Book Review by UC Berkeley undergraduate Ann Huang:
In her autobiography “So wie ich will: Mein Leben zwischen Moschee und Minirock”, published in 2010, Melda Abkas presents her experiences as a second-generation Turkish youth endeavouring to establish her own cultural identity in modern Germany. Written just after Abkas’s 19th birthday, in highly colloquial rhetoric, the work situates itself firmly in the contemporary realities of a nascent multicultural society, from a youthful perspective. In this ever-evolving environment, Abkas strives to balance familial expectations with societal pressures to discover her individuality. In this exploration, Abkas provides insight into questions crucial to the discussion of multiculturalism – namely, in its examination of the sources of continuing segregation and discrimination, the requisites for integration, and the future of ethnic minorities in Germany.
The struggle of Abkas to reconcile the divergent expectations of her Turkish family and German community is due largely to sustained cultural disparities, due to the preservation of traditional attitudes in segregated ethnic communities. Abkas details her parents’ strict adherence to traditional doctrines, from the prohibition of pre-marital sex to their arranged marriage, and thus partakes in the larger discussion of generational disparities. She ties the preservation of traditional Islamic values to Turkish immigration history in Germany, with the emigration of her grandparents to Berlin in 1961, following the negotiated labour trade between the two nations. Welcomed as a “Gastarbeiter”, her grandfather never acquired German fluency due to the presence of interpreters and the manual nature of his work – and, thus, remained isolated from German society. Similarly, neighbourhoods in “Stadtbezirk Neukölln”, known as “klein Istanbul,” represent closed ‘pockets’ of migrant societies, still prevalent in contemporary Germany. As a result, the lack of external exposure allowed the preservation of traditional values and mutual lack of understanding, which facilitate segregation and thus hinder integration.
Abkas explicitly argues that the generational gap arose largely from her education and exposure to German community, as opposed to her parents’ sustained segregation; while her parents retained “alten Werte und Traditionen… in der Schule versuchten die Lehrer, einen weltoffenen, westlich geprägten Menschen aus [ihr] zu machen”. In contrast to her family, she rejects ‘extreme’ religiosity and refuses to wear a headscarf. Abkas juxtaposes this extensive discussion of her scholastic experiences, against the self-induced segregation of her family, as she intentionally establishes the household as the primary setting for all familial interactions, demonstrating her relative openness to German society. This ties largely into the contemporary debate of the reformation of the dual citizenship law, centered largely on the requirement of German educational upbringing. This begs the question, as Abkas succinctly poses: “Integrieren, aber trotzdem Türke bleiben – schließt das einander vielleicht sogar aus?”
The potential requisites to integration lies integral to the definition of national identity in considering the extent to which one must forsake his ethnic background in favour of the German norm, which Abkas represents in the dilemma between “Moschee und Minirock”. As Zafer Şenocak argues in “Germany – Home for Turks?”, integration seems to “mean nothing short of absolute assimilation, the disappearance of Anatolian faces behind German masks” and that successful multicultural integration lies in the reconceptualisation of identity which allows “gaps through which what is different and foreign could come and go”, essentially a concept which accepts cultural differences as inherent to national identity. It is within this framework of hope that Abkas concludes her work, in the marriage of her Turkish Cousin Deniz to a German – during which, the two sides of the family overcome initial reluctance and reticence with the introduction of the ceremonial music such that “niemand achtete mehr darauf, wer neben ihm stand, und irgendwann tanzten wir alle miteinander”.