Germans need to come out of their white ghettos: Yurdakul

Germans need to come out of their white ghettos: Yurdakul

Hürriyet Daily News
Germans need to come out of their white ghettos: Yurdakul

Gökçe Yurdakul (L), a professor of diversity and social conflict atHumboldt University, Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences, speaks to Hürriyet Daily News reporter Barçın Yinanç in Berlin.

Germany, which is home to more than 3 million Turks and Germans of Turkish origin, has been trying to find a way to tackle the increasing xenophobia and racism.

In the wake of the murder of 10 people by neo-Nazis over a course of 10 years, the country is trying to deal with the issue and the Germans should do more to overcome their prejudices, according to Gökçe Yurdakul, a professor of diversity and social conflict at Humboldt University, who this week gave an interview to the Hürriyet Daily News in Berlin.

If you were to take a snapshot of the situation of the Turkish community in Germany, what you would you say it looks like?

The community from Turkey [in Germany] is very heterogeneous because many different people have come with different migration waves. In the ‘50s and ‘70s the workers came, after the 1980 military coup political asylum seekers came. It is therefore impossible to get all these people under one integration policy. It is impossible to get them adapted to German middle-class values. I believe what’s wrong in Germany is the integration policies. I am always critical of all policies that don’t allow different living spaces. We can’t try to integrate everyone under one umbrella of being German. This is problematic not only for the Turkish immigrant population but for others as well. This is an ideology that does not recognize difference. There is a problem in the German national narrative; it has a problem recognizing difference. This is a cultural integration which is an extension of the ethnic and racial integration adopted by the ideologies of the previous decades.

You are talking about cultural homogenization.

This is problematic for all groups. Anybody not accepting German middle-class values does not fit in. But we don’t even know what these values really are. There is the debate about the “leitkultur,” the leading dominant culture of the Christian Democratic Union party. But it’s blurry. We don’t know what exactly this is. Thilo Sarrazin [a German politician whose anti-immigration book became a best seller in the country], was not only against immigrants, Turks and Muslims, but also against people who had to be dependent on welfare because of their health or social conditions.

Do you believe 9/11 has made the lives of Turks more difficult?

Muslims are scapegoats for everything, and I think anti-Muslim resonance accelerated after 9/11.
Muslims have started to become more visible, maybe this also plays a role in the attitudes against Islam.

Obviously there is social mobility, especially among Turks, which constitute 60 percent of Muslims in Germany. People come across more and more people with Turkish backgrounds. But the problem is some Germans are living in white ghettos. They never go to Turkish neighborhoods. It should not be only Turks doing their share. Many Germans hold prejudices toward Turks.

But there are also those who tend to adopt a very strict and conservative way of interpreting Islam. That must be irritating to Germans as well.

You tend to see this in all minority communities. They live an exaggerated Islamic practice. But all minority communities tend to be more conservative.

The situation of immigrant women seems to especially worry Germans.

[Immigrant] women don’t speak the language, and they do live in abusive situations; these cases exist. But integration policies are very general. These need contextual solutions. We [Germans] should not say, it is because of Islam that women are staying home. To say that Islam is abusive to women does not solve anything and is stigmatizing. The police, lawyers, social workers, those working on the front lines should be aware that these are part of the immigration problems of Germany. This is not just a problem of Islam. You cannot get rid of a problem by saying, “This is not our problem,” and then throwing the ball to the other side. These people belong here, and it has to be dealt with in the German context.

Debates on the conditions of women have affected the immigration question as well.

Women policies are being used to restrict immigration. There was the notorious case of Hatun Sürücü, who was killed by her husband in 2005. There were debates in Parliament on what kind of measures should be taken to protect women from violence. Although there were some proposals brought by the Greens and the left party, there was no concrete solution. The debate then took another turn and instead of talking about measures to protect women, the focus of the Parliament and media turned to restricting immigration. There was a proposal to increase the age of marriage to 21 for immigrants while for Germans it would remain 18. This was unconstitutional and was not endorsed.

The language courses that are taken before getting a visa for family reunion and the integration courses completed after arrival have initially been criticized in Turkey. Lately there are more positive views about them.

I find them useful because they take women out of their homes. Now I hear from women’s organizations that each language course ends with one or two divorces. I support these courses, but what I don’t support is the populism that lies behind what they say about these courses protecting women from violence. If they want real emancipation then they should avoid discrimination in the labor market. In Berlin one out of every two women does not work. There are women, born in Germany, who speak perfect German but can’t get a job because they wear a headscarf. I had a student who told me she cannot become a teacher because of her headscarf, but that she was aiming to become a professor.

How widespread are racism and xenophobia in Germany?

Every country has its share of racism, and Germany is no exception. When we look at the murder of the Turks [10 people, eight of Turkish origin, killed by a neo-Nazi group called National Socialist Underground over the course of 10 years], they really tried to interpret it as Turkish mafia members shooting each other. This went on for a long time [Those responsible for the murders were not found until the suspects committed suicide leaving a note behind saying that they had done it.] But what I find very promising is that they are also trying to deal with it.

It’s a big thing for the Chancellor [Angela Merkel] to apologize. This is really important. There are lots of anti-racist organizations fighting against racism. I give an anti-racism course at the university, and I am happy to see how politically engaged my students are. There is also a lot of resistance to racism. I don’t believe racism is mainstream. Sarrazin’s book was a best seller, but on the other hand there was an unbelievable resistance to Sarrazin as well. Rather than brushing all Germans as racist because of their past, I would say that there is tension between people that are anti-racist and structural institutions, like some media outlets that tend to promote people like Sarrazin.

But you do claim that there is an institutionalization of racism.

Not all the German media is anti-immigration and anti-Muslim, but there are institutions like the media that are making racism institutionalized. The labor market, for instance, is discriminating toward Turkish immigrants. Germany needs to revise its immigration policies. What kind of immigrants it wants. And also Germans need to say, “What can we do to accommodate them?” They should not only think of themselves only but about how to provide better living conditions for immigrants too. We try to have a lot of international students at my university, but later on they tend not to stay in Germany because it is very difficult to get into the labor market, especially the academic market.

Who is Gökçe Yurdakul?

Gökçe Yurdakul is a professor of diversity and social conflict at Humboldt University, Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences. She studied sociology at Boğaziçi University and gender & women’s studies at Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in Turkey. She earned her PhD. from the University of Toronto, Department of Sociology where she received the Connaught Fellowship.
Previously, she has taught courses on race, ethnicity, gender and immigration at Trinity College Dublin and Brock University, St. Catharines, Canada. She was affiliated with the Free University, Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies as a post-doctoral fellow. She has published books and articles on immigrant integration, citizenship Islam in Europe and issues of Muslim women in Western Europe and North America. She has written articles for scholarly journals, such as the Annual Review of Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies and German Politics and Society. She has been working on policy reports for the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.