"We Don't Want to Be the Jews of Tomorrow": Jews and Turks in Germany after 9/11

Article excerpt

This article examines how German Turks employ the German Jewish trope to establish an analogous discourse for their own position in German society. Drawing on the literature on immigrant incorporation, we argue that immigrants take more established minority groups as a model in their incorporation process. Here, we examine how German Turks formulate and enact their own incorporation into German society. They do that, we argue, by employing the master narrative and socio-cultural repertoire of Germany's principal minority, German Jewry. This is accomplished especially in relation to racism and antisemitism, as an organizational model and as a political model in terms of making claims against the German state. We argue that in order to understand immigrant incorporation, it is not sufficient to look at state-immigrant relations only--authors also need to look at immigrant groups' relationships with other minority groups.

Keywords: immigrants; minorities; Turks; German Jews; immigrant incorporation; racism; antisemitism


In its edition of 23 September 2004, the German magazine Stern published a cartoon showing a heavily mustached man crawling through a cat hole in a door named "European Union," trying to gain entry into Europe. Some imitation Arabic writing appears on top of the cat hole, and a suitcase with a Turkish flag stands next to the man. This cartoon caused an uproar in the German Turkish community. Vural Oger, a prominent German-Turkish businessman and a member of the European Parliament from Germany's Social Democratic Party, wrote an open letter to Stern calling the cartoon defamatory, obscene and welcome material for neo-Nazi propaganda. Oger closed his letter as follows:

   A young Turkish man with a German passport, not only born but also
   raised here had heard about Hitler's beginnings in history class and
   said that this drawing was just like ones in (the Nazi paper) Der
   Sturmer. Except that the Jews would have received different noses.
   Here in the Stern, the nose was replaced by the mustache. But
   everything else is the same racist garbage. (1)

In this article, (2) we attempt to show how interethnic relations play themselves out between Turks and Jews in Germany. We will explore how the numerically largest and most recent immigrant group, the Turks, take the small Jewish minority in Germany, pivotal because of its long history in Germany as well as the recent past, as a model for their own future insertion in German society.

Oger's reaction to the cartoon in Stern, demonstrates that German Turks are not only knowledgeable about the German-Jewish narrative, but also that they have learned to use it adeptly for their own purposes. Accusing Germans of anti-Turkish racism per se is only partly effective. Rhetorically far more effective is to associate Turkish concerns with those of the Jews. This strategy compels Germans to listen to Turkish intellectuals, because on this point, the German environment is vulnerable-it represents a fundamental usage of the Jewish narrative by the Turkish leadership. (3)

We suggest that immigrant leaders refer to historical minorities in order to create a common perception of struggle against discrimination and racism in the receiving country. At the same time, they formulate their claims for membership rights within a historical framework in order to receive political recognition from state authorities. As the above example would suggest, Turkish immigrant leaders draw upon the Jews and Jewish history because in Germany, many Turkish immigrants "take Jews as a concrete example of minority, in terms of history and organization." (4) They build upon a German Jewish model in three main areas. First, they compare the Holocaust and the fire bombings of Turkish houses in Molln in 1992 and Solingen in 1993. Here, leaders in Turkish immigrant associations stress the similarities between the racism against Turks and anti-Semitism. …