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Strip Erdogan's influence in Germany

Schliess Gero Kommentarbild App
Gero Schließ
July 29, 2016

After Turkey's failed coup there has been violence and threats among Turks, including those in Germany. The question of where their loyalty lies is legitimate, but also shows Germany's failings, says Gero Schliess.

Stuttgart türkisches Konsulat UETD
Image: UETD

There's an elephant in the room: A majority of Germany's nearly 3 million residents of Turkish descent do not support the German constitution and want nothing to do with our core values like freedom of expression and freedom of religion. They're already being described as Erdogan's fifth column - no longer to be trusted. These worries may be polemical or exaggerated, but right now Germans, plagued by fear of terrorism, are particularly receptive to sloganeering.

One thing is certain: After the coup attempt in Turkey, divisions have emerged in this country that no one had seen for a long time - or hadn't wanted to see. The failed coup and President Erdogan's massive onslaught against civil rights have deeply divided the Turkish community in Germany. The split runs right through families and neighborhoods, regardless of social strata or profession.

Almost everywhere the same pattern of behavior is visible: Erdogan supporters loudly cheer the dismantling of the rule of law in Turkey and, with intimidating gestures, refuse to brook any criticism. In contrast, Erdogan's critics act cautiously, hardly daring to go out in public for fear of violent attacks, of which there have already been a few.

No longer masters in our own home?

The demonstrations called for Sunday of thousands of Erdogan supporters in Cologne, and the announced counter-demonstrations, will further entrench these divisions.

Already many Germans are beginning to get the feeling they are no longer masters in their own home. That is understandable. But it is a false perception. Ultimately, it was we who invited Turkish guest workers and their families permanently into our country. Now it is their home, too, and they are welcome here as long as they keep to the house rules - in other words, if they obey the law.

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Gero Schliess is DW's culture correspondent in Berlin

That's why it's more than foolish of German politicians to throw the right to demonstrate into question ahead of the Cologne rallies. Freedom of demonstration is a right also enjoyed by Germans of Turkish origin, as well as foreign nationals. And to address the events in their Turkish homeland is their right.

It should be equally clear that we will not tolerate violence or threats of intimidation and will take action against the perpetrators with the full force of law. This must also apply to members of the Turkish intelligence service. The Turkish-German chairman of Germany's Green Party, Cem Özdemir, is already warning that Erdogan's long arm must not be allowed to reach as far as Berlin. He's urging the German government to finally show the overbearing Turkish president a "stop sign." Özdemir is right.

The chancellor's timid response

The irony is, however, that it was Chancellor Angela Merkel herself who indirectly emboldened Erdogan, through the migration agreement and diplomatic concessions. And with Ankara's demand for the extradition of alleged Gulen supporters, the chancellor faced a dismaying new threat.

At her press conference on Thursday she showed little inclination to hold up that "stop sign" to Erdogan. Her appeal to "proportionality," with one eye on the Turkish community in Germany, looked lukewarm at best.

Thus the question of the loyalty of the Turkish community has yet to be addressed. It is clear that stop signs alone will not be enough. A recent Emnid survey of people of Turkish origin laid bare what many Germans have long suspected: Islamic fundamentalist sentiment is widespread. Forty-seven percent of respondents consider the observance of religious commandments more important than German laws. One-third of respondents called for a return to the social order of the time of Muhammad. And overall, Turks feel they have too little social recognition.

Germany's responsibility

These alarming figures are a self-inflicted wound for German society. We were too late in starting a serious immigration policy and a discussion about our values. For too long we watched as Turks in this country were exposed to racism and discrimination. We failed to take their conflicted loyalties to their home seriously enough.

We can do both: we should be uncompromising in our demand that democratic rules be observed and we should take our Turkish neighbors into our midst and into our discourse. Only in this way can Erdogan's long-term power over them be weakened.

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