Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Radicalism and Roses

a new use for the German flag
For some time now, I have been fascinated with the attention the German media have been paying to Islam and to Muslims living in Germany.  Virtually all of the major TV talk shows – the serious ones with a political orientation, I mean – have taken up the topic and looked at it from what would appear to be every imaginable direction.  Islam is approached as a problem for two separate, although related, reasons.  First off, the need for “guest workers” to supplement the labor force of the economic miracle and to do the work Germans didn’t want to do themselves, led to a policy of bringing in “guest workers,” who simply didn’t go back home.  What that means is that there is now a critical mass of people from radically different, particularly Turkish Muslim, cultural backgrounds living in German cities and towns.  Many immigrants and their children and grandchildren followed the path of immigrants everywhere and took on, to a greater or lesser degree, the attitudes, values and beliefs of the culture of their new home.  Google “Turks in Germany” or “German Turks” and you will see an impressively long list of Germans of Turkish/Kurdish origin who are for all intents and purposes full participants in German life.  These include Aygül Özkan, Germany's current minister for Social Affairs, (who wasted no time in removing the crucifixes from classroom walls), Cem Öydemir, who has been co-chairman of the Green Party since 2009, Mezut Özil, Germany’s top scorer in the 2014 World Cup, and dozens of others from all walks of life – and I note, by the way, that my favorite German satirist, Serdar Somuncu, is not even listed.

Others, however, have fallen through the cracks.   Most of these are from rural Anatolia, many live in ghettos, and become prey to radicalization.  And that brings us to the second reason Islam is approached as a problem, and that is the presence of Al Qaeda and ISIS on the world stage.  Europeans (the Dutch,  the Swedes  and the Norwegians, for example, ) are raising the alarm over the fact that a number of their own people have gone off to fight for ISIS.  And Germans number over 500 on this list. 

This fact, combined with events such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France, carried out by native-born Muslims who had never felt part of mainstream French culture, has Germans asking what next?  What will happen when these 500 (and perhaps more to come) come home?  Will they bring their single-minded savagery to the home front?

Putative experts are trotted out routinely to explain that radical fundamentalist Islam is not the same thing as “normal” Islam, that most Muslims are peaceful, that these killers are politically minded and their use of religion is an abuse of religion, but their protestations are not convincing.  The average citizen is asking, more and more, such questions as whether Islam compatible with Western values.  Can all Muslims be integrated?  Some are, obviously, but what about the rest?  Is Islam essentially a violent religion?  Why are more and more women putting on the headscarf as the years go by?  Are honor killings a serious problem in German society?  What are we to do with the phenomenon of shariah police and shariah courts popping up all over the place?

Because I am a johnny-come-lately to this topic, my knowledge of the field is necessarily limited, and I’m still closer to the initial task of getting the lay of the land than I am to becoming an expert on the topic, if indeed I ever will.   For that reason, I have not wanted to share much of I’ve been reading, even though I have not shied away from superficial treatment of topics on my blog before.

But I’ve decided that since this blog has served me well as a place to think out loud, there’s no reason not to use it now to help me channel my thoughts on the ever-growing volume of material I’ve gathered over the past months on Islam in Germany, to share my thinking and invite others to respond to and critique my conclusions, suggest better explanations for things, and point to gaps and directions I might go in from here.  I’m opening another topic area and labeling it Islam and Germany, and I hope to add to it from time to time.  So far I have three book reviews I’ve been working on, one by a woman named Necla Kelek, a self-identified secular Muslim sociologist and feminist who has been called a hate-monger by the left and a holy warrior by the right for her harsh critique of family life among Turks living in Germany, one by Khola Maryam Hübsch, a religious Muslim who insists a serious study of Islam would make it clear it is a religion of peace and totally compatible with Western values, and Hamed Abdel-Samad, her nemesis, who argues the exact opposite, that Islam is essentially a form of fascism, that must be fought tooth and nail as one fights any other totalitarianism.

I may be delayed just a bit.  70 degree weather has come to Berkeley and the plum trees are in full bloom and I have a dog who lives for her afternoon walks, where she dashes from narcissus to narcissus while her sister looks on in confusion.  I feel a need to get both my girls to learn to smell the flowers.

All in good time.

photo credit

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