Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Other

The NY Times Magazine (registration required, try the Bugmenot login/password of "cypherpunks2004/cypherpunks2004") has this article entitled "The New Berlin Wall." The article focuses on a recent honor killing in Berlin:
On the night of Feb. 7, 2005, Hatun Surucu, 23, was killed on her way to a bus stop in Berlin-Tempelhof by several shots to the head and upper body, fired at point-blank range. The investigation revealed that months before, she reported one of her brothers to the police for threatening her. Now three of her five brothers are on trial for murder. According to the prosecutor, the oldest of them (25) acquired the weapon, the middle brother (24) lured his sister to the scene of the crime and the youngest (18) shot her. The trial began on Sept. 21. Ayhan Surucu, the youngest brother, had confessed to the murder and claimed that he had done it without any help. According to Seyran Ates, a lawyer of Turkish descent, it is generally the youngest who are chosen by the family council to carry out such murders - or to claim responsibility for them. German juvenile law sets a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment for murder, and the offender has the prospect of being released after serving two-thirds of the sentence.

Hatun Surucu grew up in Berlin as the daughter of Turkish Kurds. When she finished eighth grade, her parents took her out of school. Shortly after that she was taken to Turkey and married to a cousin. Later she separated from her husband and returned to Berlin, pregnant. At age 17 she gave birth to a son, Can. She moved into a women's shelter and completed the work for her middle-school certificate. By 2004 she had finished a vocational-training program to become an electrician. The young mother who had escaped her family's constraints began to enjoy herself. She put on makeup, wore her hair unbound, went dancing and adorned herself with rings, necklaces and bracelets. Then, just days before she was to receive her journeyman's diploma, her life was cut short.

Evidently, in the eyes of her brothers, Hatun Surucu's capital crime was that, living in Germany, she had begun living like a German. In a statement to the Turkish newspaper Zaman, one brother noted that she had stopped wearing her head scarf, that she refused to go back to her family and that she had declared her intent to "seek out her own circle of friends." It's still unclear whether anyone ordered her murdered.

The cultural divide engendered by the self-segregation of Islamic minorities recently gained attention with the riots in Paris. Though the conditions are slightly dissimilar, Berlin possesses equal seeds of discord:
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 Neuk├Âlln 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.

The premise touches on a debate I was having with a friend over the weekend regarding the viability of divorcing legal and social judgments from a moral value system. On the one hand, across the ages much evil has been inflicted in the name of varying religious and moral beliefs. Using morality to justify civic laws has almost invariably led to the criminalization of doctrinal differences between religions, even if these aren't ever technically slapped with the label of heresy in more modern times. But on the other hand, if you completely abolish any claim to an inherent good or evil, leaving only the sliding gray scale of social norms, under what justification do you ban things like honor killings, child molestation, and such?

I lived in Berlin one summer when I was just out of high school, and I recall these Turkish/Arab neighborhoods. In fact, I recall observing that while Europe may view Americans as uneducated racists based on the treatment of blacks in our society, Berlin, at least, had similar issues with the Turks. I'm not saying that they were legally segregated or discriminated against with German-style Jim Crow laws; that would be unthinkable for most Germans living under the ever-present shadow of World War II. But they were the "other." Many lived in neighborhoods that resembled the inner-city ghettos I knew from home. This may be intentional on the part of the immigrant Turks themselves, as the article indicates there seems to be a preference for re-creating their home society as an enclave separate from German society. But at least some of it could also be attributed to German society not wanting to be too familiar with the gastarbieter (guest workers). As the article states, the implication of the term is clear: guests are expected to leave after a while.

So, as far as this uneducated American can see, you have on the one side of the fence a German people who are not very comfortable with their Turkish neighbors. They don't want to discriminate, because this would mean disrespect toward the Turks or their culture . . . and they want to think of themselves as very respectful, even if it means turning a blind eye to the slavery in their midst. Simultaneously, they don't want to get too close; it's awfully hard to act blind to something two inches in front of your nose. On the other, you have a Turkish and/or Arab culture that not only doesn't care to mingle with their German neighbors, they intentionally foster an overt hatred against the very society to which they chose to emigrate, respecting neither the German people nor their culture.

Given that mankind as a whole seems no nearer blending together in some cultural melting pot, it seems foolish to turn a blind eye to atrocities inflicted in the name of heritage:
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.
It is hypocritical for a nation to call itself "free" without enacting policies that at least make a good-faith effort to ensure that all its citizens enjoy the same basic freedom, regardless of religious and cultural backgrounds.
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.


UPDATE:
Jeremy Reff of Crescat Sententia has more, and is also far more eloquent:
But to romanticize this faceless withdrawal into a ghetto self-made and host-country encouraged is to endorse the rejectionist doctrine of sour grapes for a generation of men and women: I do not want what I cannot have and what I do not know. The veil is an inner citadel devoutly to be unwished; its blessings exist only when freely entered.

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