Discords in German Secularism: The Question of Muslim Germans
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The assassination of the Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink has intensified the mistrust of Turks in Europe and thrown another obstacle in the path of Turkey’s much-contested entry into the European Union. While Dink’s assassination was not motivated by Islamic fundamentalism per se, but rather by a form of ethno-religious nationalism, the murder seems to reaffirm the notion that Turks are a threat to secular, enlightened Europe. This view is not new. After 9/11, it became commonplace to construe Islam as both the antithesis of Europe and as the enemy of secularism. This view also informs current discussions about Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide and the country’s stance vis-à-vis its non-Muslim minorities. This kind of juxtaposition of Islam and Europe involves contrasting two qualitatively different criteria—on the one hand, Islam as a religious community and, on the other, Europe as a cultural-geographic entity. Regarding the compatibility of Islam and Europe or Islam and secularism, it must first be noted that Islam is no stranger to Europe: Muslims constitute Europe’s second largest religious community. Second, the idea of a secular state is also no stranger to the Middle East. In the case of Turkey, secularism is the very ground upon which the republic was founded—even if the recent instances of censorship, human rights violations, and religiously-inflected nationalist violence pose a profound threat to the historical basis of this secularism. It is appropriate for Turkey to be subject to international pressure to guarantee a separation of state and religion. The stability of European-Middle East relations hinges on the question of whether Turkey’s fragile, but secular, democracy can be fostered and sustained. If the case of Dink (as well as the absurd legal proceedings against novelist Orhan Pamuk) now puts Turkey under international scrutiny, the state of secularism in those countries wielding the magnifying glass must also be examined. Specifically, we might look to a country like Germany with its large Muslim population.
Germany has 3.5 million Muslim citizens, 70 percent of whom are of Turkish origin. These roughly two million Turkish immigrants and their descendants are ethnically and religiously diverse and represent a competing notion of Germanness, one that is not tied to any single national, ethnic, religious, or territorial identity. While Germany is clearly an immigrant nation today, the question persists as to how immigrants and their descendants can forge ways of belonging to the German nation. After 45 years of labor immigration, in the year 2000 Germany finally changed the grounds for citizenship from jus sanguinis, the right of blood, to a still problematic combination between jus sanguinis and jus soli, the right of soil. The fact that immigrants and their descendants now often choose German over Turkish citizenship has certainly improved their legal status within Germany, but that has not had an immediate impact on how they are widely perceived—that is, as Muslim Turks. Even if Turkish immigrants and their descendants identify themselves in primarily ethnic and cultural terms, they continue to be construed mainly along religious lines by the wider community.
While the change in legislation in 2000 acknowledged that the national community has radically changed in the postwar period, the country’s naturalization policies perpetuate a form of separatism by use of a citizenship test that is targeted specifically at Muslims. The test is designed to determine whether an immigrant is either integrationsbedürftig (“integration-deficient”) or “ready” to become a German citizen. When the state of Baden-Württemberg formulated questions for a citizenship test in 2006, for example, public discussion raged over the mutual incompatibility of Muslim and German identities. Baden-Württemberg proposed that the suitability of the immigrant be tested by engaging him or her in a conversation about religious liberty, Islamist terrorism, and the applicant’s degree of respect for women and homosexuals. One would, of course, hope that newcomers uphold values like political moderateness, religious and cultural pluralism, and sexual and gender equality, but we also see how such questions are framed with the Muslim in mind. The affirmative precondition for German citizenship is articulated as the explicit disaffiliation of the immigrant from Islamic fundamentalism, chauvinism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism. These policies are problematic insofar as they go beyond the immigrant’s compliance with the German constitution, putting forth instead a universalist, ideal model of the German citizen. Clearly, this corresponds neither with the reality of the immigrant nor with that of the native German citizen. Religious fundamentalism, chauvinism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism are not beliefs that are peculiar to Muslims. If religious differences are essentialized and mobilized by the state in this way, the possibility for change within immigrant communities is ever diminished. Without granting immigrants and their now third-generation descendants full rights to German citizenship, it seems clear that the gap between native and non-native communities will only widen.
Meanwhile, the German government has simultaneously launched a new initiative to improve its relations with Muslim communities. Germany’s interior minister laid, for the first time in the country’s history, the groundwork for a sustained dialogue with representatives of the Muslim community. In order to reflect the diversity of Muslims in Germany and the fact that only 10–15 percent of Germany’s Muslim population are members of Islamic organizations, the government invited representatives of Islamic institutions along with secular Muslims, public intellectuals, and political activists to participate in the dialogue. These developments notwithstanding, the government’s message remains ambivalent: while proclaiming that the new dialogue with Muslim representatives—secular and religious—will ensure the integration of Islam into German society, the new naturalization policies marginalize Muslims. This double standard warrants further attention.
Until now, scholars have been principally concerned with the question of how religion impacts the ways in which “individual and collective Islamic actors in Europe define themselves as citizens.” However, the question that has not been posed—and hence remains unanswered—is to what extent religion now defines the paradigm for European citizenship. By abandoning secularism as a basis for German citizenship, we run a critical risk. If, on the other hand, we are to promote a truly sustained and inclusive dialogue within a Europe that, incidentally, also includes Turkey, then it is necessary to shift our emphasis from the religious to the secular. Approaching the presence of Muslims in Europe not as a religious issue, but as a phenomenon that is the result of labor migration, exile, and postcolonialism in the second half of the twentieth century, will allow us to acknowledge that migrants and their descendents are bearers of multiple, historically-specific national, cultural, historical, political, and religious affiliations. Only then will the idea of Muslim Europeans and Armenian Turks cease to be the fatal provocation that it is today.
Kader Konuk is an assistant professor of German and comparative literature, with a PhD from Universität Paderborn. She held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Berlin in 2005 and currently holds an NEH fellowship.
See, for example, a project on Islam, citizenship, and European integration sponsored by the European Commission: http://www.euro-islam.info/pages/citizens.html