Germany: Fighting for Islamic enlightenment

Germany: Fighting for Islamic enlightenment

Kelek, 52, a German woman with Turkish roots, is sitting in the cultural center in Achim, a town near Bremen in northern Germany. She has just finished a reading from her new book, "Himmelsreise" ("Journey to Heaven").


Kelek says words like "freedom," "democracy," "civil society," and "enlightenment" in a tone others reserve for the describing amazing soccer goals. "Our society is so marvelous!" she exclaims. It pains Kelek that she rarely meets Germans capable of mentioning the word "freedom" without immediately alluding to the downsides, whether it be obsessive consumption or pornography. Perhaps it's necessary to have experienced a lack of freedom in order to have such enthusiasm for it. And once the unease subsides, it's actually gratifying to experience Kelek's enthusiasm for the foundations of Western society.


The second source of unease when talking to Necla Kelek is the fact that in her unapologetic criticism of the circumstances in some Turkish families or communities, she fails to constantly add that there are many Turks in Germany who are in favor of freedom, democracy, and enlightenment, and she also lacks the usual discomfort that suggests criticizing other ways of life can sometimes border on racism.

There are two reasons, it seems, why Germans often make lousy defenders of their own values -- their detachment and their fear of being accused of intolerance. But a free society needs enthusiasts like Kelek. Otherwise, it risks becoming cynical.

Kelek finds herself in a dilemma familiar to all those who defend freedom and tolerance -- namely, that freedom can never be complete freedom, and tolerance never complete tolerance. This means that a rational person who fights for freedom and tolerance is necessarily also always fighting for intolerance and a lack of freedom. In other words, those who fight for tolerance must also be intolerant of those who are intolerant.

Thus the accusation against Kelek turns out to be an empty one. It is during a debate such as the current one that a democratic society determines where it draws the line between what it will tolerate and what it won't.

Headscarves cannot be tolerated as long as they remain an expression of the oppression of women, Kelek says. Sharia law cannot apply in Germany, and forced marriages of young girls are shameful. What happens in mosques and Koran schools, she adds, should be transparent and founded on Germany's democratic constitutional order. "Religion," she declares, "is part of freedom. It does not stand above it."

It's only natural that "Himmelsreise" is a one-sided book, singling out the aspects that, from a Western perspective, argue against allowing an unlimited Islam in Germany. The book is, after all, a contribution to a debate -- an important contribution. Others can take up the role of responding to her views, but Kelek doesn't deserve to be vilified.


For Kelek, the central point is that Muslims should be able to become European citizens, with an appreciation for democracy, freedom, and secular society. Particularly in light of the growing proportion of Muslims in the population, society needs to fight for every single child of immigrants. It's not enough to count on every oppressed person emerging with a disposition toward freedom and democracy, as Kelek did. Democracy requires a critical mass of democrats -- otherwise, it collapses. The multicultural approach has given too little consideration to this aspect.

Kelek is fighting for nothing less than an Islamic enlightenment in Germany. As a devout Muslim, she has every right to do so. Her goal is to have many religions, but a single understanding of government and society.


Source: Spiegel (English)

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