Document Type


Publication Date





'When you talk about the debate on Turkey’s E.U. membership,' a German of Turkish origin who serves in the Parliament of the European Union explains, 'it immediately becomes a talk about head-scarf issues and building mosques.' This is in part because Western Europe has long considered itself a 'Christian Club.' The treatment of second-generation Turks in Germany and other European countries offers a window into the obstacles that must be confronted and overcome before Turks gain full equality in Europe. Totaling about four million, persons of Turkish origin make up the largest immigrant group in Europe, and virtually all of them are Muslims. So when the European Union rendered Turkey 'eligible' for membership, a long process described elsewhere in this issue, Prime Minister Erdogan proclaimed that the invitation proved Europe was 'not a Christian Club' after all. But what does it mean to call an increasingly secular Europe a Christian Club? To a substantial degree, the culture that unifies Europe today is defined by the “other” who is not part of that culture. The Christian Club, then, may be seen as cultural rather than overtly religious, and Turks may represent the quintessential 'other.' This Article explores the status of Turks who reside in the European Union by drawing in part from the social science literature on the second generation of contemporary immigrants - that is, the children of migrant parents, raised in the receiving society - a field whose practitioners concede it is still 'in its infancy.' This Article focuses on Germany because it is home to more than half of Europe’s Turks, and on youth, because an important test of the permeability of social boundaries is whether the second and third generations of immigrants can cross them. Part I provides an overview of the demography and history of Germany’s Turkish population, and introduces the questions I will be examining. Part II turns to the educational system, focusing on the stratification of students into tracks that have a lifelong impact on career paths and socio-economic status, and the correlation between ethnicity and assignment to the lowest track. Part III examines religious identity within the public school system as played out through the differential treatment accorded to training in Islam during the school day when compared to classes offered to children who practice other major religions. Finally, Part IV explores some lessons one can draw from the experience of second-generation Turks in Germany, and what their apparent lack of mobility augers for the treatment of Turkey as an equal partner in Europe, assuming that it gains acceptance into the European Union. Finally, this Article concludes that despite recent progress, legal and cultural barriers continue to inhibit the assimilation of German Turks into mainstream German society.

GW Paper Series

GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 472; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 472

Included in

Law Commons