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24/04/2006

My Germany

Turkish-German author Feridun Zaimoglu on the potential for integration in German society.



Feridun Zaimoglu


Once more those people are speaking out who haven't understood a thing. The conservatives who act as if you could reverse immigration. And the Leftists for whom even describing the problems caused by immigrants is tantamount to xenophobia. Only we, the migrants' children, have no voice. Yet if we did we could set a few things straight. It's hard to believe that Die Zeit is offering the lead article to me, the son of a metalworker and a cleaning lady from Bolu in Anatolia.

Culture-clashers of all political stripes have to get clear on one thing: Germany will not be advanced one iota by excluding so-called foreigners (it's been a long time since the term was appropriate at all). The ins and outs of immigration have long been the subject of heated discussion. And in all that what's most important is the tone. As much as there is to be said for breaking taboos, we shouldn't run roughshod over the rules of decency normally practised among citizens of one and the same country. Those who bellow decrees today will not find a place at Germany's multi-ethnic regulars' tables tomorrow.

We are tired hysteria and its myths. It's time people invested their energies and gave us grounds for hope. Immigrants want to see recognised what they've accomplished in terms of immigration, or simply in terms of work. Immigration is also a matter of the heart. Don't try saying a couple of warm words won't have a positive effect. That's something you can only know once you've tried it, and not just threatened punishment and expulsion.

Yes, migration puts unreasonable demands on people, locals as well as immigrants. That's exactly why it's imperative today to stand our ground and not give in. After all, the history of immigration is starting to be successful. More and more migrants are making it to the pinnacle of society, making noteworthy contributions in culture and the economy. And their successes are having a positive effect, for example on young Turks. Those who demand more of immigrants are right to do so. But those who portray migration as a total fiasco are falsifying the balance sheet.

But nowhere is it written that we're automatically in for improvement. Times are uncertain, labour has become internationalised, the wind of unlimited competition is blowing the motivated but unqualified sons of unqualified guest workers from the firms and businesses out onto the street. In the so-called Turkish neighbourhoods that have gained notoriety as a sort of parallel society, there is hardly any work at all for the young graduates of occupational schools. And because there's no work, not even for the young native Germans, the Turks are relegated to the social boondocks. But if the chance arose, they would be only too glad to relocate, they are mobile and can be tempted out of the reservations that German conservatives find so eerie. They just need job offers and apprenticeships.

The much derided adherents of multiculturalism – primarily teachers and social workers – have been schooled by bitter reality. Yet that has taught them to behave flexibly and multifunctionally: they are doing the spadework in the migrant milieus, giving free private lessons to those very children from the underclasses who everyone's talking about today.

What can these youths do on their own to break out of this confined milieu? The wild young pubertarians know very well that money solves problems. Saying goodbye to a lower class existence and making it into the middle-class world of education and ownership means expending energy and bracing your nerves – and turning your back on short-term survival strategies. Here a model is offered by first generation women immigrants. These are the Turkish, Kurdish and Arab "rubble women" (who cleaned up in the post-war years – ed), who did the impossible and kept their families together in hard times. And their daughters are now carrying the torch. They don't squander away their potential and reserves in brawls or affairs of honour. And it is they who will educate a large part of tomorrow's foreign-German elite.

Of course, good alone will not suffice. Clear rules must be set for all concerned. First: no violence. Knives belong in the hands of butchers. Otherwise all they can achieve is short-lived moments of hollow triumph. Secondly: today's moral imperative is to gain esteem. We should say a final goodbye to the term "respect", which has been degraded to an empty phrase used by suburban thugs to legitimate their own ruthlessness. Teachers command respect – just like in the immigrants' countries of origin.

The Turkish associations are often accused of only unsatisfactorily promoting education and culture. But a majority of migrants are now calling for concrete action. A feeling of a new beginning is at hand, the likes of which we only saw in the first days of immigration. In fact we can be proud of conditions in Germany. The allegedly model multicultural countries like Holland and France are at a dead end. Here we have a common language. I want to see Turks waving the German flag en masse. That would by no means be an overly patriotic gesture. On the contrary, it would be taken here as a welcome sign of commitment. The immigrants, their sons and their daughters can be bound to honour and conscience by a common oath. They belong there, they are not foreign bodies and they will not be abandoned to their fate.

There will be no Euro-Islam in Germany. But the next decade will see a German Islam, a lay movement of Muslims born and raised in Germany. Such a movement will be able to assuage locals' fears at seeing a mosque go up in their neighbourhood. Once they've committed themselves to freedom and the law, Muslims have a well-justified claim: that their faith be visible. They've stuck it out in the backyards for long enough.

Jobs, rules, the German language and free religion – these must be the pillars of a new German society. The action plan looks like this: first a high-level emotional appeal, from the interior minister, or better from the chancellor. If necessary with Turkish subtitles. Cooperation with the biggest Turkish newspaper, Hürriyet. The educational offensive must reach Turkish households, Turkish parents. More money – of course - so children can be taught German even as preschoolers.

It's true: unification is still not complete. Today's West Germans, East Germans and foreign Germans are perhaps only the forefathers of the curious folk we will be in thirty years. And then, what belongs together will grow together.

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The article originally appeared in German in Die Zeit on April 12, 2006.

Feridun Zaimoglu was born in 1964 in Bolu in Turkey and grew up in Germany. He has published numerous books, writes regular newspaper columns a number of film scripts. His most recent novel, "Leyla", is published by Kiepenheuer und Witsch Verlag (more here).

Translation: jab.
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