Turkish-German Integration Smooths Cultural Divisions

In an interview with Germany's F.A.Z. Weekly, the Turkish ambassador to Germany, Mehmet Ali Irtemcelik, discusses the importance of integrating German Muslims of Turkish descent, Germany's largest immigrant group, into mainstream German society. The erroneous perception of all Muslims as religious fundamentalists inhibits integration, he says, and it undermines their contribution to German society. Further, the ties that Turkish immigrants maintain in Turkey do not necessarily undermine their desire or ability to assimilate. Rather, the persistence of ties in more than one country reflects a new model of citizenship. The Turkish ambassador draws parallels between Turkey's entry into the European Union (EU), and the Turkish Muslim minority's 'entry' into the mainstream. As a secular, modern Muslim country, he says, Turkey's integration into the EU would symbolize a more inclusive vision of Europe and enable the EU to assume a "global role." –YaleGlobal

Turkish-German Integration Smooths Cultural Divisions

Diplomat says both countries are democratic, modern societies, well-prepared to help minorities feel at home
Peter Badenhop
Friday, January 30, 2004

The Turkish ambassador to Germany, Mehmet Ali Irtemcelik discusses the integration of Germany's largest immigrant group, and Turkey's possible entry into the European Union, with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

There are about 2 million Turks living in Germany. How well are they integrated?

I think that the integration of Turks in the Federal Republic of Germany over the past four decades has been a respectable success. There are now some 600,000 Germans of Turkish descent and about 90,000 mixed marriages. Integration is not a condition, but a process.

What can be done to promote and advance this process?

Naturally, it's not a one-way street. Integration depends on both sides. We encourage Turks living in Germany to open up and integrate themselves into society. But they must have the feeling that they're welcome.

In Frankfurt, some 1,000 Turks have taken out German citizenship in recent years. How do you judge this trend?

We support it. These people have chosen to spend their lives in Germany and so they should integrate and become good, productive German citizens - all the while not forgetting their roots. (Citizenship) gives these people a feeling of belonging. The same would apply for Germans who decide to live permanently in Turkey.

'There are people in Germany who say that integration has become more difficult in recent years. Compared to the earlier period, communications with the mother country are a lot easier, Turkish media are present (in Germany), and travel to Turkey is cheaper.

'I don't really buy that argument. The easier contact to the home country assures that the Turks don't forget their roots - it doesn't hinder their integration.

Is religion an obstacle to integration?

I would say no. But naturally there are people - Germans as well as Turks - for whom that is an issue. But Germany is a democratic, modern society that can also deal with religious minorities.

How strong are the fundamentalist tendencies among Turks living here?

It is a very tiny minority that one must, without a doubt, take seriously. Yet it would be a mistake and extremely unfair to see the Muslims here as part of this minority or to define them as such.

What effects would Turkey's entry into the European Union have on the integration process?

The relationship of Turkey to the EU is, in my view, a decisive factor in the future of this process. And that goes not only for Turks in Germany but for the integration process of all Muslims in Germany and all of Europe. If the EU gives Turkey the cold shoulder, all Turks, all Muslims in Europe will automatically ask, 'If Turkey is not welcome, can it be possible that I am not welcome?' The future of the relationship between Turkey and the EU will be a catalyst: Either in the direction of continued, less problematic integration or - and this would be something undesirable - in the direction of alienation.

Where do most of the reservations concerning Turkey come from?

They involve prejudices, a certain fear, a lack of knowledge - and a lack of vision. While the Europeans want to be a 'global player,' an EU that shows Turkey the cold shoulder can't play a global role. Only Turkey can be, in a sense, the bridge between Europe and other Muslim countries. Seen in this way, Turkish membership in the EU is a test case. When we, as a secular, democratic and Muslim society are accepted or rejected by Europe, then that will have long-term effects not only on the millions of European Muslims but on the entire Islamic world.

What are these prejudices you mentioned?

Behind the usual 'cultural differences' label a number of prejudices are hidden. These touch on religion. In every religion there are fanatics.

And what consequences would a 'no' have for EU heads of government?

It would be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to neutralize the damage resulting from a 'no.' Consequently, the decision in December will be taken between the possibility of continuing - in the interests of both sides - the further development of the relationship between Turkey and the EU that has developed over 40 years, and the risk of a derailment - with unforeseeable consequences.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 2000. GmbH Publishing Group, Germany. All rights reserved.