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Werner Schiffauer
Werner Schiffauer

"It is not Necla Kelek who should be attacked, but the German public, which is longing for somebody like Necla Kelek, somebody who confirms all that they have always thought about Muslims."

(Werner Schiffauer, Die Welt, 8 February 2006)

Werner Schiffauer is one of the leading researchers on Turkish culture and society in Germany. He studied in Berlin and Ankara and is teaching anthropology at the Europa University Viadrina, Frankfurt/Oder. He has personally investigated most of the taboos that figure in the German debate on Turkish culture and identity: notions of honour in rural Turkey; honour crimes; the violent and conspiratorial world of German Islamists; and German attitudes to Islam.

Schiffauer has emerged as one of Necla Kelek’s leading intellectual opponents. In 2008 he published a book on "parallel societies", calling for a "new realism" and closer attention to cultural change among migrants. In a 2007 essay published (in English) as part of a collection on "Islam in Europe", he decries a long tradition of "positing an antagonistic relationship between a purportedly Islamic and a purportedly Judeo-Christian value system."

Islam in Europe, Schiffauer writes, has often been "the religion of the worker, of the underclass, the outsider and the ghetto-dweller." There are very different perspectives among Turks in Germany, as well as real debates. Schiffauer describes the "individualized" approach to Islam in migrant society by reference to a typical family:

"The family members deduce from their individual devotion to God that there is no compulsion in Islam … In family practice, women with traditional veils and women without veils live together, the older members pray regularly, the younger ones don't. The children are sent to Koran class, but the family also tolerates it if a daughter marries a non-Muslim. Such families are sceptical about too strong a position for Islamic associations. They see them as institutions that principally position themselves between the individual and society and often make dictatorial claims."

He also outlines a second position, shared by those who fight for the right to be different as a group:

"Islam must become an accepted way of life in European society. People must come to take Islamic clothing just as much for granted as they do a necklace with a crucifix. An Islamic girl must be able to wear her veil with confidence and pride …"

Schiffauer's research: Turkish Honour

Schiffauer undertook extensive field studies in Anatolia in the 1970s and 80s, the results of which he outlined in a book called "The peasants of Subay" (Die Bauern von Subay, 1991). He describes notions of honour and shame as central to traditional Turkish village life:

"Each extramarital sexual contact puts into question not only the honour of the woman, but the honour of her whole family. In the village, the respect of honour was essential for surviving."

(Werner Schiffauer, Suddeutsche Zeitung, 25 February 2005)

Schiffauer's book "Die Gewalt der Ehre" ("The Violence of Honour", 1983) also investigates notions of honour, this time among young Turkish men in Berlin.

"The belief in a clear line which differentiates between the inside, the area of the family, and the outside, the – male – public life of the village or the town, is subject to the value of honour (namus). The honour of a man is offended if this line is crossed, if somebody from the outside molests or harms a family member, especially a woman. A man who does not implicitly and decisively defend his relative is considered a man without honour."

(Schiffauer, "Die Gewalt der Ehre", p. 65)

Unlike Necla Kelek, Schiffauer does not believe such values to be static. The meaning of honour changes when people migrate to Germany, he argues.

"In the urban environment, the compulsion to stand up to others ceased to exist … With the wider scope of the individual, the idea of honour, shared by all family members, took a back seat. If there was talk about honour now, it was more and more in reference to the individual."

(Werner Schiffauer, Suddeutsche Zeitung, 25 February 2005)

Diaspora Islam

In 2000 Schiffauer published "Die Gottesmanner" ("God's Men"), an analysis of political Islam in Germany. In it, he describes the history of the small but radical movement of Cemaleddin Kaplan, "the Caliph of Cologne". Kaplan, an imam in Turkey, came to Germany in the early 1980s. His political objective became the establishment of an Islamic state in Turkey.

The world of political Islam in Germany was riven by tension. When Kaplan died 1995, he was succeeded by his son Metin. Personal and ideological differences within the Islamist community led to the proclamation of a rival "Caliph of Berlin", Ibrahim Sofu. In 1996 Metin Kaplan publicly called for Sofu’s assassination. In 1997 Sofu was killed. Three years later Kaplan was convicted for "public incitement to a criminal offence". In 2004 he was deported to Turkey, where he now serves a life sentence for planning an attack on Ataturk's mausoleum.


In recent years Schiffauer has focused on the precarious situation of Muslims in Germany:

"I have the impression that massive Islamophobia exists in our society, having replaced anti-Semitism."

(Schiffauer in taz, 6 November 2003)

In his new book "Parallelgesellschaften" ("Parallel Societies", 2008) Schiffauer describes the story of a young Turk from a small village in the Kurdish East who travels to Germany to carry out an honour killing. Schiffauer investigates how traditional notions of honour clash with the more individualistic ways of life embraced by a growing majority of German Turks. Culture clash is a real phenomenon: what is misleading is the notion that culture does not change.

Schiffauer was also the co-editor of the Migration-Report 2006, in which he calls for closer scrutiny of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany's internal intelligence service, which spends 30 to 50 percent of its resources on investigating Islamism. Schiffauer complains that German officials arrive at far-reaching conclusions based on little data. He cites cases where German Turks have been denied naturalisation simply for having had contact with Milli Gorus, which is a legal organisation.

"For conservative Muslims, Germany in 2006 is less and less an open society… Germany is seen as a society that controls, registers and monitors Muslims."

(Schiffauer, "Migrationsbericht 2006", pp. 158-159)

Suggested readings

Books in German about parallel societies, migrant communities, Turkish rural migrants in Germany, Turkish village life and conceptions of honour among Turks in Turkey and Germany:

November 2010

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