Interview with Turkish-German writer Feridun Zaimoglu

"A Muslim cannot be an identitarian"

In interview with, leading Turkish-German writer Feridun Zaimoglu is critical of the state of Germany's culture of debate. While unimpressed with Homeland Minister Seehofer's comments on Islam, he also has little time for the outrage of religious functionaries

Seehofer's statement that "Islam is not part of Germany" has been the subject of controversial debate. While some welcomed his comments, others reacted with outrage and criticism. How do you perceive the various knee-jerk responses – and the Islam debate as a whole?

Feridun Zaimoglu: Well, it's not the first time that a politician has stood up and shown his true colours. I'm not a fan of confessions and hollow phrases. Seehofer may be a repeat offender, but I nevertheless remained calm. It really would be better to forget these rituals of horror and indignation. But one thing I have realised is that there is, unfortunately, a nationwide penchant for immediate escalation and expressions of outrage. Those who behave in this way are not doing themselves any favours. People aren't actually engaging in a debate, they're just hysterical individuals claiming this or that. For example, I'd really like to see Horst Seehofer open the Koran. In it, he would repeatedly come across the following sentence:  "Have you lost your mind?!"

It's not the first time there's been a public discourse on the question of whether Islam or only the Muslims are a part of Germany. And it feels as though we're in some sort of continuous loop, because it is a debate that crops up time and again. The arguments presented by each side are mostly the same; there doesnʹt appear to be any real progress....

Zaimoglu: The question I'm left asking is: have they nothing new to say? If flogging a dead horse is a demoralisation tactic in this tedious game, then the players have succeeded. But it needs to end now. And because this is my nation, where I live, I have to speak my mind. There's a serious bout of navel-gazing going on in Germany right now. We need to talk less about the democratic culture of debate and do more to actually stick to it. And we need – once and for all – to drop the cheap slogans. Perhaps it would be more advisable to engage with real-life concerns for once?

Germanyʹs Homeland minister, Horst Seehofer (photo: Andreas Gebert/dpa)
Horst Seehofer, Homeland Minister, repeat offender: "I'd really like to see Horst Seehofer open the Koran. In it, he would repeatedly come across the following sentence: "Have you lost your mind?!"

As far as my fellow Muslims are concerned, I would like to say that they shouldn't waste their time focussing on the tired old slogans of people who may not be in office tomorrow. Statements such as these are not new and if you focus on them too seriously, they'll turn your hair grey. It's my view that what we're dealing with here is a clinical anxiety neurosis – and this applies to most of those involved in this game of conceit.

As far the Muslims associations in Germany are concerned, thereʹs not much evidence of them finding their niche...

Zaimoglu: Forget it! There's nothing to be gained by seriously believing association representatives and religious functionaries will having anything really scintillating to say on the subject. As far as I can see, they've organised themselves as groups of people who've been driven from their homelands. In my opinion, they contribute absolutely nothing to German life and German Muslims. Whatʹs more, they allow themselves to be swept along on a ritual tide of affront. All I hear is a lot of shouting. They have yet to realise that we are here in Germany, not do they really want to. But life is very brutal. What'll happen is – and I'm already seeing the first signs – that these functionaries, who are always ready to bleat their indignation, are being overrun by the phenomena themselves. As far as I'm concerned, they're phantoms. They don't relate to this country, to our country, they relate to an imagined realm somewhere out there. There are many new Muslims around the country who have no desire to adhere to such illusory thinking.Aren't Seehofer and some of the association functionaries that express such indignation at his statement to a certain extent similar? Anyone describing themselves as a "German Muslim", as you do, gets irritated looks from both sides. One side views something foreign in Islam per se, the other side automatically perceives the self-positioning as "German Muslim" as a rejection of Turkish identity. What's your view on this?

Zaimoglu: They are indeed brothers in spirit, because they're identity-hawkers. A German Muslim, as long as he opens his eyes and doesn't hide himself, certainly won't make the effort to fight for an outdated identity. Basically, the buzzword of the moment is conceit. After all, these squabblers are essentially just people whose arguments have been overtaken long ago. We really shouldn't allow ourselves to be misled, but unfortunately many do.

Out on the streets, votes and souls are being haggled over. But what we really need to do now is turn our backs on this racket. Many people are doing this, but unfortunately some Muslims still cling to a reactionary concept of homeland attachment. What is the most important thing to me as a Muslim? Dedication to the one God. In the past, the loss of reality and delusional entanglement has meant that Muslims didn't progress an inch. But this loss of reality, this delusional entanglement was not imposed from outside, it wasn't the evil Europeans...

We've experienced innumerable Islam debates in recent years, the political landscape has changed with the AfD, but also the Turkish-identity body of thought has become more visible over the past few years in particular. In your view, what perspectives do Muslims living in Germany have in the highly-charged atmosphere of today?

Mosque minaret and dome in Berlin (photo: Archivbild/Paul Zinken/dpa)
Turkish-German writer Feridun Zaimoglu: "What is the most important thing to me as a Muslim? Dedication to the one God. In the past, the loss of reality and delusional entanglement has meant that Muslims didn't progress an inch. But this loss of reality, this delusional entanglement was not imposed from outside, it wasn't the evil Europeans..."

Zaimoglu: A Muslim can't be an identitarian. Period. A Muslim can't feel the need to be part of an ideological concept. In the past, I've repeatedly said that these days, it's certainly not about giving an identity greater definition by declaring oneself to be a spectre of the past. We're not ghosts. I do indeed see an upsurge in preoccupation with identity, incidentally not just in the case of the Turks, Kurds and ethnic Germans, but also Russian-Germans and ethnic Poles. All these groups have succumbed to a syndrome of idiocy and with that, I mean the mania of seeing oneself as diaspora. For God's sake! A German of Turkish heritage, born and raised in Germany, shouldn't be so cowardly as to evade reality. All he really needs to do – and this is something that doesn't take much courage – is understand his own circumstances. Escaping from reality only results in people turning into pillars of salt. What happens when you close your eyes to the facts can be seen in the ʹpickledʹ homeland constructs that exist in some parallel societies.

In recent years in particular, there's a sense that in view of right-wing populism and currently, increasingly frequent attacks on mosques and Muslims, Muslim associations are resigned to a certain marginalisation, with some also accepting it.

Zaimoglu: Isolation is deadly. Anyone who ethnicises himself has a problem. Anyone who doesn't accept responsibility, but says society is at fault, has a problem. This is about maturation. The way immature personalities function is to seek fault in others or put the blame on others. In this context, what applies to the individual also applies to an association of people, regardless of whether they cling to a religious or identity-defining image. We need to get away from this. And this is by no means a call to endure at all costs. That would be to encourage further entrenchment and paranoia.

Incidentally, I also observe this burgeoning paranoia in many self-ethnicised men and women who are actually ignoring their own self-made misery. So once again: go out, wise up and perhaps rediscover some of that much-vaunted German sobriety.

Interview conducted by Eren Guvercin

© 2018

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

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