The Turkish Germans and Thilo Sarrazin’s Panic Attack

The Turkish Germans to whom these racist comments mean little

Thilo Sarrazin’s chitchat has nothing to do with their lives. And that’s why they feel neither disgusted or insulted

Who is central bank executive Thilo Sarrazin talking about when he accuses migrants from Islamic countries of unwillingness to integrate? Surely he can’t mean my sister Ilkay, who celebrates Christmas every year. She’s not religious, but she thinks that her two daughters could feel disadvantaged if they didn’t get any Christmas presents. He can’t be talking about my colleague Yasemin, who works for the public television channel NDR. During the World Cup, she dressed in German colours and didn’t miss a single match to support her favourite team. And he definitely can’t mean my friend Helin, who is just finishing her PhD about women’s rights in Turkey. Every time she returns from a foreign country she remarks how much she approves of the cleanliness in this country and feels very “German”.

Countless people like them live in Germany. Some call themselves Muslim, some don’t. But most of them wouldn’t call themselves “well integrated”. They never ask themselves this question. And a few of them don’t even want to be “integrated” – not because they are Turkish or Muslim but because they don’t want to be part of the mainstream, for reasons of politics or lifestyle.

Sarrazin’s chitchat has nothing to do with their lives. And that’s why they feel neither disgusted or insulted, as the Turkish-nationalist daily Hürriyet (for example) is stating. If there is a reason for getting angry, it is the way the public discusses Sarrazin’s thesis over intelligence, heredity and migration: the mass media is filling pages with passages of his book and trying to check if Turkish people are really more stupid or if Jews have a specific genetic code. A second reason for getting angry is the support Sarrazin will receive among public opinion.

So will Sarrazin’s intervention, as many politicians or journalists warn, lead us to separate ourselves from German society? Of course not. We are part of this country, whether he likes it or not. And even whether we like it or not.

It’s not the first time we’ve realised that it is hard for a part of German society to accept us. We’re tired of explaining ourselves and being the objects of a problem-discourse which goes from A (for al-Qaida) to Z (“Zwangsheirat”, or forced marriage). It makes no difference if people – including people who feel liberal – ask me: “Is your religion really so violent?” (It depends on the interpretation. But first of all: I have no religion.) Or if they say: “I don’t mean you when I’m talking about problems with migrants, you’re different.” (Not really. We’re all different.) But we are accustomed to this kind of talk.

Sarrazin’s intervention is not evidence that Germany hasn’t changed. But to the extent that German politics, and conservatives, accept the fact of immigration, a new gap is emerging in rightwing politics. It’s a gap that somebody like Sarrazin – who appeals to a middle class that fears the loss of familiar privileges – fills. This discussion plays into the hands of the self-appointed representatives of the Turkish community: people who are interested in trivialising their problems – the relationship between education, class membership and Islamic background, for instance. These self-appointed spokesmen will find it easy to answer their critics with a new riposte: “Stop Sarrazining!” It will do nothing to illuminate the problems faced by some in the Turkish community – not Ilkay, Yasemin or Helin – but too many others.

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