Kermani: “Finally my Germany is facing the problem”
“On the whole I feel very much at ease in Germany, and especially in Cologne. The second and third generation of migrants are starting to penetrate the élites, and will know their own worth. And Germany has already become much more open, if we compare it to the cold years of the 1950s”. Navid Kermani observes optimistically the last steps of integration of the Muslim community in Germany. The young writer, playwright and orientalist of German-Iranian origins, born in Germany of Iranian parents, has passionately told the story of immigration several times. He is also author of Gott ist schön – Das ästhetische Erleben des Koran (2000) and of the recent novel Kurzmitteilung (Ammann Verlag, February 2007, 180 pag).
Despite the problems, he says he is satisfied by the symbolic results of the Islamkonferenz, but warns that the discussion should not be concentrated on the religious problem: “The people are Muslim, but their first reference point is not Islam, but their own cultural origins and present-day Germany. Reducing Muslims, or even the whole debate of integration, to Islam, is more than unsound. It is intrinsically fundamentalist”.
What do you think of the results of the German Islamkonferenz?
On the whole I am satisfied with how things have turned out until now. The various groups of Muslims realize they have to change, that they have to come together to make themselves heard in German society. And there is finally a direct dialogue between the State and Muslims. Waiting for concrete results would nevertheless be out of the question. What could they be, anyway? None of the Muslims invited has the right to make any kind of decision in the name of all Muslims. We are talking about a forum of discussion of a high symbolic value, but with relatively little chance of concrete developments.
What are the most urgent problems for the integration of the Islamic community in Germany?
The construction of Mosques and the teaching of Islam in Germany. Furthermore, in the next few decades Muslims will have to see how they can organize themselves, as members of a non-organised religion, in order to find their institutional place in a country such as Germany, alongside the Church and the Jewish communities. This is a process which has just started. And there is perhaps another important point: many Muslims feel that, following the Islamic terrorist attacks, diffidence is growing in society, and tone in the means of information are becoming ever more alarmist. Nevertheless, it is the German public opinion which, for some years now, “makes” Muslims out of people. In reality, Iranians, Turks, Lebanese do not see themselves as members of one group, but rather as Iranians, Turks or Lebanese, especially because social conditions and the level of education are very heterogeneous between Muslim immigrants. People are Muslim, but their first reference point is not Islam, but their own cultural origins and present-day Germany. They are also Muslim, in the same way that Christians are Christians but also many other things. Reducing Muslims, or even the whole debate of integration, to Islam, is more than unsound. It is intrinsically fundamentalist.
Is the Muslim community open, moderate and well-integrated? And how has it changed over the past few years?
There is no simple answer to that. The majority of Muslims in Germany are immigrants or children of immigrants from Anatolia. As a consequence their roots are rather rural, and their culture, as a consequence, conservative and patriarchal. Nevertheless, they do not bring into the country with them political problems, for example, from the Arab world. In the second and third generation the ways of thinking and lifestyles are changing, in every direction, towards an Islamic liberalism, but also towards extremism. There is not just one tendency.
Are recent developments in Turkish politics (a not-too laic government in Ankara) influencing the Turkish community in Germany?
I cannot say for sure, because with my Iranian background I do not know the Turkish community so well, even if I live in one of the most multicultural areas in Köln, and therefore in Germany. But judging from discussions in shops, at the mechanic or in tearooms, I would tend to exclude the possibility of influences on the collective mood.
German TV very often represents the Muslim community (see the programme Türkisch für Anfänger), and there are various politicians born in Turkey in all the German parties (Ozdemir, Emine Demirbüken, Lale Akgün, Ekin Deligöz). Is German soceity doing enough for their integration?
This subject has been completely ignored for years, and now I am under the impression that some have suddenly become completely hysterical, because they realize that immigration has some dark sides. At the moment they only see the negative part. But on the whole I feel very much at ease in Germany, and especially in Cologne. The second and third generation of migrants are starting to penetrate the élites, and will know their own worth. And Germany has already become much more open, if we compare it to the cold years of the 1950s.
Is there a German model of integration, which is different to the laic French one and the multicultural English one?
It is a different situation, considering the fact that Germany does not have a long Colonial tradition, and that the majority of immigrants are from Turkey, from rural areas. This on the whole has proved to be an advantage, simply because Turkey does not have as many problems as the Arab world. There is also a different concept of laicity in Germany. The German State is not laic. This makes it more difficult for other religions to find their place. The French State, to put it in a very exaggerated way, treats all religions equally badly. In a multicultural society this is an advantage. There it is said: no religious symbols at school – full stop. And then many get angry, but no one can say that the State has treated some better than others. The German State has traditionally had a close relationship with the Churches, and since 1945 with the Jewish community. And now, all of a sudden, Muslims want to have this kind of privilege – which is difficult. This also leads to the fact that in certain Länder Christian and Jewish religious symbols are allowed or even on show in class, while Muslims ones are not. This provokes a sense of unrest, regardless of how secularized every single Muslim is rather than orthodox, if we consider the veil to be a religious duty or not. They perceive that their religion is not treated in the same way as others. On the other hand, Germans have an excellent constitution in the Grundgesetz, which represents the best protection for minority groups.
Is it true that Wolfgang Schäuble is doing more than the previous Red-Green government for the integration of German Muslims?
He is doing much more in every way than his socio-democratic predecessor Otto Schily. The Greens have attained something, even if they have often been held back by the SPD. But before the Red-Green government it is still a taboo to say tat Germany was a land of immigration. Today it is difficult to remember, but it has been hardly ten years since a German Chancellor – and with him those means of information which kick up more of a fuss – completely ignored how much Germany had visibly changed in the last decade. By now, a third of German society has a migratory background. Naturally, this causes problems, incomprehension, fears. People die, or because of the extreme right or because of archaic codes of honour in certain spheres of immigration. Representatives of Islam are threatened by Germans, and critics of Islam are threatened by Muslims. When many people from one culture arrive in a new one, this is not comforting. But if we take into account the influx of immigration and the transformations connected with this, and also think about the fact that until a few years ago it took place practically with no policy of integration and with no public debate, in my opinion, we can state that all in all it has not gone so badly.
Translation by Sonia Ter Hovanessian