Archive for October 20th, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Turkey – Germany’s special Relationship

Bremen Hemelingen 1

Bremen-Hemelingen, September 2010

In at least one respect, Christian Wulff, a lower-Saxonian fugitive who escaped to Berlin to become our republic’s  empty shirt & tie there, seems to become a true federal president, in the tradition of most of his predecessors: he is above party politics. While the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, are trying to spiffy up their profile as conservative and christian parties, Wulff made a landmark speech on October 3, Germany’s national holiday:

Because the future, I firmly believe, belongs to the nations which are open for cultural diversity, for new ideas, and for genuine involvement with foreigners and with what is foreign. Germany, with its connections all over the world, must be open for those who come here from places all over the world. Germany needs them. Competing for bright heads, we must attract the best of them and remain attractive, so that they will stay here. […]

“Christianity doubtless belongs in Germany. Judaism belongs doubtless in Germany. That is our Judeo-Christian history. But by now, Islam also belongs in Germany.”

Answering a question on German President Wulff’s statement that “Islam also belongs in Germany”, Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on October 18 that “we hope that German people and authorities will adopt the vision of German President”.

When Wulff spoke to the Turkish parliament on Tuesday, his speech was similar to the one he made on October 3 – but this time, his message was that “christianity belongs to Turkey”. Maybe that’s why, Der Spiegel guessed, barely half of the members of Turkey’s national assembly attended the session as Wulff spoke there as the first president from Germany. Turkish politicians had apparently liked his October 3 speech better.

If there is a common trait to the average German and the average Turk, it’s probably that both of them are easily in a huff. I rarely read comments underneath articles as Der Spiegel’s – what I get from the initial lines is enough for me, and I don’t want to get an overdose of compatriotic mortifications. That foreigners “only come for our jobs” or “our welfare state” is a standard argument in this country.

In a discussion between Thilo Sarrazin, the occidental primadonnas’ latest grand mufti, and two of his critics in Munich, sterling  bourgeoisie – no lower class, an organizer told the Süddeutsche Zeitung -, “misbehaved teribly”: every statement that contradicted Sarrazin was booed at, hissed at, and well-dressed greyheads wouldn’t only get excited (sich ereifern), they slobbered with anger (geifern).

That the German Social Democrats (SPD) – their chairman for sure – want to kick Sarrazin out of the party is a shame, and unworthy of a great democratic party with a distinguished historical record. But that the German president puts himself not only above his party, but also above the mob, is commendable, and doesn’t go without saying. His predecessor, Horst Köhler, had been of a different stamp – rather than reconciling the public with politics, he had entered a pact with them, acting as a bullhorn for those who were fed up with politics, Markus Feldenkirchen wrote in a critical evaluation of Köhler’s first term in office, in May 2009. Obviously, Köhler wouldn’t have sided with Sarrazin and his admirers – but I doubt he would have found a reply as effective as Wulff did.

Or, as Roman Herzog, president from 1994 to 1999, said in a speech lauding Annemarie Schimmel, a late German orientalist in 1995,

if [pluralism and tolerance] are to function, they need to be realistic and honest, that’s to say, one needs to know and understand the other’s position, and one needs a position of one’s own to actually tolerate the other’s. Ethical relativism  leads to an absence of positions, not to tolerance.

It’s true – Turkey is unlikely to reciprocate for Germany’s comparatively good record as an immigration, or multi-cultural, country, any time soon. It is also true that there are muslims here and there who  interpret Wulff’s speech as a document of weakness (just as many ethnic Germans do). But Germany’s decent record, which would be unthinkable without a functioning rule of law, doesn’t always mean that a Turkish-born German citizen, or a Turkish resident here, is shown as friendly a face as someone whose appearance suggests that his family has been at home here for countless generations. Just a few good words can mean a lot of change for the better, provided that the legal and practical foundations exist. I realized that when I saw how two Turkish friends of mine reacted to Wulff’s speech. Germany must not shape its policies by looking at Turkey and taking offense. Our issues need to count here, not Erdogan‘s.

Sarrazin’s racy theories shouldn’t have hurt my friends’ feelings, reasonably, but then, they still did. You can’t change that – it’s probably human nature. All of us can be hurt by other peoples’ words, as unreasonable (and powerless, in the last resort) some of those may be. Wulff seems to have found a good answer. Neither he nor Sarrazin can change things the way they want. But as Annemarie Schimmel once said, quoting from the Koran’s 14th sura, “a good word is like a good tree” (ein gutes Wort ist wie ein guter Baum).

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