The Gülen Movement and Turkish Integration in Germany

The Gülen Movement and Turkish Integration in Germany

Jill Irvine

The issue of the integration of the Turkish community into German society has grown in importance since the events of 9/11 and the ensuing “war on terrorism.” There are two, perhaps contradictory, forces presently at work in Germany concerning its large, mainly Turkish, Muslim population. On the one hand, there is a growing fear of the Muslim community in Germany. On the other, there is a sense that integration must be tackled seriously and approached differently than it has been thus far. The Gülen movement is currently attempting to pick its way carefully between these two forces in promoting its vision of integration.

The vision of integration embraced by participants of the movement is based first and foremost on education. In the past decade, the Gülen movement in Germany has been building an educational infrastructure that aims to improve the socioeconomic situation of residents of Turkish background and promote their integration into German society. With hundreds of learning centers, cultural centers and schools operating throughout the country, it has attempted to put its ideals of “dialogue, education, and social engagement” into practice. Since much of the debate concerning integration revolves around educational policy, the work of these educational centers has been having a quiet but significant effect.

The education offered in these learning institutions is two-pronged. First, it is designed to provide educational support to Turkish students enrolled in German schools in all the major subjects, especially in German language. This support extends to the parents, who are coached not only on how to best promote their children’s schooling, but also on difficult situations arising from the “cultural divide” that sometimes appears between them and their children. Establishing private schools will undoubtedly become increasingly important in the future, as the movement attempts to adapt its successful model of private education in Turkey to conditions in Germany. Whether viewed as a kind of transitional measure or a more permanent fixture, the goal of Gülen movement schools is the same: to promote the educational success of Turkish students through preparing them to enter the university and achieve professional success.

The second aspect of education offered by Gülen movement schools and centers involves the German population. A goal of the learning centers and schools, and especially the intercultural centers, is to promote a better understanding of the richness of Turkish culture, religion and language. The centers engage in outreach work in the community by offering Turkish language courses, organizing trips to Turkey, hosting Round Tables on topics relating to Islam and Turkish history and culture, inviting Germans to dinner at Turkish homes, including local officials in religious celebrations and other events. This educational work is intended to convey a vision of integration that is based on a two-way exchange of cultural understanding, and to counteract the cultural stereotypes about Turks held by many Germans. Such attitudes are increasingly difficult for many in the Turkish community to tolerate, especially the second and third generations of German-born Turks who feel like second-class citizens in their German homeland.

Thus, the vision of integration promoted by the Gülen movement centers is one of cultural exchange and enrichment rather than assimilation. Despite the denials of some German officials that there are Turkish ghettos in Germany many, if not most, Turks live a good portion of their lives separately from native Germans. Gülen movement centers are attempting to build a bridge between the two communities. But, the directors and teachers with whom I spoke insist that this cannot be done through assimilation. Such an approach would not work and is humiliating to the minority population. The Director of the Intercultural Center in Munich and others used the image of “Noah’s pudding” to describe the process of integration they endorse. This pudding is composed of many ingredients that, while they enhance the flavor of the pudding, do not lose their distinctiveness since they are not ground together. Germans cannot simply hope that Turks will look exactly like they do in the end. Integration also means willingness on the part of the host population to understand and accept the values and experiences of the Turkish minority.

The Gülen movement is composed of a cadre of well-educated men and women, adept at operating in German society and able to represent the interests of the Turkish population in Germany. Gülen movement participants in Germany have avoided controversial political activities (and contact with other Turkish groups who engage in them), and have focused on providing education and cultural understanding. While Islam can be a component of this education, it is presented within the framework of Turkish culture and history. Gülen movement participants emphasize that this culture and history offer a more cosmopolitan, tolerant, and moderate form of Islam than many current models. It is this vision of a middle way that they hope can foster the integration of the Muslim population in Germany.

Source: This is conclusion section of the paper The Gulen Movement and Turkish Integration in Germany“ presented at the Second International Conference on Islam in the Contemporary World: The Fethullah Gülen Movement in Thought and Practice. November 3-5, 2006, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma, U.S.A., by Jill Irvine.

Jill Irvine was formerly a faculty member of the Political Science Department and rejoined the University of Oklahoma in 2005. She teaches courses on Religion and Violence; Religion, Nationalism and Ethnic Conflict; Women and World Politics; Women, Religion and Secularism; and Feminist Theory. She is the author of The Croat Question: Partisan Politics and the Formation of the Yugoslav Socialist State (1995) and co-editor of State-Society Relations in Yugoslavia, 1945-1991 (1997). She has published articles in East European Politics and Societies, Problems of Postcommunism and Politik and contributed chapters to The Extreme Right in Western and Eastern Europe (1995), Women in the Politics of Post¬communist Eastern Europe (1999) and The Dissolution of Yugoslavia (2005). Her research interests focus on gender, democratization and ethno-religious conflicts worldwide.

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