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 The New Berlin Wall By Peter Schneider

 Source : The NY Times
  Kurd Net does not take credit for and is not responsible for the content of news information on this page

 


The New Berlin Wall By Peter Schneider 4.12.2005

 















On the night of Feb. 7, 2005, Hatun Surucu, 23, was killed on her way to a bus stop in Berlin-Tempelhof by several shots to the head and upper body, fired at point-blank range. The investigation revealed that months before, she reported one of her brothers to the police for threatening her. Now three of her five brothers are on trial for murder. According to the prosecutor, the oldest of them (25) acquired the weapon, the middle brother (24) lured his sister to the scene of the crime and the youngest (18) shot her. The trial began on Sept. 21. Ayhan Surucu, the youngest brother, had confessed to the murder and claimed that he had done it without any help. According to Seyran Ates, a lawyer of Turkish descent, it is generally the youngest who are chosen by the family council to carry out such murders - or to claim responsibility for them. German juvenile law sets a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment for murder, and the offender has the prospect of being released after serving two-thirds of the sentence.

Hatun Surucu grew up in Berlin as the daughter of Turkish Kurds. When she finished eighth grade, her parents took her out of school. Shortly after that she was taken to Turkey and married to a cousin. Later she separated from her husband and returned to Berlin, pregnant. At age 17 she gave birth to a son, Can. She moved into a women's shelter and completed the work for her middle-school certificate. By 2004 she had finished a vocational-training program to become an electrician. The young mother who had escaped her family's constraints began to enjoy herself. She put on makeup, wore her hair unbound, went dancing and adorned herself with rings, necklaces and bracelets. Then, just days before she was to receive her journeyman's diploma, her life was cut short.

Evidently, in the eyes of her brothers, Hatun Surucu's capital crime was that, living in Germany, she had begun living like a German. In a statement to the Turkish newspaper Zaman, one brother noted that she had stopped wearing her head scarf, that she refused to go back to her family and that she had declared her intent to "seek out her own circle of friends." It's still unclear whether anyone ordered her murdered. Often in such cases it is the father of the family who decides about the punishment. But Seyran Ates has seen in her legal practice cases in which the mother has a leading role: mothers who were forced to marry forcing the same fate on their daughters. Necla Kelek, a Turkish-German author who has interviewed dozens of women on this topic, explained, "The mothers are looking for solidarity by demanding that their daughters submit to the same hardship and suffering." By disobeying them, the daughter calls into question her mother's life - her silent submission to the ritual of forced marriage. Meanwhile, the two elder brothers have papered their cell with pictures of their dead sister.


There is a new wall rising in the city of Berlin. To cross this wall you have to go to the city's central and northern districts - to Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Wedding - and you will find yourself in a world unknown to the majority of Berliners. Until recently, most Berliners held to the illusion that living together with some 300,000 Muslim immigrants and children of immigrants was basically working. Take Neukölln. The district is proud of the fact that it houses citizens of 165 nations. Some 40 percent of these, by far the largest group, are Turks and Kurds; the second-largest group consists of Arabs. Racially motivated attacks occur regularly in Brandenburg, the former East German state that surrounds Berlin, where foreigners are few (about 2 percent). But such attacks hardly ever happen in Neukölln. As Stefanie Vogelsang, a councilwoman from Neukölln, put it to me, residents talk about "our Turks" in an unmistakably friendly way, although they are less friendly when it comes to Arabs, who arrived decades after the Turks and often illegally.

But tolerance of Muslim immigrants began to change in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. Parallel to the declarations of "unconditional solidarity" with Americans by the German majority, rallies of another sort were taking place in Neukölln and Kreuzberg. Bottle rockets were set off from building courtyards: a poor man's fireworks, sporadic, sparse and joyful; two rockets here, three rockets there. Still, altogether, hundreds of rockets were shooting skyward in celebration of the attack, just as most Berliners were searching for words to express their horror. For many German residents in Neukölln and Kreuzberg, Vogelsang recalled not long ago, that was the first time they stopped to wonder who their neighbors really were.

When a broader German public began concerning itself with the parallel Muslim world arising in its midst, it was primarily thanks to three female authors, three rebellious Muslim musketeers: Ates, who in addition to practicing law is the author of "The Great Journey Into the Fire"; Necla Kelek ("The Foreign Bride"); and Serap Cileli ("We're Your Daughters, Not Your Honor"). About the same age, all three grew up in Germany; they speak German better than many Germans and are educated and successful. But they each had to risk much for their freedom; two of them narrowly escaped Hatun Surucu's fate. Necla Kelek was threatened by her father with a hatchet when she refused to greet him in a respectful manner when he came home. Seyran Ates was lucky to survive a shooting attack on the women's shelter that she founded in Kreuzberg. And Serap Cileli, when she was 13 years old, tried to kill herself to escape her first forced marriage; later she was taken to Turkey and married against her will, then she returned to Germany with two children from this marriage and took refuge in a women's shelter to escape her father's violence. Taking off from their own experiences, the three women describe the grim lives and sadness of Muslim women in that model Western democracy known as Germany.

Reading their books brought to mind a forgotten scene from seven years ago. Every time my daughter, who was 14 at the time, invited her schoolmates for a sleepover, the Muslim fathers would be standing at the door at 10 p.m. to pick up their daughters. My wife, an immigrant herself, was indignant. I didn't like these fathers' dismissive, almost threatening posture, either, but I was a long way from protesting. Nor did I worry much when my daughter told me that one or another girl in her class was not taking biology or physical education and no longer going on field trips.

For a German of my generation, one of the most holy legacies of the past was the law of tolerance. We Germans in particular had no right to force our highly questionable customs onto other cultures. Later I learned from occasional newspaper reports and the accounts of friends that certain Muslim girls in Kreuzberg and Neukölln went underground or vanished without a trace. Even those reports gave me no more than a momentary discomfort in our upscale district of Charlottenburg.

But the books of the three Muslim dissidents now tell us what Germans like me didn't care to know. What they report seems almost unbelievable. They describe an everyday life of oppression, isolation, imprisonment and brutal corporal punishment for Muslim women and girls in Germany, a situation for which there is only one word: slavery.

Seyran Ates estimates that perhaps half of young Turkish women living in Germany are forced into marriage every year. In the wake of these forced marriages often come violence and rape; the bride has no choice but to fulfill the duties of the marriage arranged by her parents and her in-laws. One side-effect of forced marriage is the psychological violation of the men involved. Although they are the presumed beneficiaries of this custom, men are likewise forbidden to marry whom they want. A groom who chooses his own wife faces threats, too. In such cases, according to Seyran Ates and Serap Cileli, the groom as well as the bride must go underground to escape the families' revenge.
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Heavily veiled women wearing long coats even in summer are becoming an increasingly familiar sight in German Muslim neighborhoods. According to Necla Kelek's research, they are mostly under-age girls who have been bought - often for a handsome payment - in the Turkish heartland villages of Anatolia by mothers whose sons in Germany are ready to marry. The girls are then flown to Germany, and "with every new imported bride," Kelek says, "the parallel society grows." Meanwhile, Ates summarizes, "Turkish men who wish to marry and live by Shariah can do so with far less impediment in Berlin than in Istanbul."

Before the murder of Hatun Surucu there were enough warnings to engage the Germans in a debate about the parallel society growing in their midst. There have been 49 known "honor crimes," most involving female victims, during the past nine years - 16 in Berlin alone. Such crimes are reported in the "miscellaneous" column along with other family tragedies and given a five-line treatment. Indeed, it's possible that the murder of Hatun Surucu never would have made the headlines at all but for another piece of news that stirred up the press. Just a few hundred yards from where Surucu was killed, at the Thomas Morus High School, three Muslim students soon openly declared their approval of the murder. Shortly before that, the same students had bullied a fellow pupil because her clothing was "not in keeping with the religious regulations." Volker Steffens, the school's director, decided to make the matter public in a letter to students, parents and teachers. More than anything else, it was the students' open praise of the murder that made the crime against Hatun Surucu the talk of Berlin and soon of all Germany.

During 50 years of continuing immigration, the Germans, most of the time under conservative governments, deluded themselves that Germany was not a country of immigrants. Suddenly, the obvious could no longer be denied. Alarmed by the honor killings, Germans began to investigate the parallel society: a society proud of its isolation; purist and traditional yet, in its own terms, creative, forward-looking and often contemptuous of the German host society. The recent riots in France have increased the sense of alarm. German politicians and experts lined up in the news media to point out why such riots are unlikely in Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart or Hamburg. They claimed that young Muslims in Germany (although up to 50 percent of them are unemployed) had full access to the German welfare state and were not isolated in high-rise projects as in the suburbs of Paris. True, there were some cars set on fire in Berlin, but such incidents were interpreted as purely imitation crimes, nothing to be taken seriously. Yet in all these official declarations you sensed an undertone of panic. Germans' confidence that their nation can continue as it had been - integrating immigrants without an integration policy, remaining true to the traditional German identity, preserving the reassuring post-1945 chronology of advancing modernism - is on the line. It turns out that in the heart of German cities a society is growing up that turns modernity on its head.

How could this happen? The Turkish writer Aras Oren, who has been living in Berlin for 40 years, once told me about one of his first plane trips from Istanbul to Berlin. He was sitting next to a farmer from Anatolia, who had evidently never been in an airplane before. The man had no idea what to make of the seat belt, the overhead warning lights, the tray table - nor did he understand his neighbors' explanations. When Oren saw him sitting there, in his sandals, with his cap on his head and his prayer beads between his thick fingers, he was suddenly overwhelmed by the feeling that his fellow countryman was enclosed in an invisible time capsule he wasn't going to leave even after he landed in Germany. It made no difference whether the man was traveling to Istanbul or to Berlin. This farmer had never seen a city; he was living in the 18th or 19th century and would carry the customs and rites of his homeland with him to his living room in Berlin. And he would cling to them doggedly if the Western democracy where he was living and working did not make a determined effort to acquaint him with its rules and laws. For decades, Oren has been preaching that it has never been so much a question of multicultural sensitivity as of turning peasants into city dwellers.

After 1945, Germany, in the process of reconstruction, needed great numbers of workers and initiated recruitment campaigns in the poor countries of Europe and on the Mediterranean rim: in Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco. The arrival of the 100,000th immigrant worker, in the 1950's, was cause for celebration; the exhausted man climbed out of a train at a German station and was immediately handed a check. But from the beginning, the invitation came with a certain reservation on the part of the host and the proviso, often repeated, that Germany was not really a country of immigrants, not a melting pot. It was no accident that the foreign workers were called gastarbeiter, guest workers. Guests are expected to leave after a while.

The first Muslim immigrants came without their families. They slaved away repairing streets or working below ground, generally slept in men-only dormitories and for the most part had the same expectations for themselves as their employers had for them: they would work for a few years, send as much of their earnings home as possible and then, if all went well, drive back to their villages in a used Mercedes with enough capital to buy a house.

Naturally, things did not work out as expected. The Swiss author Max Frisch recognized the contradiction early on: "Workers were called," he wrote, "and human beings came." These were people who wanted their families to join them, people who after a long, hard working life wanted to spend their remaining years in Germany, people who wished to provide their children with an education and a better future in that country. Germany did not give guest workers passports or the vote, but it did repay them by incorporating them into the social system and giving them the opportunity for social advancement. A result was the rise of a Muslim middle class - relatively broad in comparison with those in France or in England - contributing around 39 billion euros annually to the gross national product and billions to the national pension funds. But as the German economic miracle came to an end, the most important condition of this precarious idyll changed. Although active recruitment was stopped as early as 1973, more and more Turks and Kurds moved to Germany, in accord with a ruling on reuniting families. And these parents, wives, husbands and children took their traditional lifestyle onto the German streets. Whereas during the first years of immigration, Turkish women wore Western clothing, they now appeared in long flowery skirts, hand-knitted jackets and tightly bound head scarves. The plastic trunks in which they had brought sacks full of dry beans, bulgur wheat and chickpeas metamorphosed into Turkish grocery stands. And with the food and the family members, traditional celebrations in the Muslim districts gradually became more and more like those back home as well. In the back rooms of the vegetable stands and halal butchers, prayer rooms sprang up, and in time these rooms became mosques. The German-Turkish author Necla Kelek sums it up this way in "The Foreign Bride": "The guest workers turned into Turks, and the Turks turned into Muslims."

Growing unemployment in Germany (now 4.8 million people, roughly 12 percent of the work force) hit the Muslim immigrants doubly hard - especially the youth, who frequently drop out of school before obtaining a diploma. "Seventy percent of the newcomers," according to Otto Schily, a former minister of the interior, referring to the period since 2002, "land on welfare the day of their arrival." Whole enclaves sprang up consisting of extended families living on the dole.

Necla Kelek asked a group of "import brides" who had been living in Germany for years how they had actually prepared for their future in Germany. Their answer: incredulous laughter. Prepare? How and for what? "But how can you stand living here?" Necla Kelek went on. "You don't have anything to do with this country, you despise its culture and the way people live here." But we have everything we need here, was the answer; we don't need the Germans.

Those with no work and no future were looked after by the mosques, which increasingly became the most important place of communication. Inside their apartments, women resumed their traditional ways - apart from the "unclean" who ate pork, drank beer and let their daughters go unchallenged to parties and discos. Amid the German refrigerators, televisions and mobile phones, a rural culture was celebrating its resurrection, where Turkish was spoken, where people ate, prayed, fasted and celebrated according to custom, and where the surrounding local culture of unbelievers and the unclean was looked down upon. The riddle of the time capsule brought up by Aras Oren came to an unexpected solution. Some hundred thousand Muslim immigrants were able to take up, in Germany, the life of their ancestors in Anatolia. Indeed, maybe life in Anatolia was meanwhile more modern and secular than in the Muslim districts of Berlin.

Many sociologists attribute the growth of a Muslim parallel society to the discouraging social circumstances of the third Muslim generation of immigrants - high unemployment, high dropout or failure rates in public schools. But this explanation is incomplete, to say the least. It turns out that the Muslim middle class has long been following the same trend. Rental agencies that procure and prepare rooms for traditional Turkish weddings and circumcisions are among the most booming businesses in Kreuzberg and Neukölln.

Cem Ozdemir, a German deputy (of Turkish origin) to the European Parliament, tells two different stories concerning ritual circumcision. He himself grew up in the south of Germany; his own circumcision three decades ago was an absolute nightmare. It took place in a gymnasium, where six boys between 4 and 9 years old lay stretched out in six beds, and was performed by the local Turkish doctor, who took his instruments out of the tool case he'd brought along and started cutting away. He made a wrong cut on Ozdemir and sewed up the wound after the local anesthetic had worn off. To drown the child's deafening cries, a Turkish band started up with traditional music, and relatives danced in honor of the circumcised.
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More recently - in other words, some 30 years later - Ozdemir took part in another, more modern type of circumcision, this time as a godfather. The parents had the operation performed by a doctor in a hospital. There was no ritual, and the patient went home the same day. Some days later, when the boy was fully recovered, the parents gave a party that, as Ozdemir explains, "really was for the circumcised, and not for the relatives." All the participants, the boy included, enjoyed themselves.

For Ozdemir, the difference in these two stories showed that Muslim immigrants can hold onto their rituals by transforming and modernizing them. But there is a third story unfolding today in the rented halls of Kreuzberg and Neukölln, a story that emphasizes separateness and a communal rejection of compromise. The technical standard of the circumcision might be of the highest order, but it will have to happen in the presence of family and friends. The father of the circumcised might carry a German passport and run a successful company; but he will also worry about how his son's circumcision is judged by his friends and neighbors.

This conservative, fearful trend is likely to guide the next generation. For more than 20 years the Islamic Federation of Berlin, an umbrella organization of Islamic associations and mosque congregations, has struggled in the Berlin courts to secure Islamic religious instruction in local schools. In 2001 the federation finally succeeded. Since then, several thousand Muslim elementary-school students have been taught by teachers hired by the Islamic Federation and paid by the city of Berlin. City officials aren't in a position to control Islamic religious instruction. Often the teaching does not correspond to the lesson plan that was submitted in German. Citing the linguistic deficiencies of the students, instructors frequently hold lessons in Turkish or Arabic, often behind closed doors.

Since the introduction of Islamic religious instruction, the number of girls that come to school in head scarves has grown by leaps and bounds, and school offices are inundated with petitions to excuse girls from swimming and sports as well as class outings.

There are no reliable figures showing how many Muslims living in Germany regularly attend a mosque; the estimates vary between 40 and 50 percent. Councilwoman Stefanie Vogelsang stresses that the majority of the mosques in Neukölln are as open to the world as they ever were, and that they continue to address the needs of integration. But the radical religious communities are gaining ground. She points to the Imam Reza Mosque, for instance, whose home page - until a recent revision - praised the attacks of Sept. 11, designated women as second-class human beings and referred to gays and lesbians as animals. "And that kind of thing," she says, fuming, "is still defended by the left in the name of religious freedom."

This is the least expected provocation of the three author rebels: a frontal assault on the relativism of the majority society. In fact, they are fighting on two fronts - against Islamist oppression of women and its proponents, and against the guilt-ridden tolerance of liberal multiculturalists. "Before I can get to the Islamic patriarchs, I first have to work my way through these mountains of German guilt," Seyran Ates complains.

It is women who suffer most from German sensitivity toward Islam. The three authors explicitly accuse German do-gooders of having left Muslim women in Germany in the lurch and call on them not to forget the women locked behind the closed windows when they rave about the multicultural districts.

German immigration policies (and liberal multiculturalism) are only one side of the problem. The other side is the active refusal of many in the Muslim community to integrate. It is an illusion to believe that a German - or French or Dutch - passport and full rights of citizenship are enough to make all Muslims loyal citizens. "The attacks in London," Seyran Ates says, "were in the eyes of many Muslims a successful slap in the face to the Western community. The next perpetrators will be children of the third and fourth immigrant generation, who - under the eyes of well-meaning politicians - will be brought up from birth to hate Western society." It's only a question of time, Ates says, before Berlin experiences attacks like those in London and Madrid. When we spoke, the riots in France had not yet happened.


It is encouraging that some Muslim residents of Germany are forcefully calling on Germans to defend our democratic achievements against Muslim traditionalists and fanatics who incite hatred of democracy under the banner of respect for cultural difference. "What I am asking of the Germans," Necla Kelek says, "is nothing more and nothing less than equal treatment. I'm entitled to the same rights as any German woman."

Merely citing "lessons from the German past," as Germans tend to do, does not guarantee that these lessons are correct. It is a perversion when, out of respect for the "otherness" of a different culture, Germans stand aside and accept the fact that Muslim women in Germany are being subjected to an archaic code of honor that flouts the fundamental human rights to dignity and individual freedom. This has nothing to do with Germany or the "guiding German culture" that German conservatives want to put through; it has simply to do with humanity, with the protection of basic human and civil rights for all citizens of all ethnic backgrounds.

Politicians and religious scholars of all faiths are right in pointing out that there are many varieties of Islam, that Islamism and Islam should not be confused, that there is no line in the Koran that would justify murder. But the assertion that radical Islamic fundamentalism and Islam have nothing to do with each other is like asserting that there was no link between Stalinism and Communism. The fact is that disregard for women's rights - especially the right to sexual self-determination - is an integral component of almost all Islamic societies, including those in the West. Unless this issue is solved, with a corresponding reform of Islam as practiced in the West, there will never be a successful acculturation. Islam needs something like an Enlightenment; and only by sticking hard to their own Enlightenment, with its separation of religion and state, can the Western democracies persuade their Muslim residents that human rights are universally valid. Perhaps this would lead to the reforms necessary for integration to succeed. "We Western Muslim women," Seyran Ates says, "will set off the reform of traditional Islam, because we are its victims."

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