Muslim marksman triggers integration debate | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 04.08.2014
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Muslim marksman triggers integration debate

How completely can people with a migrant background integrate into German society? A recent case shows that not every door is open - even to someone who is embracing local customs.

Mithat Gedik

Mithat Gedik (pictured) is facing pressure to give up his title

Normally, when someone succeeds in shooting down the wooden bird at a German Schützenfest (Marksmen's Festival), it is an occasion for unalloyed - and mostly rather boozy - celebration.

And that's the way things went at first for Mithat Gedik - a 33-year-old Muslim born in Germany to Turkish parents - when his shot hit the mark at the Schützenfest in the Sönnern district of the western city of Werl on July 18.

His "brothers" in the St. Georg Schützenbruderschaft (Marksmen's Brotherhood) congratulated him warmly, gave him the traditional title of "King of Marksmen" (Schützenkönig) for the year, and presented him with a special chain as a reward for his shooting prowess. And at the special church service that followed, the pastor spoke of Christian values and praised the benefits of integration.

Forced abdication?

But declaring a Muslim as king in one of the German marksmen's clubs, generally known for their conservative leanings, seem to have gone too far for the umbrella association responsible for the St. Georg club, the Bund der Historischen Deutschen Schützenbruderschaften (BDHS) - which translates as the "Association of the Historical German Marksmen's Brotherhoods."

The umbrella group says that Gedik must give back his "royal" chain and is not allowed to appear as king at the regional Schützenfest - because of his Muslim religion. What's more, it implies that he should not have been allowed to join the club at all.

The BDHS bases its view on Paragraph 2 of its statutes, which states that the brotherhood is "an association of Christian people."

The spokesman of the BDHS, Rolf Nieborg, told the DPA news agency that the St. Georg club can either ask the Muslim "king" to abdicate, or make him simply the unofficial, local "King of Marksmen." If it does not act to remove Gedik from the position, the Sönnern club risks being thrown out of the umbrella organization.

A pin is placed on a markswoman

Women are allowed in some marksmen's clubs, which remain dominated by men

Model of integration

With its stance, the BDHS has triggered a renewed discussion on tolerance and integration in Germany. Is it simply a case of a lack of adherence to acceptable, existing club rules? Or does the affair point to a general lack of willingness in German society to fully accept people of non-German backgrounds?

Mithat Gedik himself can be seen as a textbook example of the kind of integration that many in German politics say they would like to see. He is married with a German wife, Melanie, with whom he has four children; he is an active member of the local volunteer fire service and works for a branch of a large company based in Mannheim. And, though a Muslim, he took Catholic Religion as a subject for his final year at school.

But what demonstrates his will to integrate as fully as possible into German society more than anything else is the fact that he is on the board of the local Schützenverein: in many German villages and towns, the Schützenverein is the very symbol of belonging, of common values, of a tradition going back more than a century. It is where people (overwhelmingly men, but some clubs now also allow women) drink together, forge friendships and conclude business deals.

Skin-deep integration

Gedik says he feels that the treatment meted out to him shows that Germany only pays lip service to integration. What he finds most disturbing is that BDHS officials had suggested that the head of his club call on him to convert to Christianity.

"I can't understand at all that we have to hold such discussions in the 21st century," he has told German media. "Germany isn't ready yet after all [for integration]."

However, he said he had received a lot of support from people, with some of them saying that the whole affair "had nothing more to do with integration."

He now wants to deliberate with his fellow board members on possible courses to take.

Michael Röcken

Michael Röcken says that the statute on Christian members is out of date

'Incompatible with integration'

But the legal situation is relatively clear cut.

In a DW interview, Michael Röcken, a lawyer specializing in club law in Bonn, said that clubs have the right to choose what kind of members they have. The article in the German Basic Law - Germany's constitution - guaranteeing equal treatment for citizens does not apply to clubs and associations, Röcken said, unless there were to be only one club in a specific area.

Given the fact that Gedik had become a member of the club, however, Röcken said it might be possible to claim unequal treatment within the club itself if he were forced to relinquish the "kingship." But the fact that the BDHS called his membership into question in the first place would make legal steps difficult, he said.

And the BDHS would even be within its rights to try to exclude the Sönnern club from its ranks if Gedik retained his position as "king," he added.

Röcken, however, called on the BDHS to review its statutes.

"It just doesn't fit in with the times to restrict membership in that way," he said. "It is not compatible with the idea of integration."

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