15.05.2006Zafer Senocak – Abdelkader BenaliMuslims and Integration in Europe
Berlin, 8 May 2006
You write that Europe's core problem is the way it relates to the Other, and that culture, as it is developed in nation states and nurtured to underpin an identity, is seen as the realm of the immigration police. In reality, I believe that without overcoming this exclusivist and essentially deeply racist way of thinking, there will be no possibility of achieving a united Europe.
At the most we will have a community of independent states which have got together over common economic and strategic interests. Perhaps that in itself is a success, when one thinks of the history of Europe, branded by wars and mutual slaughter. The continent of civil wars has been fairly successful in ensuring peace over the last sixty years. But this peace will be under threat as long as people do not realise that migration into Europe is creating new tensions.
It's precisely because the tensions between the states have diminished that Europe's aggressive potential is now looking for a new and at the same time familiar battlefield: the relationship to people of other religions and other skin colours.
I see Islamism as merely an "oriental" version of European nationalism. The xenophobic element, the culturalism, the entrapment of people in their group, their clan, their nation and their culture are thereby the elements they have in common.
Islamism in this sense is not an archaic religious conviction, but a thoroughly modern tendency. Some commentators speak of a third totalitarian ideology after fascism and communism against which the free world must defend itself. But I agree with you: this struggle, which is often interpreted as a cultural phenomenon, is in the first instance a dispute over material resources, over opportunities for the future, social status and justice. That last term is a term which is often used, but remains foreign to the history of humankind.
I have increasingly the feeling that the escape into culturalism – by which culture is seen as the framework which explains all problems – is strengthened by this development, so that the solution of social problems is pushed back ever further into the future.
What chances does the child of a migrant family have nowadays in European society if it ends up without any qualification from school? And in Germany it's not just a few children who are in this position. Of course, society isn't to blame for everything. There's also plenty of lethargy and lack of interest among the migrants themselves.
But the "orphans," as you fittingly call them, are addressed far too infrequently. In recent decades, money has been cut from training and free-time provision, in order to save money. But this is a false economy which will prove expensive for society: you can see that already, without having to be a prophet.
It's true: we writers are not social workers. We are also not prophets. But we still have some kind of connection to these roles. We describe human conditions and feelings which often remain hidden in the so-called public discourse. The way the "orphans" look for self-sufficiency has a strong aesthetic dimension – there can be little doubt about that. This aesthetic dimension is served today, in my view, by the affirmative ideology of Islamism.
The poses Islamists adopt, the video messages of suicide bombers, the intensive use of the internet, the media presence of the terror princes – as if they were pop stars – these are all a kind of replacement for art, a kind of bad poetry. To confront that with a demanding and innovative aesthetic programme is a real challenge.
It's not a matter of changing the world with books; it is rather a matter of being part of the world so that one can see it from a new perspective. That can partly be achieved by finding a language for the sense of loss which many feel, without ties to a state, a country or a tradition. There are other options beyond the leisure industry and the Al Qaeda training camp.
I'm a few years older than you. And this sense you write about that you've had enough of being someone guarding the bridges between the cultures is one I recognise all too well. The fact that we have to live with this role that has been ascribed to us gives us the chance of making something of it. Aren't you grateful for the many wonderful stories to which we have access because we've grown up in more than one culture? I see this by now as an aesthetic challenge, just as I see Islam as an aesthetic challenge. There's no other way of moving towards self-sufficiency.
With very best wishes,