Non-fiction: Ferda Atamanʹs "Iʹm from here. Stop asking!"

Less strident, more empathetic, please!

"I'm from here. Stop asking!" is the title of a recently published book in German by journalist Ferda Ataman. It contains quite a lot of appeals, summarises the latest debates on migration – and ignores the problems faced by an open society. By Canan Topcu

Since childhood, Ferda Ataman has been frequently confronted by strangers asking her "Where do you come from?" She is now voicing an appeal to those who are "exclusively German without a migration background" to stop asking people questions about their origins.

Ataman wants her book to be understood as a contribution to the debate – not "by a migrant but by a citizen who is worried about her country. A concerned citizen, so to speak." In two sections, each divided into five chapters, she deals with German society and today's migration policy and debates. In the first part she informs readers about five alleged misunderstandings in this country of immigration.

Clarifying five misunderstandings

Ataman sees the first of these as being that immigration is only desirable if it "benefits us", and that migrants are expected to be grateful. The title of the first chapter makes it clear what she thinks of this: "Migrants don't owe Germany anything. On the contrary."

The second misunderstanding is based on the assumption that only those who are descended from Germans can be "German".  Ataman says it's time to distance ourselves from the nationalist/ethnic notion of what it means to be German.

Cover of Ferda Atamanʹs "Hoert auf zu fragen! Ich bin von hier!" (published in German by S. Fischer)
The daughter of Turkish immigrants, journalist Ferda Ataman was born in Germany and is one of the many self-confident descendants of migrant workers – a generation that is desperate to be recognised as part of German society

A further misunderstanding she sees is that "integration" is not quite clearly defined with a single goal in mind, but is rather understood to imply some sort of obligation on the part of immigrants.

Ataman summarises the fourth misunderstanding as follows: migration is regarded as a "state of emergency" and conceived of as a problem, even though Europe has always been "a Mecca for the mobile".

The fifth misunderstanding arises from the fact that the actual cause of the problems in Germanyʹs immigration society is not being taken seriously: namely, the political shift to the right and the associated threat to democracy.

A plea for a new definition of being German

Using examples – mostly based on current events and debates – Ataman refutes what she considers to be the prevailing notions in the majority society about how migrants are supposed to behave and what is threatening Germany.

The author doesn't seem to mind that she, too, is sitting in judgement on others, over-generalising and making only the one side responsible for every problem.

"We are not interested in successful integration. We're talking above all about disintegration," she writes. Apart from the fact that it is not clear who is meant by "we", this statement is simply incorrect.

The fact that migration is not a new phenomenon is surely perfectly clear by now to all those who really want to know. That the open society needs a paradigm shift and a new "we", and that this "we" should be "without nationalist/ethnic ballast" is likewise not really new.

Much of what Ataman describes, laments, analyses and proposes sounds familiar. Particularly in recent years, a number of articles have been appeared in the media and books have been published that deal with the migration debates in a far more nuanced manner.

Empowerment for "Mihigrus" – people with a migration background

The daughter of Turkish immigrants, Ataman was born in Germany and is one of the many self-confident descendants of migrant workers, a generation that is desperate to be recognised as part of German society. Ataman made a name for herself as the columnist for Spiegel magazine who so angered the German Federal Minister of the Interior that he cancelled his participation in an integration conference.

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