Two weeks ago, I spent two days on the premises of a former retirement home in the Gatow district of Berlin. I wanted to get to know the people living there; I wanted to talk to them, understand them and give them a voice by way of my television show "ShababTalk." Six-hundred people from around the world live at the home: young and old, women and men, educated and uneducated. But they all have one thing in common: They are refugees who came to Germany in search of hope, security and a better future. It is important to me that the refugees feel comfortable here in Germany, which is why I have written them the following letter.
This letter also serves as the kick-off to my column for ZEIT ONLINE called "Jaafar, shu fi?"
Welcome! That is how you "refugees" have been greeted in many train stations in Germany. I also called out Ahlan wa-sahlan (English: Welcome)! I am very happy that you have finally reached safety and that you can finally rest after your difficult journey -- after days and weeks of exposure to imminent danger.
All of Germany is affected these days by deeply felt emotion. The media, too, has contributed to this unprecedented atmosphere of acceptance by reporting positively on you refugees! Many politicians have also become ardent supporters -- some out of conviction, others to take advantage of the general mood.
It has been forgotten, it seems, that the Islamophobic Pegida marches
were dominating the headlines not all that long ago. That refugee
hostels were being attacked. That there was a question as to whether
Germany could and would accept refugees at all. But the mood among the
populace and the media suddenly tipped in your favor. However, it can
also tip just as suddenly in the opposite direction as soon as even just
one of you does something bad. Some people and some media are quick to
Dear "Refugees," no matter where you are from, whether it is Damascus, Benghazi, or Baghdad: I know many of your cities well. My own background means that you could even be a part of my family. And as a family, we should speak openly and honestly with each other.
It is important to me that Germany's welcoming atmosphere continues so that you can lead a good life here. That is why it is essential that you demonstrate to those so-called concerned citizens -- the ones who are skeptical of your presence -- that they are wrong.
starts with the language. Please learn the German language as quickly
as possible. It is a beautiful language and it is the key to German
society and to your new homeland. The language will allow you to share
moments of happiness. It will allow you to better understand others.
More important, though, is the fact that knowledge of German will grant
you more independence in Germany. You will no longer be forced to rely
on interpreters and assistants, and you will be able to take more
control over your own lives.
Because one thing is certain: Even Mohammed and Samira can become pretty much anything they dream of here. That really is true! But the most important prerequisite for doing so is education. Make sure that your children continue going to school, the small ones and the big ones, the girls and the boys. That gives them a chance for success independent of your family’s current social station.
Live and let live is a tried-and-true motto in Germany. Please make it into your own mantra as well. If you see a couple kissing on the street -- even if it is two men or two women -- just accept it, even if it is a shock for you. The fact that you’re not used to it doesn’t make it wrong. You are now living in a different system of values -- one that you must respect so that all of us here can live peacefully with each other.
Germany’s social system is excellent, that is certainly the reason why some refugees wanted to migrate here. Don't take it for granted. Many others have worked long and hard so that you can receive that support. That is why you should find a job as soon as you have cleared the bureaucratic hurdles and received a work permit.
happy that you will soon be able to celebrate Eid al-Adha, the Muslim
festival of sacrifice, here in Germany, perhaps for the first time in
safety in years. But there are also other religions and traditions here
that you must respect, just as you desire respect for your religion and
traditions. And while we're on the subject: There are people in Germany
of different faiths, and there are people with no faith. But there
aren't any infidels here, nor should there be.
Do not import any confessional tensions, ethnic conflicts or political oppression to Germany. Never forget that you had to leave your homes for such reasons and maybe even lost your loved ones as well. Sunnis next to Shiites; Kurds next to Turks; Muslims next to Jews; Atheists next to Christians: We are all neighbors here. Recognition of that fact represents your greatest opportunity to find eternal peace for your family -- and it will ensure that you do not remain foreign in this country.
you and me: There is plenty that German society and the German
government need to improve. But that can only be done together. You may
freely and openly give voice to your desires. But you also must be able
to listen and understand. The political system here is open to everyone
and everyone can get involved. Don't stay on the sidelines! Don't get
discouraged by people who will always reject you, no matter what you do.
With that in mind, I would like it if, one day, we were to stand together at a train station to say to new refugees: Welcome! Ahlan wa-sahlan!
Translation: Charles Hawley
Note: The phrase "even if it is two men or two women" was unfortunately omitted in the Arabic translation of this text. We added it afterwards to correct the mistake.