Tuesday, December 13, 2005

An Issue of Integration, not Immigration

In the aftermath of the rioting in Paris there has been an explosion of discussion about integration, not just in France, but throughout the European Union. Slowly Europeans are waking up to realize that their Muslims, Africans and Arabs are not immigrants (many of whom have lived in Europe for several generations) but parts of society, albeit imperfectly integrated. I still wonder, though, if they appreciate the problem and what is involved.

One and a half weeks ago the New York Times features an article from a German journalist that looked into the conditions of Turkish women in Berlin. The recent honor killing of one woman by her family (who felt she had become too acculturated, too German) sparked a discussion about the existence of a parallel society within Germany. It is made up of the guest workers and their families: they have no avenue to citizenship; they are isolated from the mainstream; and as time goes on their interaction with their home towns and villages in Turkey, where orthodox Islam is growing, become more important than what they can get from German society. A complaint that I have heard repeatedly, and that the author echoes, is that Turkish men prefer to take wives from their home towns, bringing in people who have no idea how to act appropriately in Germany. From the article:
[Necla Kelek, Seryan Ates, and Serap Cileli] described an everyday life of oppression, isolation, imprisonment and brutal corporal punishment for Muslim women and girls in Germany, as situation for which there is only one word: slavery. ... perhaps half of young Turkish women in Germany are forced in marraige every year. In the wake of these forced marriages often come violence and rape ... . Heavily veiled women wearing long coats even in summer are becoming an increasingly familiar sight in German Muslim neighborhoods. ... they are mostly underage girls wo have been bought -- often for a handsom payment -- in the Turkish heartland villages of Anatolia by mothers whose sons in Germany are ready to marry. The girls are then flown to Germany, and "with every new imported bride," Kelek says, "the parallel society grows." Meanwhile, Ates summarizes, "Turkish men who wish to marry and live by Shariah can do so with far less impediment in Berlin than in Istanbul."

Sadly, Turkish women suffer within an involuted society. Tragically, the journalist does little to analyze the problem within the realm of the guest workers’ families relationships with German society. Explaining that the government withheld citizenship in exchange for social services, the journalist leaves unaddressed the whole history of German-Turkish relationships. Four decades of interaction, of begrudging acceptance of their presence, has done at least as much to sour relationships as policies of nationality. (And as I have witnessed, Germans are generally without compassion when dealing with Turks.) The notion of a parallel society underpins this absconding of German responsibility, this washing of hands, by making it seem that Turks are uniquely guilty of creating their social problems. Not to diminish the magnitude of the condition of Turksih women in Germany, but this discourse tends to shift the blame. Integration is not a one-sided problem for Turkish men; it involves Germans as much as Turkish women.

Click here to read more.

Germany, despite the differences in immigration politics, is in a similar situation to France. At least without the rhetoric of republican nationality (that anyone born in country, regardless of race, is a citizen) Turks know that their presence is conditional, tolerated, and revocable. Germans know, however, that they are not insulated from the types of revolt that unfolded in France or becoming a battleground for conflicts in the Islamic world (the ‘Caliph of Cologne’ being a constant concern of the German media.)

The other recognizable trend is attention to citizenship: providing more access might be a means of integrating people of non-European descent. But as the French riots showed, French citizens were among those in revolt.

The equation of nationality and identity has not been limited to the field of European politics. Several historians have used policies of nationality and naturalization to discuss how national identity is constructed. Citizenship, as it is recognized and granted, is the nation-states’ mechanism for regulating who is, and who is not, a member of the nation. By comparing the policies of different nations some sense of the differences of identity emerge. But in these studies, France and German are opposites, the latter promoting a more exclusive notion of identity. Walking through Paris it’s easy to feel that France is more open to people from all over the world.

Citizenship is not, unfortunately, acceptance. Nationality does not confer identity. Self-identity does not confer integration. Integration does not confer acceptance. There exist tremendous distances between citizenship and integration. The fact that many Turks own businesses that Germans patronize does not mean that their presence is anything more than tolerated.

The question of what integration means should be raised again. Too much of it has rested on identity – whether or not the individual “feels” a particular way or whose loyalty leads him or her to acculturate to national standards. How different parts of society come together and interact – how Peasants become Frenchmen, to borrow Eugen Weber’s phrase – has been put on the backburner.

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