Integration debate

Blogger Kübra Gümüsay: “I Would Like to Break Down Stereotypes”

Kübra Gümüsay  Photo: © Kübra GümüsayKübra Gümüsay  Photo: © Kübra GümüsayThe Internet can enable people who otherwise do not appear in the media to make themselves heard, says journalist and blogger Kübra Gümüsay in an interview. Even on the web, however, one sometimes operates only within one’s own isolated community.

Ms. Gümüsay, since when have you been a blogger and how did you become one?

I began to blog in 2008. At that time, I asked myself how someone on the street who does not know me at all can call me a Schleiereule (literally:“veiled owl”, the German name for the barn own)? Where do these prejudices come from? For me, one answer was that there are a great many parallel societies all living side by side and hardly communicating with one another. By that, I do not only mean migrants on the one hand and indigenous majority society on the other, but for example also academics and social welfare recipients. In my blog, I would like to break down the stereotypes that have built up over a period of years. What is simpler than to dip into the world of a Muslim girl in Germany at the click of a mouse?

What do your write about?

“In my blog, I would like to break down the stereotypes that have built up over a period of years.”  Photo: © Christoph BrammertzAt the beginning, I wrote a lot about my life, so readers begin to recognise individuals in the mass of hijabs. Now, more and more, I also tell the stories of people who cannot make themselves heard because they do not appear in the media. For example, I have written about the life of a transvestite in Istanbul. And about women in Germany who do not speak German and are “non-existent” because their skills go completely unnoticed.

You have spent the last few months abroad. Has that changed your view of German society?

In England, I never had to explain why I wear a hijab. I have not consciously experienced any discrimination here. I don’t want to gloss over anything – there are racist attacks here too. But at the same time, the level of openness is very different. There are many female Muslim bus drivers who wear hijabs, and at passport control at the airport, a black woman sits next to an Indian wearing a turban. Many Muslims are very successful. There are well-known Muslim professors, lawyers and judges. There are extreme social problems in England, but at the same time there is not the “glass ceiling” that exists in Germany. Only now have I realised how much one has to fight to speak on equal terms as a Muslim immigrant in Germany. One always has to start off by explaining, “I am German and I speak German.”

Unfortunately, it is a fact that not all children from Turkish families speak German well – even if they were born in Germany.

“In England, I never had to explain why I wear a hijab.”  Photo: © Christoph BrammertzYes, many do not speak either German or Turkish properly. At home, they are not taught Turkish properly, it remains limited to everyday language. Then at school, they suddenly learn German, but cannot even speak Turkish properly. What there really should be first is native language tuition. When you speak one language well, it is much easier to learn a second. I was lucky that my mother helped me a great deal. I could read and write Turkish before I started school and could express myself very well. As a result, I learned German better. How well a person gets along with the language depends less on the number of generations their family has lived in Germany than on their social class and language tuition. Germans from socially deprived areas often do not speak German well either.

You recently wrote on Twitter that "integration is highly discriminatory". What did you mean by that?

That is a quotation from a feminist activist here in England that asks where the dividing line is between integration and assimilation. If you want to be integrated, what do you have to do? A debate is under way in Great Britain similar to the debate in Germany. I am also thinking of the discussion I had with Thilo Sarrazin on a BBC programme. I introduced myself, said what I do and asked him what he wanted me to do. And he said to me: “I want you to integrate”. What more am I supposed to do for him to see me as being integrated? Integration evidently means giving up oneself, giving up one’s own identity.

Does it bother you to be asked questions on the subjects of integration and Islam again and again?

“What more am I supposed to do for Sarrazin to see me as being integrated?” Photo: © Christoph BrammertzThere are often round-table discussions about Islam without any Muslims on the panel. Then things quickly become polarising, populist and inflammatory. That is why it is an important step to invite a Muslim to come at all and not only to talk about Muslims but with Muslims. At the same time, however, it is important for me not to be reduced to this role – which, admittedly, is difficult. I had a discussion just recently with a friend of mine who is a TV presenter who works on a well-known talk show. Is our society prepared to have a woman wearing a hijab on television without having her mention the hijab? As soon as there is a hijab, people feel the need to discuss it. I hope that I can talk on television sometime, for example about the Internet, without having to mention my hijab.

Kübra Gümüsay (née Yücel) was born in Hamburg in 1988. Her blog Ein Fremdwörterbuch (a dictionary of foreign words) was nominated for the Grimme Online Award in 2011. The same year, the Medium Magazin included her in its list of the top 30 journalists under the age of 30. She writes the column Das Tuch (the cloth) for the German daily die tageszeitung (taz). She is currently based in Oxford, Great Britain, where she is working on a non-fiction book for young people.

Christoph Brammertz
asked the questions. He is a scholar in the area of communication science and German studies and lives in Cologne.

Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
February 2012

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