Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

923German Muslim professor: Muslims must put democracy before religion...adopt the majority culture

Expand Messages
  • Tarek Fatah
    Dec 2, 2004

      Bassam Tibi teaches international relations in Germany, and is currently
      working at Harvard University. During the 1990s, Tibi became one of the
      first political scientists to warn of serious conflicts if Europe didn't
      move to better integrate its Muslim population.

      During this period, he also developed the term "Leitkultur," or "leading
      culture," a catchphrase for the European values and culture he and others
      wanted immigrant Muslims to adopt. Tibi has warned that peaceful coexistence
      can only succeed through the development of a "Euro Islam" that is in accord
      with European values. A naturalized German citizen, the 60-year-old was born
      in Damascus, Syria.

      In this interview with the German magazine, Der Spiegel, Prof. Tibi says
      Muslims need to recognize that "Democracy needs to come before religion".

      Read and reflect.

      Tarek Fatah

      MUSLIM INTEGRATION: Why Europe Needs a "Leading Culture"

      A prominent German Muslim warns that European Muslims must adopt the
      majority culture in the countries where they live. Democracy needs to come
      before religion. Failing that, a clash of civilizations is almost


      SPIEGEL ONLINE: Professor Tibi, for the second time, a debate is raging in
      Germany about the term "Leitkultur" ("leading" or "guiding" culture), which
      you coined in the 90s. Most recently, German Interior Minister Otto Schily
      branded the term "moronic" and "an ancient relict." Does such an attitude
      anger you?

      Tibi: It does amaze me. Recently, when an Italian translation of my book
      Islamische Zuwanderung -- die gescheiterte Integration (Islamic
      Immigration -- The Failed Integration) was presented in Rome in the presence
      of Mr. Schily, he expressed emphatic agreement with my ideas. The word
      Leitkultur wasn't used, but the book is about nothing other than Leitkultur.
      I thanked Mr. Schily afterward for agreeing with my concept. He would, of
      course, prefer a different term, but substance is the important thing in
      this discussion -- namely that there are democratic rules of the game and a
      democratic orientation -- Leitkultur in fact -- that all must adhere to.

      SPIEGEL ONLINE: You spoke of a European Leitkultur. The (Conservative German
      opposition party) Christian Social Union is insisting on a German version.
      Is the difference meaningful?

      Defining a "Leitkultur"

      The term Leitkultur -- meaning "leading" or "dominant" culture -- burst onto
      the pages of German newspapers in 2000. At the time, the term was an effort
      to come to terms with an immigrant population -- primarily made up of
      Germany's 3.2-million-strong Turkish population -- that was not making
      progress toward integration, and with a German society that didn't really
      have a concept of what integration should look like. A months-long debate
      about the term was held in the German media. In the end, a general consensus
      emerged: The term Leitkultur, when applied just in a German context, recalls
      too many historical ghosts and creates a hierarchy of cultures -- something
      with which the Germans have all-too-much experience. With a flare-up of
      religiously motivated violence in Holland and fears that the same thing
      could happen in Germany, a new discussion on integration has started. And
      the word Leitkultur is back.

      Tibi: There is a huge difference. I have always emphasized how dangerous it
      is to talk about a specifically German Leitkultur. There are a number of
      reasons for this. First of all, the problem we are talking about here is a
      European problem. One only needs to look at the Netherlands and the murder
      of (Muslim-critical filmmaker) Theo van Gogh (three weeks ago) to see that.
      Thus, we also need a European value structure. Plus, any other approach
      would lead to a German "special path" and that is completely unadvisable.
      The important thing is: the line doesn't run between Europe and Islam, but
      between all open societies and their enemies. I myself am Muslim and I stand
      on the side of an open society. Democratic Muslims like myself can push for
      a European Leitkultur and against its enemies.

      SPIEGEL ONLINE: You have always emphasized that only a secular society can
      assert itself against Islamists and secure a peaceful cohabitation. Are such
      thoughts completely alien to Muslims who live in Germany and Europe?

      Tibi: French Muslims have set a good example in the last few years. The
      Grand Mufti of Marseille and the Imam from the mosque in Paris have
      professed that Islam is compatible with a secular state that separates
      religion from politics. My idea of a European Leitkultur is based on the
      foundation of a democratic community whose members are bound together
      through a collective identity as citizens of that community. Such a
      collective identity -- in the sense of the French Citoyenite
      (citizenship) -- stands above religious identity. Religion may, of course,
      be practiced privately, but in public only citizenship counts. Such a
      concept would unite Muslims with non-Muslims.

      SPIEGEL ONLINE: What portion of the Muslims living in Germany do you think
      would be prepared to accept such a model?

      Tibi: From the perspective of the current situation, the majority would
      likely refuse this idea. But we have to think long term. If we are able to
      wean the children of the third generation (of Muslim immigrants in Germany)
      away from the mosque-club culture, then it is possible to make them amenable
      to this concept of citizenship. That won't happen alone. First, one has to
      address the existent value conflict between secularity on the one hand and a
      religion-dominated society on the other. We have to win the hearts and souls
      of the Muslim youth.

      SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do we do that?

      Tibi: In the short term, we have to strengthen democracy's ability to defend
      itself -- security in other words. I agreed completely, for example, with
      Interior Minister Schily when he deported (the radical Muslim leader) Metin
      Kaplan, the "Caliph of Cologne." In the long run, we will have to depend on
      more education.

      SPIEGEL ONLINE: Right now in Germany, you can hear from all sides that the
      multicultural society has failed. Do you agree?

      Tibi: It depends on what you mean by the term. In my understanding of
      multiculturalism means "anything goes." Multiculturalism means that one
      person can live according to (ultra-orthodox) Sharia law and the other
      according to the constitution -- and that actually has failed. Van Gogh's
      murder shows us that what we need instead is cooperation. The better concept
      would be cultural pluralism. Unlike multiculturalism, cultural pluralism
      doesn't just mean diversity but also togetherness -- primarily the
      understanding of the rules of the game -- the European values structure. For
      an illustration, take a look at the example of the Dutch politician Ayaan
      Hirsli Ali, who has also received death threats. She has said she doesn't
      want to be Muslim anymore. According to the European values structure, that
      is her right. But according to Islamic law that represents a renununciation
      of belief -- and she can be killed for it. A European Leitkultur doesn't
      permit that, whereas the Sharia does.

      SPIEGEL ONLINE: You're currently teaching at Harvard University in the USA.
      What's the impression you get of the German integration debate from that far

      Tibi: It's being carried out just as hysterically as it was during its first
      run four years ago. Why can't people just quietly reflect on the
      consequences of Van Gogh's murder? One problem is that hardly anybody is
      even bothering to define the terms used in the discussion. Claudia Roth, for
      example, the head of the German Green Party, says that she is against
      arbitrary values but at the same time supports a multicultural society. To
      me that's a contradiction. In other words: We need to search for some other

      SPIEGEL ONLINE: What country can Germany look to as examples for new

      Tibi: In Germany, it is possible to say a person is both a German citizen
      and Turkish, because our citizenship is (only) defined by a passport. That's
      different in France. The Leitkultur there is composed of the identity of the
      citizen, who participates in civil society, along with secularism. That's
      why in France you can also be a migrant and French. That's a model for
      Germany. We also need a citizen's identity and secularism. The concepts of
      Jihad and Sharia, on the other hand, need to be kept out of Europe.

      SPIEGEL ONLINE: Who can be the dialogue partner inside the German Muslim

      Tibi: The Center for Turkish Studies is, to me, an important representative
      of the Turkish diaspora in Germany and they also stand behind the idea of a
      European Islam. That's why it is a better dialogue partner than, for
      instance, the religious anti-integration organization Milli Gorus or the
      Islamic Council, which they dominate. As a Sunni Arab, I also don't feel
      represented by the Arab-oriented Central Council of Muslims. When Chancellor
      Gerhard Schroeder invited its chairman, Nadeem Elyas, to be the dialogue
      partner for our concerns after Sept. 11, I even wrote a protest letter. I
      never got an answer.