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Moslems of Europe: Germany

Moslems of Europe:    Albania | Bosnia | Bulgaria | England | France | Germany

World War II left Germany in ruins… and with a shortage of able-bodied men to rebuild the wreckage. To compensate, they looked to the east, hiring Gastarbeiters (guest workers) from Turkey, and later from Morocco and Tunisia. Performing the most Little was done to assist their integration into German society; everyone assumed they would simply go home once their contracts expired. Today some 2.8 million Moslems, Gastarbeiters and their progeny, reside in Germany, as the children of the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires struggle once again for acceptance and co-existence.

Although they been in Germany for over 40 years now, most of Germany’s Turks have not received German citizenship. Germany’s citizenship law holds Teutonic ancestry as the most important qualification: an ethnic German from Eastern Europe who has never set foot in Germany is automatically entitled to a passport, while a Turk who has been in Germany for decades may not be. This holds true even for children born in Germany to foreign parents: millions of young German-speaking Turks born in Germany are deprived of citizenship rights and benefits. . One thorny issue involves the question of dual nationality: becoming a German citizen involves renouncing any other citizenship. Older workers, who still feel deep ties to Turkey, have been reluctant to do this: even among their children, it is estimated that no more than 3% of eligible Turks have surrendered their Turkish passports for German ones. Recent reforms have made it easier for them to become full-fledged German citizens, but have also led to counter-reforms, as right-wing German politicians have used anti-immigration sentiment to win votes.

Even more frightening has been the recent rise in neo-Nazi and “skinhead” violence. Germany’s current unemployment rate in the former East Germany is approximately 18%. A generation that grew up in a land of guaranteed if ill-paying jobs struggles to adjust to life under capitalism, and has frequently rediscovered the ancient answer: racism. In 1992 a reception center for asylum seekers in Rockstock, Germany was attacked by hundreds of unemployed German youths angry at the “special privileges” foreigners receive. These attacks have continued; Germany’s Turkish community claims that police support has been lukewarm and reactive at best.

Feeling rejected by Germany, an increasing number of Turkish-German youths have turned back toward their homelands. For many this has meant newfound devotion to Islam, including some of the more politically radical strains. Most of the major Arab and Islamic “terrorist” organizations have bases in Germany. The Refah Partisi, a Turkish Islamist party which seeks to replace Ataturk’s vision of a secular government with an Islamic system, enjoys growing support among German Turks. Mohammed Atta, leader of the September 11 hijackers, went to school in Hamburg, and is believed to have first encountered Islamic radicalism during his stay in Germany.

The Germans have found themselves in the middle of the Turkish/Kurdish conflict. Approximately 20% of Germany’s “Turks” are in fact Kurds, descendents of an ancient Persian people. Since before 1920 the Kurds have been fighting for their own state in southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq: the current “no-fly zone” over Iraq is intended to protect the Kurds from Iraqi conventional and chemical attacks. The PKK, a Maoist-Kurdish nationalist group led by the now-jailed Abdullah Ocalan, was estimated to have 3,000 members living in Germany; numerous Kurdish demonstrations throughout the 1990s turned violent, particularly after Ocalan’s 1999 arrest in Kenya. Germany has seen not only Turkish-Kurdish fighting but intra-Kurdish attacks, as factional quarrels have led to outbreaks of violence between warring parties. (The Kurds have several self-professed “leaders,” whose political views range the spectrum from Maoism to Talibanesque Islamic fundamentalism; each of these views has representatives within Germany’s Kurdish community).

40 years after the first Turks arrived in Germany, the German government is finally realizing that they aren’t “going home” any time soon. Mindful of its previous excesses, Germany is trying desperately to avoid the appearance of racism while at the same time determining its status as a “German nation” in the 21st century and beyond. Recent events have led to greater suspicion of Germany’s Moslem minority; perhaps they will also lead to open and honest dialogue on the very real problems facing these foreigners in their own country.


Mike Doughty



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