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