Faas, D.: From Guest Workers to Citizens? 2011

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Germany has the largest Muslim population (3.8 to 4.3 million, nearly half of whom have German citizenship) in Western Europe after France. It is home to around 2.6 million Turkish economic migrants, mostly Sunnis, from an avowedly secular country which has experience with democratic norms and has been in EU membership negotiations since 2005 (Haug, Müssig and Stichs 2009, Triandafyllidou 2010).

Muslimness does not figure prominently in the multidimensional hybrid identities of young Turks in Germany. The remainder of Germany’s Muslims consists of between 496,000 and 600,000 persons from the southeastern European countries of Bosnia, Bulgaria and Albania; Middle East with 292,000 to 370,000 migrants; between 259,000 and 302,000 from North Africa including Morocco; and smaller numbers from central Asia, Iran, southeast Asia and other parts of Africa (Haug, Müssig and Stichs 2009). Unlike the economic migrants from Turkey and Morocco, most German Muslims with origins in Syria, Iran and Algeria came as political refugees. The Sunnis form the largest group amongst Muslims in Germany with 74%, followed by the Alevis (13%), Shiites (7%) and small groups of Ahmadis, Sufis/Muslim mystics and Ibadis. 98% of the Muslims in Germany live in the former West – Berlin and other cities including Hamburg, Cologne, Frankfurt, Duisburg and Stuttgart. Sizeable Muslim communities exist in some rural regions of Germany, especially Baden-Württemberg, Hesse and parts of Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia. Owing to the lack of labour immigration before 1989, there are only very few Muslims in former East Germany (Haug, Müssig and Stichs 2009). Compared with other groups, Muslims are rather loosely organized. The six largest umbrella organizations – the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers, the Council on Islam for the Federal Republic of Germany, the Islamic Community Milli Görüş, the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs, and the Alevi Movement – cover the activities of only 800,000 Muslims (International Crisis Group 2007).

The relationship between Muslim minorities and the German national majority was, until the late 1990s, conditioned by governmental refusals to acknowledge that the ‘guest workers’ were there to stay. German rather than Muslim attitudes were arguably the main factor precluding effective integration. The uncertainty of many Turkish Muslims about whether they would eventually return to their country of origin and a society-wide tendency toward social and linguistic segregation were reinforced for two generations. German policies have only changed during the past decade once it was accepted that Germany is indeed an immigration country and that its Muslim migrants are there to settle permanently. Integration has taken over as the new buzzword in political and educational debates amidst a reform of the country’s citizenship law (2000) which showed a new willingness, at least in principle, to grant citizenship (Faas 2010). The coalition government under Chancellor Angela Merkel also appointed a Commissioner for Migration, Refugees and Integration as one of only three Chancellery Ministers of State (Staatsminister) and has hosted a series of so-called integration summits (July 2006, July 2007, November 2008) with political and societal representatives to discuss issues of German language learning, education and job opportunities. Since 2006, several additional conferences on Islam (Islamkonferenz) have also focused on the interaction between the national majority and Muslim minorities, addressing religious topics, German law and values as well as equal opportunities and employment policies. One outcome was the foundation of the Coordination Council of Muslims (Koordinierungsrat der Muslime) representing the four largest Islamic organizations in Germany.

Policy Responses to the Muslim Presence

The fact that the Muslim presence in Germany is for the most part a Turkish phenomenon (around 85% of German Muslims are Turks) has become evident in policy discourses and responses. The October 1961 bilateral employment agreement between Germany and Turkey led to an influx of young male ‘guest workers’, many of whom were joined by their families in subsequent decades. Similar agreements were also signed with smaller Muslim countries, including Morocco (1963) and Tunisia (1965). The Turks are mainly of Sunni Muslim background and the bilateral agreement stated that Turkish workers should return to their home country within two years. The then German government had no intention of employing ‘guest workers’ permanently but, because of the need of workers beyond the initially agreed date, many of these young men continued to stay in Germany (Şen and Golberg, 1994).

In 1965, the conservative-led coalition government under Chancellor Erhard responded to the presence of (mostly Muslim) migrant groups, with a ‘foreigner law’ (Ausländergesetz) granting limited rights to ‘guest workers’. The government, at the time, thought that the presence of foreigners is a temporary problem, which will resolve itself over time. Throughout the 1960s, the presence of Muslims and other migrants was seen as an advantage for all sides. It secured the economic growth and in this way was a precondition for Germany’s economic strength. Because they took lower paid jobs, the ‘guest worker’-system made possible an upward shift of a large part of the German labour force and their families. Between 1960 and 1970, 2.3 million German ‘blue-collar workers’ became ‘white-collar employees’ because of the constitution of the ‘guest workers’ as a new sub-proletariat.

A shift in the relationship between Muslim minorities and the German national majority was brought about by the 1973 Arab oil crisis which prompted the first-ever Social Democratic-led coalition government in Germany under Chancellor Willy Brandt to put a hold on the further recruitment of ‘guest workers’. The domestic feeling towards Muslim and other immigrants changed from one that welcomed them as a pool of cheap labour to one which saw them as a threat to jobs and a drain on the welfare state. They were thus unwanted ‘foreigners.’ Between 1974 and the early 1980s, three principles emerged under the leadership of Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (Social Democratic Party, SPD). These were: The ‘integration’ of those who have the right to live in Germany; the continuation of the 1973 ban on recruitment; and, financial incentives to support the return of migrants to their countries of origin through the 1983 law for the ‘Promotion of Readiness to Return’ (Rückkehrförderungsgesetz). Under this law, every ‘guest worker’ who voluntarily left Germany received an incentive of 10,500 deutschmark (€5,250) but only about 250,000 migrants, particularly those of Turkish origin, responded to this ‘opportunity’ (Bade and Münz 2000).

Until 1999, a form of institutional discrimination against Muslim and other migrants could be found in various specifications of the concept of citizenship in Germany. Article 116 of the German constitution (Grundgesetz) defined a German citizen as a person who holds German citizenship, a spouse or descendant of persons who were settled in the German Reich (ethnic Germans), or a refugee with German ethnicity. While re-settlers and refugees who migrated to Germany from foreign states qualified for dual citizenship, the ‘guest workers’, many of whom Muslims, did not have any right to German citizenship until 1993. Only in the aftermath of the 1990s Solingen attacks and protests was a right to citizenship granted to young immigrants between 16 and 23 years. This change created an exception to German naturalization tradition and gave legally resident ‘foreigners’ a right to citizenship under certain conditions; firstly, the children of ‘foreigners’ between 16 and 23 years could be naturalized as German citizens if they had eight years of residence and six years of schooling in Germany, gave up their original citizenship and did not have a criminal record. Secondly, adult ‘foreigners’ who had been legally resident for fifteen years could become naturalized citizens of Germany if they applied before 31 December 1995, gave up their former citizenship, did not have a criminal record and could support themselves and their families without relying upon unemployment aid or welfare (Wilpert 2003).

A marked policy shift occurred after 1998 with the election of the Social Democratic-Green government under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. His administration started to loosen Germany’s restrictive approach to multiculturalism by reforming the country’s citizenship law and introducing immigration and anti-discrimination legislation. When the reformed citizenship law came into force in January 2000, ius sanguinis (citizenship by birth) was complemented by a conditioned ius soli (citizenship by territoriality). This legislation gives citizenship rights to children of Turkish Muslims born in Germany and who have at least one parent who has been resident in Germany for a minimum of eight years with an unlimited residence permit. These children are permitted to retain both their inherited citizenship, which they received by descent, and their new citizenship until they are of age. Between the ages of 18 and 23, they must, however, make a choice. In spite of this new legislation, some discriminatory practices remain as ethnic Germans and EU citizens are granted dual citizenship whereas Turkish Muslims and other non-EU migrants have to make a choice between German citizenship and the citizenship of their country of origin. For Turkish people, giving up their Turkish citizenship will likely mean a loss of cultural identity which is why many continue to support the notion of dual citizenship they are still officially denied. Of the roughly 2.6 million Turkish Muslims that have applied, 840,000 have so far been granted German citizenship. This growing number of naturalizations turns ‘guest workers’ into citizens and threatens to change the balance of power between the insiders and outsiders (Schiffauer 2006) However, recent statistics from the Federal Statistics Office show a declining number of naturalizations (Statistisches Bundesamt 2008).

The Headscarf Debate and Islamic Religious Education

Migrant minorities, and Muslim communities in particular, face other considerable challenges despite the fact that Germany has now recognized its multicultural character. One of the most prominent debates surrounds the wearing of the headscarf and Islamic religious education. In 2003, Germany’s highest court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) ruled that the conservative-controlled federal state of Baden-Württemberg was wrong to ban Fereshta Ludin, a German teacher of Afghan descent, from wearing a headscarf in school, but declared that states could in principle legislate on such issues (Bundesverfassungsgericht 2003). Subsequently, eight federal states (Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Bremen, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, Northrhine-Westphalia, Saarland and Hesse) introduced legislation banning teachers from wearing headscarves. During the past decade, Muslims in Germany have been quite successful in claiming rights and, at the same time, Germans have been more willing to concede these rights which are further signs of the ideological shifts that have occurred during integration. Not only did Fereshta Ludin claim a partial victory in the aforementioned decision relating to the wearing of headscarves by teachers in Germany but, in 2002, Muslims also won the right to slaughter animals according to their religious commands (halal-slaughtering).

As a result of the large number of Turkish Muslim students in German schools (approximately 700,000), several federal states have begun providing Islamic religious education in German (Islamunterricht in deutscher Sprache) for students of Muslim origin alongside the Protestant and Catholic religions in German state schools. One concern expressed in this debate has been that offering Islam education alongside mainly Christian religions in state schools could lead to a ‘ghetto-ization’ of Muslim children and hamper their integration. However, without Islamic religious education in German state schools, groups could offer their more radical interpretations of Islam in private lessons; and more and more Muslim students might attend mosque-based Qu’ran schools. Arguably, one of the main advantages of providing Islamic instruction in the German language in state schools is that Muslim students from different countries and cultures can learn their shared religion together. At the centre of this continuing debate about multiculturalism in Germany has been the question about the content of Islamic lessons and the extent to which Islamic organizations and communities should be allowed to shape the curriculum. The third conference on Islam in 2008 agreed that all state schools should offer Islamic religious education in German and that Muslim community leaders should work out a legally binding agreement with the state. However, this is likely to take time given that Muslims in Germany are represented by no less than 15 different organizations and individuals at the conference. A more inclusive approach would have been to merge the subjects of religious education and ethics and teach the major world religions to all students in the same class – a controversial strategy that was adopted in Berlin in 2006 when multi-denominational ethics lessons became compulsory (Knauth 2007).

Educational Performance of Migrant Students

Another challenge lies in the educational underperformance of migrant students, and Turkish Muslims in particular. Since 2000, the interrelation between reading competence and socio-economic background has been declining based on PISA statistics and students with an immigration background improved 26 points on the reading scale between 2000 and 2009. However, immigrant students are still performing at lower levels compared to non-immigrant students. In 2009, immigrant students scored 56 points lower (40 points are the equivalent of one academic year) than non-immigrant students compared to a gap of 84 points in 2000. During the same period, the gap between those who speak German at home and those who do not narrowed and now stands at 60 points (the equivalent of 1.5 academic years). Turkish migrant students are particularly disadvantaged: In 2009 the gap between German students and first-generation Turkish students was 109 points; the gap between German students and second-generation Turkish students was 94 points (the equivalent of 2 academic years). The reasons for these gaps are complicated and include cultural factors such as (parental) value attributed to education, and structural factors around the tri-partite nature of the German educational system. The gap between German students and Turkish students remains significant even when controlled for socio-economic background and language spoken at home which is different from any other migrant groups. Turkish youth are the only migrant community with no statistically significant educational improvement (Stanat, Rauch and Segeritz 2010).

Inter-Generational Conflicts and ‘Honour Killings’

Germany has seen a wave of familial disputes between first-generation parents (representing the traditional Turk) and second-generation liberal Turks, mostly girls. It is often young Muslim women who break with their family traditions and want to live according to western values (e.g. non-marital sex, own living quarters, relationships, combined job and family life) that are killed by male family members who felt that their namus (honour and dignity) and seref (reputation and prestige of the family) have been compromised. Since 1996, more than 170 ‘honour killings’ took place in Germany (http://www.ehrenmord.de/); many were largely ignored by the media until 23-year-old Hatun Sürücü, born in Berlin, was shot dead in the open street on 7 February 2005 by three of her brothers who felt that she had brought dishonour on her family. Sürücü had been married to her cousin eight years before in an arranged marriage, but had then run away, taking her five-year-old son with her. Her killing not only intensified the German debate about multiculturalism and integration but also sparked a new discussion about the necessity of introducing compulsory lessons on morals and ethics, following approval of the killing by several Turkish youths at a local school. In fact, Sürücü’s murder contributed to the introduction of compulsory ethics lessons in Berlin schools in 2006 following protest of Turkish women in the streets of Berlin after her murder. In April 2006, Hatun’s brother was jailed for nine years and three months for killing his sister. Two other brothers were cleared of charges of conspiring to murder her.

These ‘honour killings’ are indicative of the identity struggle some young Muslims are facing in contemporary Germany. Many of them feel that their community is not included in the German national identity, and that they have been subject to discriminatory remarks because of their Muslim religion and cultural differences. The marginality of young people of Turkish origin in Germany became evident when they found themselves disparagingly identified as almanci (German Turks) on their visits to Turkey. Second-generation Turkish adolescents in Germany face a reference-group problem. Where they privilege the validity of their own individual perspectives, they find themselves rejected by their minority community and subject to pressures to conform to German culture and society. Those who are prepared to conform in this way run into problems with their families, but cannot count on being truly accepted into German society either because of their cultural and religious ‘otherness’.

Turkish-German Subculture and Latest Trends

Despite the challenges Muslim communities continue to face in Germany society and in the education system, new sub-cultural traditions have emerged. This is particularly the case amongst the large Turkish community who combined a positive commitment to their ethnic and cultural background with openness to German society. There has been a thriving and colourful literary and cinematic Turkish German subculture with over a thousand works written in Turkish and dealing with Sunni and Alevi experiences in Germany; and the edited commentary by Germans and Turkish Muslims on the possibilities of integration was the first book by a major German publisher with the text given in both German and Turkish. In 2004, the German Turkish film ‘Head-On’ (Gegen die Wand), which told the story of a marriage of convenience between two Turkish Muslims in Hamburg and thus focused upon the problems of second-generation Turkish immigrants in Germany, won the Berlinale Golden Bear and was awarded Best European Film. In November 2008, Cem Őzdemir, a German politician of Turkish descent and Member of the European Parliament, was elected leader of German’s Green Party (Alliance 90/The Greens). He was the first German-born second-generation Muslim immigrant to be a representative in the German parliament (in 1994). At present, there are several Muslim politicians. What is striking however is that less than 1% of parliamentarians are Muslims compared with over 4% of the general population. The same is true for teachers where less than 1% have a Muslim or migrant background.

German policymakers need to step up their efforts to foster social cohesion and integration through a common language and citizenship, on the one hand (viewing naturalization as a precondition of successful integration), while valuing non-German cultures on the other. The latter dimension also includes recognition of Muslim migrant associations – such as the Turkish Federation of Berlin-Brandenburg or the Federation for Democratic Workers’ Associations – as forms of integration (Yurdakul 2009). The development of a single body to represent Muslim interests toward the German state also needs to be further encouraged but it remains questionable whether the German Islam conference is the right forum for this. For many Muslims, the journey from ‘guest workers’ into citizens thus remains incomplete.


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