Stefan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany spoke to DW-WORLD.DE about the challenges of integration and dialogue between religions.
Integration is an important term in the German political vocabulary
The Central Council of Jews is the main organization representing Germany's Jewish community of about 100,000. DW-WORLD.DE spoke to Stefan Kramer, the council's secretary general, during a recent Berlin conference on "Religion and Integration."
DW-WORLD: The term "integration" is one of the most widely used in politics right now. How do you define the term?
Integration means becoming a part of society and enjoying equal rights, without losing sight of or repudiating one's own roots.
It shouldn't be about set standards of what integration means -- like whether one enjoys German cuisine or not. I think there are much more important values that define a society, and which one must share and adjust to. If we could get to the point that Jews, Muslims, Christians and atheists are proud of being Germans or of living in Germany, then I would think that we have achieved our goals. Integration, however, is a two-way street, and it should not be a form of coercion.
If integration is, as you say, a two-way street, what can the majority in society do to help the process?
Integration of people from different religions or those socialized in a different cultural context always means the creation of a new society to some extent. To expect or to believe that the majority of society shouldn't change, or that migrants or minorities have to subordinate themselves to the larger culture, is completely outdated and unrealistic.
Take a look at the United States, Australia or Canada -- the traditional countries of immigrants. They demonstrate that immigrants are not subordinated, but integrated. The fact is, a culture changes when immigrants are integrated. It changes in a positive way because people realize that it's an enriching process, and that society grows from that process, despite all the challenges and difficulties that may come along the way.
Germany has long become a multicultural society
I don't want to disregard the fears which the so-called "Germans" have regarding an influx of foreigners, other cultures or other religions. People can only respect other people's values or those of other faiths when they have a good sense of their own. I have a feeling that many people in various facets of German society have no sense of their personal values or beliefs and that is why they are intolerant of others or fear foreigners who come here. That's why we have to take a good, hard look at ourselves and work on our own principles and values before we can tell other people how they have to behave and fulfill our expectations.
In your speech, you said that a dialogue between religions is the only rational way of approaching the clash between religions. How committed are Jews to that process?
It's not the only way, but it's an important one. Talking can do no harm. We are doing our best to hold bilateral talks with various partners, including Muslim associations. We are not always doing it publicly, because we are not interested in earning points for our diligence, but rather in establishing bridges of confidence to other people -- despite the existing difficulties and differences. After all, it's not really organizations that are talking to other, but people. Small, but important steps are made in this direction all the time.
A great deal of problems arise when religion is mixed up with politics. How can this be avoided?
Anti-semitic message appeared recently on the walls of a Jewish school and kindergarten in Berlin
When religion is abused by politics, that's always bad, regardless of what religion we're talking about. This is a problem with Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions. We have to try to keep politics out of these areas as much as possible, but we should also not live in an ivory tower and believe that we could conduct this kind of dialogue without resorting to any political arguments. Politics is a part of this society, just as religion and other basic values are. It's for each individual to decide how much he wants to keep these separate from each other.
I think that what we're missing is a civilized way of debating our problems. Debating is good if it's about finding a better solution for our problems and it's bad if it's about converting or trying to hurt somebody, which is what, unfortunately, happens all to often in our public discussions. The result of this negative form of discussion is silence, the feeling of not being understood, of having to find a different way of expressing oneself, which often leads to violence. And that's exactly what we should avoid.
Anti-Semitism can be very damaging to the integration process. What can be done against it?
I'm careful about such generalizations, but the fact is that anti-Semitism is, for instance, on the rise in the Muslim community in Germany, and that it's increasingly prone to violence. We agree with the majority of Muslim organizations that we need to do something about it together. At the same time, and I say it openly, Jews in Germany and other countries are not immune to stereotypes, clichés and prejudices about Muslims, perhaps not to the same extent and certainly not exhibiting the same willingness to violence. But there are things on both sides where we still have homework to do. We're working on finding possible solutions. I'm not saying that all this is easy and working out wonderfully, but it is important that we are talking and that we're aware of the crisis.