Would Arab women go out with Turkish men?

Parallel societies?

Necla Kelek

To person

Dr. phil., born in Istanbul in 1957; Studied economics and sociology in Germany. Geschwister-Scholl-Prize winner.
Email: [email protected]

At least half of the Turks living in Germany cling to Turkish-Muslim traditions. Equal rights and the rule of law, the protection and realization of the fundamental rights of the individual are prerequisites for integration.


When, in August 1967, at the age of ten, I drove from Anatolia via Istanbul to Germany with my big sister and little brother, there was a handwritten note from my father in the side pocket of my new coat in addition to my Turkish ID card. Although I couldn't read German, I knew the text. My father, who worked in Germany, gave it to me on his last visit to Turkey and said, "If you can read these lines, you are in Germany."

It was the national anthem, the "Song of the Germans". He believed that - as is customary in Turkish schools - the national anthem would also be sung in Germany before classes began. The evening before my first day of school in Germany, my father and I practiced the difficult pronunciation: "Bloom in the shine of this happiness, bloom, German fatherland". The disappointment was great when no one sang the song the next morning, and no one wanted to hear it later either. [1]

The path from Anatolia via Istanbul to Germany was for my family - whose fate is in many respects very typical of the development of Turkish society and the migration process - the path from the collective of the family clan to the small family, from guardianship to freedom, from the Tradition in the modern age, from the social being to the individual.

With the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the country had given itself a new constitution and a new script, and women had their first rights. According to Kemal Ataturk's credo, it is they who will educate future generations. That is why they should not be denied education, as has been the case up to now. Only a society in which women have equal rights is prepared to take the path to modernity.

Ataturk had recognized that it was not enough to plant the ideas of the French Revolution, which had been propagated with great effort, like a new shoot on the Turkish tree. Without a change in mentality, it would wither. More was needed for the realization and enforcement of human rights.

In the cities where industry flourished, so did the bourgeoisie, who accepted and enjoyed the new freedoms. At the same time, the rural structures fell into disrepair, and a stream that had now lasted for 80 years began, an internal migration from all rural areas towards the big cities, primarily to Istanbul. My parents also joined this train and moved to the Bosphorus. For the first time in their lives my father and mother were responsible for themselves, it was not the extended family who decided for them. My mother, who had been married without being asked, and who, if she had stayed in the village, would have had to serve her mother-in-law all her life, was suddenly left to fend for herself and had to run a household on her own. The power of circumstance made my mother and the many women who came to town similarly into self-employed women who followed the example of Doris Day and Jackie Kennedy rather than being locked inside.

In addition, Turkey had decreed a strict separation of religion and state, and Islam and the traditions that were attached to it continued to lose ground in the cities. The state separated religion from politics, banned Islam including Fez (formerly widespread headgear for men in the Orient) and headscarves from schools, universities and public places, and at the same time tried to control Islam by organizing it. So it came to the strange development that a state institute for religion trains and pays the prayer leaders of the mosques and specifies the content of the sermons. It also pays the 3,000 or so imams who preach in Turkish in the Ditip mosques in Germany. Religious freedom, as we know it from Christianity, for example, does not exist in Turkey. Every Turk, if he does not explicitly profess another religion, is a Muslim from birth.

The lifestyle that was cultivated by the bourgeoisie in Istanbul from the 1950s to 1970s was European or American. The Association Agreement between the Turkish government and the European Economic Community in 1963 arose from this westward-oriented spirit, just as modern Istanbul, which is today praised as exemplary, is a child of this Enlightenment.

My father went to Germany as one of the first "guest workers". He left as a republican, as a supporter of Ataturk, he wanted to use the opportunities of the "economic miracle". And at the same time as the men, Turkish women went abroad alone for the first time in the early 1960s. For them Europe was the chance for further individuation.

The process of individuation is a prerequisite and condition for modernity. Individuation means that each individual perceives rights and duties, concludes contracts, and does not appear as a member of a group or a family. Only those who are able to take responsibility for themselves and their actions will be able to act successfully and find their way around in society. Many have understood this, they have taken their own individual path and have used Europe as an opportunity.

The first migrants did not stay alone for long. Labor was recruited on a large scale in Anatolia. They went to Germany and lived here under the simplest of conditions. It should only be a temporary solution for two or three years. But it turned out differently. The guest workers soon brought their families to join them, decided to stay in Germany and became immigrants without any reaction from politicians. Maybe she didn't even really notice. With the relatives, the Muslim-Turkish family traditions also came to Germany. Most of the women who were the first to break into the modern age were brought back into the house. In many cases German was no longer learned, Turkish was spoken and Muslims lived. "I didn't come to Germany, I came to a family," said an "import bride" who has lived in Germany for ten years in an interview.

Ataturk had already broken his teeth in rural Turkey. The way to modernity did not succeed here, also because the economic prerequisites for it were lacking. The traditional Muslim-Turkish culture, the complex system of beliefs, customs, and manners remained untouched. The laws of the republic existed, but there was no one to fill them with life. Life went on as it had for centuries.

This also applied to the internal migrants who came to Istanbul from the villages and built their houses in the Gececondos there overnight. It was agricultural workers without land or work who took their traditions and customs with them to Istanbul and later to Germany. They had nothing to expect from the modern age, because they lacked the elementary prerequisites for a career abroad. And nothing else was expected of them, no one asked anything of them, except that they should take over the simple work for which the Germans had become a shame in the meantime. The migrants couldn't care less where they lived - whether in Istanbul or in Iserlohn, they were definitely the losers of the development. So they stuck to what was left to them - to their traditions and, increasingly, to faith with its fixed rules of life and the faith in fate inherent in Islam.

Islam - also with financial support from the Turkish Republic and from Saudi Arabia - was once again creating identity, and guest workers became first Turks and then Muslims in the public consciousness. In addition, there was a feeling - with the strengthening of political Islam since 1979, first in Iran and later in Turkey - that with this belief I was finally back on the side of the moral winners of history. The patriarchal family and village structures in Anatolia remained untouched and were able to live on in the traditionalist-oriented migrant groups in Germany.

In Turkey, the marriage age for women was raised to 18 years by law as early as the 1920s. Regardless of this, the girls are still either "promised" when they are babies or are often married by force or arrangement at the age of 15 or 16. 150 Turkish women were interviewed as part of an investigation by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs. [2] One in two women stated that their spouses were chosen by their parents, one in four did not know their partner before they were married, and twelve of the 150 women felt compelled to marry. Human rights organizations report similar figures from the Kurdish metropolis of Diyarbakir, where every second woman has been married off without her consent.

Even today - and I emphasize that these are not exceptional cases - in these circles girls are in fact owned by their fathers and brothers, they are called the "honor of the family" and they are looked after. Older people determine their lives, decide whether they go to school and whom they will marry. According to a report by the newspaper "Milliyet" on April 19, 2005, over 800,000 girls between the ages of 7 and 15 in eastern Anatolia alone are to be kept away from school in order to work in the house or in agriculture. [3] As a young girl in Germany, I myself saw a friend in the neighborhood being held in the house for over ten years. This girl was not allowed to go to school because her parents were working and she had to take care of the younger brother. And she was sent to Turkey at the age of 16 and married there.

"Marriage is not a sacrament in Islam," writes Islamic scholar Ursula Spuler-Stegemann, "but a civil law contract between two families." And marriage is not an individual matter in Turkish-Muslim society. "Marry the single!" is in the Koran, and the heads of families take this invitation seriously. [4] Young people are deprived of the elementary right to decide for themselves whether, whom and when to marry. And with that, love is withheld from them. You mustn't fall in love. A contact, even a harmless flirtation, between young men and women without marriage is unthinkable according to the traditional view, a violation of the moral code and will not be tolerated.

This mentality, clinging to the Turkish-Muslim common sense abroad, leads to the situation that we presumably have today in Germany with at least half of the Turks living here. You live in the modern age, but never got there. They live in Germany according to the rules of their Anatolian village. They have withdrawn into their faith, into their umma, a parallel world, and reproduce it by marrying their children to girls and boys from their old homeland.

The consequences are dramatic: a lack of individualization and personal responsibility also result in a lack of willingness to educate. If parents expect their daughter to be married off when they are 16, why should they invest in that child's education, graduate school, or go to college? A lack of responsibility for the future, a lack of investment in the education of their children reproduce their own social status again and again. And so the myth of the Turkish family, in which everyone is so well cared for, is put into perspective. In many cases it is more of a control system in which older men determine and control what family members should and should not do. In this system the principle of respect and honor prevails, a younger person does not have to contradict the elderly, and women are the "honor", that is, the property of men and have no place in public. The family is not a system of welfare, but a display of ownership. When in doubt, like in the village, the grandmother decides whether it is appropriate for the granddaughter to go to school.

These are not good prerequisites for a democracy, because it needs responsible citizens. And so, in the end, the integration of a large number of Turks in Germany failed due to the issue of equal rights for women. This realization is all the more bitter as in Germany in the last few decades a variety of state and social policy initiatives have aimed at improving the position of women. This opportunity is still used by too few. The men fear that they will lose power over women. Here as there you follow a different worldview.

The Turkish constitution was modeled on the constitution of Switzerland. Article 10 was changed in the course of the reforms in May 2004. It is now called: "Women and men have equal rights. The state is obliged to realize equality." Regardless of this, there is a large gap between the constitutional text and reality. I would like to try an explanation for this from a sociological point of view.

This contradiction is explained, among other things, by the fundamentally different view of the tasks and functions of the state and the family in the traditional Islamic-Turkish model of society. Islam knows no separation of state and politics. Society is structured vertically, divided into men and women. Men are the public: politics, women are privacy: the house. The separation of public and private is part of the traditional Islamic worldview. Society is not a whole made up of men and women, but there are two societies: that of women and that of men. According to this view, if women want to enter the domain of men, i.e. the public, they must disguise themselves in order not to disturb the public, i.e. the men. Women disturb because they are a constant seduction for the man, from whom he must be protected because he is so difficult to control.

According to this view, the state is the man, it bears responsibility for the country and regulates the political and economic framework for its citizens. The house is the woman, she should make decisions in the house, but the man is responsible for the house. He can raise his children however he wants and marry them off with whoever he wants, the state does not interfere. Anyone who speaks about family affairs in public is violating the law of the ummah, the community of believers. This simplified view of the world is lived unbroken, regardless of the rights in the constitution. That is why there is so much excitement among nationalists and Islamists and in their press that "strangers" are discussing the Armenian question or forced marriage, honor killing and domestic violence. They are of the opinion that this is no business of any stranger, a view that is diametrically opposed to the definition of democracy given by Max Frisch: "Democracy means interfering in one's own affairs."

In modern societies everyone bears responsibility for themselves. The individual is allowed and is required of him to take responsibility for his actions and to control them accordingly. Modern societies are accordingly structured horizontally. In the vertically structured Turkish-Islamic world, however, humans are understood as a social being that does not belong to themselves but to the community. He cannot control himself, the community bears responsibility for him: the elder bears it for the younger, the men for the women, the head of the family for the whole family.

When I speak of "Islam" I immediately encounter a number of objections. There is no such thing as "" Islam, they say. That is undoubtedly correct - there are Shiites, Sunnis, Alevis, Wahabi, different schools of law, etc., there is "Euro-Islam" like the one in Indonesia. By its nature, Islam is not a church, and there is the rule of Islamist fundamentalists as well as the views of modernizers such as Fatima Mernissi or Youssef Seddik, who interprets the Koran as a deeply individualistic metaphor.

As a sociologist, I am not interested in a theological discussion. I see what is lived in the name of Islam, religion as a cultural dimension. Just as there is a Christian attitude to life, a basic understanding of ethics, a canon of values ​​in Christianity, there is also this cultural dimension in Islam. Religion is a cultural system that gives our life the dimension of the transcendent. Religion mediates a general order of being that goes beyond social reality.

In Turkish-Islamic society there are specific images of people and the world that are closely linked to religion and are legitimized by it: the idea of ​​the umma, for example, gives rise to a guiding social concept of community, which gives priority to the community over the individual admits. This is in contrast to the Christian idea of ​​the uniqueness of the individual in societies, which has facilitated their transition to democracy. Through the discovery of conscience, Christians became responsible individuals. Whoever bears responsibility can also be guilty. Conversely, this means that without a conscience there is no responsibility and therefore no responsible person. The question of individuation cannot be separated from conscience, morality and values ​​- even if we may sometimes forget that. Without this we would not have been able to give ourselves any laws, no constitution, no basic rights.

It is true that both the right and the left political forces in the Turkish Republic have consistently tried to push back Islam, but they have failed to counter the collective idea of ​​this religion with a concept of strengthening individual rights and individual emancipation. Instead, they filled it - according to their taste - with new collectivist concepts such as the communist revolution, Kurdish separatism and Turkish nationalism. The Turkish constitution emphasizes in article 1 the "peace of the community" and "the nationalism of Ataturk", and also the basic rights in article 12 [5] are granted, but oblige and make everyone responsible but "the community, the family".

This may be one reason why bourgeois or liberal parties have such a hard time and that a civic movement never really came into being. The Kemalists did not succeed in defining the state also or primarily as a protective organization for the rights of the individual. Although Ataturk hated Islam, his idea of ​​the enlightened republic suffers from the fact that although he secularized the state, he continued to organize it as a collective rather than a community of individuals. The principle of the ummah, the community closed in itself and outwardly, was not questioned, but turned upside down and transformed into the principle of Turkishness. Every Turkish child utters this oath every morning, that is at least a thousand times in the course of their school life: "Türküm, dogruyum, caliskanin: ... I am Turkish, I am honest, I am hardworking. It is my law, those who to protect smaller than me and to honor those who are bigger, to love my country and my nation more than myself. My ideal is to rise and move forward. Let my existence be given to the existence of Turkishness. ... How happy are you those who say I'm Turkish ... Ne mutlu Türküm diyene.

Since Turkey's admission to the European Union has been under discussion, not a day has passed without the contradictions and problems between legal reform claims and reality not becoming clear. Europe is a challenge, Europe is another opportunity. In 1923 Turkey decided in favor of Europe and since then it has been on the way there, even if this is repeatedly questioned by many forces within Turkey.

If this opportunity is not to be wasted, then Turkey must accept the basic values ​​of the European idea: There are points of contact not only on the political level, on which the European states are working to overcome nationalism, Turkey is also on the economic level with their dynamism, they are sure to be an equal partner. Much more decisive, however, is the path to the European Union as a cultural system: as a community of values. I am not going into the dispute here as to whether Europe is a "Christian club" or whether the Turkish Republic is sailing to Europe with the black chador. My concern is something else: In 1923 the Turkish Republic took a civilizational step that must be irreversible: Equality between men and women on all levels of society is a sine qua non.

In this society we no longer have to meet as genders, but as partners and as people. Both women and men have to bear social responsibility. It cannot be that the men stand in public and pass laws on behalf of the women. The women must be involved. This society belongs to all of us and is no longer divisible.

Anyone who, based on social or religious traditions and feelings, insists on imposing rules of conduct from the 7th century on women does not regard people as unique and not equal. Anyone who argues with the biological or theological inferiority of women does not want real democracy, even if they are democratically legitimized. And it will fail in modern times because a divided society does not produce responsible individuals.

Another achievement of civilization is the regulation of social life through democratic decisions about laws. It is not God who makes the laws, but people who make them. And these laws apply to everyone. The legal schools of Islam do not accept this, for them there is God's revelation in the Koran and it is holy. The traditionally religious Muslims, however, assume that God himself is the lawgiver, that his revelations laid down in the Koran have the force of law and that there is no "secular" area of ​​life.

Many believe that they can also live according to the law of Islam - Sharia - in Europe. The Sharia still determines the upbringing of many Muslim people today. It is based on the fundamental idea that Islam means "surrender" or "submission". Sharia law is a right of retaliation that requires physical pain for an offense. An example is given: According to Sharia law, adultery is a hadd offense, a border offense. Those who commit adultery are not violating human rights, but God's rights. According to sura 24, verse 2, there is no pity for the guilty: the Koran specifies 100 lashes or stoning as retribution. On the other hand, killing a person - including premeditated murder - is not a capital crime, but a Qisas offense, the crime with the possibility of retaliation. Koran sura 17, verse 33: "If someone was killed unjustly, we give authority to the next of kin (for retribution)."

This is nothing less than the legitimation of blood revenge. Anyone who renounces the constitutional concept of atonement and punishment by referring to his religion cannot arrive in a democratic society. It is not credible, on the one hand, to decide on reforms and, on the other hand, not to oppose the increasingly stronger Islamists and their understanding of the law.

Organized Muslims have an obligation if they want to be accepted as equal partners in a democratic society: in Germany too. Not only do you have to accept the constitution, you have to renounce the principles of the Sharia in word and deed. Political Islam knows how to use basic rights such as the freedom of religion in our society to enforce its collectivist ideas under the veil of personal rights. The headscarf debate is just one example.

The Turkish government, through its Office for Religion, would have an excellent opportunity to initiate this reform work - the public turning away from the principles of Sharia law. This could also include the imams posted to Germany learning German and attending the orientation courses provided for in the Immigration Act. The Turkish and Islamic organizations, the cultural and mosque associations could make an important contribution to individuation and the realization of human rights, especially for young women, if they outlawed the practice of forced marriage, provided their members with information and supported them in speaking the language of it Country to learn. Here too, in my opinion, the willingness of the Turkish government to reform is being put to the test. Who, if not an Islamic government, could, by virtue of their office, promote a reform of Islam towards more personal freedom? On the way to Europe it is not a question of pursuing "Turkish policy" or "Islamic policy", but rather of building on the common European house.

I hope that the Muslims and Turks living in Germany will recognize the opportunities and personal security that a secularized society offers them. Every day I experience how Turkish women gain courage and see freedom as their chance to lead an equal life. These women need encouragement and support. Everyone should live his or her religion and culture - as long as he or she respects the rights of the individual and accepts that belief is a personal matter.

The acceptance of equality between men and women and the fundamental distancing from Sharia law are basic requirements for a common Europe. What the former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder warned at the beginning of May 2005 on the occasion of his visit to Turkey is correct. He called for a "change in mentality" so that integration can succeed. I understand it this way:

It is not enough to change laws and make confessions; above all, something has to change in people's attitudes. The Turkish Republic cannot avoid taking the step from the collectivism of Kemalism to a European civil society. The Turks must not only see themselves as a nation, but each and every individual must see himself as a free person who takes responsibility for himself, Turkey and the European community. And the Turks living in Germany have to accept this country as their country. Supporting this with all our strength is the great opportunity that Europe can offer Turkish men and women.

Unlike my parents and siblings, I stayed in Germany. My father, who came here first, was also the first to return to Turkey. Despite his good will, he was unable to use his freedom. I don't mean to say that the individual path is easy. It challenges the individual in his whole personality.

Approximately 2.6 million fellow citizens of Turkish origin currently live in the Federal Republic of Germany. A large number of them are integrated, have seized the opportunities of this society, many have accepted this as their society. Another part has withdrawn into a parallel society. It is estimated that there are a million people who are reluctant to integrate into European society. They want to continue living according to their traditions, but not forego the security of the welfare state.

Because the integration of these Muslims and Turks living among us is so difficult, we have an inkling of how great the task of integrating Turkey into the European Union will be. There is no getting around it, we - and by that I mean the democrats here and in Turkey - must insist on the principles of equality and the rule of law, the protection and realization of the fundamental rights of the individual, not least on the principle of personal responsibility. Here lies the chance for Turkey, for the Turks in Germany and their integration.