Esra Kücük is Director of the Junge Islam Konferenz, an organization dealing with the role of Islam and Muslims in Germany’s transforming society. Before Esra developed the Junge Islam Konferenz in 2011, she studied Social Sciences and European Studies in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Currently, she is also working on her doctoral thesis on living environments of young Muslims and non-Muslims in Germany between normalization and exclusion. Read more about Esra here.
Robin Laumann started working at the Junge Islam Konferenz in 2013 and has since been responsible for the fields of political communication, advocacy, and research. Prior to joining the Junge Islam Konferenz, Robin studied Islamic Studies, History, and Near and Middle Eastern Studies in Germany, Egypt, and the United Kingdom. Read more about Robin here.
Esra Kücük and Robin Laumann on Arrival City Chapter 8: The new city confronts the old world
Beyond Arrival: Germany still in search for new answers to old questions
In recent years, German arrival cities have undergone a process of structural change, and Berlin exemplifies this transformation vividly. As Doug Sanders describes, Kreuzberg and Neukölln have turned into bustling neighborhoods, home to a diverse set of people including immigrants and their descendants, ecologists, pacifists, and – the most recent addition – newcomers who are disproportionately often associated with the German cliché of the “Swabian hipster”. As a result, Kreuzberg and Neukölln, which embody the urban spirit of Berlin, are among the most popular neighborhoods in the capital.
And still, “citizenship in both the legal and the cultural sense” – as Sanders insightfully remarks – is a crucial factor for arrival in Germany, and sadly, still missing to a large extent. However, albeit late, some changes have finally been implemented this year. The grand coalition of CDU and SPD reformed the country’s citizenship legislation after a contested political and public debate. The new bill, while barring the former “guest workers” of German nationality, equips their descendants who were born and raised in Germany with German citizenship with the option to hold that of another country. While this might sound trivial, the concept of dual citizenship has evoked suspicion and outright aversion for many years, particularly in the ranks of more conservative schools of thought. Sadly, this suspicion is why the first generation of “guest workers” won’t benefit from the reform, even though they made a significant impact on Germany’s economic upswing after World War II.
Yet, while Germany made progress in the field of legal citizenship, it still lags behind when it comes to ideas of cultural citizenship. The willingness of the mainstream society to embrace diversity and inclusion with respect to issues of narratives, belonging and privileges is particularly limited. While the concept of diversity is widely appreciated in society, vocal opposition against the practical ramifications of said diversity stirs against the surface. Currently, this opposition is directed especially against the Muslim communities of the country.
As in many other European countries, the degradation of Muslims makes strange bedfellows: A variety of actors including the populist party Alternative for Germany, the “Hooligans against Salafism” group (to a considerable extent made up of former Neonazi cadres), or the fairly new Dresden-based phenomenon PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) ride the wave of anti-Muslim stereotypes while venting their dissatisfaction with and fears of current transformations. Alarmingly albeit unsurprisingly, this wave encourages other players to join the fray. After repeated bursts of populism throughout the past year, the Bavarian CSU, sister party of Angela Merkel’s CDU, came up with the suggestion “to urge” migrants to speak exclusively German in their households. And despite the mindset that newcomers have to adapt to an allegedly homogeneous German culture to be accepted as “truly” German, a study by the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research reveals that approximately forty percent of the population consider a German blood line and the capacity to speak German without any accent as integral factors of “Germanness”.
Recent developments like the vociferous PEGIDA movement, which peaked in January when rallying 25,000 people against the alleged Islamization of Germany, suggest that we haven’t drawn the right decisions from past errors and omissions. Integration policies are exclusively directed at migrants and their descendants while neglecting the social responsibility of the mainstream society to do its part in adapting to demographic and cultural transformations. The sense that migrants should assimilate to mainstream culture and give up their own cultural identities is still widespread. This is reminiscent of the mindset of the 1960s when Germany called for “workers” and only realized too late that it were people who came.
However, the sense that belonging to the German people is an exclusive category linked to ethnicity, origin and culture grossly conflicts with daily realities – particularly in urban spaces like Berlin. Again unsurprisingly, the readiness to accept diversity and inclusion is a lot more pronounced among the younger urban generations who grew up with cultural diversity as a constant and natural factor of their lives. Civic engagement in particular is a pathway for younger generations to voice their perspectives on society and to actually formulate recommendations for the political process. The Junge Islam Konferenz (JIK), initiated by the Mercator Foundation and the Humboldt University Berlin, is such a project, bringing together young Muslims and non-Muslims to discuss the role of Islam and Muslims, as well as majority-minority relations in Germany. The members of the JIK, like many other civic activists, confidently participate in the public debate and contribute to the political process. It is remarkable that this new generation made in Germany has put away with false self-restraint despite the neglect and barriers they have been confronted with for decades. It will be them, it will be us, those parts of society who consider diversity and inclusion as our biggest asset, who turn cities where people arrive into cities that make people feel at home.
By Robin Laumann and Esra Kücük