Sunday, May 27, 2007
Where Every Generation Is First-Generation
Where Every Generation Is First-Generation
By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
Last June, Seyran Ates, a lawyer, was waiting for a U-Bahn train in Berlin’s Mockernbrucke subway station with a client for whom she had secured a divorce when the client’s husband stormed onto the platform. He began beating up his ex-wife. Then he turned on Ates. Ates recalls seeing a number of men standing around, watching it all happen, as she danced from side to side with her attaché case, trying to fend off his heavy punches and kicks. It was not the first time she had been attacked in the line of duty.
A Turk of partly Kurdish descent, Ates arrived with her parents in the West Berlin neighborhood of Wedding in the late 1960s, when she was 6. Her parents were loving, but it was a traditional kind of love that involved much scolding, grounding and disciplinary slapping. School was Ates’s only escape from the house, and she excelled at it. She knew she wanted to be a lawyer. Just before her 18th birthday, as her mother and aunt were beginning to make plans to marry her off, she ran away. This flight was not a simple abandonment of her family, to whom Ates remains close. Nor was it an abandonment of her ancestral culture. True, Ates has built her career in law around a German — and to many Turks, idiosyncratic and hostile — conception of women’s rights. Yet she speaks to her young daughter in Turkish because, she says, “I want her to understand why I cry when I hear my favorite Turkish songs.”
Ates (pronounced AH-tesh) went to Kreuzberg, a run-down, part-Turkish, part-hippie neighborhood backed up against the Berlin Wall. By the early 1980s she was working part time as a counselor in a women’s center while she finished her studies. In September 1984, a Turkish nationalist, his exact motives unclear even today, burst in. Mumbling that “this won’t take long,” he pulled out a gun and fired a bullet into Ates’s neck. He then shot the client Ates was counseling, mortally wounding her. Ates’s 2003 autobiography, “Journey Into the Fire,” centered on that incident, on her long, touch-and-go recovery from it and on the preoccupation to which she has devoted her intellectual and professional energies ever since. Namely, the inability of women of Turkish background to claim the rights to which they are entitled as German residents and even as German citizens.
Ates’s preoccupation is now Germany’s. Since last fall, the Islamkonferenz, a 30-member panel set up by Interior Minister Wolfgang SchÃ¤uble, has devoted much of its time and energy to the way ethnic minorities meet, mate and marry — particularly the almost three million German residents of Turkish descent, more than one-third of whom have German citizenship. The panel, intended to create a “German Islam,” differs from analogous government bodies set up in France and Italy. In those countries, religious hierarchs and political activists have dominated. Emerging government structures have been staffed by people who view religion sympathetically. The Islamkonferenz, by contrast, includes a wide variety of voices, religious and not. There is the largely Arab and conservative Central Muslim Council. There is the Turkish Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (known by its Turkish acronym, Ditib), a 25-year-old body established in Germany by the Turkish government to aid with mosque-building, burials and other religious arrangements. But there are also 10 independent members appointed without regard to their religious views or affiliations. That is how Ates wound up pronouncing on some of the most stubborn problems that have arisen from the mass immigration that began decades ago.
Marriage is not just an aspect of the immigration problem in Germany; to a growing extent, it is the immigration problem. Starting in the 1960s, millions of Turkish “guest workers” were imported to provide manpower for the German economic boom. The guest-worker program was ended in 1973, the year of the first oil crisis, but large-scale immigration from Turkey has scarcely abated since. For years, political asylum was relatively easy for Turks to obtain, owing to political assassinations, military coups and the violent Kurdish nationalist movement in eastern Anatolia. But since the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Germany, like most European countries, has steadily tightened its criteria for political asylum.
This leaves open only one avenue for non-European men and women who want to enter Germany legally: marriage to someone with legal residency in the country. Fortunately for would-be immigrants, young ethnic Turks in Germany have a strong tendency to marry people from the home country. Exact statistics are hard to come by, but it is possible that as many as 50 percent of Turks (a word that in common parlance often includes even those with German citizenship) seek their spouses abroad, according to SchÃ¤uble, the interior minister. For most of the past decade, according to the ministry, between 21,000 and 27,000 people a year have successfully applied at German consulates in Turkey to form families in Germany. (Just under two-thirds of the newcomers are women.) That means roughly half a million spouses since the mid-1980s, which in turn means hundreds of thousands of new families in which the children’s first language is as likely to be Turkish as German.
Binational marriage alarms many Germans for two reasons. First, it allows the Turkish community to grow fast at a time when support for immigration is low. The Turkish population in Germany multiplies not once in a life cycle but twice — at childbirth and at marriage. Second, such marriages retard assimilation even for those Turks long established in Germany. You frequently hear stories from schoolteachers about a child of guest workers who was a star pupil three decades ago but whose own children, although born in Germany, struggle to learn German in grade school. After half a century of immigration, every new generation of Turks is still, to a large extent, a first generation.
Turkish marriages are seldom Western-style love matches. They are often arranged by parents. A 2003 study by the Federal Ministry of Family found that a quarter of Turkish women in Germany hadn’t even known their partners before they married. The rural Anatolian practice of marrying relatives, usually first cousins, is frequent. It accounts, according to the Center for Turkey Studies at the University of Duisburg-Essen, for between a sixth and a quarter of binational pairings. These marriages bring certain Anatolian problems into the heart of Germany. Domestic violence is high. The causes of wife-beating among families of immigrant background can be debated, but not the numbers. Gulgun Teyhani, who works at a battered-women’s shelter in Duisburg, reckoned that of the 86 women her house took in last year, 60 had a migrant background, and 51 of them spoke Turkish. Last year, the Federal Criminal Investigation Agency found that in the preceding five years, 45 “honor killings” were carried out by Turkish or Kurdish families in Germany against women deemed to have “strayed,” generally by dating Europeans or adopting Western fashions.
It probably doesn’t take more than a few such incidents to intimidate young Turkish women who watch the news or read the papers. Seyran Ates admits that even divorce lawyers feel this way. “It is a dangerous line of work,” she says. “The men are often aggressive. Their idea is, I’m taking their women away from them.”
The tragedy of imported brides, Necla Kelek writes, is that they “will live in Germany but never arrive there.” Like Ates, Kelek is a Turkish-German woman with intense passions on either side of the hyphen. She is another independent member of the Islamkonferenz. Kelek was born in Istanbul and came to Germany as a young girl in the 1960s. She, too, climbed into the middle of mainstream German society through the school system. She earned a doctorate in sociology but has since turned to a more literary kind of writing. Her best-selling book, “The Foreign Bride,” is a memoir — although it might be better described as a polemic — about Turkish women imported as wives. It relies on Kelek’s own family anecdotes, on dozens of interviews conducted in mosques in Hamburg and Lower Saxony and on government studies. It is in large part a result of her books that some Germans who once viewed Turkish marriage practices as none of their business now see it as a pressing crisis.
The German reading public has a powerful appetite for what might be called noble-savage memoirs — books that span the genres between ethnology, erotica and bildungsroman. Corinne Hofmann’s “White Masai” series, which describes her romantic life with an East African tribesman, has sold millions of copies. Even given such a standing fascination, there is something extraordinary about the appeal, over the last half-decade, of autobiographies by Muslim women who have either triumphed over or been beaten down by traditionalist understandings of the family. Although Ates’s and Kelek’s books stand out, there are literally dozens of other, lesser books — with titles like “Choking on Your Lies,” “No One Asked My Permission” and so on — covering entire dinner-table-size displays in bookstores.
Just why Germans are consuming these books in such numbers is unclear. This has always been a culture with an insatiable interest in other cultures, as the role of Germans in founding the modern social sciences and the thick concentration of museums in the center of Berlin both attest. It may also be that Germans have so deeply internalized the ethics of repentance for World War II that they lack the confidence, or the inclination, to make sweeping and critical value judgments about other cultures. They now require non-Germans or semi-Germans or new Germans to say such things. “I have a special role in this debate,” Kelek says over dinner in the East Berlin neighborhood where she lives. “It is to say, ‘Watch out!’ ”
Few deny that Kelek has put her finger on a genuine problem. A 2002 Berlin Senate report (cited in her book) documented hundreds of complaints of forced marriage. But there is controversy over what “forced” means. In Turkish culture, people tend to discuss liberty in terms of the family rather than in terms of the individual. If you look at things this way, then Turkish-style betrothals are just the kind of consultation you would expect in a close family. After all, they don’t involve matchmakers or extrafamilial institutions. But if you consider individuals first, as Germans tend to, the intense involvement of parents in the child’s marriage decision looks like a severe constraint on personal freedom — particularly in a structure as patriarchal as the traditional Turkish family. Kelek embraces this German way of looking at things. “For me there is no essential difference between arranged marriage and forced marriage,” she writes. “The outcome is the same.”
Many Turks call this a simplistic view. It blurs the distinction between parental persuasion and heartless coercion, they say. Almost all Turks would grant that, at some point, threats of ostracism or violence would constitute unacceptable force. But Kelek, who is a staunch, and to some ears strident, defender of European values, is impatient with what she sees as multiculturalist cant. (She is given to tossing off remarks like “Europeans built America, not Indians,” as she did over dinner in Berlin last winter.)
Like Ayaan Hirsi Ali in the Netherlands, Kelek has been accused of “Enlightenment fundamentalism,” a tendency to defend secular values too dogmatically. Last year, a group of 60 “migration researchers” wrote an open letter to the weekly paper Die Zeit attacking Kelek’s writing as “unserious” — an odd criticism to level at a memoirist, even one trained in sociology. Others say she has made Islam too central to her explanation of violence against women.
Marriage among Turks has become a cause célÃ¨bre partly because of Turks’ resistance to German ways. But Turks’ acceptance of German ways, particularly by this first generation of Turkish-German feminist writers and intellectuals, plays a role too. “I think a lot of Germans are positively embarrassed by how patriotic these women are,” writes Jorg Lau, an admirer of both Kelek and Ates who often writes about Muslim issues for Die Zeit. For the first time, negative verdicts on the Turkish model of relations between the sexes are coming out of the Turkish community itself.
The topic of marriage comes up often among Turks in places like Duisburg. It is not a side issue. Of the roughly 25,000 foreigners who immigrate to Germany every year to marry, about a thousand go to Duisburg, and the great majority of those are Turks. The city’s Marxloh neighborhood is the Continental capital of Turkish wedding caterers and bridal shops.
Duisburg, where the Rhine and the Ruhr meet, and where mining and industry link up to the biggest inland port in Europe, is a kind of European Pittsburgh. In decades past, tens of thousands of Turks came to work in the city’s three big steel plants, which together employed 64,000 people in the ’70s, and in its archipelago of coal mines. But today there are only 20,000 industrial jobs left in the whole city. Duisburg’s population, 608,000 in the 1970s, has fallen to under half a million. The older German-born natives (who had jobs) die, their children (who want jobs) move and the absolute number of Turks living there continues to grow. According to the mayor’s office, there are 41,900 Turks in Duisburg, and another 24,000 of Turkish background who have acquired German citizenship. Together they account for more than half of Duisburg’s minority population — and for much of the city’s dynamism as well. In Marxloh, where half of the 18,000 residents are immigrants or children of immigrants, the largest mosque in Germany is nearing completion. At the same time, the local Catholic bishop has announced he must reduce the number of parishes in Duisburg from 32 to 4. The Evangelical Church of Germany, a Protestant umbrella organization, recently published a controversial document in which it laid out some ground rules for turning Christian houses of worship into Muslim ones. Duisburg is changing from a “typical” postwar German city into a heavily — and, in parts, predominantly — Turkish one, through a kind of distillation.
In the neighborhood of Hochfeld, which has lost one-third of its population in the past three decades, this distillation is at its extreme. Rauf Ceylan, a sociologist whose parents settled as guest workers nearby in Wanheim, has spent years studying the coffeehouses and mosques that are the central community institutions for men. What Ceylan has found is a parallel society growing increasingly elaborate and increasingly entrenched. He calls Hochfeld an “ethnic colony,” rather than just a “ghetto” or “community.” That is, Hochfeld is more than a place where a homesick Turk can find a little corner of Turkey, the way a Japanese immigrant might gravitate to a sushi restaurant in New Hampshire. It is turning into a fully articulated Turkish society, where a Turk has the institutions to lead any kind of Turkish life he chooses. And the life that most Hochfeld residents choose is becoming steadily more traditional. The first generation of guest workers were not particularly traditionalist, Ceylan says. They were mostly single men, with the easy-come, easy-go lifestyle that being single implies. But once they acquired wives from Turkey and formed families, their role changed from hired worker to paterfamilias, and their priorities changed, too. They built institutions that mimicked those of the villages they hailed from.
Many Germans held out hope that younger generations, those born here, would have different priorities. Exposed to German society through television and schools, they would lose interest in the ways of coffeehouse and mosque. The old assumption that living in the middle of Western prosperity creates an almost automatic loyalty has been shaken in recent years. German residents, of course, played a leading role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Said Bahaji, a German citizen of Moroccan descent who served in the German Army, provided important logistical support for the Hamburg-based cell led by the Egyptian Mohamed Atta. The Lebanese-born 9/11 terrorist Ziad Jarrah did part of the planning in Duisburg, and had a romantic involvement with a seemingly well-assimilated Turkish-German woman who studied dentistry nearby in Bochum.
The way immigrants marry is a key factor in the way they assimilate, or don’t. In 2000, the German Youth Institute reported that 53 percent of Turkish women ages 16 to 29 would not consider marrying a German “under any circumstances.” Indeed, the big gap that separates young Turks from German youth culture is an important theme of “Head-On,” Fatih Akin’s Turkish-German film of 2005. Perhaps Turks’ preference for Turkish mates reflects, in some cases, the desire for a religious life. But a survey taken in the late 1990s found similar discomfort on the part of Germans, for whom religious considerations are presumably less of a factor. Fifteen percent of western Germans and just 7 percent of eastern ones said it would be “pleasant” (angenehm) to have a Turkish relative. Majorities in both places agreed it would be “unpleasant.”
Where such attitudes prevail, self-segregation is inevitable, mystifying those immigrants most inclined to assimilate. “There is a big change that comes at puberty, a divergence of interests,” says Osman Apaydin, who runs a development program around the corner from the wedding shops in Marxloh. Sitting in his office in February, he described how his grown daughter, modern-minded, open to the world, much more comfortable speaking German than Turkish, who went to majority-German schools, now finds herself unmarried, with an increasingly Turkish circle of friends. To hear Apaydin describe it, the difficulty of modern Turkish women in finding husbands resembles the predicament of highly educated black women in the United States.
Where traditional young women start families and assimilated ones have trouble finding their social footing, the next generation is brought up — almost by definition — by those who are least assimilated themselves. You can blame Turkish attitudes if you want, but they arise from a certain objective truth: The closer one gets to German culture, the farther one gets from family. There are a lot of ways to measure this. In North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state and the one where Duisburg is located, 80 percent of Turks ages 25 to 34 are married; their average marriage age is 21 for women and 24 for men. Among non-Turks, only 32 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are married; the average marriage age is 29 for women and 32 for men. Germans have one of the lowest fertility rates in the history of the world — 1.36 children per woman, according to 2004 figures. While it is hard to find precise figures for Turks in Germany, the rate is widely agreed to be higher. The rate in Turkey itself is almost twice as high, at 2.4 children per woman. If a good chance of childlessness and middle-aged solitude is the price of assimilation, it is for many Turks an exorbitant one. According to a study done by the Center for Turkey Studies in Essen, young Turkish women and men brought up in Germany view their fellow Turkish-Germans of the opposite sex as “distant from their own culture, or ‘degenerate.’ ”
You seldom meet young Turkish women of marriage age who describe themselves as either unambiguously traditional or unambiguously modern. Take Yasemin Yadigaroglu, for instance. A tight, traditional head scarf covers every last strand of her hair. But there is something bold and dashing about her, as well as conservative. At 26, she leads a campaign supported by the Duisburg city government to dissuade Turks from marrying their cousins. A German citizen born in Duisburg, she studied social science at the University of Duisburg-Essen.
Unlike Kelek, Yadigaroglu is an observant Muslim. She says that cousin marriage is “a misrepresentation of Islam.” Yet despite her religious bent, Yadigaroglu’s preoccupations and even conclusions about the family overlap with Kelek’s. Yadigaroglu claims that marriage between cousins retards assimilation, that it contributes to parallel societies like the ones Ceylan describes in Hochfeld and that it is responsible for birth defects. In an academic paper, she even hints at a feminist critique of the traditional Turkish family. “Through marriage to a cousin,” she writes, “a new role orientation gets established within the family. The aunt and uncle become in-laws. The new daughter-in-law sinks to the lowest level of the family hierarchy, in marked contrast to her previous role as niece.”
One Friday afternoon just before evening prayers, I traveled to Wanheimerort, a dockside area just south of Hochfeld, to see four young women between 17 and 20 who meet there every week. All were born in Turkey but have spent much of their lives in Wanheimerort. At least two are German citizens. Esra is studying mathematics at a university nearby, Fatma and Meltem are on their way there and Guler studies dental hygiene. Esra, at least, spoke terrific English but wouldn’t use it, perhaps out of consideration for the several non-English speakers in the room. The Ditib mosque they attend is among the more liberal in the area, but all the girls except Fatma were wearing head scarves. I thought of Yadigaroglu, with her mix of tradition and eagerness to assimilate and decided to ask whether — given their career tracks — any of them might consider themselves feminists, if only in an unconventional way. Their answers were: Nein, nein, nein and nein. “Women think this word makes them more and more free,” one said scornfully.
Young men I met were often more sour and defensive in such discussions. It was as if they wanted to be clear about just who was rejecting whom in this battle between their egos and the wider society’s values. In the Duisburg neighborhood of Meiderich, I visited a German-literature class at the local high school and asked a room full of 18-year-olds to talk about marriage. Three-quarters had a Turkish background. One, Husayn, spoke of how he had already been betrothed to a cousin at a family celebration in Bielefeld and was looking forward to standing on his own two feet. Several said that brothers and sisters had married cousins from Turkey, yet each one of them presented that as a special case, an exception.
But one student, a sharp-tongued fellow named Yavuz, had noticed the erosion of the Turkish family model in Germany. It struck him as a catastrophe. “Father and son are no longer father and son,” he complained. “They’re buddies to one another. Your father becomes someone to go out and have a beer with.” And Turks’ tendency to marry their cousins did not look so bad, Yavuz said, with the air of one repeating something heard over a dinner table, when you consider that “one out of six Germans commits incest.”
I had heard similar things elsewhere in Germany. In the Comenius Garden in Neukolln, a particularly tough part of Berlin, Murat, Ali and Hakan, all in their late teens, were passing a freezing cold afternoon chatting and making up rap verses. Ali, whose family comes from the Black Sea port of Rize, is the son of a local NeukÃ¶lln imam. He is training to be a plumber but is not employed yet. He is betrothed to a “friend” in Turkey. The person who introduced me to Ali said Ali’s other friends had spoken of the woman as his cousin. So I started by asking him why he had looked for his wife in Turkey. “German girls are Schlampen,” he replied. They’re sluts.
These may be dangerous attitudes. They may also be just the ordinary sour-grapes insecurities that are the lot of immigrants’ children at all times and all places. Turks often complain that Germans see only the repressive side to Turkish traditions and not the protective side.
Even Seyran Ates sometimes sounds uncertain that German ideals are sufficient to protect women. At the end of last summer, two months after she was attacked on the Mockernbrucke subway platform, she gave up her law practice. She now says she would be willing to continue work in a law firm, provided it was large enough to guarantee her security. People have organized events for her and proclaimed their solidarity. Her alma mater, the Free University of Berlin, awarded her a prize for defense of human rights last March. “Socially, there has been a lot of support,” she says. But the way the incident itself occurred, particularly the way men looked on while she and her client were assaulted — that clearly still upsets her.
“It brought me to despair,” she said over tea. “It showed a lack of civic courage.”
But would it have been any different in Turkey if a man had begun to beat up a woman like that on a subway platform?
“Oh, yes,” she said calmly. “They’d have lynched him.”
The Same Pillow
Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s interior minister, is in an awkward position. A European interior minister is usually referred to as his country’s “top cop.” That was the job description the last time Schauble held the post, under Helmut Kohl, between 1989 and 1991. But since he returned to the ministry in the autumn of 2005, as the highest-ranking Christian Democrat (behind Chancellor Angela Merkel) in a new coalition government, Schauble has devoted much of his effort to the Islamkonferenz. At times he seems less a top cop than a top marriage counselor.
Seated near his desk at the top of an office tower north of Berlin’s Tiergarten in February, Schauble admitted that the tendency of Turks to bring spouses from abroad is a “main reason why integration isn’t improving with the passing generations.” He agrees with Kelek and Ates that what he calls the “freedom-constraining effects of the family” can stand between a woman from a non-German culture and the rights to which she is entitled as a German resident. But as a churchgoing Protestant, he is disinclined to fiddle with marriage itself. “You have to distinguish between arranged marriages and forced marriages,” he told me. “Forced marriages are illegal. They’re assaults on human rights. They don’t meet the minimum demands of a free society. But arranged marriage — that’s a complicated area. There have always been cases where people have chosen not to meet as just man and woman but with the intercession of some kind of third party.”
So Schauble seems to be trying to influence behaviors that he says are neither illegal nor, in most cases, even wrong. He has been pragmatic. When he started the Islamkonferenz last September, he praised Islam for reinforcing aspects of German tradition that Germans themselves had neglected: “the importance of family, respect for elders, a consciousness and pride in one’s own history, culture, religion, tradition and the day-to-day life of one’s faith.” Yet he has also spoken favorably about a controversial video that the government of the Netherlands has been showing to prospective immigrants. It is supposed to acclimate them to the relative tolerance of Western societies. Images of women at a topless beach and of two men kissing are meant to squelch any expectation that those who inhabit traditionalist cultures can bring those cultures with them to Holland. But isn’t this inconsistent? Don’t the social benefits that SchÃ¤uble praises come from a traditional moralism — about, for instance, baring ones breasts in public — that the video repudiates? “Breasts,” Schauble replied, “are not the main theme.”
Certain countries in Europe have placed sharp restrictions on those who marry foreigners. The Netherlands is one of them. In Denmark, citizens under the age of 24 are not even allowed to reside in the country with their non-E.U. spouses. Germany is unlikely to try anything so restrictive. But in March, the German cabinet approved a reform of immigration laws that would raise the minimum age of foreign-born spouses to 18. (Studies show that the lower the age of marriage, the greater the tendency to have an arranged marriage.)
Schauble also intends to require a minimum basic language proficiency for a spouse before he or she comes to Germany. “Let’s say a young woman, from some remote part of Turkey, is brought together with her husband while he is on summer vacation,” Schauble suggested. “If she doesn’t know a single word of German when she comes — well, she has little chance to escape the total control of his family. If she knows a little bit of German, her chances are better.” Long a pet enthusiasm of Schauble’s, the idea was taken up by the incoming French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, during the French campaign this spring. SchÃ¤uble insists that when he says “a little bit” of the native language, he means a bare minimum, the kind of German you can learn from a few weeks of listening to audiotapes.
Nonetheless, this little bit means a big change. For perhaps the first time since the war, German institutions and public opinion are taking a stand in favor of German culture as they understand it, and implicitly against the culture of a foreign minority. After a decade in which the Social Democratic government of Gerhard Schroder focused on the qualifications for German citizenship (since 1999, all children born in Germany, of whatever parentage, are eligible for it), the Merkel coalition, following SchÃ¤uble, is stressing the content of citizenship. Germany is beginning to insist on citizens’ responsibilities as well as citizens’ rights.
“We are facing the same problems, whether we are practicing Muslims or not,” Oguz Ucuncu told me one night in Cologne, over a Turkish barbecue in the heavily immigrant neighborhood of Mulheim. Ucuncu, a quick-witted and decidedly modern spokesman for the conservative Turkish Muslim group Milli Gorus, serves on one of the committees of the Islamkonferenz. He pointed out that Internet “flirt exchanges” and “singles exchanges” are increasingly popular in Germany. What are those, he asked, if not high-tech means of “arranging” marriages? (Not to mention considerably less binding romantic encounters.) What of those native Germans who marry abroad, he asked, especially the thousands who have married women from East Asia? Shouldn’t they, too, stand accused of wishing to “secede” from Western European feminism, just as those Turks who marry in Turkey stand accused? “The first point of any government program now,” Ucuncu said, “should be to promote solidity of family. The idea we should promote is: May you sleep on the same pillow to the end of your life. This is a Muslim value we should not give away.”
Christopher Caldwell, a contributing writer for The Times Magazine, is at work on a book about immigration, Islam and Europe.
Posted by lmurx at 11:23 AM