In today's New York Times Magazine, Peter Schneider has an interesting report on the current state of relations between Germans of Turkish descent and Germans of non-Turkish descent. The issue, as usual, is how much the failures of integration between these two populations are due to the nature of German society, or due to the nature of the traditionally Turkish society in which many of the parents and grandparents of Germans of Turkish descent were raised.
The topic is especially interesting to me. I was raised in one of those German-Jewish households with copies of Goethe's works on the shelves (my father left Berlin in August, 1939, at the age of 7, and came from a distinguished Berlin Jewish family). Since my mother was less nostalgic about her Heimatland (she was born and raised in a Siberian labor camp), the identity that took hold was largely the German-Jewish one. My first year in Germany was as an exchange student at the age of 15 (in 1985-6). I went thinking of myself as an American of German descent, and spent the year in an industrial city right outside of Dortmund, living with a host family and attending the local Gymnasium. I soon realized that I looked a bit different than many of the locals, and in fact the people who looked most like me were the Germans of Turkish descent. For one reason or another, I spent quite a bit of time around some members of that community, and Schneider's article has vividly reminded me of many of my daily experiences.
Two of my acquaintances at the Gymnasium were a brother and sister pair who were Germans of Turkish descent. Since they both were at Gymnasium (rather than Hauptschule or Realschule), they were both very integrated into German society, and must have had rather liberal educated parents. But then the sister went on a date with a German of non-Turkish descent, who was an acquaintance of mine and a friend of the brother. The brother warned the man never to talk to his sister again, and then, when the warning was not heeded, beat him severely (he was quite a good kick-boxer). His sister was extremely upset, but there was nothing she could do. I remember trying to argue with my friend; I just could not grasp the situation. My friend was smart, educated, apparently quite integrated, and bound for the university. But there was no way that his family was going to allow his (equally educated) sister to date a German of non-Turkish descent.
On the other hand, my own expected happy homecoming into German society wasn't necessarily working out as planned. One of the teachers at the Gymnasium told me that Heinrich Heine wasn't really a "German" poet, but rather was a "European" poet. My absurdly well-meaning and wonderful hostfather regularly repeated that "Deutschland ist kein Einwanderungsland" (which is, as Schneider points out, a common theme among Germans of a certain generation). Whenever I told people I was of German descent, they would argue with me -- then upon discovering that I was Jewish, would say "Oh, so you're not German, you're Jewish" (strangely, I never heard anyone say to someone, upon discovering that they were Christian, "Oh, so you're not German, you're Christian"). Among my German friends, there was a pervasive sense of the strangeness of other cultures, which alternately manifested itself as either irrational disdain or irrational admiration. There was certainly a very vivid sense, among even the best intentioned of my German friends of non-Turkish descent, that (like me) the Germans of Turkish descent were not German (there was also a kind of befuddlement about what it meant to live in a genuinely multicultural society. I remember my hostfather saying that Germans and Jews will not be reconciled until he could shake his fist at a bad Jewish driver who had cut him off in traffic, and yell "You dirty Jew!").
I still identify as an American of German descent, and I have a number of strong emotional ties to my father's homeland (and indeed, returned for a year of college). There are a great many things I admire about current German society, from their remarkable acceptance of the sins of their forebearers to their social welfare system. But in the end, I probably couldn't live there. The fact that most Germans would view a blond person from Pennsylvania whose great-grandparents were German as more German than me would be a perpetual annoyance. The fact that most Germans still can't really think of the German Jewish population of the past as genuinely German makes me pessimistic about their ability to eventually accept Germans of Turkish descent as genuinely German. And perhaps the inability to think of Germans of Turkish descent as genuinely German is part of what leads them to accept e.g. the abuses of women in that community of the sort that Schneider describes.
On the other hand, I wonder whether some of the same problems are present in the United States. For example, in certain ultra-orthodox Jewish communities (a group with which I have some personal acquaintance), women can be discouraged from pursuing advanced educations, and married off at relatively early ages. Certainly, there are large pockets of unassimilated groups in the United States, which clearly is an Einwanderungsland. So, while I've engaged in some no doubt irresponsible speculation about specifically German roots of the problems with immigration Schneider describes, I also wonder whether similar problems crop up in countries where those features are utterly lacking.