Abstract: Autobiography or confessional? The title is not plagiarised from the literary offering by a certain Mr. Tim Griggs, but that of a short story that has been languishing in my archives for over ten years, an ironic comment on the requirement in modern Western society for a female to be attached and the difficulties in attaining this state of “bliss”.

Sunday, 1 January 2006

The Dishonourable Price of “Honour”: Interview with Serap Cileli

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Serap Cileli is an indefatigable champion of the rights of Muslim women in Germany as well as being that country’s foremost expert on forced marriages and honour killings. I had the immense privilege of visiting her at home for an in-depth interview. I was deeply impressed by the depth of her warmth and compassion and by her courage in braving hecklers and the disapproval of those who disagree with her views. For many years hers was a voice crying in the wilderness, the uncomfortable truths she was determined to bring to light welcomed neither by intellectuals nor by politicians. With a visible (and justified) sense of pride, she smiled at the recent phrase in the extended pieces in the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times describing the activities of her and her sisters elsewhere in Europe as “the rebellion of the Muslim women”. The story that she has to tell is one of culpable squandering of human potential and shocking political listlessness.

Chameleon: Can you tell us a little about your life and why you began campaigning against forced marriages and honour killings?

Serap: When I was fifteen I was forced into marriage against my will by my family here in Germany. I was born in Turkey and had come to Germany to join my parents at the age of eight and when I turned twelve I was forcibly engaged to a potential marriage candidate from Nuremberg. This engagement was against my will, but my Father had already made up his mind about the marriage. He was convinced that the man in question was the right man for me and wanted to marry me off to him. I did not want to be married to him, so I attempted suicide at the age of thirteen because I felt so helpless at the time. There was nobody for me to turn to, I couldn’t involve third parties, as my Father’s honour, his reputation would have been damaged if I had talked to my classmates or my teacher about it, that I was going to be forced into marriage and that the whole thing was against my will. As a thirteen-year-old child I felt completely helpless, I just wanted to die and because of the suicide attempt my prospective parents-in-law visited my parents to complain that their daughter had not been brought up according to the precepts of our religion, according to our customs and traditions, if she had been, she would not be opposing her Father’s decision and that it dishonoured our family. They didn’t want to have anything to do with this dishonour nor did they want such a rebellious daughter-in-law, so they broke off the engagement. Of course I was initially delighted at the news, but my Father told me not to rejoice too soon, that I was now entirely in his hands and that he would decide on my future whether I liked it or not. A year later, when I was fourteen, we were in Turkey where we spent six weeks on holiday every year. Shortly before we were due to leave – I was still only fourteen – my Father once again had me forcibly engaged to another man in Turkey, ten years my senior, which meant that I travelled back to Germany as a fiancée. It goes without saying that I was extremely unhappy and tried to explain to my Father that I didn’t want this marriage, to which he replied that he had given his word, that he had already warned me that a daughter who disobeyed him, who disputed his authority would soon know about it. So when I was fifteen I was married in Turkey during the summer holidays and left behind there. I stuck that marriage out for seven years, seven whole years and every time my parents came to Turkey on holiday I always pleaded with them, insisting that I didn’t want to stay in the marriage, that I couldn’t stand it any more, that I wanted a divorce, I wanted them to give me their consent to go ahead with a divorce, but my Father turned round and told me it was my fate. All of a sudden it was deemed to be my fate, because they had seen for themselves that this man was not fulfilling his marital duties. My family had been supporting us financially. If my parents had not sent me money every month I would have starved in Turkey together with my two children. They were aware of what was going on, but they kept on saying it was my fate, there was still a chance he might change and that they would continue to support us. I should stick at the marriage. After seven years I told my Father that if he didn’t agree to the divorce there and then he wouldn’t see me and the children the following year when he came back to Turkey. I was issuing a threat, letting him know that I would kill myself and the two children. Then he said (although it wasn’t quite as easy as that, there were still huge difficulties) he gave me his word that if I stayed in the marriage for another four to six months, he would give me the time, if I gave it another try, but that if after that period had elapsed I still wanted out, he would consent to the divorce. So he finally faced up to the fact that it hadn’t worked out and all of a sudden I found myself a single mother of two in Turkey. When I was still separated I fell in love with one of the neighbour’s young sons. Such a relationship was off limits firstly because although we were living apart I was not divorced yet and secondly because we were Alevites and he was a Sunni, in other words, we belonged to different religious communities, although we were both Muslims. He was the man of my choice and I had an affair with him. My parents did not accept him as a son-in-law so that my Mother, when she found out about the affair, abducted my children to Germany. She issued me an ultimatum. I had to choose between my children and the man I loved. I had to leave and join my children, which is how I ended up back in Germany in 1991. Here my Father and my Mother made another attempt at forcing me into a marriage, for the second time, in order to cleanse the “stain” on our honour caused by the affair. That was in 1992 and I fled to a Women’s Shelter with the two elder children. I lived there for 16 months and then in 1994 I began writing about my past experiences, in order to come to terms with them. It was really very difficult for me to do so; it caused me a great deal of anguish. My family no longer accepted me, they disowned me. I was left with so many questions for which I had no answers, which is when I started writing. It was through this writing that I embarked upon my present activity. My activities give me a sense of purpose and fulfilment. I regard what I do as a mission. For me it is a duty, a task, a mission to fight on behalf of the thousands of Turkish Muslim women in Europe, to fight for their rights. Because I have found happiness. I was able to get married to the neighbour’s son in 1993. He came to Germany through family reunification. I have found happiness. I have also known freedom and I want to share the freedom I enjoy today, for which I fought so long and bitterly, with as many women who have undergone similar sufferings as possible. I do not want Muslim women to be confined to their homes and tacitly kept as slaves, with everyone turning a blind eye. I have made it my objective to shake Europe, society, the politicians out of their torpor, to tell them there is a minority here in Europe, Muslim women, who, in spite of the provisions of our constitution, are unable to avail themselves of their rights, women who live in slavery in the midst of our free states. This is why I have undertaken this mission as a duty, as a responsibility.

Chameleon: How do you react to the talk of multiculturalism? Do you see it as an excuse to treat women as second-class citizens? What is your opinion of it?

Serap: This multicultural idyll, as it were, is a mere pretext for violating human as well as women’s rights, an excuse for looking away, for not wanting to face up to the realities for reasons of convenience. I always contend that those who stand up for this multicultural idyll and then frantically defend it in public debate are accomplices when human rights are violated next door. That’s what it boils down to. For almost 50 years now, there has been immigration into Germany and Europe. For almost 50 years we have never had such an intensive debate about the suffering of Muslim women, about forced marriages, domestic violence, honour killings, child marriages, incest and abuse in the family as we are having now, in 2005. These topics were all taboo and it is precisely these hypocritical advocates of the multicultural idyll who are to blame for it. It was a breeding ground for Islamists. Europe, democracy provided fertile soil for Islamists, fundamentalists and also for patriarchs. Why did Germany react in this way? I asked myself for a long time why this should be the case. I was only able to come up with a single answer, namely, the past, Germany’s Nazi history. German society was racked with guilt for years because of the crimes of their forebears. It was an appalling business. Obviously we have to stand up and say nothing like it must ever be allowed to happen again, but you cannot always carry this burden of guilt, you cannot pass on these feelings of guilt from generation to generation forever. It is precisely this feeling, precisely this manner of upbringing here in Germany that has made the suffering of these women possible because people didn’t want to confront what was going on, it was ascribed to such and such a tradition, to their culture. The reaction was a desperate effort to accept the alien elements of other cultures, of other traditions just as they were, without questioning them and without criticising them. It was out of bounds, taboo. For years on end it was taboo. What incenses me most is that the politicians kept quiet about it. Integration officials, the immigration authorities and first and foremost the members of Parliament of Turkish extraction maintained for years that the majority of the Turkish population in Germany are integrated – I am talking about the Turkish community because the Turks constitute the biggest minority group here in Germany. This is why in Germany we can talk about the problem of the failed integration of Turkish Muslims. Because I raise these issues in public I am considered a traitor to my country, a denigrator of my homeland and I take abuse at public meetings. I face insinuations that I am fanning the flames of xenophobia and I don’t just hear it from my own compatriots, but from some Germans too, good people, who very naïvely cling to their misunderstood tolerance to the extent that they almost become accomplices when women are murdered in the name of honour. That is quite bluntly how I see it from my point of view. That people just want to draw a veil of silence over it. On the other hand, of course, it costs money to carry out educational work nationwide as well as on a political level to change the laws. Thankfully, thanks to an initiative taken by the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, forced marriages have been classified as serious coercion since February 2005 carrying a sentence of between six months and five years and it goes without saying that I am really very happy about this indeed, as are my fellow campaigners. I, for example, have been engaged in my public relations work since 1994. If you think about it for a moment, my voice wasn’t heard until 2005, it took a long time. Over a period of five years I wrote to many journalists, to editors, to television producers to draw attention to the topic and in 90 per cent of cases I was turned away, 90 per cent of the time I was told, Mrs. Cileli, we cannot broach this issue or film a piece on the subject or even carry out an interview because it could stir up xenophobia. I listened to this kind of thing for years and obviously it infuriates me, it really made me fume with rage, but on the other hand I say better late than never. But, I also ask myself, did it really have to take the murder of six women one after the other in the name of honour in the space of five months before German public opinion, German politicians stood up, showed the courage of their convictions and decided to do something about tackling the problem, to say these people live here, they are not just guests any more and each and every one of us, hand in hand, has to help these people and we also have to tell these people, in a spirit of frankness, that we have equal rights here, sharia laws do not apply and we cannot allow them in Germany, nor can we allow parallel worlds, parallel societies, parallel ways of thinking to be created here in Germany or here in Europe for that matter. Anyone who approves of suchlike or even promotes them has no business being here in this Western civilisation. These people have to be deported. In other words, if people such as these fundamentalists, these Islamists in mosques at the weekends, for example, foment hatred amongst young people who were born here in Germany and grew up here we should not tolerate it. We cannot tolerate it because these young people are our future. If we say that the birth rate in Germany is declining, then it is automatically the case that the future of Germany depends on these young people of foreign parentage. We have to invest in these young people now. We have to reach out to them, integrate them. We have been looking the other way for years. We didn’t want to admit that Germany was a country of immigration. That was one point. The other is, as I mentioned earlier, Germany’s Nazi past.

Chameleon: In the British press we read about young girls ostensibly going on holiday who are then forced into marriage abroad without having suspected that this fate would befall them. Do you have any figures about the dimensions of this phenomenon?

Serap: First of all in Germany, as in Europe as a whole, we don’t have any representative figures. In France the figure of 70,000 a year has been mentioned. In Germany, the corresponding figure is 30,000. We need a representative study to determine the true extent of the phenomenon. That is extremely important. There are Turkish women, the so-called “educated” Turkish women here in Germany, for example, including some members of Parliament, who take a confrontational stance towards us and claim that we are making generalisations, that I and my fellow campaigners are exaggerating, that it only affects a certain small group who live in a highly traditional, patriarchal fashion and who place their daughters in forced marriages. However, it is not only girls who are affected by it, but boys as well. Young boys of 15, 16, 17 and 18 are forcibly betrothed. I look after persons affected who turn to me for help. Of the approximately 200 individuals to whom I have offered help since 1994 20 were boys. The youngest was 16, the oldest 48 (he was being forced into an engagement for the second time). It all comes down to upbringing. The core problem lies in the upbringing of these young people. The children, the girls, know what’s in store for them. From their infancy they are brought up to believe that their greatest responsibility is to enter into marriage as virgins. Marriage is the be all and end all for them. From their earliest childhood they are squeezed into this housewife role, they are already brought up to know what to expect later on. Their mother serves as an example. At the end of the day it is the mother that brings them up in this manner. The brothers and the fathers are those who keep tabs on their virginity, on their sexuality and monitor it. What happens is that the girls have been brought up in such a way that they know that after they reach puberty they could be forced into marriage at any time or enter into an arranged marriage. They are both the same to me, I do not draw a distinction between arranged and forced marriages because the core problem, as I pointed out, lies in the upbringing of these girls. At some stage these girls will be confronted with a forced marriage, but they already know that this will be the case. Marrying for love is synonymous with prostitution. They are like whores, in other words, they are castigated as whores if they are in love with someone whom they would like to marry or if they are glimpsed on the street with a boy. These are the rules, this is what is demanded of women in this tradition, this patriarchy and they must respect them stringently. The girls know this. They know it, but they don’t know when it might happen. There are girls, thank God, who, thanks to our public relations work, are daring more and more to rebel and say, “It’s happening to me too and I don’t want it”. By publicising the problems we are giving these girls the courage to express themselves. This is why it is so important for us to maintain a constant presence in the press, on television as well as on the internet, for example. A lot of people get in touch with me via my home page. They go online, and surf when their friends are affected by forced marriages, for example. The girl cannot get out of the house, she is locked in and another friend tries to get hold of help from outside the family, from elsewhere. Then they come across my home page and contact me and we both try to help the girl. The work that we do is essential, so that the girls do not feel that they are on their own. The majority of the girls remain silent. The majority are scared of putting up a fight, they are afraid of acts of revenge, afraid of rebelling against the family, but also afraid of losing the family. They have a huge emotional investment in the family because they are not brought up as individuals in their own right. They are part of the extended family. This is how they are taught to see themselves, they are constantly reminded: “You are only a woman. You are just a girl. You are stupid, you are not good at anything, what do you need an education for? You don’t need to go to school either. Your husband will go out to work. That’s his job. You have to be the housewife. You have to learn how to clean, you have to be able to look after the children, you have to be a good cook, you have to be able to do the laundry, those are your tasks. Domestic chores. What goes on in the outside world is your husband’s business”. This is how Turkish girls are prevented from getting a proper education. Then people here in Germany are astonished that almost 40 per cent of the children of Turkish immigrants don’t have any qualifications. It’s the same in the Netherlands. According to a recent study in Austria, published in Vienna, 40 per cent of Turkish children have neither vocational training nor school leaving certificates.

Chameleon: Does that 40 per cent only comprise girls?

Serap: 40 per cent in total, girls and boys. The figures are the same for Germany. Exactly the same. We are talking about the third generation here. The third generation. In other words if even the third generation is unable to obtain these qualifications, if the third generation is illiterate in two languages, if they cannot speak either German or Turkish and have no prospects for the future then we shouldn’t be surprised if in 10 or 15 years’ time we see the same conditions here as exist in France. This time round it will be the children of Turkish immigrants. In France it was the young people from Morocco or the Mahgreb. We shouldn’t be surprised if we end up in the same situation in Germany. Here in Germany we have barely 23-24,000 Turkish students at our universities. That is too few. Too few by far.

Chameleon: Could you remind me of the size of the Turkish community in Germany?

Serap: There are between 2.7 and 3 million Turks living in Germany. According to some official figures there are 3.5, others say 2.7. Estimates vary. Officially it is stated that 2.7 million Turks live in Germany. The figure pertains to those who have not been naturalised, only to those who have a Turkish passport. There are approximately 700,000 naturalised Turks. If you consider for a moment that people have been living in Germany for 50 years, that we have nearly three million Turkish fellow citizens and that only some 700,000 have German citizenship you will realise that you are looking at a core problem if these people do not feel a sense of belonging. This has various causes, on both sides. On the German side there has been a failure in putting forward integration measures, to include these people, to put activities on offer to young people born here either during school hours or in their free time. On the Turkish side, the German-Turkish community has not set up any lobbies here in Germany. There are around 1,600 clubs and organisations in Germany, of which about 800 are Turkish religious associations. The Turkish citizens in Germany have preferred to set up religious associations instead of founding clubs and the like for the next generation. They have not created a body to represent the interests of their own young people. What I have observed is that the lack of integration measures, be it on the German or the Turkish side, has led to Islamists stepping in and taking over these tasks. The fundamentalists have stepped into the breach and the mosques are now offering German courses. German courses for Muslims. Youth centres are being set up in mosques, taking these young people off the streets. They have taken over this function, filled the gap. It really ought to have been up to the state to take them off the streets. A young person who can’t speak either language properly is not given any support from the family – it happens quite frequently, in fact it affects the majority of Turkish youth that nobody shows an interest in the child’s school or later the vocational qualifications. The parents simply do not take an interest in their children, nor are they particularly bothered with them. They don’t go to parents’ night, nor do they even know which school the child attends, which year the child is in or the name of the form teacher. This is the kind of problem the children have to cope with at home, so of course they don’t take an interest any more. If nobody asks how they are getting on at school, if nobody asks them what they have been doing at school, what homework they have today, if they don’t ask “Can we help you?” it is small wonder they lose interest. The parents, the second generation, can’t actually speak German. For the last decade the problem has been exacerbated by imported brides, a trend that is on the increase. These are women who don’t know anything about German culture or German society, nor do they speak German and, of course, they can’t be of any help to their children either. These frustrated young people are out on the streets. They roam around in small cliques, create their own ghettoes. They say in the mosques that we must look after our own. It might perhaps be well-meant, but the people who lead the prayers, or the imams brainwash these children. The brainwashing includes stirring up animosity against majority society, against Western values, against Christians, against infidels and they point a finger of blame at Western values for the young people’s accumulated frustration. And the young people believe it. I have spoken to various young people and I always hear the same story from children and adolescents alike. They tell me: “I have experienced racism at school. My teacher couldn’t care less about me, my teacher unfairly gave me these marks, they are Germans, after all, they don’t care about us, they don’t want us here in the first place”. These are children who were born here, third generation children, some of whom have German citizenship. They are practically being armed against majority society. The children are, in a nutshell, being taught to hate German society. In our midst, in mosques and we are just standing by and letting them get on with it. And if, as I said, in a couple of years’ time see the same circumstances as in France we will ask ourselves, where did we go wrong? What did we do wrong? I personally believe, and I raise this issue every time I appear in public, that there are many people here in Germany who share my views. All we need is the political will to have a rethink and counteract it. To engage in prevention. Because the children belong here, they don’t feel accepted in Turkey either where they are considered Germans, they don’t feel at home there either, even the first generation doesn’t want to go back. That means it is up to us, to German society in general and the politicians to take action.

Chameleon: And Western values presumably also include women’s rights?

Serap: Equal rights? Between men and women.

Chameleon: Exactly.

Serap: In Turkey women have enjoyed equal rights, on paper, since 1923. Since the Republic was founded we have been able to vote and be elected. Turkey is a democratic republic, a secular state and those who commit murder in the name of honour are not given lighter sentences any more. On paper.

Chameleon: And in practice?

Serap: Here the EU directives have had an impact, the criteria that Turkey has to fulfil [to gain full EU membership]. On paper Turkish women in Turkey enjoy equal rights. The same applies to Germany. Here in Germany we espouse Western values with men and women officially given equal rights. However, as I said, we don’t know the figures. From my point of view, on the basis of my observations, the majority of Turkish women here in Germany don’t even know the letters E R of equal rights. The women do not know about the rights they have. They don’t know who they can and are supposed to turn to get help or how to go about getting help. This is why educational work – I cannot stress it often enough – in schools, in families is indispensable. We have to go directly into Turkish families with Turkish social workers. We can elaborate various projects and concepts to enable us to do so. We have to sit round a table and discuss how we can best achieve our aims, how we can engage in prevention, we have to examine what possibilities we have to go into Turkish families, to see how we can reach and inform these coming generations about our values, how we can get the message across about universal human rights and tell them that we live in a democracy not under sharia. I have to point out, though, that there are also Turkish women who reject this, who reject Western values. There are also German women who have converted to Islam and who reject both equal rights and Western values. They are the worst.

Chameleon: Don’t worry about me, I’m an atheist!

Serap: I am not afraid of these women because they deliberately turn up at every event devoted to the head scarf. The German converts always appear with their blue eyes and blonde hair as impassioned advocates of Islam.

Chameleon: Having listened to what you are telling me it seems as if this parallel society already exists.

Serap: It certainly does. There are various reasons behind it. Of course, the main reason, I have to say, is financial. People with no professional qualifications are forced to live in these areas, renting accommodation there. They can’t afford better. Unemployment is rife amongst the Turkish immigrant population in Germany. They don’t have any professional qualifications, the vast majority of the women are housewives and if their social and financial level is not sufficient they are forced to move into this council housing. Given that the majority, by which I mean the Turkish immigrants, have been affected by this, this is how the ghettoes came into being. I hear from a lot of Turkish people who live in these parallel worlds, these ghettoes, that they want to move out because they too want to offer their children a future, they want their children to get out, but it is simply beyond their financial wherewithal, they cannot afford to rent expensive flats. The Germans who live in these houses also move out, saying that they have become a minority in their own country in these ghettoes. School classes are full to overflowing, and most of the children, 80 or 90 and in some places even 100 per cent, come from immigrant families, so that there might be one single German boy in the entire class, which parents don’t want either. We have to get rid of these ghettoes. We have to give these people jobs, we have to launch social initiatives, provide them with social facilities, and we have to help them to get out by means of social projects. It is Germany’s responsibility for the future to dissolve these parallel societies. It cannot be achieved overnight. We can, however, attain our aim if we, as I mentioned, set up centres in these ghettoes, in which women who have been living as housewives, for example, can train for a profession. We have to begin with the second generation. Everyone has some special talent or another, I am quite sure of it. Maybe one woman is really good at painting, whilst another can perhaps produce beautiful ceramics, we simply don’t know because we have never bothered to find out. Another might be a skilled needle worker. We have to discover these people’s hidden qualities and talents and we can do so by setting up centres where they can acquire vocational qualifications, where they are given opportunities depending on their family circumstances. Women or indeed men could attend for half days, or women for full days, it really must be feasible and then we have to offer them jobs. We have to invite firms, even force them, to employ these people and once we have provided these people with both social and financial support and helped to build them up the entire conflict will resolve itself. This was the root cause of what happened in France. Slums, ghettoes formed and the French government left these people to get on with it. People who went hungry, people with no work, people with no future, young people with no jobs, no prospects and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when they suddenly go on the rampage. It doesn’t just suddenly come out of the blue. We carry our share of responsibility for it as a society and as a state and we have to prevent it. We can if we want to and we mustn’t turn around in ten years’ time and say we had no idea. We said the same thing 50 years ago. It is only now, in the last two years or so, that a large number of politicians here in Germany have been saying, “Yes, we thought that the integration of the second and third generation of foreigners, of guest workers, the so-called guest workers, would be inevitable, it ought to have been automatic because the children are born here, grow up here and go to school here”. In my eyes these are mere excuses. If I welcome a foster child into my home, I have to make some plans for that child in advance, don’t I? If I want to have children of my own, as a reasonable human being I have to look after that child, take care of its future because I am responsible for its welfare. If we brought these people into Germany we ought to have known, by 1970 at the very latest, since that was when we stopped the recruitment drive and then family reunification started, it really ought to have dawned on us that, yes, the Turkish so-called guest workers were becoming permanent residents. By then at the latest we ought to have noticed whom we had fetched in, they were, after all, coming into our home, it is not as if we could simply close up a room in our own homes and say, alright, they want to get on with their lives in that room on their own. We cannot and should not respond in that way. It beggars belief that that we had no idea that integration in Germany would fail after 50 years. No politician can convince me of that. I simply don’t believe it. Because it is up to the politicians to programme and plan the future of this country, that is why they were elected. That is also why we have experts. This is why we have ethnologists who can then deal with this group. We should have known. On the other hand, we have witnessed a very pronounced trend towards reislamicisation in Turkey since 1980, something we have been feeling the effects of here in Germany too for twenty years. Home Secretaries cannot maintain that they didn’t know about this reislamicisation trend here. Only now has Otto Schilly acted in a very radical fashion and quite rightly so. We should have known about it years ago. We should never have allowed more and more Islamicists to gain a foothold here in Germany because it has an impact on women’s rights. In these families women’s rights are being trampled underfoot. These families apply their own laws, sharia laws and we are letting this happen, in our own home, in the neighbour’s flat, other laws hold sway to the laws that govern us. I can only decipher one thing from this. We were not so naïve in Germany, we knew what direction we were moving in, so it all comes down to politics. There is a Turkish proverb that “Politics are darker than the darkest night”. I do cherish hopes. What I am interested in is women’s rights, the next generation of young men, that they should think and live in a different way to their forebears, that they grant their wives and their daughters and their mothers these rights, that they acknowledge and regard them as individuals with equal rights, that they then put this into practice in everyday life, not just on paper, but in everyday life. There is a long way to go before we achieve that here in Germany or in Europe for that matter.

Chameleon: What you are telling me is that the root of the problem is political apathy.

Serap: Yes.

Chameleon: Or indifference, though it sounds as if something is finally being done on a political level…

Serap: Here in Germany as well as in the EU topics such as forced marriages and honour killings in Muslim parallel societies in Europe are being discussed and debated, as is also the case in Islamic countries. That we are now holding this debate in Europe is something I consider to be the first step. It is a step in the right direction. We have to draft legislation in which we make it clear to those who murder in the name of honour that murder is murder, the perpetrators must not receive more lenient sentences, which has actually happened on a couple of occasions quite recently in Germany, whereby German judges have given the honour murderer a “cultural bonus” because the Anatolian didn’t know any better. We should not allow it because if we do we are strengthening, encouraging them in their barbaric traditions as it were. It is extremely important. We need laws, we have to be able to protect women with laws, but that is not enough, of course. Right across Europe we have to set up facilities, such as for example crisis centres for Muslim girls. We do not have such facilities at the moment. We have to start off by creating crisis centres specifically for Muslim girls with culturally specific advice, counselling and care in the mother tongue, in their second language, as it were. That is very important. In schools, we have to put these issues on the curriculum, these breaches of human rights, such as forced marriages and honour killings must feature in lessons and teaching materials, we have to teach universal human rights. I go to schools personally, to ethics classes. The ethics teachers raise the issues as a topic for pupils before I attend the class, they talk about the questions for a week beforehand, the teachers prepare the pupils and then I come along to give my lecture and debate with these young people and a week later they write an essay on the subject. I attach a great deal of importance to it. There are many possible solutions, such as German courses. Since 2001 I have been organising German courses open only to Turkish women at local level. The course lasts two years for each woman, during which time they have half an hour’s worth of German lessons twice a week. The first year is for beginners, the second year for advanced students. We provide child care and it is free of charge for the women. And at this German course, these women subliminally absorb the message about their rights. They are informed about their rights. The anti-forced marriages poster developed by the women’s rights organisation Terre des Femmes is pinned up on the wall in the room where the lessons take place. About a month ago we had a visit from a careers advisor from the AWO (Arbeiterwohlfahrt, Workers’ Welfare Association) who gave the women information about vocational qualifications. She told them about what opportunities existed locally, what they can learn, what they can do. I am involved in various projects with these women. We go on day trips, for example. Many of them are not aware that there is a museum near where they live or where they can go for a picnic, they don’t know that we have a dam nearby that they only need to travel five or six kilometres, quite apart from the fact that they do not know that there is a bookshop in the town centre. I also show them round places. For example we went on a visit to the Red Cross, to the Fire Brigade. Last year we also attended a First Aid course for mothers arranged by the Red Cross, where I acted as interpreter. What can I do, what should I do if my child is injured? What First Aid can I administer? How can women who can neither read nor write call for help, for instance? Some of the participants on the course are illiterate. How can they call for help? How can they alert the police? How can they call in the fire brigade? We talked about this during the lessons and we also paid a visit to the local police station where the women had a chance to ask questions. These are not trivial matters, they are of vital importance to these women. Introducing these women into society in practical terms. What I do is to bring these women out of their Anatolian villages into our midst. In the confines of their homes they really are living in Anatolia. Some of them want it to stay that way, but they are in the minority. Most of them by far want out, so they need someone who will reach out to them, who will tell them, “I will get you out, I will support you”. That is what these women need and the German course enables me to do precisely that. We have a Housewives’ Association consisting only of German women. We have an afternoon session of cooking together with the Turkish women. We put on a flea market together and the women really enjoy it because it gives them the chance to practice the German they have acquired through the course. Next year I have planned practical training placements for the women. We are going to sit down and write the applications together. I don’t know how it will work out, but it is an idea of mine. Many of the women have never had a job, at most they might have been cleaning ladies, you know? They don’t communicate with the Germans in such situations, they don’t get a chance to exchange a few words, so what we have to do is let them put their knowledge into practice and they can only do so by coming into contact with majority society. We have to do things together. We’ve had day rambles, where we spend a day walking with German women and the participants in the German course. There are various associations and clubs, so we take a look at them and ask them if they feel like spending a day with us, doing something together. They are quite happy about it. Friendships are also formed this way. One woman, for example, has been living in Germany for thirty years, but had never had a German friend. She couldn’t speak German and had wanted to obtain German citizenship, had applied for it, but had been turned down due to her lack of knowledge of the language. I was full of admiration for her for taking part – she has been awarded German citizenship in the meantime, by the way – I asked her, „What was the best thing about the German course for you? Was it having the opportunity to learn the language?” She replied: “For me, the best thing about the German course was that now, for the first time in 30 years, answer the phone. I could never go to the phone whenever it rang at home. Now I can pick up the receiver and say, ‘Hello, who is it?’” I thought that was splendid. Not just that she had finally been given German citizenship, but imagine, this woman couldn’t even go to the telephone in her own home. She told me that if her husband or children were not at home she would panic if the phone rang. Can you even begin to imagine what that must have been like? She also told me that if something had happened to her, she would not have known who to call, how to communicate, how to get the police to come. They are afraid of the police somehow when they can’t speak the language. These are the small, but extremely important aspects of these women’s lives. There were also women who were battered by their parents-in-law and their husbands, who were not permitted to attend the course. They were told, “You don’t need to be able to speak German, why do suddenly want to learn German?” There are such individuals. I have experience of them and every time I have tried to get in touch with them to talk to them my efforts have been futile. Such a pity. The most frequent victims are the imported brides, the young women, the young children imported to Germany fro Turkey who are then confined within the walls of their homes.

Chameleon: There is nothing you can do about it, or am I assuming wrongly?

Serap: There is nothing we can do about it. We live in a democracy and what would it make us, where would it get us if we were to remove these young women by force? At this juncture political will comes into play. If we were to say German courses are mandatory, people who wanted to come to Germany ought to furnish proof of knowledge of the German language beforehand. So that we can clear that up in advance. We could also prevent forced marriages on that basis. For family reunification purposes, if partners are being brought from Turkey to Germany, although the rules would apply equally to all foreign nationals, they would not be allowed in until they had reached 21 years of age. By so doing we could also prevent child marriages. We could also prevent illiterate people from coming into the country, as we have very high illiteracy rates amongst the Turkish immigrant population, particularly amongst the imported brides and other women. So, as you can see, just by talking about it at sufficient length a variety of possible solutions emerge. I can’t take the decisions alone. It’s not enough for me to come up with ideas. It’s not enough for me to debate such possible solutions again and again. They have to be put into practice, which is why we need, firstly the politicians on board and secondly money to implement the proposals. We don’t have either at the moment, unfortunately. At the moment, anyway.

Chameleon: I couldn’t agree more. The ideas are there, but the funding isn’t.

Serap: Both the government and financial experts have to be called in. We need the funding. How are we supposed to organise German courses otherwise? Thankfully, the new immigration law has made German courses mandatory, but we have to check up on them and we have to be able to impose penalties on those who fail to comply. If need be, perhaps their social security payments could be cut, their unemployment benefit or child benefit, depending. These people have to complete a 600 hour course and in order to pass they have to turn up at classes. They are not just taught the language, but also ethnology and German history. Having said that, I have to point out that I have never been on such a course myself. Perhaps inspections should also be carried out to check on how the people are being taught. I have heard about such courses from people without vocational qualifications who have been sent to the training centres directly from the employment agency, allegedly to undergo further training so that they can be reintegrated into the labour market. Some of the courses last one month, others three, six or even eight months and quite a lot of money goes into them. They cost really quite a lot, I have to say, something between five and six thousand Euros. I also know that in these further training courses everything but German or computer skills or suchlike are being taught. Someone has to be charged with the task of inspecting these German courses, of looking at how they are being taught. Do these people really need what we are asking for? It should not be mere window-dressing, a cosmetic exercise, so that we can say we have put these courses on offer, they are compulsory and now it’s up to you to determine how to organise them. We don’t monitor the courses and we badly need to. I heard from a person who had to take part in such a course who had been sent by the employment exchange. He was depressed. He wanted to learn something, he had all sorts of hopes, he was really delighted and had major expectations about really acquiring new skills there. The teachers were not qualified, indeed the teachers behaved very coarsely towards their students who were of differing nationalities and who, moreover, possessed quite diverse qualifications. As I said, the teachers had no appropriate qualifications to teach, yet they were supposed to stand up in front of the heterogeneous group and get on with it. All of the students in the class knew how to use a computer, yet the teacher in charge of the computer skills course, just to quote one example, endeavoured to teach them how to open a file and save it. These “students” included computer experts.

Chameleon: Ludicrous.

Serap: Indeed. Now I don’t know how things are shaping up with the German language courses, but we need to have inspections.

Chameleon: Turning back to honour killings, you talked about the six women who tragically lost their lives. Perhaps we should kick off by exploring the concept, which is quite alien to those of us who come from a different cultural background.

Serap: The concept of “honour” is a key concept in Muslim families, it is not specific to Turkish families in particular. The Koran stipulates that the woman must preserve her chastity, she must be virtuous and not commit adultery. The same applies to men, of course, officially, in the Koran, the avoidance of adultery and entering into marriage as a virgin also applies to men, not just to women. Islamic and patriarchal tradition turns a blind eye in the case of men. Adultery on the part of men is not punished in the same way as it is when committed by women. It is more important for women, in actual practice it is important only for women that they enter into marriage as virgins, do not commit adultery, are demure, virtuous, obedient, that they practically have their sexuality under control. These are the rules and responsibilities the women have to fulfil. Women are the guardians of reputation and honour; they are the repositories of the man’s honour. This is how they are perceived. Of course there are certain suras in the Koran where women are deemed subordinate, where they are regarded as inferior beings, but I am not able to delve into that now because the interpretation of the Koran is ambiguous, depending on who interprets it and how they do so. For me it is important to look at the traditional and patriarchal perspective, that, for whatever reasons, whether because of Islam, Islamic tradition, the sunna and the hadis, or from a patriarchal point of view, women are being murdered in the name of honour. What concerns me in these violations of human rights is simply that these women have been married against their will, are chased away, have acid poured over them, are decapitated, that women have to flee from their families for the rest of their lives, are forced to live in anonymity, that there are women who are kept as slaves, all these varieties and manifestations of violence. What concerns me is that human rights are being violated, regardless of the reasons behind the acts; I am not interested in the latter. I maintain that there is no justification for violence against women. That is my work and that is what I talk about. Something is going on here, women are being murdered in the name of honour by members of their own families, like the six young Turkish and Kurdish women who were killed one after the other. It is going on all the time, it is not an isolated incident. Nor are the forced marriages isolated cases. This kind of thing has been going on in Europe all along, people just didn’t want to know about it. They didn’t want to become aware of it. People always thought it is their tradition and their culture, they can sort it out amongst themselves. The prevailing view in Germany was that we had to accept how the neighbours wanted to live their lives. The same is true of Europe. Of course honour killings occur in various religions and in various countries, but the majority are committed in Islamic countries, such as Turkey. Unfortunately this is not just happening a long way away from us, in Islamic countries, but also in our immediate vicinity, in the middle of Europe, in the middle of our civilisation, of which we are so proud. Naturally, we puff ourselves up and boast that we guarantee human rights in our part of the world, and we compare the Islamic countries unfavourably as backward, although the same kind of thing happens here in our midst. For years on end we have ignored this femicide, as it were, this butchering of women. We are partly to blame because we looked away, we are implicated in the deaths of all those women who were murdered in the name of honour here in Europe. Those who failed to raise their voices in protest, unfortunately the majority of people in Europe, also bear part of the blame for every woman whose life was cut short in her tender youth, who was violently dispatched from the ranks of the living, for allowing her own father to become her enemy, her own brother, her own husband. Women are living in fear of their lives, even have to move abroad from one European country to another because the families cannot forgive the alleged “dishonour” incurred by their daughters. They can only cleanse it with blood, it is their attitude that only the blood of the female sinner can restore the honour of the man who lost it. This is an extremely radical mindset, which people in Germany are afraid of. People are also afraid of being confronted with a father like this. Even the police are sometimes afraid when all of a sudden a father appears at the station and asks for the daughter to be reported missing, even though he knows full well that the daughter has run away from home. The police have to do their job by entering her in the register of missing persons. I have had experiences where the police have supported us in protecting the girl, but I have also had experiences where the police have handed the girl, who was still a minor, back to the family and the child welfare authorities also failed to step in to give support. My experience has varied and I cannot generalise, but I have to admit that in the past I have had negative experiences with both the police and the child welfare authorities. They could neither assess the danger, nor could they guarantee the protection the girl needed. As I said, however, this whole public debate has meant that the police, the child welfare authorities and the social workers have been shaken up a little concerning the extent of the problem and they are also trying to take a slightly different approach, so that now when I go to the police and tell them “I have a girl here who has been affected by this and I want her to receive police protection” they don’t think twice before making the protection available to the child. However, having said that, the majority of the staff of the relevant services have not got the message yet and that is something we have to tackle.

Chameleon: Would it be useful to send the police on training courses?

Serap: On dedicated further training courses? Absolutely. That is something we are calling for. We would like the staff of all the relevant support services to complete such training courses, in which they would be taught about this mentality, this culture, well, actually I don’t think I can call it by the name of culture, that this tradition, this bloodthirsty tradition, be brought home to them, that we should discuss with them what the dangers are, give them guidelines as to how they should respond. There was one case, for example, when I was looking after a girl who had been registered as unemployed before she fled from home. She had been put up in a refuge and the family left no stone unturned in trying to ascertain her whereabouts. Sometimes I feel like the author of crime novels, because in situations like that I always have to put myself in the family’s shoes and figure out what subterfuges they might resort to. Sometimes they have the equipment to intercept the calls, so that when the daughter rings them up they can trace where the call came from, which means that they can be lying in wait for the daughter within a couple of hours and try to catch her. The families have all sorts of ruses up their sleeves to get back their “dishonoured” daughters and restore their honour. You can barely imagine the kind of things that go on. Just to give you a topical example, the brother went to the employment exchange and said, “My mother is ill and believes that my sister has committed suicide”. The civil servant behind the counter was naïve enough to blurt out: “No, no, your sister isn’t dead, she’s alive and well and lives in such and such”. By pure coincidence the girl phoned up her friend and confidante who was also acting as our spy so that we could be kept informed about what was going on at home to determine whether the family had caught wind of anything and she warned us that the brother had found out where she lived, that he had gotten hold of her address and in the space of half an hour we had to whisk her away from one federal state to another. It can happen at the drop of a hat.

Chameleon: What are your feelings about headscarves? Perhaps you could also say a few words about the recent attempt in Canada to introduce sharia law.

Serap: There has of course been a major debate about the headscarf. From my point of view the headscarf is a form of oppression of women. As far as I can see, women wear the headscarf in all likelihood because of the Koran, although, as I pointed out earlier, the Koran is interpreted ambiguously. People who represent the liberal form of Islam and are of a secular bent, feel that the Koran does not state that women must wear a headscarf, that it is only a commandment, not a duty, as to whether women cover themselves or not. I agree with this way of looking at it, in other words, the Koran does not rigidly prescribe that women must cover up their charms. Now who can explain it to me when teachers at our state schools wear headscarves whilst they teach, that they have to cover up their charms in front of six, seven or eight-year-old Turkish or Muslim boys so that they do not sexually excite them? Who can explain this to me? Many women who wear the headscarf, for example, feel that they are only doing so for religious reasons. Now, if they are wearing it for religious reasons it means that they have to protect their feminine charms from men. That is the rationale. However, if we turn the argument on its head, this means that on the one hand men are being discriminated against, and on the other, that men do not have their sexual urges under control. I mean, if we are living in the 21st century it is a humiliation, a form of discrimination against the male sex, isn’t it? This is why I call upon enlightened men to stand up and be counted and speak out against the women who are in favour of the headscarf. What we don’t have is men standing up and rebelling against it. More’s the pity. In Canada an attempt was made recently to introduce the sharia as law in the parallel societies. That would mean that if someone had stolen something he could have his hand lopped off. If someone committed adultery, like in Iran, for example, the woman, or both parties involved, could be stoned to death. It is absurd that in a democracy people wanted to accept a law as backward as sharia. To the best of my knowledge it didn’t get through, the debate was fired up and thanks to many feminists and members of women’s movements, the Canadian government could be prevented from committing a very grave error. We have to fight against it instead of approving it, let alone giving it our express support or even introducing it into our democracy. Sharia laws here, in a civilised society, are quite clearly unacceptable.

Chameleon: It would certainly constitute discrimination against Muslim women as it would only apply to them.

Serap: If we, with our values, with our enlightened values, here in our midst were to turn the clock back almost 2,400 years and say “You are Muslims, you have to continue to live in the times of Mohammed, as it were, in the Middle Ages” that would not simply represent discrimination, but also exploitation and stripping Muslim women of rights. We would be practically sitting back and letting half of society be murdered, be deprived of rights, be exploited. I can’t interpret it in any other way. That anyone went so far as to contemplate it, that it crossed anyone’s mind to debate it in the first place, you know? It is not merely an absurdity, but a crime, to my mind, a crime against the rights of Muslim women.

Chameleon: I agree.

Serap: When, for example, the rights of Muslim women here in Germany are breached, the German politicians point the finger at the Islamic countries and at Turkey in conjunction with the latter’s EU-accession. It was said that in Turkey, more lenient sentences for the perpetrators of honour killings have to be scrapped, women have to be given equal rights, not just on paper, but also in practice. In all of Turkey there are only 14 women’s shelters, so clearly we need far more refuges. So attempts are being made to improve women’s rights whilst in our own country, in Germany, the rights of Muslims, of Turkish women are being violated. To my mind this constitutes a paradox. We have to clean up our own act first and then we can bring pressure to bear on Muslim countries, telling them that they have to do such and such to guarantee women’s, children’s and more generally human rights. Of course those rights are not guaranteed in the countries in question, but if we want to serve as an example we have to get our own act together first. If I have a sick person at home, I have to nurse that person first before I go next door to start taking care of the neighbour’s children or family. We have to tackle poverty at home first, we have to guarantee human rights at home first before we go across to the neighbour’s and offer support and start making demands of them, such as asking for guarantees of women’s and children’s rights or that torture should not be allowed to take place in prisons any more, or that the rape of Kurdish women in prisons should stop, for example, it is standard practice there, another taboo topic. If you talk about it, you are branded a traitor.

Chameleon: Do you think Turkish accession to the EU will help improve women’s rights in Turkey?

Serap: It already has. There has been an EU-wide debate about Turkish accession and the EU has helped in that the current government, and here we have to give him [Mr Erdogan] credit where it is due, although from my point of view he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and has considerable conservative Islamic leanings, everyone is aware of his past, where he grew up, where he comes from, as it were, everyone knows about it, but you are not allowed to talk about it openly. Nevertheless, although he has his own interests and is pursuing them, I have to say I think what he is doing is greatly to his credit. This is why he amended the relevant legislation within a very short space of time and was able to get them adopted. The prospect of EU accession has had a positive influence on Turkey, but I believe that at least another two or three generations will still need to go by before we have the same conditions in society in Turkey as we have here in Europe, because a change in mentality has to occur. A society that approves of child marriages, a society that approves of honour killings, a society that approves of forced marriages – Turkey has undergone a reversal in its development since the 1980s after the military putsch; it has been backsliding as a result of reislamicisation. The present government would now like to repeal the ban on wearing headscarves in schools, for example. Religious secondary schools, the so-called Imam Hatip schools have been opened, they have been positively mushrooming in number. The youngsters who graduate from them do so as preachers. There is a great deal of unemployment in Turkey and the entire social welfare system simply does not function. There is a chronic lack of vocational qualifications amongst women far in excess of the average. Only around 21 or 24 per cent of women in Turkey go out to work. That figure includes women in the agricultural sector, in their own families, their own villages whose work is not even remunerated. The 24 per cent includes them. This is the kind of problem we still have to contend with in Turkey. This represents an enormous task for Turkey, which it will not be able to resolve within ten or fifteen years. It is an illusion to believe otherwise. Of course I always point out and it is very important to bear in mind that Turkey should not be carrying out all these reforms under orders from the outside, as it were, due to pressure from the EU, but out of its own conviction. Turkey has to take these steps for its own sake, for the sake of its own country, for the sake of its own people; it has to fulfil the criteria for its own benefit, not just because the EU says so. As far as I can determine it is merely a cosmetic exercise. There is no other way I can describe it. That is what Turkey is doing at present with the various amendments to the statute books, engaging in window-dressing, going through the motions. Now we have to wait and see how things shape up in Turkey over the next few years. We will have to wait and see and monitor developments very rigorously. Not just keep tabs on economic development or defend purely economic interests, but keep a close eye on how human rights, women’s rights and children’s rights evolve in Turkey. The Bozkurt [Member of the European Parliament] Report on the status of women in Turkey is very welcome. Of course, it has certain defects, but it at least represents an initial step. I think the rest will fall into place if we really do take it seriously. A report of this type should be drawn up once every six months, so that we can take stock of what is going on in Turkey, what is still missing, what ought to have been done, what Turkey has failed to do and we really have to be strict, really tough on the Turkish government and really demand action on what has not yet been guaranteed. As far as the EU criteria are concerned Turkey has to reckon with sanctions, we have to show that we mean business with the criteria if Turkey wants into the EU. It is of the utmost importance that we have Europe-wide draft legislation prohibiting forced marriages, prohibiting honour killings. The Member States of the EU have to be instructed to press ahead with information campaigns and educational initiatives and make resources available because we need it. As I say, it is absolutely vital that legislation be drawn up and to the best of my knowledge the Council of Europe has broached the subject of such a draft on forced marriages and honour killings. I know that women’s movements have been active in lobbying the European Council, so hopefully we will see these efforts come to fruition.

Chameleon: I would like to come back to a question that slipped my mind earlier. Are there statistics covering the whole of Germany on how many honour killings are committed each year?

Serap: In Germany we do not know exactly how many honour killings occur each year. The only official figure is based on a single study carried out by Terre des Femmes and Papataya, according to which between 1996 and 2004 49 women were murdered. All I can tell you is that the list is very long, as I too am carrying out research into the phenomenon of honour killings. The first murder that I was able to uncover dates back to 1984 and I will talk about it in my new book, so we will have to wait and see. I don’t want to bandy about any figures right now.

Chameleon: No problem. Could you perhaps say a few words about your memorial initiative?

Serap: Yes, it is quite unique. The memorial is very important to us. When I began drawing the public’s attention to the issues of forced marriages and honour killings in 1984, these being the main subjects on which I focus, although they are only the tip of the iceberg and domestic violence, abuse and incest also form part and parcel of what I deal with in the course of my activities, it struck me that we have read about the murders in the newspapers, simply skimmed through the articles about the murdered women in the Turkish newspapers, said to ourselves, “My God, how terrible!” before moving on and thinking no more about it. We have simply gone back to getting on with our everyday lives. It struck me that we react in this way and I started to take a closer look at it and noticed that in the German press, the German media neither the nationality nor the name of the victim is printed if they were of foreign extraction. It was only deemed to be worthy of a small footnote. Research into the topic was very painstaking, time-consuming and difficult. I carefully sifted through all the newspaper articles and tried to uncover all the murders and manslaughter cases, which bore as close a resemblance as possible to honour killings. I put question marks next to a lot of them and then stepped up my research efforts and discovered that Turkish families were involved, that it was a Turkish woman or a Turkish girl who had been murdered by her brother or husband depending. Then I also gradually noticed that it was the names of the perpetrators that stuck in the mind, that the names of the victims were being consigned to oblivion and it became a matter of personal importance to me to give the victims back their names. They have a name and a face and a story and these were very important to me. This is why I created this memorial. I wanted to give the debate on forced marriage greater public prominence and get the message across that a forced marriage can also end in an honour killing, if girls oppose a forced marriage or if a woman asks for a divorce. Of course it doesn’t always end in an honour killing, they are confined to the most extreme cases, but we have to recognise that the two are linked; both conflicts have to be dealt with and put on the agenda together. I did not want the victims to be forgotten, I wanted their memory to live on, I wanted us to see their faces, so that every time I see the face of one of these women it should remind me, but also other women, of what we have neglected to do. We know that they were murdered, but what did they have to endure up to that day? What did they have to live through and what did we do wrong? How did we support these families? We didn’t lift a finger. If we take Hatun Sürücü, for example, or Gönül Karabey, how many times did they seek help before they were murdered? They might have gone looking for help x number of times, they might have visited friends, they might have talked about how scared they were, they might have sought protection and nobody really noticed quite how real their fears were, nobody protected them, nobody took them under their wing, nobody was looking out for them, they never felt secure. I want to raise this issue in my book, to say they are dead now, but what did they actually go through prior to their deaths? We have to open our eyes so that no more Hatuns or Gönüls are murdered. Not just set up a memorial or organise a demonstration. We have to take action so that we can move on to a time where we don’t need that kind of thing any more, so that we can prevent these deaths, so that no more Hatuns, Meleks, Meryems or Gönüls are murdered. This is why I created the memorial, so that the women are not forgotten. On the one hand, I was saying to my husband today that a friend of my daughter was lost in a car accident. The family is devastated with grief, weeping and mourning their lost child. On the other hand, there are families who murder their own flesh and blood. It makes no sense to me, it is beyond my comprehension how a girl such as Hatun or Gönül, for example, can be murdered simply because they were in love with a German, simply because they dared to love. The love that these patriarchal families feel for their children is not the same as what we understand by love. In my opinion it is just ignorance, dictatorship, power play. The children are regarded as mere commodities. If the life of a child is worth less than honour, if honour takes precedence over the life of a child it is not love any more in my opinion. We cannot reach these people on the basis of educational initiatives alone, but we can endeavour to get the message across to their children. That is my only hope. That we can reach the fifth and sixth generation of immigrant children, but we cannot prevaricate, have to act now, otherwise we won’t succeed, otherwise we are kidding ourselves, otherwise hundreds and thousands of Gönüls and Hatuns will have to die. Then it is not only the families or the murderers who have blood on their hands, but us as well.

Serap Cileli by Ida Henschel, this image is copyright Serap Cileli and may not be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder
Photograph by Ida Henschel
© Serap Cileli
This image has been reproduced by kind permission of Serap Cileli, and may not be copied or reproduced in any form without the express written authorisation of the copyright holder.

Serap’s home page
A revised and extended edition of Serap Cileli’s book is due to be published in June.

This interview will also appear in Subtext Magazine.

Interview © Chameleon, 2005. No part of this interview may be reproduced without written authorisation, which may be obtained via e-mail (see profile page).

3 Footnotes

  1. Chameleon, I have been away for a while, but am now back and have had the time at last this evening to read this superb interview on a subject about which I must confess to being largely ignorant. “Marrying for love is synonymous with prostitution” – a truly chilling statement that puts our own sentimental “crises” into perspective. Thank you, and a belated happy new year.

    Comment by Waterhot — Thursday, 5 January 2006 @ 11:25 pm

  2. Welcome back, Waterhot! Delighted to hear from you and a very Happy New Year to you too!

    Comment by site admin — Thursday, 5 January 2006 @ 11:51 pm

  3. Hallo,
    hôffentlich gehtes es dir sehr gut,es freut mich sehr dir zu schreiben,ich komme aus marokko.
    ich habe dein Dokumentarfilm im fernsehen gesehen.
    ich wûnsche dir viel glûck
    es tut mir leid was es zu dir damals mit deinem Ehemann passiert war.
    Herzliche grûsse
    dein youness

    Comment by youness wahhab — Sunday, 23 March 2008 @ 3:28 pm

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