Until September 11



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  1. Introduction1

Until September 11th, 2001 social differences between Germans without and with a migration background were mainly perceived as having ethno-cultural causes. Patriarchal structures and human rights violations were largely ignored because the state was not supposed to intervene in foreigners’ traditions. This misleading form of tolerance stopped after the attacks of 9-11, which were followed by the so called hijab debate in Germany, the assassination of the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands and an ‘honour’ crime that was committed in Berlin on February 7th, 2005. All of a sudden, public interest was directed towards the “archaical” family structures of migrants in Germany. But the debate largely ignored the fact that these structures are neither representative for the majority of the migrant community (Helwerth 2005b: 16) nor are they a new phenomenon. At the latest since the children of marriageable age from the first guest worker generation came to Germany – which was over 40 years ago – forced marriages have existed in Germany (Ates 2005: 17). Therefore, the only lately awakened interest in questions of integration (and gender equality) reflects the German migration policy which for the longest time tried to ignore the fact that Germany is an immigration country. What remains to be explained is the question why “honour” crimes and forced marriages are now discussed as women’s rights violations while they could have been known for a long time.

Since the beginning of the year 2006, cultural diversity and questions of integration have again been very vividly debated mainly because of a number of recently happened incidents which question Germany as a multicultural society. While some of them are focused on questions of school education2 others have a gender political connotation like the debate about the so called integration questionnaires, the controversy about the German-Turkish sociologist Necla Kelek, some recently committed “honour” crimes and the new law to combat forced marriages. These mentioned issues of public interest are all current causes which touch our main theme of gender equality and cultural diversity but also deal with some of the questions explicitly posed in our conference.

When the federal state of Baden-Württemberg introduced a “values test” for Muslim migrants applying for German citizenship in order to assure that they share the basic values of the Federal Republic, Muslim organizations and numerous politicians rejected the test as discriminatory, especially because it seemed to be directed only to Muslim migrants (Migration und Bevölkerung 2006a). But what also attracted attention was the fact that the examination in Baden-Württemberg not only questioned migrants about their attitudes towards democracy and terrorism but also about the relationship between men and women, homosexuality etc. (Migration und Bevölkerung 2006a). Among the questions posed in the test in Baden-Württemberg were the following: “What do you think about the statement that a wife should obey her husband and that he is allowed to beat her if she is not obedient” (FAZ.NET 2006a)? “Imagine your adult son comes to you and explains that he is gay and that he wants to live together with another man. What is your reaction” (Welt 2006)? Some weeks later, the Minister of Domestic Affairs of the Land Hessen decided to develop his own integration test under the slogan of “knowledge and values” which required profound knowledge about German history, the German political system, the European Union, German art, music and literature but also asked questions about the role of men and women in society. Due to the reactions to the first test, the government of Hessen emphasized that the examination was not only directed towards Muslim migrants (FAZ 2006a). But Hessen also asked highly gendered questions: “A woman should not be allowed to go out in public or be travelling without the company of a close male relative. What is your opinion on this statement” (FAZ 2006b)? Since the governments of both federal states are otherwise rather conservative concerning questions of the equality of men and women or the rights of homosexuals the discussion about their integration questionnaires leaves the impression that gender equality is in some way being employed opportunistically in order to demonise THE Muslim migrants. After week-long discussions, the Ministers of Domestic Affairs of all German federal states now agreed on federally consistent integration standards which leave some scope for each state. Foreigners wanting to become German citizens will have to finish an integration course about German history, culture, society and constitution – including equality between men and women as a topic –, whose curriculum will yet have to be developed, and prove their knowledge in an exam as well as obtain the international German language certificate B1 (FR 2006b; Gaserow 2006).

On the academic level, it has to be said that German migration research and gender studies are two rather unconnected research areas. In its beginnings, German women’s studies almost exclusively focused on the situation of women of German nationality while ethnic affiliation or race as analytical categories were rarely taken into account. It was not until the 1990s that German feminist theories gradually began to change and in addition to the classical category of “gender” new categories such as ethnicity, nationality, racism and colour were considered. Nevertheless, women with a migratory background are mostly treated as a special issue in gender studies. Thereby migrant women are either made invisible or perceived from a culturally exotic or deficitary point of view. On the other hand, research on migration only sometimes takes a gender specific perspective and therefore must be considered mostly gender blind (Bednarz-Braun 2004: 67 ff.; Beiträge Redaktion 2003; Gümen 2003: 30 ff.). Until today it can be stated that a research perspective integrating categories of gender and ethnicity into the analysis of social change and the development of living conditions in the meanwhile multi-cultural German society has not found its way into German mainstream social science (Bednarz-Braun/ Heß-Meining 2004: 245).



In the following chapter we will further explore the debate on Necla Kelek because it can be used as an example to illustrate how German migration research and gender studies still coexist rather ignorant of each others results. Moreover, the Kelek-controversy offers many links to issues that are being identified by different actors concerning the particular problems of women of a minority cultural group and the policies that are being adopted. Since the controversy was triggered by Kelek’s book on the practice of forced marriages this issue, together with so called “honour” crimes, will be discussed next followed by family violence and the hijab/headscarf. We will close our paper by highlighting some thoughts concerning the prospects of multiculturalism and gender equality in Germany.

  1. The debate on Necla Kelek

On February 2nd, 2006, the German weekly Newspaper “Die ZEIT” published an open letter written by 60 migration researchers who criticised the use of essays based on the personal experience of women such as Necla Kelek, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Seyran Ates and others – in their opinion unscientific and frivolous literature – in order to enlighten public and politics about arranged and forced marriages and so called honour crimes. In the centre of their critique is a book by Necla Kelek called “The alien bride” (“Die fremde Braut”) which the authors of the open letter labelled as the dissemination of cheap clichés about “the Islam” and “the Turks” enriched with pompous episodes of Kelek’s family history. The researchers pointed out that by and large all of them come to the conclusion that in the second generation of Muslim migrants, the Islam is reinterpreted in a complicated way that interacts with the family sphere as well as the majority society. This often very subjective reinterpretation cannot simply be connected with patriarchs and reactionaries. From the point of view of Kelek’s critics, forced marriages and “honour crimes” do exist and must be combatted with laws. But in their opinion, crimes in the name of “honour” are a political and not a moral problem and cannot be subscribed to “the Islam” in opposition to Western civilization. Due to the fact that the phenomenon of migration comprises non only the Muslim minority but also the every-day discrimination migrants are confronted with or the difficulties of non-Muslim migrants in the field of education, they call for a rational discussion about the future structure of the immigration society (Terkessidis/ Karakasoglu 2006). Necla Kelek who was the main subject of the researchers’ critique contested a week later with the reproach that her critics had had the time, money and employees to analyse questions of forced and arranged marriages, so called ‘honour’ crimes and ethnic segregation but had ignored these issues because they do not fit into their ideological concept of multiculturalism and because they did or do not want to see the human rights violations behind these issues (Kelek 2006). These two letters triggered a heated and mostly polemically led media controversy (Butterwegge 2006).

The debate on Necla Kelek illustrates the fact that questions of gender were mainly ignored in mainstream migration research. On the one hand it reflects worries about principles of gender equality being employed opportunistically as part of a demonisation of “the Islam”. On the other non-governmental organizations such as “Terre des Femmes e.V.” express the concern that public authorities are failing to protect minority women because of a lack of intercultural sensitivity and knowledge of extreme cases of violence.

While Kelek’s book has called public attention to women’s rights violations happening in Germany, the simplistic images used in her book have to be examined critically. The discussion triggered by Kelek’s book runs the risk of being exploited for a politics of cultural exclusion. Instead of trying to comprehend Germany as an immigration country, reports about forced marriages, “honour” crimes and other forms of oppression seem to proof that Muslims do not fit into the German society (Akgün 2006a; Beck-Gernsheim 2006). Rather than understanding Necla Kelek’s own successful emancipation as an example for the heterogeneity of the Turkish community in Germany, she is seen as, and depicts herself as, the exception from the rule. As a consequence, the construct of “the oppressed Turkish woman” persists (Çelik 2003).


  1. Forced Marriages And Honour Crimes

Until recently, forced marriages and “honour” crimes seen as relevant for Germany only by academic experts or specialized non-governmental organisations such as “Terre des Femmes e.V.”. With the “honour” murder of a young woman with Kurdish family background in Berlin on February 7th, 2005, who had liberated herself from a forced marriage, both issues became subject of broad media coverage. As a consequence, public debates on both forced marriages and “honour” crimes took place and even the political parties and parliament started to debate the themes more intensively. State and society see themselves confronted with the task to prevent forced marriages as well as “honour” crimes respectively to offer concrete exit options for the persons affected. This requires numerous policy measures such as the consolidation of advice centres and protection facilities, the enforcement of the criminal law, reforms with the aim to strengthen the legal position of persons affected, and efforts in the field of education. Studies exploring the causes, the manifestations and the extent of both forced marriages and “honour” crimes in order to improve the chances for successful prevention and intervention are also necessary (Bielefeldt 2005: 4 f.).

But most of the urgently needed policy measures are still lacking. Only very few advice centres and protection facilities for girls and women with a migration background do exist and funding is cut constantly. “Papatya” is the only crisis centre for girls and women with a migration background that can admit them fast and unbureaucratically in case of an emergency. In other places, the young women affected have to wait up to eight months until the youth welfare office agrees to cover the costs (Nungeßer 2005: 15). Among the reasons why most of the needed policy measures are still lacking is the fact that, as stated in the introduction, until recently, Germany was not seen as an immigration country. As a result, officials are not acquainted with migration cultures, the motives and motivations of the persons affected are unclear and connections to the social structures of the migrant communities are lacking. In addition to that, the German society, youth welfare offices and even courts often do not recognize violence in migrant families as a social problem but as a private matter or as a cultural problem. The intern structures of migrant families are likely to be seen as “exterritorial” problems (Arpat 1999: 61; Gedik 2005: 319 ff.).

Reliable figures about the quantitative dimension of forced marriages in Germany do not exist. The recently mentioned number of 30.000 forced marriages per year seems to be unrealistic insofar as it nearly equals the number of all marriages of German-Turkish migrants. According to a Berlin study from the year 2002, approximately 22 girls or women are affected by or threatened with a forced marriage while experts emanate from a significantly higher dark figure. Even less is known about boys and young men who are forced into a marriage (Bielefeldt 2005: 25).

In the discussion about forced marriages there is a disunity concerning the difference between arranged and forced marriages. Heiner Bielefeldt, director of the German Institute for Human Rights, emphasises the necessity to differentiate between forced and arranged marriages. According to him, the mere fact that the family chooses potential marriage candidates is not a sufficient criterion for a forced marriage (Bielefeldt 2005: 22). His position is supported by a study conducted by Gaby Straßburger according to which marriages within Turkish migrant families are often in some way arranged. Nevertheless the community with a Turkish migration background in Germany broadly condones arranged marriages that ignore the desires of the future spouses (Straßburger 2003). On the other hand authors such as Necla Kelek state that to them there is no essential difference between arranged or forced marriages because the result is the same (Kelek 2005: 221 f.).

In the past forced marriages were regarded as the criminal offence of coercion. In October 2004, the German parliament passed a bill making forced marriages henceforth a particularly severe case of the offence coercion which can be punished with up to five years of imprisonment (Bielefeldt 2005: 24). On February 10th, 2006, based on a bill of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, the Federal Council of Germany (Bundesrat) passed a bill3 which will be introduced to the German parliament making forced marriage an element of an offence sui generis. Somebody who forces someone through violence or threats into a marriage can be punished with a term of imprisonment between six months and ten years. In order to combat forced marriages more efficiently and to provide a better protection for the victims the proposal provides the possibility to annul a forced marriage more easily as well as an improvement of the alimony regulations for and the hereditary situation of the victim. The bill of the federal state of Berlin4 was rejected (Hausding 2006)which in addition provided an improvement of the right of residence of persons affected by opening a return option for minors who have a residence permit for Germany and were married by force abroad (Ates 2005: 16). Under current law the right to return for non-Germans expires six months after an enduring leave. Even if the reason for the failure to observe the time limit is a forced marriage, the affected woman (or man) has very little chances to return to Germany. Although the law which makes forced marriage to an offence sui generis is meant to ostracise forced marriages socially and to arouse the awareness of injustice especially of the relatives directly involved (Ates 2005: 19), the lawyer and Terre des Femmes activist Regina Kalthegener is not counting with many complaints on the part of the victims because that would mean to oppose their own families. In many cases this will be a too momentous step for them (Kalthegener 2005: 26).

According to Papatya, a Berlin crisis centre for girls and young women with a migration background there have been 46 “honour” killings in Germany since 1996. Between October 2004 and February 2005, six Muslim women living in Berlin have been murdered in a way that was labelled as an “honour” crime although four of the women were murdered by their partner or ex partner where other factors might have played a more significant role than the “honour” of the family. The last victim was Hatun Sürücü whose death has led as stated above to the current debate. When the murder first happened, only the local Berlin newspapers took notice. It only became big news when a group of Turkish boys mocked Hatun during a class discussion at a school near the crime scene with comments like “She deserved what she got. The whore lived like a German”. The school director sent an open letter to parents but also to teachers across Germany and thereby ignited a media fury (Biehl 2005).

On April 13th, 2006 the youngest brother of Hatun Sürücü was sentenced to a youth custody of nine years and three months for murder. His two older brothers who were charged with joint murder together with him were acquitted for want of evidence. This conviction was largely criticised: According to Cem Özdemir, German-Turkish member of the European parliament for the Green Party, the sentence fell short of the sequence of the murder because only the youngest son of the family was convicted but not his two brothers who presumably participated in the crime. The German Islam expert Hans-Peter Raddatz voiced the criticism that German jurisdiction is increasingly taking into account the cultural circumstances of Muslim felonies. Seyran Ates, German-Turkish lawyer and women’s rights activist, said that from an objective point of view the sentence was a legally fair judgement. Nevertheless, she expressed the concern that the verdict of not guilty for the two older brothers was sending out a negative signal to women suffering from violence in their own families. On the other hand, Kenan Kolat, chairmen of the Turkish community in Germany, and Bület Arslan, chairman of the German-Turkish forum within the Christian Democratic Union regarded the verdict as a very clear signal of deterrence since almost the maximum penalty was imposed (Migration und Bevölkerung 2006b).

Per definition “honour” killing does not exist in German criminal law. While cultural relativism has led to rather mild sentences in reviewing an “honour” crime until now, the Federal Court of Justice is setting increasingly strict standards which have led to the abrogation of some district court verdicts. In his decision on February 28th, 2004 the Federal Court has repeatedly asserted that in the recognition of all circumstances in order to decide if the murder was committed out of base motives, the cultural background of the perpetrator is of no relevance. A deviant value system only exonerates the offender if the crime is not considered as one in the offender’s country of origin. In individual cases it depends upon the extent to which the accused has had the possibility to acquaint himself with the rules effective in Germany. Particularly if the offender has been living in Germany for a longer period of time, a highly valued concept of “honour” in his home country will not be considered in mitigation (Ates 2005: 22; Kalthegener 2005: 26 f.). Decisive for German tribunals is the system of values of the German constitution which guarantees human dignity, self-determination and the equality of men and women (Rath 2004). The concept of “honour” should not be employed in order to cover up the true facts of the case: murder (Akgün 2006b).

The Turkish community has been rather reluctant in its response to the question of forced marriages or “honour” crimes (Lau 2005). A memorial vigil held a few weeks after Hatun Sürücü’s death was not organized by the Muslim community or a migrant organization but by the lesbian and gay association of Germany. A mere 120 people showed up of whom almost none were Turkish. The first to voice their concern about three weeks after Hatun Sürücü’s death was the secular Turkish Association of Berlin and Brandenburg (TBB) who issued a 10-point plan calling for a “zero tolerance”5 stance on violence against women and encouraged other Turkish and Islamic organizations to speak out against crimes committed in the name of “honour” (Biehl 2005; Helwerth 2005b; Orde 2005). The TBB also called for a reinforced funding of projects which offer precise help to endangered women. Besides protecting the victims, the TBB also identified the need for awareness trainings, especially in schools (Kilpert 2005).

In the course of the year 2005, a number of other migrant organizations initiated activities against forced marriages and/or honour crimes as well:

At the beginning of 2005 Güner Y. Balci, social worker at the Berlin girl’s club “MaDonna”6 initiated a postcard campaign against so-called “honour” killings. Two young Berlin Turkish boys had themselves photographed for the campaign under the slogan “Honour is to fight for my sister’s freedom”.7 20,000 postcards were printed and circulated at the beginning of 2005. In future postcards will also be printed in Arabic and Turkish and distributed selectively in male domains such as cafes and sports clubs. A poster campaign with the same theme is also being planned. But along with strong interest from the media and positive reactions – the two boys received the panther price for heroes of everyday life from the Berlin newspaper “die tageszeitung” –, the campaign is also producing tensions. While one of the boys’ families agreed with his engagement and his peers share his rejection of “honour” crimes and forced marriages, the other boy’s parents were suspicious about the public attention and he is being mobbed by some of his classmates. Nevertheless, Güner Y. Balci is pleased about the scope of the discussion triggered by the project because it sends off a signal to other teenagers with a migration background. She also says that it has to be made clear that these murders have nothing to do with religious duty (Mirza 2006). Before, the girl’s club had also created two postcards against forced marriages under the slogan “till death do us part”.8

In the summer of 2005, “Inssan”9, a Muslim association for cultural interaction, also started a postcard campaign against forced marriages (Helwerth 2005b: 16): on July 1st 2005 at the same time with the Friday prayers in Berlin’s mosques the association started the contest “ISL’AMOUR” searching for Muslims’ most beautiful wedding stories. At the same day “Inssan” issued a postcard with a red heart saying „Forced marriages are a crime”.10 The postcard also shows two verses of the Koran dealing with love. According to board member Lydia Nofal the association is speaking out clearly against forced marriages and “honour” crimes with their actions. In particular they want to reach out to all Muslims in Berlin and make clear to them that these kinds of traditions have no justification. Members of “Inssan” are distributing the 4.000 postcards not only in mosques but also in town halls, adult education centres and cafes. Inwards, in the mosque communities, they want to promote a more cosmopolitan view of the German society. Outwards they want to moderate between Muslims and non-Muslims by also reinforcing the interreligious dialogue (MuslimatBerlin 2005; taz 2005).

Both the Council of Islam, one of the largest Muslim umbrella organizations in Germany, and the Central Consistory of Muslims made clear that Islam does not condone “honour” killings. The chairman of the latter, Ayyub Axel Köhler, said that the Central Consistory has to make clear in public as well as inside the Consistory that “honour” crimes do not comply with the teachings of Islam (Biehl 2005; FAZ.NET 2006b). It also alarmed the Turkish community in Germany that murder and archaic perceptions of “honour” find the approval of some teenagers in Berlin. Its chairman, Kenan Kolat said that even a minority that accepted or even approved of an “honour” killing was not acceptable. Therefore his organization has arranged a discussion with teachers, politicians, parents and imams and is planning a cooperation with Turkish newspapers and television channels in Berlin in order to spread democratic beliefs in the Turkish community (Phalnikar 2005).

An organization that has been continuously working on both forced marriages and crimes committed in the name of “honour” is the German non-governmental organization “Terre des Femmes e.V.” (TDF). From November 2002 until November 2003 TDF ran the campaign “STOP Forced Marriages – NO to Violence against Women” with the overall aim to make the public aware of this human rights violation. 11 In the course of the campaign, TDF edited a book to accompany the campaign informing about forced marriages in Germany and other countries as well as about legal problems and possibilities. For potential victims the organization has planned a Migrant Brochure in German, Turkish and Kurdish, which will give practical advice and addresses of counselling centres, lawyers and doctors. A poster campaign was developed and information material for classes and teachers was designed and distributed. TDF mainly demanded a scientific overview of the present situation, more anonymous protection centres and women's refuges with intercultural focus, raised awareness and information of public authorities, improved legal frameworks and compulsory language courses for migrants to further integration (Volz 2003: 201).

Starting in November 2004, TDF is currently running the campaign “NO to Crimes in the Name of Honour”.12 The aim of the campaign is to install preventive mechanisms on the national and international level through law amendments and international ostracism. Also, governments shall be pressured into instituting appropriate legal proceedings against perpetrators who committed a crime in the name of “honour”. On a political level the NGO demands that the extent of crimes in the name of “honour” in Germany must be investigated and adequate preventive measures developed. Furthermore, public awareness has to be sensitised in order to prevent “honour” crimes or to punish them appropriately. In addition to the support of organisations that combat crimes in the name of “honour”, TDF points to the need of women’s shelters and advisory offices for potential victims.

As our expositions have shown especially since the “honour” murder of Hatun Sürücü and the comments of three Turkish boys which it took to get a wide public to notice the case, quite a number of campaigns and legal measures have come up in Germany and particularly in Berlin. But headlines such as “She had to die because she lived like a German” which went through the German media after Sürücü’s death take over blindfolded the self perception of male perpetrators which actually believe that their sister has “besmirched” the family’s “honour” by living a self-determined life. Moreover, when “honour” crimes and forced marriages are labelled as a problem of “parallel societies”,13 individual cases are generalised although no reliable figures on the subjects exist. Thereby, the Islam and the entire Turkish or Muslim population in Germany are generally suspected (Akgün 2006b; Janßen/ Polat 2006: 11) and women’s rights violations are employed for a reinforced debate about integration and the debts to be discharged by migrants while at the same time ignoring social and economic problems of migrants and masking the shortfalls of German integration policy (Polat 2005). Furthermore, something that is often missing in the discussion about “honour” crimes and forced marriages on the German part is a differentiated view: the concepts of honour which can be the cause for forced marriages are not specifically “Islamic” but can also be found in some Christian regions of the Mediterranean as well as some generations ago in Western Europe. The simple label of patriarchal family structures as “Islamic” does not do justice to the numerous Muslims living in Germany who find the patriarchal codex of “honour” behind forced marriages and “honour” crimes as disconcerting as most native Germans. Such a label is moreover questionable because it leaves Muslim women with the alternative posed from outside of either distancing themselves constantly from their religion or facing the risk that with their profession of the Islam they are symbolically taken into custody for the retention of an authoritarian “honour” codex (Bielefeldt 2005: 14 ff.).




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