From Berlin

Now that the nonsense is out of the way – on to a very interesting article in the NY Times that starts from the murder (the ‘honour killing’) of Hatun Surucu and the trial of her brothers which began in September, and moves on to the large and familiar subject of women in Muslim immigrant enclaves in Germany.

Evidently, in the eyes of her brothers, Hatun Surucu’s capital crime was that, living in Germany, she had begun living like a German…It’s still unclear whether anyone ordered her murdered. Often in such cases it is the father of the family who decides about the punishment. But Seyran Ates has seen in her legal practice cases in which the mother has a leading role: mothers who were forced to marry forcing the same fate on their daughters. Necla Kelek, a Turkish-German author who has interviewed dozens of women on this topic, explained, “The mothers are looking for solidarity by demanding that their daughters submit to the same hardship and suffering.” By disobeying them, the daughter calls into question her mother’s life – her silent submission to the ritual of forced marriage.

That makes a horrible kind of sense. If their daughters don’t want to do what they did, what does that say about what they did? That’s a familiar situation with parents and children in general. The intrinsic sadness of what is known as upward mobility is that parents often see their children educated out of their reach, or at least out of easy communication.

When a broader German public began concerning itself with the parallel Muslim world arising in its midst, it was primarily thanks to three female authors, three rebellious Muslim musketeers: Ates, who in addition to practicing law is the author of “The Great Journey Into the Fire”; Necla Kelek (“The Foreign Bride”); and Serap Cileli (“We’re Your Daughters, Not Your Honor”)…Taking off from their own experiences, the three women describe the grim lives and sadness of Muslim women in that model Western democracy known as Germany.

There were signs, but the author (a German man himself) didn’t worry about them much.

For a German of my generation, one of the most holy legacies of the past was the law of tolerance. We Germans in particular had no right to force our highly questionable customs onto other cultures. Later I learned from occasional newspaper reports and the accounts of friends that certain Muslim girls in Kreuzberg and Neukölln went underground or vanished without a trace. Even those reports gave me no more than a momentary discomfort in our upscale district of Charlottenburg. But the books of the three Muslim dissidents now tell us what Germans like me didn’t care to know. What they report seems almost unbelievable. They describe an everyday life of oppression, isolation, imprisonment and brutal corporal punishment for Muslim women and girls in Germany, a situation for which there is only one word: slavery.

Tolerance of what, is always the question. One we’re finally remembering to ask.

Before the murder of Hatun Surucu there were enough warnings to engage the Germans in a debate about the parallel society growing in their midst. There have been 49 known “honor crimes,” most involving female victims, during the past nine years – 16 in Berlin alone. Such crimes are reported in the “miscellaneous” column along with other family tragedies and given a five-line treatment. Indeed, it’s possible that the murder of Hatun Surucu never would have made the headlines at all but for another piece of news that stirred up the press. Just a few hundred yards from where Surucu was killed, at the Thomas Morus High School, three Muslim students soon openly declared their approval of the murder. Shortly before that, the same students had bullied a fellow pupil because her clothing was “not in keeping with the religious regulations.” Volker Steffens, the school’s director, decided to make the matter public in a letter to students, parents and teachers. More than anything else, it was the students’ open praise of the murder that made the crime against Hatun Surucu the talk of Berlin and soon of all Germany.

Well, a good thing something did. (Well done Herr Steffens.)

For more than 20 years the Islamic Federation of Berlin, an umbrella organization of Islamic associations and mosque congregations, has struggled in the Berlin courts to secure Islamic religious instruction in local schools. In 2001 the federation finally succeeded. Since then, several thousand Muslim elementary-school students have been taught by teachers hired by the Islamic Federation and paid by the city of Berlin. City officials aren’t in a position to control Islamic religious instruction…Since the introduction of Islamic religious instruction, the number of girls that come to school in head scarves has grown by leaps and bounds, and school offices are inundated with petitions to excuse girls from swimming and sports as well as class outings…Councilwoman Stefanie Vogelsang stresses that the majority of the mosques in Neukölln are as open to the world as they ever were, and that they continue to address the needs of integration. But the radical religious communities are gaining ground. She points to the Imam Reza Mosque, for instance, whose home page – until a recent revision – praised the attacks of Sept. 11, designated women as second-class human beings and referred to gays and lesbians as animals. “And that kind of thing,” she says, fuming, “is still defended by the left in the name of religious freedom.”

Just so. And not just in Germany, as we know.

This is the least expected provocation of the three author rebels: a frontal assault on the relativism of the majority society. In fact, they are fighting on two fronts – against Islamist oppression of women and its proponents, and against the guilt-ridden tolerance of liberal multiculturalists. “Before I can get to the Islamic patriarchs, I first have to work my way through these mountains of German guilt,” Seyran Ates complains. It is women who suffer most from German sensitivity toward Islam. The three authors explicitly accuse German do-gooders of having left Muslim women in Germany in the lurch and call on them not to forget the women locked behind the closed windows when they rave about the multicultural districts.

Which is exactly what Maryam Namazie and Azam Kamguian and Homa Arjomand and Ayaan Hirsi Ali – in the UK, Canada, the Netherlands – also say. Multiculturalism, religious freedom, diversity, tolerance, guilt – they leave Muslim women in the lurch.

The fact is that disregard for women’s rights – especially the right to sexual self-determination – is an integral component of almost all Islamic societies, including those in the West. Unless this issue is solved, with a corresponding reform of Islam as practiced in the West, there will never be a successful acculturation. Islam needs something like an Enlightenment; and only by sticking hard to their own Enlightenment, with its separation of religion and state, can the Western democracies persuade their Muslim residents that human rights are universally valid. Perhaps this would lead to the reforms necessary for integration to succeed. “We Western Muslim women,” Seyran Ates says, “will set off the reform of traditional Islam, because we are its victims.”

And they’re doing it now. Best of luck, all.

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