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Germany and the Young Turks

by Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow


It's not often that Germany’s cabinet-level officials grab headlines, especially when the usually staid CDU is in power.  But those serving in Angela Merkel’s government have been busy grabbing (mostly unwanted) attention from the media lately.  First Defense Minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, had to resign recently because he plagiarized 20 percent of his doctoral thesis, and is accused of deliberately misleading his advisors.  And in the wake of his dismissal, the new Interior Minister, Hans Peter Friedrichstarted off his new job saying “Islam in Germany is not something substantiated by history at any point.”

Oh jeez.

Mr. Friedrich’s comments come amid a long debate Turkish integration in Europe, which has had ramifications for the entire EU.  His statements are largely directed towards the sizable Turkish minority that’s been living in Germany for several generations, and causing deep political divisions about what it means to be “German”.  Turks were originally recruited as a temporary measure to ease Germany’s labor shortage in the post-war years , but ended up making Germany their home.  Skepticism of Turks is so deep that only in 2000 did the Bundestag allow children of foreigners born in Germany to have citizenship—but only to those born after 1990.

Mr. Friedrich’s comments come at a time when the cadaverous equine of Turkish integration is being flogged once again.  Last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave a speech to over ten thousand ethnic Turks in Düsseldorf, where he equated the cultural assimilation of ethnic Turks into German culture as “a crime against humanity,” and said that children of Turkish parents should know “good Turkish” before they learned German.  And while we don’t know exactly how it will figure into the debate, the recent shooting of two U.S. service members—the first homegrown Islamist terrorist act on German soil—will likely figure into how Germans think about integrating the largely Muslim Turkish population.

One thing’s for certain though—this issue doesn’t need any more inflated rhetoric or heated debate.  Historical conceptions of the nation in Europe are almost always mythical—there is a history of Islam in Germany, by the way—and countries have to ensure they define themselves in a way that builds on the post-Enlightenment ideals the West is founded on.  But it’s going to be impossible to reach a compromise on the issue when both sides employ such redonkulously high-voltage rhetoric.   There needs to be the political space for an agreement before any headway can be made on the issue, but both sides only seem to use their words to solidify the other’s unyielding position.


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