Refugees, Islam and Culture

Right now, there is a lot going on in Germany. When I left Germany at the beginning of the year I never thought I would return to my hometown and see so many new faces and in particular so many women with the hijab, the headscarf. Some say that Merkel has created chaos by more or less openly inviting refugees from all over the place. I am not to judge, but I also view the whole situation very critical. One country cannot take all, or most of the refugees in. When I hear that a refugee camp of 1000 people is planned near a village of 100 I am asking myself: How long can this go well? In the beginning people were very welcoming and cheerful. I know that, because I’ve worked with refugees in the past weeks. But now slowly the mood is changing.

Recently I watched a talk show where people were talking about the integration of those refugees. Since most refugees are Muslims, people are discussing how to integrate them, because their worldview is so ‘different’ from the rest of the worlds. Some even go so far to say that Islam is not compatible with the German constitution and that the refugees are slowly starting to establish the ‘Sharia’ here (a word I don’t like; people make it sound like the Sharia is an actual law book or something, which is not the case). And this is where I have to say STOP. For god’s sake, so-called experts are sitting in those political talk shows and blame Islam for the refugees’ bad behavior (like threatening cashiers with Machetes, or fighting other ethnic and religious groups in the camps). But never, ever did anyone mention that this is not a problem of religion, but of CULTURE.

This is something that has been bothering me for some time now. People fail to distinguish between culture and religion. Once I was asked why I am not participating in any Muslim Association in Germany. I said I don’t want to participate in any of these organizations because they represent national interests, which is in 90% of the cases Turkish national interests. Now don’t get me wrong, I have always had a great relationship with Turks (I think mostly because people mistake me for a Turk). But if we want a universal Islam, as it is supposed to be, we need to start distinguishing between culture and religion. The refugees that are coming to Germany are not only from Syria, but also from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I even met refugees from the Congo and there are many more from different African countries.

So people just like to paint it black and white: Islam is bad. What they don’t realize is, is that Islam is very much compatible with the German constitution. What is not compatible with Germany is refugees misbehaving here, kicking Germany’s rules and customs with their feet and not wanting to immerse themselves in the German culture. Instead, they bring their own culture and stay isolated in their groups. They come from small villages in Kashmir or the Levant, have never left their home countries before and have a totally different cultural background than we have in Western Europe. If they don’t learn very soon our rules and if nobody makes an effort to teach them intercultural communication, Germany will have missed its chance and will be overrun by those cultures. But what do politicians and officials say? It is the fault of Islam.

This leads me to the incident on that talk show that made me mad. A female politician was telling the other participants how she met an Imam, a Muslim clerical, and how he refused to shake hands with her. Of course this makes a good story for the newspapers and to boost her popularity. She complained about the danger of Islam and that she cannot tolerate such behavior etc. You know, the usual Islam-bashing. So in this talk show there was also a Muslim representative, a female and in my opinion she had very sound reasoning. She tried to explain the participants that the refused handshake is not meant as a sign of disrespect towards women, on the contrary. It is a sign of respect not to touch a female. It may seem weird to Germans, but we are rational beings and open-minded and able to understand other customs. To demonstrate this, she mentioned Chinese culture. When Chinese people are done eating they burp. In German culture we consider this rude, but in China it is meant as a compliment. We need to get behind the meanings of such cultural behaviors and what message they transmit. But, of course, this wasn’t taken as “excuse” for an Imam not to shake hands with a female. The Muslim lady was cut short, people didn’t even let her finish her explanation. And this got me mad. Those people in that talk show think they are open-minded. But open-mindedness doesn’t mean I can pick cultural or religious customs, which I prefer to accept (Chinese customs) and reject others (Muslim customs). Where does not shaking hands with a female threaten German culture? Doctors also don’t like to shake hands (for different reasons) and if you shook hands with the Queen that would be a scandal (like Michelle Obama did).

This hypocrisy needs to stop. Either you are open-minded and know how to communicate interculturally or you don’t. Easy. You don’t get to pick and choose the cultures and customs you like and reject those you don’t like and call yourself open-minded. That’s not how this game works. Also, I find it really nice the way everybody always seems to be worried about women’s rights in Islam. To quote my cousin: I appreciate your concern, but I am just fine. People do not see that most of us make our choices out of free will. In the rare cases where the women don’t make choices out of free will, I can guarantee you that this happens for cultural reasons. And let’s be honest: Not only from a biological view but also in every other term women are disadvantaged, doesn’t matter to which country you go. Women are treated very badly in India, they’re being raped and when they go to the police they are being raped again. Female infants are killed because they are considered less worth than boys. Do I hear anybody say Hinduism is a misogynist and bad religion? No. Because this has nothing to do with religion. Women in Germany still earn less than men for the same job. No equality here, either. So please attend to your own garden before being so quick to judge others and foul name an entire religion of almost 2 billion people on this planet.

Don’t act like you’re open-minded when you’re not. How can we teach the refugees to be more open to German culture and understand our customs when we blame Islam for everything and don’t see behind the cultures and conflicts they are bringing along? We must be very firm about teaching our way of living and also say NO where it is required. But all this must happen with cultural empathy, like I said. This is an exchange process. I think it’s time some of our politicians and other ‘important’ people go take some classes in intercultural communication.

Feel free to comment on the matter below. Have a great Sunday, y’all!



2 thoughts on “Refugees, Islam and Culture

  1. Having been to a lot of countries all over the world in a long life I cannot but absolutely agree with you. Those people (islamic or whatever) haven’t seen much of the world outside their very close neigbourhood before and when the come here will have to adapt to a plethora of impressions totally strange to them. So we have not only to feed and clothe them but also to show them our ways of life while regarding their ways as well because maybe will learn one or the other useful trait from them.

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