German Turks ponder “existential” election results, gain 14 MPs

Germany’s federal elections of September 24th have propelled the far-right AfD party into parliament with 13 per cent of the popular vote, making it the third-largest group in the Bundestag.

Given the AfD’s anti-immigrant and anti-Islam platform, German-Turkish political scientist Said Rezek observed that for many German Turks the AfD’s rise poses an “existential” challenge.((http://www.migazin.de/2017/09/25/bundestagswahl2017-eigeninteresse-deutscher-muslim/))

Rise of anti-immigrant ethnonationalism

At heart, the AfD’s message has been an ethnonationalist one. Throughout the electoral campaign, the party plastered Germany’s streets with billboards encouraging the birth of larger numbers of ethnically German children or castigating the spread of Islam.

On election night, AfD leader Alexander Gauland vowed that his party’s entry to the Bundestag was only the first step on the long march to “take back our country and our people” – an allusion that to many appeared to play on the AfD’s fantasy of an ethnically pure Germany.

Public façade

To be sure, when invited to certain public fora, the party leadership often strikes a different tone. In a pre-election debate with German-Tunisian rapper Bushido, founding father of the German gangster rap genre, the leading AfD politician Beatrix von Storch claimed as a matter of course that the AfD considered the rapper and his children – all of whom hold German citizenship – as an integral part of the “German people”.((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3juZ-CwXG8))

This façade of inclusivity is quick to unravel, however. During a post-election TV debate among the major parties’ leading candidates, Alexander Gauland complained that Germany was too ethnically mixed and that true, ethnic Germans were becoming a rarity in the country’s cities. For the AfD, “our” people is thus always pitted against the immigrant “them” living in our midst.((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PrSk4wBArc))

German Turks go public after the elections

Against this backdrop, the voices of the targets of the AfD’s vitriol – who are often somewhat marginalised in German political discourse – have been more prominent than usual after the elections. The most vocal group in this respect have been German Turks. By virtue of their higher social capital compared to recently arrived immigrants they also serve as a proxy voice for the German Muslim community.

Many German Turks have come out with their thoughts on the elections, expressing their fears of increased discrimination, as well as their hopes that German constitutional safeguards might be able to prevent the AfD from doing more damage.((http://www.huffingtonpost.de/2017/09/27/bundestagswahl-afd-migration-migrationshintergrund-deutschland-zukunft-_n_18105126.html))

German Turks’ electoral participation

With respect to German Turks’ political participation at the ballot box on September 24th, no figures have been published yet. Joachim Schulte, analyst at the Data4U analytics company asserted that he had not been commissioned to gather data on German Turks’ voting behaviour.

After the 2013 elections, Data4U had conducted a survey among German Turkish voters at the behest of the UETD, a group with close ties to the AKP. Four years ago, 70 per cent of German Turks holding a German passport had gone to the polls. The Social Democrats had secured 64 per cent of the German Turkish vote, followed by 12 per cent for Greens and 12 per cent for The Left.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/deutschtuerken-bei-bundestagswahl-erdogans-boykott-aufruf-blieb-unerhoert/20381760.html))

In the run-up to the 2017 elections, the persistence of these tendencies – particularly the stability of German Turks’ affiliation with the political left – had been questioned. SPD leader Martin Schulz had taken a strong stance against the accession of Turkey to the EU. Moreover, President Erdoğan had urged German Turks to boycott CDU/CSU, SPD, and Green parties for being ‘hostile to Turkey’.

Limited impact of Erdoğan’s call for boycott

Yet the fact that the pro-Erdoğan UETD has not asked Data4U (or another company) to conduct another survey might point to the fact that the Turkish President’s call for boycott went relatively unheeded among German Turkish voters.

Speaking to the Tagesspiegel newspaper, members of Berlin’s Turkish community stressed that they saw the federal elections as unconnected to events in Turkey. As a consequence, they did not feel that President Erdoğan had the authority or the qualification to issue electoral recommendations.

In North-Rhine Westphalia – home to the largest number of German Turks – the openly Erdoğanist Alliance of German Democrats (ADD) party only managed to secure 0.4 per cent of the popular vote. Many saw this as a sign that even those supportive of the Turkish President and his authoritarian turn were unwilling to put ‘Turkish’ concerns first in a German election.((http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/deutschtuerken-bei-bundestagswahl-erdogans-boykott-aufruf-blieb-unerhoert/20381760.html))

Fourteen German-Turkish MPs on the left

The election also propelled fourteen German Turks to the Bundestag as parliamentarians – up from eleven after the 2013 poll. Six Social Democratic MPs, five Green party MPs, and three MPs of The Left are of Turkish extraction.

Conversely, the right-of-centre parties – Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU, the free-market Free Democrats, and the far-right AfD – field no parliamentarians of Turkish descent. Cemile Giousouf, the CDU’s first and only Muslim MP failed to gain re-election.((https://dtj-online.de/14-tuerken-ziehen-in-den-bundestag-88537))

A relatively homogeneous Bundestag

Overall, the Bundestag is still far removed from capturing the diversity of the country’s population. Of 709 MPs, only 57 (8 per cent) have a ‘migration background’ – the official bureaucratic term connoting a person with at least one foreign-born parent.

This represents a minor uptick compared to the last Bundestag; yet it is still nowhere close to equalling the 22.5 per cent of Germany’s population that have a ‘migration background’. In terms of female representation, the current Bundestag is a step backwards (mainly because of the entry of the overwhelmingly male AfD party), with only 30.7 per cent of MPs being female – the lowest share in 20 years.((http://www.taz.de/!5448373/))

Cem Özdemir as foreign minister?

Beyond this modest increase in MPs, German Turks might be able to console themselves for the AfD’s rise by pointing to the fact that Cem Özdemir, co-leader of the Green Party, is dubbed to become Foreign Minister. Özdemir and Social Democrat Leyla Onur had been the first German MPs of Turkish heritage upon their entry to parliament in 1994.((http://www.taz.de/!5448373/))

Yet Özdemir’s relationship with the German Turkish community is anything but easy. The 51-year-old has been an extremely vocal critic of the Erdoğan administration; and together with the other German Turkish MPs, he supported the ‘Armenia Resolution’ of the Bundestag in 2016: via this decision, Germany officially designated the killings of Armenians in Turkey during WWI as a genocide.((https://dtj-online.de/14-tuerken-ziehen-in-den-bundestag-88537))

The passage of the Armenia Resolution has occasioned deep rifts between German Turkish politicians and an electorate that is still strongly wedded to the Turkish national account of history. Satisfaction with having a German Turkish voice figure prominently on the German political scene is thus counterbalanced by a fear that this voice might ‘sell out’ and adopt the discourses and positions of the political mainstream.

German Turks split on referendum, Erdoğan’s critique of Europe

In Turkey, voting for the country’s crucial constitutional referendum will take place on April 16, 2017. President Erdoğan is hoping for a resounding Evet (Yes) vote in order to transform Turkey into a presidential republic and to enhance the powers of his office. In Germany, 1.4 million German Turks holding a Turkish passport were already able to vote between March 27 and April 9 in consulates and 13 polling stations around the country.

German Turks as a critical constituency

As opinion polls in Turkey have tightened, German Turks have become a crucial factor in the election, potentially able to tip the scales either way. Consequently, AKP politicians have spent considerable energy on trying to mobilise Turkish voters in Germany in favour of the presidential system.

The German government and local administrations proceeded to prohibit several campaign speeches by Turkish ministers. None of these events had diplomatic consequences as severe as the Netherlands’ expulsion of the Turkish Minister for Family Affairs shortly before the Dutch election.(( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/11/erdogan-brands-dutch-nazi-remnants-for-barring-turkish-mp )) Nevertheless, the Turkish leadership has not openly accused German authorities of fascist practices and of seeking to weaken Turkey by preventing a Yes-vote in the referendum.

Belated organisation of the No campaign

Compared to the Evet camp, their Hayır (No) opponents, have tended to organise late in Germany. Fears of potential repercussions of an open anti-Erdoğan stance appear to have played a role in this.

In recent weeks, German media have reported on extensive intelligence and spying operations of the Turkish secret service, MİT. The agency has a strong presence in Germany with reportedly 400 full-time employees. Observers noted MİT’s attempt to spread a “climate of fear” among Turkish dissidents in Germany – Kurds, Gülenists, Kemalists, and leftists alike.(( http://www.dw.com/de/geheimdienstexperte-t%C3%BCrkei-sch%C3%BCrt-ein-klima-der-angst/a-38158666?maca=de-domschule-de-pol-we-eur-1200-rdf ))

At first sight, the German Turkish vote appears Erdoğan’s vote to lose: In 2015’s parliamentary elections, 60 per cent of German Turks opted for the AKP. However, less than 50 per cent of those eligible to vote actually cast a ballot, leaving a considerable marge of uncertainty over the actual allegiances of the community.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/deutschtuerken-gegen-erdogans-referendum-14928470-p2.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 ))

A loyalty questioned

Against the backdrop of this uncertainty, the outcome of the referendum among German Turks seems just as unforeseeable as the overall referendum result. What is certain, however, is that the Turks and people of Turkish heritage living in Germany have been placed in a real bind. As relations between Berlin and Ankara have soured, their loyalty to Germany has been questioned time and again.

What is more, on the conservative side of the political spectrum there have been repeated attempts to roll back dual citizenship provisions, with the aim of forcing German Turks to choose between their allegiance to Turkey or to Germany.

Europe and Germany as the villain

With the Turkish President – the strongman and thus the very embodiment of the Turkish nation to many of his supporters – receiving unprecedented opprobrium in much of mainstream German political and media discourses, some German Turks have shifted to a more pro-Erdoğan position.

Many young attendees at a loyalist rally led by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu evoked feelings of indignation at what they perceived to be a humiliation of Turkey in the German press. More generally, many of them asserted that the restrictions placed on Turkish politicians’ speeches showed that Germany was not a true democracy and that freedom of speech was systematically limited to their detriment.(( http://www.jetzt.de/politik/deutschtuerken-wie-denken-sie-ueber-erdogan-und-die-deutsche-politik ))

This line is also held by the Union of European Turkish Democrats (UETD), a pro-AKP lobbying organisation active in Turkish communities across Europe. Its chairman Zafer Sırakaya asserted that “at the moment in Germany freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly only apply to the opponents of the constitutional reform”.(( http://uetd.org/meinungs-und-versammlungsfreiheit-haben-nur-gegner-der-tuerkischen-verfassungsreform/?lang=de ))

Taking a stand against dictatorship in Turkey

Conversely, the largest ethnically Turkish association in Germany, Türkische Gemeinde in Deutschland (TGD), has become a vocal critic of Erdoğan since 2013 and openly supports the No campaign.(( http://www.tgd.de/2017/03/22/referendum-in-der-tuerkei-worum-geht-es-eigentlich/ )). The association, together with a number of German Turkish politicians, also published a manifesto calling for a No vote and declaring solidarity with oppressed groups in Turkey.(( https://www.mehr-demokratie.de/tuerkei-aufruf.html ))

These sentiments are echoed in the statements of many of those German Turks willing to speak about their objections to the presidential system and Erdoğan’s quest for power to the media (although some only do so on condition of anonymity).(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/gelsenkirchen-was-deutsch-tuerken-ueber-erdogan-denken-a-1107002.html ))

Feridun Zaimoğlu, writer and public intellectual captured an oft-voiced argument when he stated that “as a Turk or German Turk one cannot benefit from freedom in Germany and then vote for the unfreedom of Turkey. Whoever does that is a coward. And sick.”(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/15/deutschtuerken-referendum-wahlkampf-tuerkei/komplettansicht ))

A community divided

Yet the sentiment perhaps most widely expressed by German Turks is a sentiment of regret. They perceive the diplomatic rows as a threat to their position in Germany. The stance on President Erdoğan and his constitutional referendum has become to many a choice between Turkey and Germany.

This choice also divides friends and family, with close family members breaking off contact or insulting each other as ‘traitors’.(( http://www.zeit.de/2017/15/deutschtuerken-referendum-wahlkampf-tuerkei/komplettansicht )) How these divisions could be healed in the future is anybody’s guess.

Interview chair of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jemaat community

July 22

 

Abdullah Uwe Wagishauser, is born in 1950. Since 1984 he is the chair (Emir) of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jemaat community association in Germany. In an interview with the German Turkish News portal, he speaks about the plans of the community to extend the number of mosques and religious facilities. The Ahmadiyya community possesses 36 mosques for 220 communities in Germany and plans to construct 12 new facility buildings.

 

Recognized a corporate body under public law, the Ahmadiyya community is legalized to teach Imams. They are studying Islamic theology at the Islamic theology institute of the Ahmadiyya community. Right now, there are 17 student of Indian and Pakistani origin. They study the Fiqh (Law), Tafsir (Interpretation) of the Quran and Islamic Philosophy. Wagishauser emphasizes the importance of the legal status for the community, as it would not rely on Arab oil or the bargain power of the Turkish Ditib community. Instead, Wagishauser offers to cooperate with other Turkish and Muslim communities and encourages them to free ride on this window of opportunity for Muslims to become visible and notable.

 

Essay: Constructing the Self, Constructing the Other

In her essay US-Turkish philosopher Şeyla Benhabib criticises the current lack of any serious multicultural dialogue between the civilisations. Instead, European and US intellectuals continue to focus on “Islamo-fascism”, thereby blocking any constructive debate on Islam and migration in the West

Last year marked the 50th Anniversary German-Turkish Recruitment Agreement, when Turkish guest-workers began to arrive in Germany, and this was celebrated with big fanfare by Turkish and German politicians on all sides. But the ink had hardly dried on some of these articles and the speeches had hardly ended, when the immigrant community in Germany was shaken to their core because of a set of murders committed by a neo-Nazi terrorist cell from the east German town of Zwickau, disregardfully referred to with the phrase “Döner-murders”.

These so-called Döner-murders involved Turkish street vendors, some of them selling flowers, some of them selling Döners. The murders were committed in the years from 2000 to 2006 but came to light only in the spring of 2011. This reminded the immigrant community – now going on to 60 years of presence in unified Germany – of the arson attack in Moelln in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, in which three Turkish women in were killed in 1992 when a house was set on fire and a grandmother and her grandchildren were burned down.

A Model of Successful Integration

Ilkay Gündogan is a rapidly rising star in German football. German born, but with Turkish roots, he has won the German Championship and the DFB Cup with Borussia Dortmund, has been selected for the German squad for UEFA Euro 2012, and is “Integration Ambassador” for the German Football Association. André Tucic sends us this profile

When the whistle blew at the end of the DFB Cup final, there was no end to the rejoicing on the Dortmund side. Borussia Dortmund (BVB) had beaten FC Bayern Munich 5-2 at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium. Ilkay Gündogan was also overcome with joy. Yet when he met fans, shook hands and exchanged slaps on the back, he suddenly paused for a moment: a fan was holding out a Turkish flag for him to take.

In such moments, it is commonplace for football players to drape themselves with their national flag, thereby highlighting their roots. But Gündogan, who only recently decided to play for the German and not the Turkish national team, turned down the offer of the flag.

Instead, he ran back to his celebrating teammates. A little bit later, however he could be seen with the white crescent moon on a red background wrapped around his body. He probably thought to himself: “I have Turkish roots and I should be allowed to express them.”

“I am just as proud of my Turkish roots as I am of my German heritage,” says Ilkay Gündogan. His father Erfan and mother Ayten were born in Turkey. Ilkay and his brother Ilker grew up in the city of Gelsenkirchen in the industrial Ruhr region, a good place for German–Turkish football players. After all, the city is the birthplace of Hamit and Halil Altintop and Mesut Özil. The Altintops play for Turkey, while Özil wears the German eagle on his breast.

“Illy,” as Ilkay Gündogan is called, could have played for his parents’ homeland if he had wanted to. “Of course, my Turkish heritage plays a role. But I was born and raised here and my mentality is German,” he said recently. Yet before he made his debut with the German national team last fall, he had to earn his stripes on many football fields.

Brain drain: Highly qualified German-Turks emigrate to Turkey

22 October 2010

Increasing numbers of highly skilled German-Turkish labourers leave Germany behind and return to their parents’ country of origin. Business people, IT professionals or engineers turn their backs at a job market that does not provide them with the same chances like their non-migrant German peers, and turn to a country they hardly know. In Turkey, employers are happy about the well trained bilingual professionals. While politicians fight about immigration caps, the numbers show a reverse trend: While 26,600 Turks moved to Germany in 2008, 34,800 left Germany and moved to Turkey.

Clumsy Anti-Terror Investigation: Hilal Sezgin’s Novel about Muslims in Germany

1 October 2010

The new novel by Hilal Sezgin begins with a fictional terrorist attack on Germany – an attack that is not only deeply unsettling for the nation, but also for the book’s heroine. In a humorous and light-hearted tone, the German-Turkish writer and columnist tells of coexistence in a nervous society that suspects every devout Muslim of being a potential terrorist.

It is something one hardly dares to imagine: Islamic terrorists carry out an attack during the New Year period. They managed to poison the contents of numerous bottles of sparkling wine before they hit the supermarket shelves. Nine people die as a result of the poison, and countless more have to receive medical treatment. The entire country is plunged into a state of anxiety and fears that other foodstuffs may have been poisoned. Fortunately, this story is not real, but an invention by the writer and journalist Hilal Sezgin, an idea for a clever and entertaining novel on Germany’s relationship with Islam and the Muslim members of its society (“Mihriban pfeift auf Gott. Ein deutsch-türkischer Schelmenroman.” [Mihriban does not care about God. A German-Turkish picaresque novel]).

New book: Werner Schiffauer’s ethnographic study of the Milli Görüs movement

27 August 2010

Werner Schiffauer, who has pioneered cultural anthropological research into Turkish people in Germany, has taken the Islamic movement Milli Görüs as the subject of his new book. His analysis is more balanced than his critics claim, reviewer Susanne Schröter finds.

Secular revolutionaries who embarked on their long march through enemy institutions were ultimately absorbed, shaped, and moulded by the institutions they joined, and their subversive rhetoric watered down into easily digestible reform programmes. Does the same fate await Islamist fanatics? Werner Schiffauer, professor of cultural anthropology at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt an der Oder who specialises in migration research, is convinced that it does. Schiffauer makes a case for his theory in his new book, which is revealingly entitled Nach dem Islamismus (After Islamism).

On the basis of an in-depth analysis of Milli Görüs’ history, Schiffauer outlines the considerable ground covered by this Islamic movement in its transition from an anti-Western organisation that focussed on Turkey and upheld a crude Islamist ideology to a pragmatic lobby group that represents the interests of German-Turkish Muslims and has found its place in democratic society.

This development is primarily the work of young intellectuals who were born and raised in Germany and who feel very much at home with the German language and the prevailing political culture. Schiffauer’s protagonists are still devout Muslims; however, they appreciate the political system in the Federal Republic or even claim to have discovered that democracy and the social market economy are the epitome of the Islamic ideal of justice.

Qantara

Islamist comments by German-Turkish Hip Hop Star?

The German-Turkish singer Muhabbet, who recently had a lot of press coverage because of its hip hop performance jointly with the German foreign minister, is confronted by sharp critics. He is supposed to have justified the murder of the Islam critic Theo van Gogh. Muhabbet is a prominent symbol of integration. But pop and politics do not necessarily fit together. Iris Alanyali reports.