I recently read an article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine about a sad and gruesome topic: “Honor killings,” wherein the male members of Turkish Muslim families living in Berlin – some for several decades – have taken to killing their sisters with increasing and alarming frequency, most commonly at the direction of their fathers, but sometimes on order of their mothers, for the failure of the women in their families to submit to proper tradition.
In other words, women are being murdered by their own brothers for trying to escape their own cultural and religious shackles by actively seeking to “become German” in the secular sense.
This perfectly chilling piece, with its many worrisome subtexts of secular tolerance versus fundamentalist hysteria (Muslim, Christian or otherwise), is called “The New Berlin Wall,” and is written by the noted German novelist Peter Schneider. It was published on December 4, and although it is unavailable (sans payment) on the newspaper’s web site, a transcript can be found here.
In bringing this to the attention of readers, I’m intentionally ignoring the many relevant topics of discussion that Schneider’s thoughts have engendered around the kitchen table of the NA Confidential household since we read his words.
Rather, I intend to focus on just one small excerpt, which begins by establishing that in Turkish immigrant households, forced marriages of very young girls, and arranged by their parents, are very commonplace, and that these unions often are marked by rape, violence and degradation … but if the female victims so much as attempt to escape the misery, they’re liable to marked for death or disfigurement owing to the “shame” suffered by their own families.
In short, Schneider asks: Why would a mother in such a situation, one who often had been forced to endure the same treatment, acquiesce in her daughter’s pain, and on occasion even instigate the ultimate punishment?
Necla Kelek, a Turkish-German author who has interviewed dozens of women on this topic, explained, "The mothers are looking for solidarity by demanding that their daughters submit to the same hardship and suffering." By disobeying them, the daughter calls into question her mother's life - her silent submission to the ritual of forced marriage.
The psychologists and sociologists among us can provide explanation for why human nature works in such a flawed, unproductive and plainly destructive manner.
Perhaps it has something to do with factors beyond cultural baggage, as in the phenomenon of prisoners identifying with their captors. Probably there are economists and historians able to help with this process of understanding.
But forget all that. Forget the specific details of Schneider’s story about Turkish women and their families in Berlin. Instead, think of the explanation offered for the behavior of the mothers:
“The mothers are looking for solidarity by demanding that their daughters submit to the same hardship and suffering."
It’s simply counter-intuitive, isn’t it?
Most of us accept without reservation that, at least ideally, the objective of a parent is to raise a child so that he or she will be capable of transcending the parent’s own hardships or problems.
Most of us are horrified at what we see as a neglectful attitude of harmful psychological dysfunction displayed by parents whose errant and self-destructive choices doom their innocent children to the endlessly repetitive cycles of pain and futility.
Most of us reel from the notion that a parent would seek the same deprivation, addiction and agony for their children that they were forced to experience themselves. Why?
For the past year, NA Confidential has sought to diagnose the developmental traumas and dysfunctions that have brought the city of New Albany to its currently uncertain historical juncture.
To be sure, it is a daunting task, and we’re the first to admit that there are no perfect analogies between an individual human life and that of the city in which he or she resides. Nonetheless, as a city is an aggregation of people gathered together in a geographical place for a purpose – even if that purpose isn’t always readily evident – parallels most certainly exist.
Today, using the conceptual example of the Turkish matriarchs in Berlin as a rough starting point, I contend that one underlying cause for the underachieving malaise that has traditionally held New Albany in its non-productive grip is a similar vein of (paraphrased) evangelistic masochism:
“We have worked for years and failed miserably to bring about change … and we’re not about to see anyone younger succeed without first experiencing the equivalent of the frustration that we’ve felt along the way.”
NA Confidential reader Courtney (ceece) feels the condescending sting of this attitude of institutionalized futility when she tries to participate in the discussions at SOLNA, where the demographic (judged as best we can from the available evidence, considering the anonymity that is a hallmark of SOLNA’s unique brand of inferiority complex-meets-dismissive arrogance):
I don't even know why I bother trying over there. I am constantly slaughtered for my age and being "new" to the city. I was absolutely disgusted to see the claims that nothing can be done. Then Laura comes on and berates me some more. I have never done anything of ill willed to anyone over there. I only want good things for New Albany and the people that live here. I may be young, new, naive whatever, but so what -- give me at least 10 years before you try to break my spirit.
-- ceece’s comment on NAC this morning
Again and again, the dirge-like refrain is repeated – and lest there be any misunderstanding, SOLNA’s most definitely not the only place to hear it performed around this city:
We’re just a rotten little city.
We’ve never accomplished anything.
We’re corrupt and incapable.
We’ve accepted our fate.
We’re going to be even unhappier if you prove us mistaken, you uppity outsider.
Again, it’s a ludicrously counter-intuitive argument, even if it serves as the only identifiable campaign platform of politicians like Dan Coffey and Steve Price.
But … if you’re ill, does it really matter where your doctor comes from, so long as you get better?
Do you really want your children to be afflicted with the same illness?
Or have you become so accustomed to pain that the prospect of the illness's absence fills you with a dread of the unexpected so very strong that you’ll opt for the devil you know rather than the cure?
Consider that apart from my time overseas, I’ve lived in Floyd County for all of my 45 years, and within the city limits of New Albany since 1992 … and I remain an inexperienced, unknowing outsider to some of these self-designated martyrs of numerology and its customary and complete failure to transform human existence into the predictable certitude of a spreadsheet.
Guess what? It takes more than numbers to accomplish anything. It takes clarity, organization, will, courage, a work ethic, a refusal to quit … it takes all these – and many other – human qualities to succeed. Numbers cannot explain my relationship with Mrs. Confidential, or Randy and Ann Smith’s dedication to their business, or Courtney’s love for her child.
Numbers are a tool, and nothing more. They cannot quantify any of the essential components of a human being … but they can be used as roadblocks, impediments and weapons to thwart human progress.
But I digress.
Why is it that so many of New Albany’s “long-timers” – the self-appointed arbiters of what is “true” and what isn’t about this city – so joyfully seek to inflict on an entire populated area, and on newcomers who are relatively free of the underachieving contagion of previous failures, exactly the same sort of pain, frustration and failure that they themselves wouldn’t for one instant consider inflicting on their own blessed children and grandchildren?
Are they too similar to the Turkish women in Berlin, content to pass the unjustifiable pain down to the next generation (even their own!) so as to make their own unfulfilling life experiences somehow comprehensible – in the end, are they just incapable of recognizing that with each passing year, the range of opportunities and possibilities changes, negating the conditions of last year or a decade ago, and providing us with the means to break the cycle of dysfunction if only we’d pull together to do it?
And, while we’re at it, put a halt to the nonsensical excuses for failure offered incessantly as though they were canonical writ:
You’re too young.
You don’t understand the way things work.
It’s always been like that here.
Who do you think you are (outsider; youngster, snooty book reader) trying to understand this when I still don’t after thirty years of trying?
It’s not our fault – the powers that be were against us.
In 2006, the slogan should be “New Albany: No more excuses for failure.”
Experienced? Good. Share your wisdom.
Hopeful? Even better. We need you. Get involved.
Spiteful, beaten fighting the battles of your youth? Sorry about your luck. Please trash the negativity, turn the calendar to now, and get on board. We need you, too.
Content to see this city remain third-rate? Fine … now get the hell out of the way, Mr. Huckleberry -- you're not going to like what you see here.
Future generations should not have to pay for previous failures -- yours, ours, anyone's.