“There is a lot more connecting people than separating them” – An Interview with Renan Demirkan
Wherever I look, I see only strangers. How then do you see the way we live together?
Exactly the way we are doing it here. Sitting opposite each other and looking at each other, for example. I am an “old” woman, you are a young man. You have got some questions to ask, I have got some answers, but I also have a few questions to ask you. You do not become an “I” on your own. An “I” needs an opposite who can respond. And that is when a relationship begins, emotions come into play and alienation fades away. It is all about being open and willing enough to perceive your opposite in his or her entirety. It does not really matter how much liking my opposite enjoys in my perception, the golden rule that has been around for centuries still counts - do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you. It is not about glossing things over, but about looking at things more precisely and changing one's perspective. The first step to understanding others is realising that different circumstances can affect the most varying sensitivities.
Is this then a form of non-hierarchical communication?
Well, yes. It does not mean that we all have the same rights. But we are all equal beings. There is a lot more connecting people than separating them. We keep talking however about what separates us, making that our ideal. We have to think about the connecting elements and then we would not have to talk about integration, then you would not have to ask me - how is that going to happen? As a humanist I cannot accept that one person looks at another with a certain prerogative of interpretation and says you have to be like me.
“Tolerance is a form of cultural quarantine“
What is so bad about tolerance? Tolerance is a token means to avoid having to really deal with your opposite. Tolerating means granting somebody a sphere of freedom, but only as long as this person sticks to your instructions. Tolerance is a form of cultural quarantine, a kind of socio-cultural reservation, whose barriers come down every now and then. The interest however in a communal world, a communal existence, is not there. Separation is the basic principle of tolerance. It insists on distance between people, on alienation. As long as the spirit of tolerance prevails in a country, alienation is perpetuated as the ideal. The underlying principle to be found in respect however is people connecting with each other.
There is a lot of talk about abstract immigrants. When it comes to events dealing with the subject – whether in the form of discussions, exhibitions or performances - apart from the mandatory immigrant on the panel of experts, the actual target group is usually only very sparsely represented in the audience.
If we really want to be together, to genuinely live together on an equal footing with the socially disadvantaged and with people from an unfamiliar culture, then we have to meet them on a level where they feel socially and culturally at home. We have to create spaces in which they are able to perceive themselves as people, as identities; where they can be creative and active themselves, both for themselves and for everybody else. Every individual has to feel that he is welcome in the community. We have to promote and support the fringes of society and motivate them to be creative. And they will be.
No soft-boiling of opposites
You want more humanity, more empathy, more solidarity and more fairness among people. How do you think this can be achieved?
It is a matter of establishing a political climate that prevents such isolating alienation from getting off the ground in the first place. And this is not going to happen bottom-up, but top-down; we need different social statutes and immigration regulations. If we could all agree on the fact that every individual always needs another individual to be complete and that we can achieve the greatest possible strength only by being and working together – to attain this we really ought to be starting now in kindergartens. I have to be able to recognise myself in the image of my opposite. This is basic training for respect.
By opening up myself, I am not only opening up to another person, but also to myself. This respecting of each other is not a soft-boiling of opposites. On the contrary - the clearer and more authentic the look, the more concrete the communication.
What can the Occident learn from the way people live together in the Orient, and what can the Orient learn from the Occident?
The essential difference between the two social models is the fact that the Orient includes the “I” in the “We” and the Occident extracts the “We” out of the “I”. In my opinion, we should import a major part of the Oriental “We” into our European “I” and, the other way round, implant a stable chunk of our European “I” in the all-embracing Oriental “We”. There is so much potential in both of them. Overcoming one's unfamiliarity with Islam would be a real gain for Christianity and exactly the same vice-versa.
The “We” in the Orient is so dominant that the “I” is threatened with being stifled. This has been clearly seen in the upheavals in North Africa. All over the Orient young people are in a state of revolt. Young people in those countries form a much larger segment of society. That is why their demands for a home-made “I” are much louder and clearer. Here it is the other way round. The “I” has become stultified in its own loneliness. Both social models are clearly heading towards their end. I believe however that we have already got dangerously close to the collapse of the individualistic model. Individualism can no longer be exploited. That is why, from a European point of view, I would like us to adopt more from the Oriental model of the communal being. I am convinced that then the differences will quite naturally be synchronised to form a respectful way of dealing with each other that is in line with the golden rule in which the “I” is on an equal footing with the “We”.
conducted the interview. He is a freelance journalist based in Munich.
Translation: Paul McCarthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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