Christina/ July 6, 2011/ Culture

Having a glance at the crowded hall on this sunny Tuesday evening makes it clear: the need for clarification of the ‘culture issue’ is yet unbowed. I presume not for any culture but for clarification of the European-Islamic or in terms of urban culture, for the German-Isalmic issue.

Announced in a full-bodied manner, the ninth sequel of the ‚Herrenhäuser Gespräch’ pledges to give at least some relief from the general confusion if not a solution for this question: „Which culture is it we are living in?“ is therefore the central question of the evening.

The panel discussion, which is casually taped as audio transmission for the radio station NDR Kultur (air date is October, 2nd, 2011 at 8 p.m. on NDR Kultur), is reasonably but not well-balanced, staffed. Namely, with a former minister of state, Prof. Dr. Hans Joachim Meyer, who is acting president of the central committee of German catholics. Moreover with a scientist for Islam, Dr. Armina Omerika, who is at the same time member of the ‘Deutsche Islam Konferenz’ (German Islamic Conference – GIC). Furthermore there were Prof. Dr. Armin Nassehi, a sociologist from Munich and as a representative of the fine arts there was Feridun Zaimoğlu, with a migration background.

To start with: The evening did not bring any new answers or findings. Instead of that one group tried to “put lipstick on the pig” whereas the other one tried to name the set of problems and to identify a need for discussions. The moderator of the round remained surprisingly pale and partly stereotype in his questions. He did not succeed in igniting a sweeping and dedicated discussion out of this meeting with high. The audience also seemed largely unsatisfied to me and gave the impression that it would have wanted to pose questions on many occasions. Only when firstly Feridun Zaimoğlu and later also Armina Omerika passed criticism on the minister of the interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich, a murmur went through the crowd.

Long statements, wanly Moderation

An introduction on the topic by Armin Nassehi directed initially into confusion. Not culture was supposed to be the subject („Eventually we are not living in cultures, we just live“), but narratives, „which find common ground“. Rightly Nassehi stressed that culture is primarily experienced through differences, i.e. in comparison with each other. Asking for the cause of comparison Nassehi stated the buzz word ‚Leitkultur’ (cultural orientation) and ‚Einwanderung’ (immigration) and noticed that only problematic issues are often being discussed.

Temporarily Armina Omerika focussed on the main issue, even though that was wisely not registered either in the event’s title nor in the written invitation for the evening: „The debates on integratinon and Islam: all public discourse are being carried out on these two fields.“ „Leitkultur“, Prof. Meyer noted, „is an unclear term as it can imply a claim to power..“ In this context, Meyer referred to an article of the „Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung“ (FAS) of July 3rd: „salafism comes into vogue“. „This is supposed to scare you“, he commented. Despite this, Meyer is confident and held the view that „the positive voices and opinions that muslims are righteous citizens prevail within the population“ during the discussion.“

“They should relax“

After my fance, Feridun Zaimoğlu became refreshingly genial noticeable once again. Probably, his unbiased comments are owed to the freedom of opinion of an author. Be it! In this rather lame and tedious discussion, which somehow marked time, his allegories appeared liberating. At the same time they are liberated from the primed scientific language, by which some researchers try conceal their lack of talent. Zaimoğlu describes the discussion on culture as „attempts of labelling or attempts to find out what holds us together”. He talked about the existence of a culture matrix in urban life. He posed the question whether an overemphasis of plurality would inevitably mean that the „positive German“ is a provincial baboon? „As a German I do not have to be tensed up necessarily“, Zaimoğlu answered to the question whether he is ‚outlandish-German’. He advised people, who identify themselves with certain groups, because “the others are not like them” to remove their tension.

Of good and bad muslims

At the end the debate got juicy again when the moderator asked Omerika and Zaimoğlu about their experiences as participants at the German Islamic Conference (GIC). Whereas Zaimoğlu took part one-time in 2006, Omerika is in her third period of office. Concise and honest Zaimoğlu summed his impressions and his decision to resign up: „At time we took advantage of a smarter and reflective minister of the interior. That one pondered firstly bevor he spoke.“ According to his records Muslims are being devided at the GIC into ‚good’ and ‚bad’ ones. The ‚good’ ones chant and sup up with the media; the ‚bad’ are those who admit being religious. One incident was the trigger for his resignation from the GIC he claimed. It was the slagging on absentees: „I consider it as shabby“, Zaimoğlu continued, „if you denounce people just because of their creed.“

Leaders of the pack with strong bonding force

Zaimoğlus comments are backed up by Armina Omerikas insights. Because of the new minister of interior the atmosphere worsened at the GIC as the minister does not seem to be willing to listen to the criticism coming from the participants. Finally, Zaimoğlu invalidated the opinion shared by the majority of the round that everything is just fine within the „Europäischen House“ and referred to the right-wing demagogic tendencies in the Netherlands (Geert Wilders), to the collective and unlawful (in respect to human rights) expel of Sinti and Romanies from France and the upcoming elections in Austria, which hold a chance of an increased shift towards the right-wing parties. „Leaders of the pack with strong bonding force are designated for mass reflexes“, the author put it. Thereby one like to draw on ‚rhetorical characters’ such as „there are too many wogs in this country“ as a legitimation for ‚anti-educational projects’. Hierein he identified acute dangers and deservedly so. Pictorially he spoke about a ‚will to produce packs’ in order to separate oneself from those you do not want to have a truck with.

Something is wrong within the House of Europe

Zaimoğlu also had the courage to deliver a powerful closing argument. Thereby he did not only – in my opinion – made the best of the discussion but released the other attendees as well as the audience with a brain-twister: „There are anti-European tendencies which should be broached.“

In view to the long-standing agitatioin by the press (quod vide selected articles at the end) and the political tendential developments addressed to by Zaimoğlu and partly also by Omerika I experienced the discussion all in all as ‚sugar-coated’. The moderator did not aks the right questions to ignite a coherent discussion. Instead of that he and some of the attendees got lost in tedious single statements allowing everybody to deliver a brilliant but almost useless performance in their own field of research. Unfortunately the discussion was thereby lead into puzzling channels lacking a thread. As a result the question remains: „What culture is it that we are living in?“

Further readings

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