Wed, May 25, 2011 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Turkish community in Germany facing identity challenges

AFP, BERLIN

Aylin Selcuk may be the granddaughter of a Turkish immigrant, and a Muslim to boot, but she only really began to feel different from other Germans after a certain central banker spoke out.

“This whole debate is awful. It has taken us back years, we thought we’d got past this,” Selcuk, 21, said. “It has pitted the weak against the strong, creating a rift in society.”

This year marks half a century since a landmark accord with Turkey saw large numbers of “guest workers” from Turkey come to West Germany to help in the country’s post-war economic boom.

Their presence has never been a big issue, but over the past year it has suddenly become so, large part because of Thilo Sarrazin, a central banker who attacked Germany’s record on multiculturalism.

“If I want to hear the muezzin’s call to prayer, then I’ll go to the Orient,” he said in his book, Germany Does Itself In.

Allowing in millions of immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s was a “gigantic error,” he said.

He said that Germany’s 16 million people with an “immigration background,” including about 4 million Muslims, most of whom are of Turkish origin, were making Europe’s biggest economy “more stupid.”

The banker, who made the cover of the influential Der Spiegel weekly with the headline “People’s Hero,” also told a newspaper that “all Jews share a certain gene,” while Basques share another.

Mainstream politicians have distanced themselves from Sarrazin, who has become what Germans call salonunfaehig — literally, unsuitable for the drawing room — and who has been fired from the Bundesbank.

Humboldt University in Berlin even took the trouble of publishing an exhaustive study that destroyed all of Sarrazin’s main claims using data compiled by respected institutions around the country.

However, that has not stopped him getting considerable sympathy from Bild, a mass-circulation daily, which has praised Sarrazin’s “plain speaking.”

His book has also flown off the shelves to top best-seller lists, and the controversy raised fears — unfounded, so far — that a charismatic populist, like anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, could win considerable support.

A majority of Germans (55 percent) believe the country’s Muslims are an economic burden, one poll showed, costing “considerably more socially and financially than they produce economically.”

It doesn’t help that apart from notable exceptions like Cem Ozdemir, co-head of the Green party, and Real Madrid and Germany football star Mesut Ozil, very few public figures in Germany are of Turkish origin.

“Joe-Six-Pack has only understood that Muslims basically have less education, that they are ripping off the state, that they are bad for society and that they should go back home,” Aylin Selcuk said.

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