Interview with Seyran Ates

The Multicultural Mistake

Seyran Ates is one of today's foremost pundits on the topic of integration in Germany. Now Seyran Ates has written a new book called "The Multicultural Mistake". Kathrin Erdmann spoke with Ates about the mistakes made by the left wing and what an alternative integration policy might look like

Seyran Ates (photo: dpa)
An attorney of Turkish background, Seyran Ates is pushing for a reorientation in German immigration policy involving less tolerance toward Muslims

​​Your book is aimed in particular at left-wing liberals. What have they done wrong?

Ates: I see left-wingers as particularly culpable for the mistakes made in current integration policy, because for a long time they hindered any debate. Despite all that left-wing thought aspires to, they did not look closely enough at what was actually happening in these communities, in the cultures that were settling in Germany.

The boiling point has long since been reached, you have said. In Germany as elsewhere, critics of Islam must fear for their lives.

Ates: I had to close my law offices last year because the opposing party in a case attacked me. Before that I had experienced recurrent hostility. I perceive the mood here in Germany as becoming more and more aggressive the louder we voice our criticisms. And the more aggressive the mood, the more likely it is that the threshold to violence will be overstepped. We have long since developed a similar situation here to what's happening in the UK or France.

You call foreigners and immigrants who have lived here for a long time "Deutschländer" rather than "Deutsche." You estimate that 80 percent of them are not yet integrated in Germany. What does this mean for integration?

Ates: That we still have a long road ahead of us. Especially for the next generations. If we take a look at the third generation, we can see the results of what we have failed to accomplish in the past decades. And that makes me despair, because people are still trying to put a good face on things even though the third generation is in a miserable situation.

A large part of your book is devoted to the issue of violence and women. What does the majority society still need to do here?

"I see left-wingers as particularly culpable for the mistakes made in current integration policy, because for a long time they hindered any debate," says Ates

​​Ates: We need to recognize forced marriage as a criminal offense, and in the area of domestic violence we need to acknowledge what has been proven by many studies. The studies show that migrants who are exposed to violence need a different kind of victim protection. They need facilities that respond to their special situation.

But isn't it the case that Muslim women in particular take longer to overcome their shame and appeal for help?

Ates: For the last three or four years, for example, we have been conducting a quite open, very polarizing discussion on the topic of forced marriage. And now we are gradually seeing the results in the form of advice centers. More and more young and even older women are daring to come forward and talk about this problem and to seek help. This means that the public debate has brought about exactly what I want to achieve with my work and why I wrote this book. The topic has to remain on the agenda so that women know that it is still an important issue and that there are places where they can go for help.

A central reason for the lack of integration in your opinion is the differing concepts of honor in the Muslim and Western worlds. How should and must Germany deal with this?

Ates: Most Germans simply have to become aware of the fact that they themselves have worked through these processes in their own society and that they didn't just end up by accident where they are today. They first had to travel a long road toward democratization and enlightenment. Therefore, especially the extremely liberal left-wingers have to comprehend what we dissidents and critics of Islam are trying to do. We are trying to encourage an internal Muslim discourse that will prompt a debate on reforming Islam, and for this purpose we need the support of the majority society.

You accuse Germany of having a double standard. On the one hand, permissive and suggestive advertising is accepted, but at the same time female pupils are allowed to be absent from sports lessons for religious reasons.

Ates: I find the discussion here dishonest, because Germans act as though they are respecting moral and ethical convictions while at the same time allowing extremely pornographic advertising. The majority society should treat advertising much more critically. And it can't be right to maintain a double standard in the schools. It can't be that girls don't have to participate in swimming lessons because they are Muslim.

Girls are being deprived of educational opportunities here, and that goes against the goals of the German educational system. Girls should be compelled to take part in swimming and sports lessons, and that can be set down by law. That wouldn't be a problem at all.

Your book is subtitled: How we can live together better. How can we live together better?

Ates: We need an immigration law like the ones in Canada, Australia or the USA. People need to be able to apply for immigration on the basis of their qualifications and to come to Germany alone. The German system is geared too much toward bringing families together.

In addition, we need a ministry of immigration. I think the patchwork system we have now doesn't work. Every German state has its own version of an integration authority, but we have no uniform federal policy. We need a central ministry that concentrates on the issue of immigration policy.

Seyran Ates' book "Der Multikulti-Irrtum" was published by Ullstein Verlag and costs 18.90 EUR (in German only).

Kathrin Erdmann

© 2007

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor-Gaida

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