Unemployment and discrimination have made Muslims in Europe especially receptive to extremist ideas, US Undersecretary of State Daniel Fried recently declared. The Fulbright Commission invited 20 US academics to come to Germany on a fortnight’s trip to check the situation for themselves. Panagiotis Kouparanis met them in Berlin shortly before their return to the US.
Turkish Muslims at prayer in a mosque in Berlin
“One can pray here, hold seminars or talk to each other,” Burhan Kesici told his distinguished visitors when they came to the Emir Sultan mosque holed up in a backyard in the Schönberg area of Berlin. As the vice chairman of the Islamic Federation, Kesici had a lot to say about the mosque and about his own experience as a Muslim in Germany. For instance, his own organization, the Islamic Federation, had long been regarded as an Islamist organization. Or that the Federation had to go court before the authorities would give the green light for Islam classes in Berlin schools.
Dreaming of Reutlingen
What the US academics heard during their two-week tour through Germany wasn’t all negative, of course – the very reason why the visitors found it so difficult to get a comprehensive and uniform picture of the Muslims and their ‘integration’ in German society. Roland Spickermann of the University of Texas in Odessa said:
“The picture was getting more and more complicated for me day by day. We met Germans of Turkish origin in Reutlingen who feel absolutely at ease here in Germany, who dream in German, who even dream of Reutlingen the moment they are somewhere else. And then we’ve met others who feel like outsiders – and feel that they can’t do anything about it. Somehow there’s always a new label: ‘First we were foreigners, then we were Turks and now we are Muslims.’”
Are Muslims being discriminated against in Germany? Very much so, in the opinion of the US academics. Especially the fact that many immigrant children of even the second, third and by now the fourth generation still do not possess German nationality, caused much head scratching if not head shaking among the Americans. Mentioning the demonstrations of the Latinos in the US towards the beginning of May, Damani Partridge, an anthropologist from the University of Michigan said that in the US, such persons (as the Turks in Germany) would have become politically active a long time ago. In Germany it was different – which could be one reason for the increase in the number of mosques and Islamic associations in Germany.
Clash of identities?
The US academics were trying to sum up their impressions of ‘integration’ here in Germany, the central subject of their query. They were of the opinion that integration was much talked about in Germany, without anybody asking what the word actually meant or was supposed to mean. As Najia Aarim Heriot of the New York State University put it:
“Is it possible to be integrated (in German society) as a Muslim, or is there some sort of incompatibility between the German identity and the Muslim identity? I get the impression that the whole discussion is limited to the fact or fiction that immigrants do not adapt themselves very well. But even in the US, it took a long time for people to realize that there are two sides to the coin: the immigrants must do their best to become a part of society – and society must make the effort to re-define itself as a multicultural society.”
That’s why there’s a whole lot of questions which stand open to debate in Germany, so far as the US academics are concerned: what are the exact components or constituents of German identity? What are the consequences, connotations or significance of being a German of Turkish or Arabic origin, for a naturalized immigrant? The US solution was to use a hyphenated identity: Italo-American, Afro-American, German-American and so on. Whether that could be something for Germany to emulate is however a question that only the Germans can answer.