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Reviewed by:
  • Cosmopolitan Anxieties: Turkish Challenges to Citizenship and Belonging in Germany
  • Frank Tachau (bio)
Cosmopolitan Anxieties: Turkish Challenges to Citizenship and Belonging in Germany, by Ruth Mandel. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008. xxiv + 325 pages. Gloss. to p. 328. Notes to p. 358. Works cited to p. 402. Index to p. 411. $24.95.

Contemporary Germany provides a rich tapestry on which to explore the interactions of a bewildering array of ethnic identities. The traditional concept of Heimat (Homeland) was disrupted by the Shoah (Holocaust), in effect substituting the total exclusion of citizen rights for the originally intended society of inclusion. Now Germany has become a society that is shut out of the European community as opposed to one that is simply not part of the European conglomerate. To complicate matters further, Turks in Germany maintain a sense of identity with the Turkish homeland, at least on the part of Sunnis. Alevis lack this form of association with an idealized model of society. Thus, Turks and Germans share an amorphous tangle of identities.

Cosmopolitan Anxieties by Ruth Mandel explores this tangle of identities, ranging from being perceived as a Turk in Germany to combinations of identities (mostly Greek, Italian, or Hispanic). Mandel leaves it to the reader to decide whether it matters that most of these mixed identities are mistaken. For example, in a matter of fact way, the author remarks on the omission of Jewish identity in this mix. She builds on her own Jewish identity —which lies outside both German and Turkish groupings —so that it ceases to be remarkable, and is instead just another identifying feature.

Yet another facet of this complex web consists of the relatively short-lived National Socialist (Nazi) phase. This involved superimposing on the society rigid categories of identification at the expense, and with the intention of obliterating, those previous identifiers. This led to some confusion, as when certain dates coincided (such as November 9, [End Page 680] when Austria was annexed, bringing yet another cultural group into the mix), and on occasion invested dates and historic features with double, often contradictory meanings. Furthermore, the German language lends itself to almost infinite varieties of meaning (e.g., arbeit; arbeiter; gastarbeiter; arbeit macht frei; fremdarbeiteer; and auslander; each of these figures of speech is subject to further elaboration with both negative and positive connotations.) On occasion, a figure of speech or document came to exemplify highly illiberal views, as with the provocative Heidelberg Manifesto of 1981, which pointed to the danger of overwhelming German nationals in their own land. Conversely, there is also the concept of Auslander, which may create the same danger.

The one area which threatens to swallow the German/non-German ethnic divide and create a non-German ethnic community in Germany itself is Kreuzberg, the perfect "little Turkey." But in fact Kreuzberg is a conglomerate of other ethnic identities, which breeds confusion among their adherents. They do not think of themselves as Turks, and they are certainly not Germans. They appear to group themselves according to criteria which prevail in their home communities, which in turn reflect many of the ethnic identities introduced here.

Just as societies which receive Muslim populations may be distinguished (such as the overlying German social network), so may societies which send Muslim populations. For example, French-speaking Muslims tend to come from the eastern Mediterranean and the North African coast, and tend to be labeled as such.

The author of this remarkable book is a woman of many talents. She found her way to the Turks of Europe via the Greek language, a most unusual feat inasmuch as these two languages and cultures share virtually nothing except a common geography. She worked her way through the labyrinth of Muslim ethnic identities in Europe. In the process, she untangled them from one another and clarified their origins and interactions. By the time she finishes her odyssey, the reader should not be surprised to find him/herself contemplating the relationships between Turkish and German, a relationship virtually unknown historically.

Frank Tachau

Frank Tachau, Adjunct Scholar, Middle East Institute, Washington, DC

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Additional Information

ISSN
1940-3461
Print ISSN
0026-3141
Pages
pp. 680-681
Launched on MUSE
2009-10-22
Open Access
No
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