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Marrying Cousins? German Ethics Textbook Uses Turkish Stereotypes

"A Turkish father marries his daughter to his brother's son..." begins a hypothetical scenario in an official textbook used in western Germany to supposedly teach students about ethics. The multiple layers of prejudice are teaching unanticipated lesson for school officials after the Turkish-Germany community reacted with outrage.

File photo of two students raising their hands in a classroom in Germany

File photo of a classroom in Germany

Jochen Luebke/DPA/ZUMA

An ethics book in a German high school prompts students to react to the following hypothetical: a Turkish father arranges a marriage between his daughter and nephew to trick the government ...

As words of the text spread in Germany, so too have accusations of racism and stereotyping from the ethnic Turkish community that has long faced discrimination in the country. Education authorities in the North-Rhein Westphalia state in the west of the country have pulled the book in question from classrooms in the town of Siegburg, close to Bonn. The exact text reads: "A Turkish father in Germany marries his daughter to his brother's son without the daughter's consent in order to secure the nephew a residence permit for Germany and thus a livelihood.”

The assignment went on to ask students to work in pairs to discuss the topic and see what conflicts they see in the situation described.

A history of discrimination

A tweet by a local lawyer, Fatih Zingal, first alerted the Turkish community to the content of the lesson, reports the daily Die Welt. Zingal wrote: “Racism has long been in the education system. I don't want to know how many students of Turkish origin have been disadvantaged by these teachers in the past.”

The current text in question mixes mostly outdated practices in Germany or arranged marriages, including those between cousins, as well as racist notions that Turks are always trying to exploit the government.

About three million people of Turkish descent live in Germany, making it the largest minority in the country. Many families arrived decades ago as guest workers after World War II and stayed on, although they were not actually able to apply for German citizenship until a reform in 2000.

Some 1.5 million residents still lack their citizenship today. Discrimination is commonplace and xenophobic violence remains a threat: four Turkish- and Kurdish-Germans were among the ten victims of a mass shooting in Hanau in 2020.

Photo of the incriminated text as tweeted by local lawyer Fatih Zingal

The incriminated text, as tweeted by local lawyer Fatih Zingal

Fatih Zingal via Twitter

Feeding far-right populists

Yet the discrimination and racism typically comes in more subtle and insidious ways. The Federation of Turkish Parents in North-Rhein Westphalia wrote an open letter to the head of the local Minister of Education and contacted the local school authorities to ask for clarifications about the ethics class text.

The school posted a video apologizing, explaining that they had been committed to fighting racism for 20 years. “A firestorm swept over our school that hit us hard. We were accused of racism and discrimination,” said the message posted on the school website. “This could give the impression that stereotypes were being deliberately used against a minority here. This is not the case, and it will never be the case.”

That the prompt for the class exercise came from an ethics book only added to the criticism, and the North-Rhein Westphalia Minister of Education pulled from the text from the school on Monday to re-examine its content.

Germany-based Turkish-language site arti49 contacted the local Federation of Turkish Parents, who said they were unsatisfied with the apology. Beyond the reference to the largely antiquated practices of arranged marriages within Turkish families, they were particularly worried about the assignment’s insinuation that Turkish families resort to cheating to gain citizenship illegally.

The association commented: “This type of education method […] feeds the vocabulary of far-right populists and helps such stereotypical prejudices be permanent in the minds of the students, leading them to be associated with all families of Turkish origin.”

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