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 Back Issues: Perceptions of Turkey, Islam and diversity in Germany 2011: The popular non-fiction book market as a barometer - Next 
Thumann

To monitor public perceptions in a society one can follow different ways: evaluating opinion polls and attitude surveys or pursuing mass media analysis. A further promising method is to take a look at the popular non-fiction book market, to be attentive to the bestseller lists and the piles of books from major publishers near the checkout counters of the big bookstores, to observe which authors make it into newspapers, magazines and TV talk shows. Doing this over a period of time provides a chance to become acquainted with major issues on the public agenda, social conflict lines, collective perceptions, hopes and fears. Even though it would be simplistic to take everything you find in non-fiction bestsellers as a true mapping of the collective psyche, the probability is high that recurring themes and interpretations resonate in the public since bestsellers have to meet the expectations of the audience.

Hence, having a closer look at the market of popular non-fiction also helps to assess the state of affairs and complexity of Turkey related debates in Germany. There is a characteristic link of issues that leaves an imprint on the book market as well as in mass media: The question of Turkey's future inside the European Union is frequently connected with the perception of immigrants from Turkey and their descendants in Germany, and the question is rarely raised how reasonable this link is. The link is rooted in a second striking feature of the discourse, the narrowing of many discussions to religious aspects in the past decade. The question if believing Muslims can be good Europeans takes up much space in discussions both on Turkish EU membership and on integration processes.

In 2010, the book "Germany is doing away with itself" ("Deutschland schafft sich ab") by former federal banker and finance senator of Berlin, Thilo Sarrazin, topped the German non-fiction annual bestseller list, compiled on behalf of the weekly magazine Der Spiegel. Sarrazin described the immigration of Muslims to Germany as a danger for the country's future. He regarded Muslim immigrants from Turkey and Arab countries as less intelligent, which in his belief is genetically determined, and as a culturally alien element. Second on the 2010 bestseller list ranked the book "The End of Patience" ("Das Ende der Geduld") by the Berlin juvenile court judge Kirsten Heisig. Heisig wrote about young criminals in Berlin neighbourhoods with a high immigrant population and demanded a more consistent approach to fight teenage crime.

2011 new approaches became visible on the German book market. Journalists like Patrick Bahners from Germany's major conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung or Michael Thumann from the liberal weekly Die Zeit published books that originate from a discontent about the debates on Muslims and Islam in the past years. The authors ask how realistic popular beliefs about Turkey, Muslims and Islam are, and if those who present themselves as defenders of Western enlightenment meet their own standards. At the same time journalists, writers, politicians and artists from a migrant family background raised their voices in the debate. In this respect it is worth to have a closer look on some 2011 key publications to capture basic trends of public discussions in Germany.

Peter Widmann (ESI Turkey fellow)

Book reviews by Peter Widmann:

December 2011

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8 December 2011, 00:00