Most Muslims in Germany are of Turkish descent. You yourself are Turkish and have done a great deal of research on Turkish society. Is Turkey now in the process of turning away from Europe?

Gole: With its call for a strong leader and the growing intolerance of cosmopolitanism, Turkey is apparently looking increasingly toward Eastern Europe for orientation. We see no one but Erdogan these days. We don′t see his team. Even Erdogan′s friends who founded the AKP with him are no longer around.

Erdogan likes to speak of how he has launched a "New Turkey". What is this new nation supposed to look like? When the AKP came to power in 2002, many said that Erdogan had a hidden agenda and wanted to turn the country into an Islamic state.

Gole: I have never believed that there is a hidden agenda. I was one of those who had faith in the process of democratisation initiated by Erdogan′s AKP. I believed that we would be able to explain our religious and secular sensibilities to one another so that society could become more open to plurality. It worked for about ten years. But then a retrograde trend began for reasons that still need to be analysed.

Cover of Nilufer Gole′s book ″Europaischer Islam: Muslime im Alltag″ (published by Wagenbach)
Muslims are already part of European society: although international terrorism is currently hardening the front between Islam and Europe, appearances can be deceptive. As Nilufer Gole demonstrates in her book, Islam is already an integral part of our – common – daily life. New identities are taking shape, new forms of co-existence emerging. Yet with them there also comes the potential for new conflict – as in the case of the Muhammad caricatures – for which creative solutions need to be found. Europe is in the process of reinventing itself, something no fundamentalist will be able to stop

The Turkish opposition thinks that Europe is partly to blame for the reversal.

Gole: There is certainly some truth to that theory, although Turkey also bears some responsibility. When the negotiations began with the EU, Europe marginalised Turkey in a very emotional manner. Many hearts were broken in Turkey. They thought they had already belonged to Europe for a long time.

The Turkish negotiators failed to convey that feeling to Europe. On the contrary, the debates were very counterproductive. All the while, a great deal of disinformation was being spread by Europe. Take for example the abolishment of the death penalty in 2002. Little attention was paid to that in Europe. But it was a huge step for Turkey. European observers commented that it was merely window-dressing. I felt very bad when I heard that, because it did not reflect the facts.

And now that Ankara is proposing to reintroduce the death penalty, Europe is outraged. I don′t know what the answer is anymore.

Ankara is currently focusing on political purges. What role will Islam play once the opposition has been quashed?

Gole: We have to remember that there are different interpretations of the Muslim faith. The Fethullah Gulen movement is a religious interpretation. It managed to infiltrate the government, for a long time under the regime′s benevolent gaze. But then the tide turned, and now there are efforts to rid institutions and society of this ideology again.

What interpretation of religion will then gain ground? Erdogan is after all deeply religious.

Gole: Perhaps more emphasis will be placed on religion in order to hold together society. And there will certainly be an attempt to redefine Islam in a certain way. I hope that Islam′s transformation in a democratic direction will be supported. But at the moment I do not see the element of religion as being in the foreground in Turkey but rather nationalism and in particular nativism.

What can Europe do?

Gole: Europe unfortunately missed its chance. There was a right moment, but no one realised just how crucial it was.

When were you in Turkey last?

Gole: I was in Istanbul during the coup attempt. Nobody wanted a coup, and I saw how people stood up to the tanks. We thought it could be the beginning of a new democratic era. But the signs are now pointing in a very different direction. I hope this is only temporary and not structural.

Erdogan called the coup a "gift from God".

Gole: Yes, he actually said that. Unbelievable!

Interview conducted by Karen Kruger

© Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) 2017

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

Nilufer Gole was born in Ankara, lives in France and teaches sociology at the Parisian Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

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Comments for this article: "Islam is taking root in Europe"

"I believed that we would be able to explain our religious and secular sensibilities to one another so that society could become more open to plurality. It worked for about ten years. But then a retrograde trend began for reasons that still need to be analysed."
This is an interesting comment, and really, is inconsistent with the rest of her answers. However, it is consistent with the way that Islam works.

Jen24.04.2017 | 20:51 Uhr