Cultural scene

“It is a privilege to live in Germany” - An Interview with Zafer Senocak

Zafer Senocak; Foto: David AusserhoferZafer Senocak; Foto: David AusserhoferWithout wanting to curry favour, Zafer Senocak has urged the Germans to stop denying how wonderful their country is. In his collection of essays entitled "Deutschsein" (Being German) the Berlin author praises the achievements of German culture and politics. Politically Senocak is neither “left-wing nor right-wing, he sees himself more as a discerning free spirit. In his interview with he talks about German peculiarities, on just how successful integration in Germany has been and about the dangers of xenophobic populism and a militant Islam in Europe.

Mr Senocak, in your book “Deutschsein – Eine Aufklärungsschrift”(Being German - An Educational Pamphlet) you write that you see living in Germany as a privilege. What features then actually characterise life in this country?

Artists and writers are able to practise their profession in Germany in a way that is not possible in most other countries in the world. On the one hand they can think and write what they like. This is always taken for granted, but in fact it is not always the case. You only have to take a look around the world and you will soon see that. On the other hand, there are all kinds of remarkable funding and support schemes. I think that no other country on earth awards as many grants as Germany does. On top of that, if you have already made a name for yourself as an author, there is also the possibility of making your literature available to lots more people in other parts of the world. This is where the German Goethe-Institutes play a decisive role. Apart from that I find Germany to be a calm country in which people can live a pleasant life. It is not too sleepy, yet not too super-dynamic and hectic. This is what particularly appeals to me personally.

In “Deutschsein” you write that the way you perceive your identity as an author has changed over the years ...

Cover des Buches „Deutschsein“; © editition Körber-StiftungIn the course of the 1990s a craze was unleashed that went under the title of “Strangers” or “Foreigners write German”. This confused me a little, because I never really ever felt that I was a stranger or a foreigner, but always a writer, a lyricist who wrote in the German language. I never ever asked myself questions like, "Where do you belong? What is your background? I grew up in Germany, with the German language, and that for me was more or less the natural course of things.

In the national debate on integration in Germany do you not feel that that it often goes unmentioned just how successful integration has actually been in Germany?

Absolutely! In particular when it comes to people's desire for upward mobility and career opportunities. Compared with France, with the conditions prevailing in the banlieus, and with Great Britain - both countries that have a long immigrant tradition - Germany is not so badly off.

I sometimes wonder though if that is really so important. Take the Netherlands, for example, Holland has always been a role model when it comes to tolerance and multiculturalism and the Turkish immigrant population there has always felt integrated. Yet, nevertheless, a very strong, radical right-wing party has come into being and there are a lot of populist politicians peddling their ideas. This has all come about regardless of any success in the field of integration. The majority of the population are in fact suffering from certain fears and it is these fears that have to be addressed. When you look away, trouble starts brewing under the surface.

Many people, both in Holland and in Germany, are afraid of Islam. You are quoted as once saying that violence comes from the heart of Islam. Do you still see it like that today?

In the Islamic world we have an incredible number of victims. It is not just a question of the battle between the West and Islam - I think that is a load of absurd nonsense! It is much more a battle going on within Islam itself. And unfortunately Muslims once again are refusing to accept this, just as they always have done. An excellent example of this was provided by the Turkish Prime Minister, who has in fact done a lot for his country, but did not have the courage to say that we should take a critical look at the religious sources, at the religious background. It is not always America and Israel who are to blame for the ills of the Islamic world - it is more their own culture. When ever anybody tries to discuss this in Islamic cultural circles, it turns into a highly problematic subject - and this is a condition that can and will prevail for quite some time to come.

Zafer Senocak was born in Turkey, the son of a publicist and teacher. He spent the first few years of his life in Ankara and Istanbul. In 1970 the family moved to Bavaria, Germany. Senocak went to grammar school there and in 1981 he passed his Abitur (German university entrance qualification). He then proceeded to study German literature, political science and philosophy at the University of Munich. He has lived in Berlin since 1990, with various spells abroad as writer-in-residence at universities in France, Canada and USA.

Lewis Gropp
conducted the interview. He works as a free-lance journalist, editor and translator in Cologne.

Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
January 2012

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