Germany Copes With Integrating Turkish Minority; Immigration Reform On Agenda After Decades Of Separate, Unequal Treatment

Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer In the streets of Kreuzberg, a Berlin neighborhood known as Little Istanbul, a cultural tug-of-war is plain to see. Women with Muslim head scarves and long cloaks linger in doorways of kebab and spice shops, young Turkish men play video games in Internet parlors, while German hipsters sip espresso in ultra-modern cafes. Turks remain a separate and unequal population in Germany. “People don’t feel accepted,” said Safter Cimar, a spokesman for the Turkish Union of Berlin. Cimar, a secularist who represents the decades-old anti-religious bent of mainstream Turkish society, laments that conservative religious views are spreading quickly. “People are going back to nationalism, to Islam, to the worst combination of both,” he said. “Young people especially are becoming radical. Many of them are deciding, ‘OK, if they want us to be foreigners, we will act like foreigners. We don’t like German society.’ ” About 2.5 million Turks or people of Turkish descent live in Germany. While the country has not been beset by the riots France has experienced among its frustrated immigrant communities, Germany is grappling with questions that echo the debate in Washington over immigration reform: How can millions of foreigners be brought in as a cheap workforce without becoming a resentful underclass? Should immigrants mold themselves to the dominant culture, or should the country adopt a lenient multiculturalism? Unemployment among Turks is estimated at 25 percent, more than twice the national average of 11 percent, and in Berlin it reaches 42 percent. About 30 percent of Turkish students drop out of high school, and another 40 percent graduate in the hauptschule, or vocational program, which trains them for industrial jobs that are becoming increasingly scarce. Discrimination against Turks and other Muslim immigrants is widely reported to be common in jobs and housing. Anger among Turks is rising, although most observers agree that a France-style explosion is unlikely. Five cars were burned in Berlin on Monday, in apparent arson attacks intended to echo France’s violence. Germany’s Turkish leaders condemned the violence, but warned that alienation is deep-seated. “With Turks, the government has no problem, but with Muslims, the government has a very big problem,” said Burhan Kesici, president of the Islamic Federation, which represents conservative mosques catering to 250,000 Muslims in Berlin, of whom 200,000 are Turks and most of the rest are Arabs. “No institution wants to talk with Islamic groups. There is no cooperation with the government. There are a lot of problems with police officers.” Although some Turks are middle-class shopkeepers and small business owners who are integrated into German society, what grabs public attention are cases highlighting poor Turks and their traditional ways. Kesici’s organization won a long court battle to teach Islam in Berlin public schools alongside the Catholic and Protestant theology classes that have long been part of the traditional curriculum. Kesici, who was born in Germany, also has lobbied for swimming classes to be divided by sex so that boys could not see girls in their swimsuits. Meanwhile, millions of Germans are fixated on TV coverage of the trial for the “honor killing” in February of a 23-year-old Turkish woman by her three brothers, who said she “lived like a whore.” These issues have been heavily covered in the nation’s media and have led to a public backlash. Angela Merkel, the conservative Christian Democrat leader who completed a deal Friday with rival Social Democrats to become Germany’s next chancellor, rode a wave of anti-Turkish public sentiment by promising a tougher stance toward immigrants and by pledging to block Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. Public opposition to EU entry for Turkey is high — 74 percent, according to a major poll in July. Similar sentiments were found elsewhere, with 80 percent opposed in Austria, 70 percent in France and 52 percent throughout the EU. Like nearly every European nation, Germany has insisted that immigrants either remain separate from local society or assimilate fully into it. Since Turks were first recruited in the 1960s and early 1970s as temporary workers, Germans have rejected the American-style concept of multiculturalism and demanded that newcomers who want permanent residence absorb the leitkultur, or mainstream German culture. “For 40 years, we have been a country of immigration, but we have denied this,” said Rita Suessmuth, a former Christian Democratic federal legislator who chaired a government commission in 2000-01 that helped shape an immigration reform law that took effect in January this year. The law broadened Germany’s welcome for asylum seekers and made government-funded German-language and civics courses obligatory for newcomers, but kept tight limits on new immigration. “There are so many prejudices,” Suessmuth said. “In Germany, there is a desire to be similar. We are very suspicious of others.” Cimar, the Turkish Union spokesman, said his fellow immigrants bear some of the blame for the failure to integrate. “Until the 1990s, nobody demanded that the Turks speak German, because they were just expected to do the dirty jobs, and everyone thought they would go back to Turkey and not stay here,” he said. “So people didn’t bother learning the language or putting down roots. They didn’t integrate, they didn’t adapt.” Mehmet Okyayuz, a migration expert and professor of political science at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, the Turkish capital, said many Turks in Germany are “caught in a time warp,” clinging to traditions that in many parts of Turkey no longer exist. “The majority of Turks in Germany are more traditional than many Turks here,” said Okyayuz, who lived for 33 years in Germany and returned to his native country in 1994. He cited the case of a friend who has long lived in Germany, “a normal Turk, not an intellectual,” and who has visited his home country several times in recent years. “I invited him to speak to my classes, and he was astonished by what he saw there among the students — young men with long hair and earrings, women in the same kind of dress you probably see in San Francisco.” Compared with many European countries, Germany has taken a more welfare-state-oriented, less law-and-order approach to immigrants and Islam. In France, wearing Muslim head coverings has been banned in state schools. The government routinely arrests and deports foreign imams accused of supporting holy war against the West or espousing anti-Semitism. The domestic intelligence service closely monitors radical mosques, immigrant organizations and even Islamic butcher shops and travel agencies. Anti-terrorism judges have wide-ranging powers enabling them to jail suspects for as long as four years without trial. French police officers — the vast majority of whom are white — have a long-held reputation for tough tactics in immigrant neighborhoods. In Britain, 10 extremist clerics were arrested recently and targeted for deportation under Prime Minister Tony Blair’s new anti-terrorism measures, instituted after bombings in London killed more than 50 people in July. Because of Germans’ sensitivity to their history of ethnic and religious hatred, culminating in the Holocaust, government leaders have tried to avoid accusations of discrimination and thus have not aggressively policed immigrant neighborhoods. The new immigration law allows the government to deport foreigners for security reasons. A Muslim imam in Berlin was ordered expelled in March for calling Germans “useless, stinking atheists,” although the move was later blocked by the country’s constitutional court. In Washington, the Bush administration and Congress are expected to begin debate early next year on immigration reform, including a temporary-worker program that would be similar to the program that brought Turks to Germany and other European nations in the 1960s and 1970s. Lines are being drawn in Congress over whether to offer illegal immigrants, most of them Mexican, temporary U.S. visas that coul
d last, depending on the proposal, as long as six years before the holder is obligated to return home. “The greatest lesson that Americans need to understand up front is that when you design a temporary guest worker program, no matter how much you intend the workers to return (to their home countries), one-third to 50 percent of the guest workers eventually will become permanent,” said Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “The objective should not be to keep up the lie that they will all go back, but … to find a smart way to select people who really try hard to stay. What makes for a successful immigrant? Do you want him to learn our language, pay taxes, play by the rules? If so, he should have all of the labor rights and standards of a citizen. If you do those things well, you don’t have problems,” Papademetriou said. “In Europe, they didn’t do one or the other, and they wound up with extreme resentment.”