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Opinion: A Murder Becomes Political

Verica Spasovska (jam)April 13, 2006

The brother of Hatun Sürücü has been sentenced to jail for murdering his sister because he disapproved of her lifestyle. The sentence comes amid a needed debate on integration comments Deutsche Welle's Verica Spasovska.

Alpaslan Sürücü (r), one of the two brothers of the convicted, left the court a free manImage: Picture-alliance/ dpa/dpaweb

By German standards, the sentence handed down by the judge in Berlin was harsh: almost 10 years in jail for the young Turkish man who killed his sister Hatun execution style simply because she lived as she saw fit. To condemn such a life and then extinguish it is an absurd understanding of the idea of honor and the judge was correct to punish such an act with an appropriately serious sentence.

But even during the trial it was unclear what the real motive behind the killing was. Did the crime have something to do with a false understanding of Islam or did the reasons revolve around something else in the family's history? What is clear is that this honor killing is not a unique case.

According to estimates by the United Nations, some 5,000 such killings take place every year around the world, a few of those in Germany. The number of unreported cases is likely high. These murders in the name of honor have little to do with Islam, much more with patriarchal models in families which are often disadvantaged.

Many young immigrants misuse the concept of honor to conceal their own feelings of inferiority in a complex, competition-oriented society. But one shouldn't conclude that the majority of Turks living in Germany approve of what Hatun Sürücü's brother did. This incident should not be used to stamp all immigrants in Germany, especially Muslim ones, as backwards. Still, Germany should not just file the case away. Even though the incident is the exception rather than the rule, the subject has taken on political overtones.

Hatun Sürücü
A photo of Hatun Sürücü on the street where she was killedImage: dpa - Report

Ayhan Sürücü's sentencing comes right in the middle of a debate about integration policy, which has been raging in Germany for weeks now. Whether about citizenship tests for immigrants, language teaching or the despondent calls by Berlin teachers who could no longer handle the violence in their schools, all these show clearly that the government has yet to come up with an effective approach to integration.

Policies unclear

It doesn't help that Germany's policies regarding immigrants have been anything but consistent. For far too long, conservative politicians insisted that Germany was not a land of immigration. That, in turn, gave foreigners very few reasons to ever put down solid roots here. On the other hand, the left-of-center fans of a multicultural society never even asked immigrants to try to integrate into the larger society. That led to the development of so-called parallel societies and disadvantaged immigrant families, which after three generations now often find themselves living on welfare.

Clearly, immigration enriches German society. And anyway, demographic developments mean immigrants are necessary for this fast-greying country. But immigration must be guided. The serious problem of young immigrants achieving less than their parents and remaining strangers to society must be solved for the long term. Integration will only have succeeded when the children of those who arrived in Germany to work decades ago have a shot at a job and social advancement and enjoy the same opportunities as German children do.

But for Hatun Sürücü, murdered in the street by a member of her own family, that will have come too late.