Diversity, not adversity
By Khaled Diab
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
have become entangled in a row over the integration of Turks in
Although he told them that they must integrate
into German society and see themselves as part of
Some German commentators have speculated that Erdogan’s comments were motivated by his sense of being
jilted by Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy who have expressed reservations about
comments on German Turks would appear to be an analogy of how he feels about
his country’s position in the EU fold: that
Perhaps annoyed at Erdogan’s
ability to pull such a large crowd of German-Turks, Merkel quipped: “If you
grow up in
The trouble for Merkel is that, due to
Of course, Turkey is in no position to be throwing stones at Germany given the way it handles its own minorities and the nationalist pressures it exerts on its citizens to conform to a certain notion of ‘Turkishness’ that has been a hallmark of the Kemalist republic established by Mustafa Kemal ‘Atatürk’ (Father of the Turks).
“I have nothing against most of what Erdogan said,” Thomas, a German friend, told me. “But what
would’ve been the reaction if Merkel had gone to
Following the dissolution of the
Luckily, Turks in Germany do not suffer the same oppression as Kurds in Turkey and Erdogan would do well to take home his own advice and give Kurds the cultural and political space they deserve in order to bring an end to the century-old conflict between them and the state.
Despite the heated rhetoric of the Erdogan-Merkel row, the two conservatives seemed actually to agree on the basic issues: “I am pleased he [Erdogan] pronounces himself in favour of integration and learning the German language,” Merkel acknowledged.
However, she had a ‘but’ up her sleeve: “Long-term life in a country also involves a stronger acceptance of its habits.”
This raises the vexed questions of how far integration should go before it becomes harmful, whether assimilation is more beneficial than diversity or vice-versa, and how much cultural difference a society should tolerate.
To my mind, there is a fundamental
contradiction between the importance liberal democracies in
If it means adoption, what should we, then, do with all those native Germans who reject those same traditions? Should native German cultural minorities, such as environmentalists, communists and converts to other religions be ostracised or penalised for not accepting certain “ habits”?
That would be a huge problem for
Moreover, all this talk of integration would be
more convincing if Europeans tended to practise what they preached when living
abroad. But the general western habit is to set up little islands of home
wherever they settle down, whether that is in
Despite many notable exceptions, the majority
tend to describe themselves as ‘expatriates’ even if they have spent the
greater part of their lives in another country – some even continue to do so
for generations. In
An example that might interest Merkel is Helenendorf, a Black Forest village, located not in the
Schwarzwald, but nestled rather bizarrely between the
Azeri desert and the foothills of the
More grimly, if we were to turn to one of the darkest chapters of European history, what good did assimilation do German Jews? Their faith in ‘Bildung
’, Goethe, Kant, or even their conversion to Christianity did not save them from Nazi rage. I am not comparing those horrific times with the current situation, but we must be wary of the dangers of vilification and demonisation, which is becoming all too popular when it comes to Muslims among some groups.
While the conspiracy theories involving ‘fifth columnist’ Muslims have not reached the paranoid heights attained by anti-Semitism, where capitalism and communism were both depicted as evil Jewish conspiracies for world domination, we need to tread carefully so that the current talk of a global ‘jihadist’ conspiracy and the march of ‘Islamofascism’ does not lead to potential tragedy.
People of a liberal or progressive disposition should steer political discourse away from the emerging struggle along religious or ethnic lines and focus it on political issues. We should recognise that the political views held by Muslims are as diverse as those held by the rest of society. We should also protect the minority rights of Muslim conservatives, but should not allow this to infringe on the rights of other potentially vulnerable groups, such as women and homosexuals.
What Germany, Turkey and the rest of an increasingly multicultural, yet polarised, Europe need to realise is that suppressing diversity is not the way to go, but managing it in a way that is good for everyone is the best path forward. Once we sort that out, the EU membership of a liberal and multicultural, yet Muslim, Turkey will not seem that radical a notion.