upon which the culture of this country is based. Yes, there were dark days too, the horrible times of fascism. But to leave it there, and to teach children that Germans are natural racists, as you can hear in schools, that is just not permissible.

DJ: In the Thirties, the Nazis opposed the Jews’ assimilation. Today, the leftists want to prevent the assimilation of the Turks. Why has this change occurred?  

NK: The Turks, or the Muslims, nowadays present themselves as the new victims. Under the Nazis, the Jews were indeed victims who were not allowed to assimilate; they didn’t have access to civil rights. Today, the Turks, or Muslims, are given full access to civil rights, to democracy and liberty — and they reject all that. They have access to good education, healthcare, social welfare, but they voluntarily choose to keep out, to stagnate in parallel worlds. What else should we give them? Germany is a country that allows everybody to flourish. How can they still consider themselves as victims, as the Jews once were in reality? That’s cynical.

KH: Talking about parallel worlds, I find it interesting to compare our situation to the US, the famous melting pot. In most American cities, it is a common pattern to have clusters of people from different ethnic backgrounds: Chinatown, Little Italy, etc. These people just stick together. And as a classical liberal, one must ask: why not? But then, what is the difference? Why is non-integration acceptable in one case and dangerous in another? Why is culture clearly distinguished from faith as ideology in the US case, while in Germany the two are equated? I like to think that the essential point is that most immigrant groups in the US, while sticking together and cultivating their traditions, consciously endorse the key values of their host country. There seems to be a consensus about values. This seems very healthy to me. In Germany, this isn’t true for many. Life in parallel worlds seems to be much more hermetic, and it often means an outright rejection of the foundations of our society. And that is dangerous.

NK: I can only agree with that. I also wish to live my Turkish culture. I love the old traditional Turkish music, for example. I would have liked to be able to take my son to a performance of Turkish theatre, film or music, without a religious connection. But that is not available. Nothing of the kind has survived. Turkish culture is now equated with Islam, focused on prayer houses or prayer rooms. The question now is how much time our employer is obliged to provide us with for our religious duties and whether I am allowed to wear my headscarf. Even that wouldn’t really be objectionable if it wasn’t for the fact that all of this is directed against the core values of the country in which we live. The only thing we are now left with is sharia, which dictates the totality of our lives. I find that impossible. There is more to a people and a culture than religion. 

DJ: I once ventured to ask Erdogan, who is sometimes described as a “moderate Islamist”, whether a moderate Islamism was possible. He answered that these categories — “moderate” or “radical” — are alien to Islam. He said that there was no such thing as “moderate Islam”. He misunderstood me on purpose, I think, because I had asked about Islamism. At any rate, he said that there could be only one Islam. Is it possible to compromise with such a worldview? Is a European or Western Islam conceivable at all? Is it possible to “domesticate” Islam?

NK: Erdogan once said that Islam was flawless. Well, Islam is pure and has been pure for 14 centuries. For strict Muslims, Islam is metaphysical, the scripture and all its laws come directly from God. Therefore, this religion is above all other things. By contrast, the Bible was written by ordinary earthly people, it can be attributed, and it can — indeed it must — be interpreted. Not the Koran. The Koran has no human author. It comes straight from Allah. This is why Islamic scripture is not questioned and has been turned into an ideology. Either you believe or you are an infidel and therefore an outcast. This is really a very narrow concept of religion. Man is not allowed to ask questions, to formulate doubt. There is no science or scholarship. As long as this continues, there cannot be a secular, moderate Islam.

KH: A moderate Islamism would also be a contradiction in terms, wouldn’t it? It seems to me that all “isms” are ideologies by definition, and in this particular case we are even talking about an ideology that inspires terrorists, people who use violence to spread their faith. But let me make another, more important point. The dogma according to which scripture cannot be questioned and challenged is not entirely foreign to the Christian world, either. Remember Galileo? He was formally rehabilitated by the Vatican only in 1992. It took us many centuries to emancipate ourselves from the dogma of scripture. It even took us ages to understand and internalise individual accountability. The concept of linear time was adopted no earlier than during the papal revolutions between the 11th and 13th centuries, together with the idea that every individual can — and must — contribute something for mankind to deserve the second coming of Christ, the parousia. My point is that Islam may simply be lagging behind. Apart from that, the patterns of cultural evolution in both cases look very similar. This means that things might still change, that Islam might grow up some day. People like Necla, who call for an Age of Enlightenment in the Muslim world, deserve great credit for their work. The remaining question is just how strong fundamentalist resistance will prove in the end.

NK: What we need is a helpful consensus about the role of religion. Religion, for me, is a quest — a quest of faith, of meaning. Religion should not be taught as the embodiment of truth as such. You cannot just posit rules and oblige everybody to follow them. In Western civilisation, the decisive progress came with secularisation, with the Enlightenment, when it was finally tolerated that people ask questions and analyse historical processes. A society that doesn’t allow for the active use of reason is bound to stagnate.

DJ: Churches are emptying but mosques are multiplying. That is the problem. Is Angela Merkel right when she says that Christianity is an essential part of the German and the European identity? Or is Sarrazin right when he says that Germany is abolishing itself? There seems to be a contradiction here. I agree that one of the good things about Christianity is that its scriptures can be interpreted and this allows the faith to evolve. But right now, here in Western Europe both Catholic and Protestant churches are in retreat. And that leaves a vacuum. On the other hand, a radical Islam seems to be growing in popularity. That may not be rational, but isn’t it still a threat?

NK: I don’t follow Angela Merkel in her complaint about the Church losing its attraction. It is not the Church that holds Germany together, or Britain or France. The Church is important as an institution. Religious freedom is a corollary of our democracy, our liberty. The Church is an asset. But what holds society together is not the Church as such, but rather the Judaeo-Christian culture, democracy, humanism and peace. It is also the fact that we have the rule of law that protects the rights and liberties of the individual; that the state is accountable to the citizen. The state is not above the individual. What counts is the citizen with his rights and duties as much as his personal charity. This is our Christian cultural heritage. We are even taught to care about our enemies. That is a very important message upon which civilisation is built, to a large extent. There have been lapses on the evolutionary path, such as fascism. But as a whole, our society has evolved in a very positive way. So what I’m worried about is not people going to church less often, but the fact that there are groups that reject the society that allows them to live their religion freely. They dislike our culture, the rule of law, the welfare state and the individual freedom it grants. These groups gain importance. We can effectively counter this threat only by explaining why the rule of law, the modern welfare state and individual freedom are treasures to cherish and protect. It doesn’t help if we try to humiliate them by insisting on Christianity. Our state is a secular state, and we should be glad that our society has overcome the former power of the Church.

KH: I agree with that, but at the same time I’m not indifferent to the emptying of the churches. We need the institution of the Church as one agent in society among others, and we need the churches as platforms for a societal discourse on values and morality. If people don’t go to church any more, this discourse doesn’t take place with the same regularity and intensity as before. You can live according to Christian values without going to church. But it is important to have the Church as an institution where you know almost by instinct for which values it stands, a secure place where you can go and work together with other people to discuss, understand and develop your systems of values. The church can be a very useful platform for the definition, practice and development of these values. If we don’t care about that, we also lose an important wellspring of values in society. And that’s not something to be taken lightly.

NK: That’s correct. That’s also why I strongly oppose those people who say that we should ban all religious symbols. For example, they say that if we ban the headscarf from schools, we must also ban the crucifix. That’s comparing apples and oranges, and it’s not innocent. These two symbols stand for very different things, just as mosques and churches serve very different ends. The churches and the people who go there are totally at home in modern, secular, post-Enlightenment society. And they are not exclusive. I have gone to church here for many years. I especially like the rituals and holidays the meaning of which people from all backgrounds can share in: for example, the Sunday before Advent, on which the dead are commemorated [All Souls]. Also, the Protestant Church appeals more directly to me than the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, with its male dominance, reminds me too much of the male communities in Islam. The Protestants don’t have that, and they also include the individual much more actively in the definition of content. That is important. The Protestant Church is less top-down. 

DJ: Mass immigration is still taking place. Do you, Karen, as an economist, think that it should continue to be largely unlimited, for the sake of the free and efficient movement of human capital? Where are the limits of immigration, especially of Muslim integration? How can we square free labour markets with political freedom and the individual liberties granted by human rights?

KH: Even as an economist, I would argue that every country is a community of its citizens, a sort of club. And as such, its people have the right to define the rules according to which they want to live. One topic they have the right to lay down rules for is immigration. In Germany, we are currently very interested in Canada’s immigration regime, with its focus on qualifications. Maybe we could imitate that. Given the welfare state that we have evolved into, we cannot afford fully open borders. If we did, we would attract a new wave of mass immigration of people who just want to skim social benefits.  

DJ: The US has relatively open borders. Nevertheless, you have to endorse some essential values before you are allowed in and to become part of the society. The same is true for France. But not for Germany, which doesn’t insist on values so much. Why is that?

KH: I suppose it has to do with Germany’s historical trauma. Believe it or not, the Nazi experience has made us humble. We find it not so straightforward to state our values and insist on them as conditions of citizenship. Who are we, after all? Who are we to tell other people how they are supposed to live? As an attitude of tolerance, I think this is excellent. But it also makes us a little too shy and passive. There is simply no way around determining the core values of our community, and we also cannot escape defining the entry conditions. The first necessary step for us would be to grow more acutely aware of the essentials of our culture, to work out the values according to which we want to live, to strive for consensus, and to protect it.

NK: It is a pity that this attitude of tolerance and humility is being abused politically. Tolerance and openness are wonderful things in the cultural realm. All countries benefit from a cultural mix in their society, it broadens people’s horizons. Just think of Turkey with its 77 million people, of whom 99.8 per cent are Muslims and just 0.1 per cent Christians. That’s a catastrophe when you remember that the proportion of Christians in Turkey was once between 30 and 40 per cent. There has been a campaign to turn the country into a pure Turkish nation that virtually amounts to genocide. Instead of viewing this as a catastrophe and cherishing the more open, mixed German society as the better option, many Turks now come here and try to repeat the experiment in Germany. I just hope that Germany will never fall prey to this policy. Germany thrives on its openness and mixed culture. When we talk about the labour market, I’m not even sure Germany needed all the Turkish workers that have come in. But the immigration of workers is not so important today. For Turks to migrate to Germany nowadays, there are essentially two channels: either they seek political asylum, or they marry Germans or join their families here. This latter group consists mainly of people who have completely failed in their home country: they have succeeded neither at school nor in their profession. They have no training or qualifications, they stay entirely dependent on their families. Not only women, men as well are kept almost as slaves. They just get a little bit of pocket money. These people are not grateful for the free and democratic country that they have come to. They cannot be. They don’t have any contact with it. They don’t mix with Germans. They are confined to the old traditions that their families replicate in their hermetic parallel worlds. They live exactly as they lived in Turkey. There are also many who have liberated themselves from their narrow Turkish or Muslim identities. Perhaps half of those who live here want to integrate.

KH: How can we break this vicious circle that you describe? How can we raise the awareness of the value of individual liberty of these immigrants who are treated as slaves?

NK: If these immigrants don’t bring curiosity, openness, an appetite for freedom and personal development, then it is awfully difficult to help them. As Thilo Sarrazin has correctly pointed out, money won’t help. It makes no sense just to dole out more money for housing and child support. These people will just have ever more children whom they will raise to be as benighted as themselves. They won’t instil in them the desire to learn and flourish. They won’t enable them to understand that, since they are born in Germany, they form a part of German society and have a duty, as citizens, to take an active part in this wider community. I don’t even think they need to speak German perfectly. All I want is for them to consciously accept their role in German society. I want immigrant parents to take advantage not only of social benefits, but of all the life-enhancing possibilities for their offspring that this country provides. They should be interested in a better future for their children. If immigrant children don’t go to school, if they don’t learn, we will one day wake up to find a huge mass of uneducated people in this country. That would be a serious threat to our culture. The standard phrase of the Muslim Turks in this context is that they don’t want to become like the Germans.

KH: Classical liberalism teaches us that liberty means the absence of arbitrary coercion, especially by a state endowed with the monopoly of power. In the context about which we are now talking, the state doesn’t play much of a role. This is all about communities, about private coercion through communities that are extremely hierarchical and held together by a religious dogma. What room can be in there for individual liberty? Not much, you might well say.

NK: Yes, unfortunately, and that is exactly the point. And I pity the schools and the teachers. They are completely submerged by the challenges they face. Society expects everything from them. They are supposed to teach the pupils everything they don’t get at home, including the basic values that they don’t have. Imagine classes, at least 90 per cent Muslim, full of children who bring with them their Islamic identities, their lack of interest in education, their lack of striving, their rejection of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. How is a teacher supposed to be able to turn them all around and to protect the interests of the remaining 10 per cent? Our society must impose clear conditions. We should have the guts to say: “Now you are here, you’ve got all the possibilities, use them. If you don’t use them, there will be automatic sanctions.” There must be sanctions if a pupil doesn’t show up at school on time, if the child comes to school without the money for lunch, if child support is spent on the brother’s next car or the sister’s marriage, if a father takes his daughter out of school because she has reached the age of 11 and puberty is now approaching or if the grandmother is ill and the child is ordered to stay home and look after her for weeks. Parents who behave like that should be forced to pay a fine. We already have the legal basis on which we could do that, but we don’t. We don’t enforce the law or oblige parents to fulfil their duties.

KH: Well, there is a dilemma there. Precisely when you value freedom as much as we do, you don’t really like to call for the state to force other people to live in a certain way. A perfectly liberal society would endorse full parental autonomy, there wouldn’t even be mandatory schooling. Everything you just mentioned is exceedingly intrusive. 

DJ: Germany is a liberal country. So is the Netherlands. I would like to ask you, Necla, if you personally fear that one day you could share the same fate as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born Dutch parliamentarian who was driven by threats to emigrate to America? Is it possible that there might no longer be room for you in this society, simply because what you say is too controversial and no one stands up to defend you, not even government?

NK: No, I don’t fear that. I live differently here. As a Turkish-born person, I have a much greater opportunity to participate in the public discourse than Ayan Hirsi Ali did in Holland. The Arabs are even more remote from the idea of secularism than the Turks. That’s one of the relative advantages that I have been so lucky to benefit from. Had I been born in Somalia, things would not have been so easy for me. For about 90 years now, Turkey has been trying to become a secular state and to develop a free society with civil rights for all citizens. In my family, I had the opportunity to experience this. My family really tried to live exactly according to the idea of the republic. I was taught that if I wanted to drink wine during Ramadan, as an individual citizen I had the right to do so, and the state would protect me. If the reaction of the mob in the streets is to persecute me, it is the mob that is the villain, not me for drinking wine. That’s what I was taught, and in Istanbul, before I came to Germany in 1968, it was then quite possible to reflect on secularism and to live according to its precepts. It is my endeavour to pass on this vision in debates with my former compatriots. And I have never been threatened personally. 

In Germany, the radicalisation of Muslims isn’t as serious as in Holland. Together with a group of seven other women and two men, I think we have managed to carry this debate further in a calm and reasoned way. We did it step by step, beginning with the issue of human rights. And the Muslim Turks in Germany seem to have grasped that they have to come up with answers. People don’t necessarily agree with me and I have no problem with that. What is essential is that we have an open, civilised debate, without putting your own life at risk. That this is possible here should teach us all some lessons about Germany.

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