TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. März 2010

Sektion 3.2. Transcontinental Transfer of Literature and Arts to Transform Traditional Societies
Sektionsleiter | Section Chair: Hsia Adrian (McGill University, Canada)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

 “To Veil or not to Veil: Germany and Islam”

Kamakshi P. Murti (Middlebury College, USA) [BIO]




This paper describes ‘Deliberative Dialogue,’ a pedagogical tool that empowers teachers and learners alike to achieve common ground in the foreign language classroom. Research in second language acquisition and foreign language education since the 1980s has increasingly and rightly stressed the symbiotic relationship between language and culture. However, the question: ‘What is culture?’ remains frustratingly unanswered. Instead of offering further definitions of ‘culture,’ I use ‘Deliberative Dialogue’ to help students formulate their own understanding of this nebulous concept by talking about current issues in the target ‘culture.’ One issue of major concern surrounds the hijab or the headscarf for Muslim women, which I offer here as an exemplar of how students can be encouraged to discuss the very problematic singular construction of ‘culture’ and ‘identity’ in an era of globalization.

This article is a continuation of a dialog that began for me at a conference in June 2007 in Leipzig, Germany, on inter- and intracultural communication, and gathered momentum at the KCOS conference in Vienna, Austria, later that year. It is also, hopefully, an extension, or rather a reiteration, of some of what Stassen talks about in his thought-provoking paper ““How much “Inter” is too much? Intercultural communication and its discontents.”(1) As a prefatory note, I do wish to add that I echo Stassen’s skepticism about a certain Pollyanna-like conviction that the removal of all boundaries in the context of globalization will enable us to capture that will-o-the-wisp known as happiness!

In the last couple of years, I have encountered various definitions of and thoughts about ‘culture.’ The use of the word in the singular has been at once intriguing and challenging for me. It seemed to provide greater stability to the concept than I had hitherto expected or experienced, allowing for the promise of intercultural modes of communication. I returned to my own research on the notion of ‘culture’ with renewed optimism, telling myself that it may after all be possible to foster intercultural understanding in the German Studies classroom. I would like to share in the first part of this paper some interesting definitions of ‘culture.

Muriel Saville-Troike(2)responds to the haunting question: “What is culture?” as follows:    

By the time children begin their formal education at the age of five or six, they have already internalized many of the basic values and beliefs of their native culture, learned the rules of behavior which are considered appropriate for their role in the community, and established the procedures for continued socialization (117)


Saville-Troike’s singular use of “culture” is simultaneously intriguing and challenging. It becomes problematic when applied to children who grow up in an environment that is characterized by a plurality of cultures. My childhood in colonial and post-colonial India had exposed me to at least three different sets of meta-narratives dictating and defining values and beliefs, rules of behavior, and procedures for socialization: Brahmin Hindu, Catholic Christian, and Dravidian-Indian from Southern India. I had also acquired two first languages: Telugu, and English, with Hindi, Bengali, and Tamil as second languages, and a sense of belonging to a ‘homogeneous cultural group’ on a national level was not part of my conceptual framework. I realize now that my situation growing up in Calcutta is analogous to that of an immigrant in the United States or Europe. Post-independence India’s insistence on a dominant, normative culture based on “Indian” values was of course completely comprehensible, after decades of oppressive British colonization. Certain “universally Indian” customs and traditions were quickly becoming part of the media landscape (I stress “media” because non-native speakers of Hindi like me were exposed to Hindi through commercial films from Mumbai). But linguistic differences, and hence, to continue Saville-Troike’s thought process, cultural differences have become even more entrenched, leading to secessionist movements in several parts of India. In fact, during colonial times there was a conflation of the terms civilization and culture. The natives supposedly had neither. Irrefutable evidence of very highly developed cultural formations in the colonized countries (written, architectonic, and artistic) was cast aside as merely substantiating a past civilization. It was important for the colonizers to separate the sophisticated past from a perceived primitive state of contemporary native cultures, so that Western powers could hide their violent colonization under the mantel of a ‘civilizing mission.’  In fact, the narrative suggested, it was the ‘white man’s burden’ to educate and enlighten the natives.

Although the second half of the twentieth century has seen the overt dismantling of many colonial structures, the imperial mind-set continues into the twenty-first century.  Within the German context, the term “Leitkultur” (= dominant culture—literally “leading culture”) that has gained steady prominence during the last decades of the twentieth century does not bode well for heterogeneity. As a blatant form of cultural ethnocentrism, ‘Leitkultur’ reveals the anxieties that propel debates about migration, exclusive and inclusive citizenship, and alterity. Tensions emanating from such discussions are threateningly omnipresent. My own work on the hijab, Muslim headscarf, has shown me what murky waters we are presently treading.

With increasing migration and globalization, there are no clear geographical borders separating language, religion, and ethnicity. During colonial times, one could at least make a distinction between metropolis and colony. But these colonies are now imbedded within the metropolis. In other words, the “third world” is very much within and part of the so-called first world, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to create cultural stereotypes to enable discrimination. With the introduction of sub-categories like intercultural and intracultural, “culture” as the overarching category remains troublingly unquestioned.

Let us look at some thoughts about inter- and intracultural. Robbi Erickson describes intracultural communication as involving communication within a single dominant culture, intercultural communication as having to do with communication between two different dominant cultures, which is analogous to language learning(3). Myron Lustig and Jolene Koester’s definition of intercultural communication is more incisive. According to them, intercultural communication is

a symbolic, interpretive, transactional, contextual process in which the degree of difference between people is large and important enough to create dissimilar interpretations and expectations about what are regarded as competent behaviors that should be used to create shared meanings. (51)(4)

Every given instance of communication exists within a continuum of interculturalness (from most to least intercultural). Lustig and Koester suggest that intracultural communication is the least intercultural form of communication, because it happens between people from the same country, although they may have distinct cultural backgrounds (i.e., in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status). It seems to me that two assumptions underlie both views: firstly, that the nature of “culture” is singular; secondly, that cultural differences are innocent of power structures. Just one example might serve to illustrate the problems arising from the reduction of dialogs about “culture” to inter- versus intracultural. In the last few decades, Latin-American “culture” within the U.S. is increasingly dismantling the hitherto homogenizing Anglo-American. Once again, one observes the creation of two monolithic, oppositional cultural categories: Latin-American and Anglo-American. Such an approach impoverishes our ability to discover and build what the New England Center for Civic Life calls “common ground”:

common ground ... [which] is often created out of a discovery of shared concerns and interests among participants, or at least a better understanding and acceptance of why people hold valuable the things they do. … Common ground … is that place (or those places) where participants can see how their goals are shareable, their values overlap and their interests intersect with those of others. It is the basis for win/win solutions to problems, where all parties in the dialogue have had their concerns and interests heard and accommodated to some degree in the decisions made.(5)

In order to achieve this common ground among various groups who hold different beliefs and values, it is imperative to repeat the question I posed at the beginning of this paper: “What is ‘culture’?”(6) Some see ‘culture’ as consisting of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of ‘culture’ would comprise traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning influences upon further action. Others view culture as the sum total of the learned behavior of a group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation.

Hofstede’s definition captures for me the insidiousness of maintaining that ‘culture’ is a singular concept:

Culture is the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one category of people from another.(7) (Emphases mine: KPM)

Schulz et al.point out very perceptively that during times of crisis like 9/11 cultural differences are deliberately magnified and distorted in an effort to demonize the “other’, and that it behooves the Foreign Language teacher to forge cross-cultural understanding and intercultural communication with renewed vigor. The collective programming of the mind that Hofstede suggests becomes more intense. I had believed for years that learning a foreign language would automatically teach students to resist the kind of “othering” that “Leitkultur” brings in its wake. However, research undertaken by Schulz et al suggests that the claim made by most Foreign Language educators that the study of another language aids in developing cross-cultural sensitivity and tolerance, cultural openness (i.e., a lessening of ethnocentrism) is not supported by any observed data. Schulz et al.point out, “little if any empirical evidence has supported this claim.” In fact, the four ‘fs’ of cultural tidbits offered in the language classroom – food, festivals, folklore, facts – tend to strengthen the preconceived notions about the otherness of a “culture” that the language learner already possesses. (In “Beyond Currywurst and Döner: The Role of Food in German Multicultural Literature and Society,” Heike Henderson says:

In a socio-political treatise which otherwise has little to do with food, Cem Özdemir uses "Currywurst und Döner" as a symbol for integration in Germany.[1] Of course Özdemir is not the first person to use food metaphors while talking about multiculturalism, other terms which immediately come to mind are melting pot and salad bowl. What makes this case so interesting is that neither Currywurst nor Döner are original "German" dishes, and yet they have become the quintessential German fast food. The question that begs to be asked is the following: Is this success of "ethnic" food indeed a model for successful reconciliation, a signifier for a shared future, or does it merely gloss over serious problems and concerns? [2](8)

When I mentioned in one of my courses a couple of years ago that I had invited the Afro-German writer Ika Huegel-Marshall to Middlebury College for a reading, a student looked at me in surprise and exclaimed: “’Black’ and ‘German'? Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?” The situation seemed to create a certain amount of anxiety about this student’s inability to classify, to categorize, to stereotype. And my own recent stay in a “Wohngemeinschaft” in Berlin-Kreuzberg with two Turkish women and two Caucasian German women has brought home other aspects that do not quite fit the four ‘fs’ that my students seemed to think would be sufficient to understand an entire country as a coherent and cohesive singular entity. Interestingly, the German word for “otherness” is “Fremdheit,” i.e., “foreignness.” This expresses much more powerfully the German anxiety about the “other.”

How then do we teach our students to develop cultural sensitivity and tolerance, cultural openness, i.e., a lessening of ethnocentrism? The old, tired discussion about the native informant as an expert is not helpful. Equally unproductive is the assumption that the non-native teacher is less competent to understand the “culture” that s/he teaches. Instead of trying to define “culture,”—I am convinced that this is an exercise in futility!—I would like to suggest an alternative pedagogical strategy that has possibilities for all levels of instruction, K-16 and beyond. George Peters asks:

What sort of cultural knowledge should be integrated with language learning at what stages of the curriculum?(9)

I have expanded and modified his question to read:

What sort of critical thinking skills should be integrated with language learning so that the student is able to understand cultural “othernesses” as an enriching experience and grow as an individual and citizen of the world community?

My emphasis thus lies not on the transmission of this nebulous, irritatingly ambiguous thing called culture, but rather on the student’s ability to critically evaluate what is presented to him or her as a cultural artifact. As Schulz et al.point out, “culture can neither be experienced nor taught objectively.”

We are all bound by our own cultural schemata and thus, interpreting cultural phenomena is always subject to our own subjective interpretation. The challenge in teaching for cultural understanding is to remain as objective in one’s interpretation as possible (i.e., bound to observable phenomena in context), in order to avoid turning culture teaching into propaganda either for or against a particular cultural group.(10)

I suggest that all one can do as a teacher is to hone students’ ability to remain objective about everything they encounter in the world around them. Michael Byram’s question is one that needs to be frequently asked: “How, where, when and to what effect are the shared meanings of particular groups produced, circulated and consumed?’(11) It becomes the students’ responsibility, with the teacher functioning as mediator/facilitator, to define for him/herself what cultures are or can be or ought to be. It allows students to critically question the monocultural/ethnocentric world in which they are caught and learn to see the world, as Byram advocates, from many different perspectives.

In order to raise students’ consciousness in an optimum fashion, I decided to adopt the pedagogy of what the New England Center for Civic Life terms “Deliberative Dialog”— a process of careful deliberation that ultimately leads to civic action. As Schulz et al. point out,

[A]ll communication has a cultural dimension. All communicative acts have a minimum of three components: (1) information (i.e., some kind of message); (2) some form of interaction (i.e., the process of conveying and/or receiving messages within a particular communicative relationship and context—either face to face or at a distance, synchronous or over time); (3) and some form of code or text (i.e., language, including verbal, non-verbal, paralinguistic and visual elements that convey messages).

‘Deliberative Dialogue’ would facilitate such communication. The participants (students) and I (facilitator) would jointly produce a knowledge base for our course. Although Schulz et al. do caution that

it is unrealistic to expect practicing teachers or their students to create their own knowledge base through time-consuming searches on the Internet where quality control (including a check on veracity of information) is often lacking” (Schulz et al.),

I was persuaded that students do learn to question these sources of information in terms of their reliability as part of the process of honing their critical skills. They learn to recognize the many variables that influence/govern how a particular country/nation presents itself or is presented. The New England Center for Civic Life formulated the following definition of a Deliberative Dialogue as part of its project for strengthening democracy through public deliberation and dialogue.(12)

Deliberative Dialogue is a set of practices for communicating with others and addressing common problems and issues. These practices enable people to talk about difficult issues not only on the basis of knowledge, facts, and professional expertise, but also from the perspective of their deeper concerns, values and personal experience. These practices help participants speak not only as individuals, but as members of a community, not only as groups with competing interests, but also as a community with shared interests, concerns and goals.

Typically, one presents three to four approaches to an issue in order to assist participants in a thoughtful discussion. Each approach is based on a different perspective and motivated by a particular set of values and priorities. Each offers a different set of actions for addressing the problem. The role of the teacher as moderator is crucial in this process. It is very difficult for most teachers to stay on the sidelines and not be in complete control of the classroom. But it is crucial to the success of the Deliberative that the instructor relinquishes control of the classroom: Consequently, the role of the teacher as facilitator is limited to the following tasks:

Prior to the workshop:

  1. To explain the topic (background, why this particular topic is especially important) prior to the workshop
  2. To request the participants to choose one of the approaches (what they find valuable or not, which perspectives they find good, etc.)

During the workshop:

  1. To divide the class into groups: participants lead dialogues in groups (30 minutes)
  2. To bring the class together and have participants share their group’s dialogue with the others (30 minutes). What measures does this group recommend? What are the political consequences of these measures?
  3. To help participants make concrete recommendations about possible civic action – trade-offs, drawbacks of such action (30 minutes)

‘Deliberative Dialogue’ as a pedagogical tool would permit the students and me, I felt, to approach any aspect of life in Germany that we perceived as different, whether it had to do with some of the four ‘f’s’ that I mentioned above (food, festivals, folklore, ‘facts’), or with more serious issues like civil rights and social justice. For example, the horrendous events of 9/11 have led to an increasing demonization of Islam as a regressive, violent, and misogynistic society, opposed to modernity as defined in and by the West. Consequently, visible symbols gathered under the homogeneous term “veil” have been debated more and more contentiously. In the fall semester of 2007, I offered a course entitled “To Veil or not to Veil: Germany and Islam.” I wanted to commence a dialogue about the ways in which the hijab (the Muslim headscarf) had become a marker of alterity. This was the issue that underscored our entire course.


Some background about the headscarf debate

An editorial in the November 25, 2006, edition of the Washington Post bore the headline “Intolerance in Europe,” and went on to declare tongue-in-cheek: “Prostitutes and drug dealers are welcome in the Netherlands. Just don’t wear a veil.”(13) The editor bemoaned the increasing intolerance in West European countries towards Muslims, underscoring the tension between an understandable fear of terrorist threats and killings on the one hand, and what the editor calls the “blatant bigotry of many mainstream political leaders, journalists and other elites against Islam and its followers.” The editorial talked about how on November 17, 2006, just five days before the general election in the Netherlands,

[T]he incumbent center-right government promised that, if reelected, it would introduce legislation to ban the wearing of burqas and other facial coverings in most public places, including courts, schools, trains and even streets.

It ended with the ominous prediction:

It won’t be surprising if more Dutch Muslims respond to their government by putting on burqas – or by answering intolerance with intolerance.

The debates in Germany exemplify the multi-textured nature of the current debates in Europe about the Muslim headscarf for women, a debate that is becoming more and more contentious. The Turkish population in Germany—the largest minority group there (Germany has about 3.2 million Muslims, Turks comprise 1.8 million of the total population of 80 million(14))—has also come under intense, and now increasingly hostile scrutiny. The fact that the headscarf evokes images in the minds of many Europeans of a nefarious male-dominated Islam out to violate Muslim women at every opportunity is very alarming.

Spiegel Online reported in March 2005:

In the past four months, six Muslim women living in Berlin have been brutally murdered by family members. Their crime? Trying to break free and live Western lifestyles. Within their communities, the killers are revered as heroes for preserving their family dignity. How can such a horrific and shockingly archaic practice be flourishing in the heart of Europe? The deaths have sparked momentary outrage, but will they change the grim reality for Muslim women?(15) (Emphases mine: KPM)

The above quote reveals the biases that taint most accounts in the media. Firstly, the journalist equates freedom with a Western lifestyle. Secondly, Islam is demonized as archaic and lacking in what are implied to be universally acknowledged, time-honored moral values (“the killers are revered as heroes”). And finally, one is left with the perception that all Muslim men are brutal murderers, further reinforcing the dichotomy of civilization (= Judeo-Christian) and barbarism (= Islam).

My interest in this very contentious debate was sparked by the case of a German Muslim woman of Afghani origin, Fereshta Ludin, who was forbidden from wearing her scarf when she entered a public school in 1998 to take up her teaching duties.(16) On September 24, 2003, Germany’s highest court ruled that Ludin could not be banned from wearing a head scarf in a public school. In ruling 5-3 in favor of Ludin, the court basically maintained that there was no law prohibiting her from wearing a scarf, leaving it, however, to the discretion of the states to decide whether to pass such a law. As of January 15, 2007, eight German states including Berlin have introduced legislation banning head-scarves for teachers, seeing it as clashing with gender equality and as an affront to Christian values. Only Berlin has decided to ban all religious symbols in schools in its attempt to treat all religions on an equal basis.

In researching the topic of the headscarf, I came across a comment made by a Turkish teacher, Emine Öztürk that made me pay even closer attention to this issue. She said: “So many things are projected onto the headscarf without anyone ever asking the women who wear them.”(17) Western women's rights groups and conservative politicians argue that many Moslem women have no choice but to wear a headscarf because their families demand it. Alice Schwarzer, one of the most forceful voices in German feminism in recent years, has dangerously popularized and trivialized this debate, as Leslie Adelson points out:

…Schwarzer responded with outrage to the murders of Turkish women and girls in Solingen in an essay targeting patriarchy as the root cause of such violence. Turkish men are made to bear the burden of German history in an odd twist of rhetoric in 1993. Although it was German men who killed Turkish women in Solingen, Schwarzer uses the occasion to equate Islamic fundamentalism and German fascism. “Both are men’s domain” (35). It is hardly a coincidence that this issue of Emma features an article decrying German tolerance for Muslim headscarves with the words, “A Turkish Woman: I am a Human Being Like You,” or that it includes a vivid photograph of dark-haired men slaughtering sheep whose blood runs red from one page onto another.(18)

Statements such as “A Turkish Woman: I am a Human Being like You,” lay claim to humanitarian and balanced reporting. However, it merely hides a lack of understanding of the issue. Adelson rightly concludes that Turkish women who discard their headscarf (= Islamic hegemony) are seen as symbols of female emancipation thanks to German superiority.(19)

I have found Azade Seyhan’s consideration of the Mexican critic and performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña to be very useful in this context.  Gómez-Peña stresses the need to create cultural spaces for others. He defines intercultural dialogue as “a two-way, ongoing communication between peoples and communities that enjoy equal negotiating powers.”(20)

The above definition of dialogic processes resists the kind of “solipsism that threatens the idea ‘dialogue,’ i.e., intercultural understanding, “as universal equalizer” and against which the above writer warns, and has helped me engage with cultures in Germany and Turkey with a view to recognizing emerging new identities constructed within the hegemony of globalization and trans-nationalism.(21)

Headscarf debates in Turkey present an interesting conundrum. As a secular state, the Turkish constitution declares a strict separation of state and religion and shuns fundamentalism of all kinds. On the other hand, small but visibly aggressive pockets of fundamentalist groups, additionally aggravated perhaps by resentment about Europe’s reluctance to include Turkey in its Union, are attempting to reinstate the headscarf as a metaphor for an Islam “untainted” by Judeo-Christian hegemony.

About half of the women I interviewed in Turkey were covered when they were in public space, that is they wore Western European clothes under their çarşaf (= a veil covering the whole body except the eyes), or a hijab (= headscarf) and a long Western style coat, or a hijab and suit comprising a coat and a long skirt. In general, I had to visit with the family more than once before gaining their acceptance. I hoped that my non-European origin would provide a safe space for greater openness, especially since peoples from the ‘Third World’ are still represented in Eurocentric discourses as lacking agency, and the women are seen as being systematically subordinated and oppressed.

In Germany, I interviewed for the most part covered women. However, I encountered these women in a wide variety of settings, from casual meetings in the park to scheduled ones in schools and universities. The women also represented a diverse sample in terms of family background, level of education, and life-style choices.

The Turkish culture critic Deniz Kandiyoti ponders the return of both the physical veil and its metaphoric counterpart, chastity, in the following manner:

Modern [Turkish] women were thrust upon a public world of men whose habits of heterosocial interaction were restricted and shallow. This created unprecedented problems of identity management for women who had to devise new sets of signals and codes in order to function in the public realm without compromising their respectability. … This replacement of the physical veil by its metaphoric counterpart, chastity, was, at best, an unstable solution and one that failed to effectively dissociate modernity from potential sexual transgression. … Given the nature of this dilemma, it is hardly surprising that the search for new and more enabling expressions of femininity should take contradictory and sometimes conflictual forms. There is a sense in which the new veiling of the 1980s and 1990s may be bringing this inherent contradiction to its logical conclusion … (Emphases mine: KPM)


In the classroom:

Given the tensions underlying the debate about the ‘veil,’ I wanted to create a safe space in the classroom so that all students felt equally empowered to voice their opinions. Making choices in public is not as easy as it might sound. Too often, students do not stop to talk through the principles that really matter to them. Equally importantly, they do not stop to discover the deeply held principles of people who disagree with them on these issues. My goal with a ‘Deliberative Dialogue’ was to help my students discover or explain their perspectives, talk through different options, and even consider actions and consequences, acknowledge the trade-offs they are willing to accept in order to address a problem – in other words, deliberate!


Outline of the course:

In the following is an outline of the course “To veil or not to veil: Germany and Islam,” framed by the pedagogy of the Deliberative Dialogue:

We had roughly twelve weeks for the course. Fourteen students, eight female and six male students, enrolled in the course. The group was ethnically very diverse. We met twice a week, each time for one and half hours. We spent the first eight weeks of the semester gathering and sharing information about the headscarf debate—its origins, its development, possible reasons for its contentious nature. I identified five texts as prescribed reading for the course—Nilüfer Göle, The Forbidden Modern, Fatima Mernissi, Beyond the Veil, Horrocks and Kolinsky, Turkish Culture in German Society Today,  Deniz Göktürk, David Gramling, Anton Kaes, eds., Germany in Transit: Nation and Migration, 1955-2005, andIbrahim Kalin,“Western Perceptions of Islam”—to provide students with some background information. Additionally, as a group we looked daily for online resources, newspapers and other media print, and visuals (videos, films) to augment our knowledge base.

During the ninth and tenth week, I provided participants with the raw data of the interviews that I had conducted in Turkey (2006) and Germany (2007) with covered and uncovered Muslim women. After analyzing this data in group work during week eleven, they themselves interviewed representatives of faculty, staff, and students on our college campus, as well as from the local community, and wrote out their analyses of these texts as their final project for the semester.

During the last week of the semester, students were ready to engage in a Deliberative Dialogue about the Hijab. Kandiyoti’s words helped me formulate the issue for our Deliberative Dialogue as follows:

More and more women are re-appropriating the veil in many countries with a majority population of Muslims, whether under Islamic or secular governments. The veil is obviously symptomatic of something much more existential. What approaches would we advocate to assist in a thoughtful discussion about the issue of the ‘veil,’ based on the particular set of values and priorities that each of us possesses?

As part of my role as facilitator, I prepared three approaches that were broad enough in their scope to enable every participant to see her- or himself in the one or the other approach.

Approach one: Discuss underlying oppressive structures in other patriarchal religions in order to stop the systematic, undifferentiated vilification of Islam

All patriarchal cultures systematically value men more than women at all levels of society. Women are primarily seen as vehicles for procreation or as sex objects. Women’s sexuality is acknowledged in all these cultures, but aggressively suppressed/contained in various ways. Media representations of men as strong and powerful and women as passive or sexually threatening/ alluring perpetuate these attitudes. These stereotypes undervalue women, tolerate rape and domestic violence, and psychologically damage everyone, especially women who often struggle throughout their lives to find their own voice and to be recognized for their contributions.

Approach two: Try to understand the differences between Islam and Judeo-Christian societies, even if we consider certain cultural practices as oppressive to women

Islamic legal doctrines are based on female/male differences. We cannot interfere with the strict segregation and proscribed forbidden spaces for women that Islamic religion requires, even if we consider such segregation to be discriminatory towards women. We have to ask what Western liberal values we may be unreflectively validating in wanting ‘freedom’ and ‘agency’ for Muslim women. As long as we are writing for the West about “the other,” we are implicated in projects that establish Western authority and cultural difference. We have to look more closely at terms like modernity, secularism, civilization and their political significance in different cultures. Interference by organizations like the United Nations would be justified only in cases of extreme violations of human rights that lead to torture and death.

Approach three: Modernity is a universal concept and is the only guarantee of enlightened progress. Conseuently, we cannot condone the oppression of women in Islamic societies.

One must make sure that violence and oppression are not condoned under the mantel of cultural relativism. Islam condemns heterosexual relations as dangerous to the stability of the umma, i.e., the Islamic community. Although more and more Muslim women are in the workplace, their work is seen as not as desirable or worth as much in the marketplace as work typically done by men. We have to guarantee that these women can be in public spaces without fear of harassment and discrimination. Our own secular societies have made major strides in providing equal opportunities for everyone. It is our duty as citizens of the most powerful nation in the world to warn recalcitrant societies that further disenfranchisement of women will not be tolerated.

For each approach, participants discussed what ought to be done, and the dangers, drawbacks, and trade-offs associated with each.


Some tentative conclusions

The ensuing dialogue was invigorating, productive, and transformative. I felt that my goal in using the ‘Deliberative Dialogue’ was achieved because students took ownership of the issue, and were willing and able to question and transcend the binary categories of traditional/modern, Islam/West, reactionary/progressive, ignorant/educated that continue to inform our discourse in the West. Challenges to claims about the teachability of intercultural, intracultural, and international (i.e., communication between nations or governments) knowledge have been on the increase in the last decade.

Altmayer provides even more fuel for deliberation when he criticizes theories about the homogeneity of ‘culture’ that Deutsch als Fremdsprache has borrowed from the social sciences, especially from the field of psychology.(22) He points out that in such definitions ‘culture’ is seen as something universal, a typical system of orientation for a society, an organization, a group, that significantly influences the perceptions, thoughts, values, and actions of the members of the society concerned.

[nach Thomas sind] [Z]entrale Merkmale von ‚Kulturen‘ in diesem Sinn ... die so genannten ‚Kulturstandards‘, d.h. "alle Arten des Wahrnehmens, Denkens, Wertens und Handelns [...], die von der Mehrzahl der Mitglieder einer bestimmten Kultur für sich persönlich und andere als normal, selbstverständlich, typisch und verbindlich angesehen werden."(23)

Altmayer calls attention to the flawed premise underlying this concept that cultures are more or less clearly demarcated social entities, defined nationally or ethnically, who share common traits in behavior and thinking of which they are sometimes unaware, and which differentiates them from members of other ‘cultures.’

[...] Hinzu kommt, dass ein derart vereinfachender Begriff von ‚Kultur‘ eine Homogenität der ‚Kulturen‘ bzw. Nationalstaaten nach innen unterstellen muss, die es in dieser Ausschließlichkeit nie gegeben hat, die sich aber spätestens im Zeitalter der Globalisierung und der weltweiten Hybridisierung von ‚Kultur‘ als völlig obsolet und unhaltbar herausgestellt hat.(24)

DeVoss, Jasken, and Hayden examine in their very thought-provoking article “Teaching Intracultural and Intercultural Communication. A Critique and Suggested Method” the multiple challenges teachers of business and technical communication face in finding appropriate textbooks: “[Textbooks] are limited in how they help us think about these issues in more detailed and complicated ways.”(25) Assumptions about a homogeneous readership, about the ‘problematic’ nature of some cultures, and a general lack of appropriate context in talking about communication situations have made most textbooks ineffective, if not even harmful. As Miles notes, textbooks are powerful tools that “send messages (both intentional and unintentional) about the nature of a globalized curriculum and a globalized workplace. … [They] send messages not only about the content of courses, but also about attitudes, values, and assumptions”.(26) After examining fifteen best-selling business and technical communication textbooks published between 1994 and 2001, DeVoss et al conclude that “because the textbooks dedicate so little space to intercultural issues, the information tends to be vague or difficult to apply in workplace environments.” They also point out that “the limitations of these texts are certainly understandable, considering that they are expected to cover everything from stylistic recommendations to examples of technical documentation from a variety of genres."(27)

It is precisely the problematic nature of textbooks and their unrealistic claims that made me seek out other options. The ‘Deliberative Dialogue’-based teaching technique that this article has proposed provides students with authentic texts (newspaper articles, scholarly journals and books, videos, films, audio transcripts, cartoons) and challenges them to closely analyze these texts, releasing them from a dependence on unilateral, reductive textbooks. Such an approach enables students to understand that there are manifold perceptions of ‘culture,’ and that each definition needs to be examined, questioned, and modified. By listening to each other, and getting beyond debating and other adversarial ways of communicating, students develop a public voice, and are invariably transformed by this experience. They achieve common ground, which is the relationship they forge when they have to take action together, even when they do not fully concur with others’ convictions. They are able to imagine action at many levels and from a variety of angles because ‘Deliberative Dialogue’ allows for problems to be addressed in their full complexity. I believe that such a pedagogical tool offers educators a means to begin destabilizing the collecting programming of the mind that Hofstede makes transparent.(28)


Appendix I:

The media’s genealogy, German and non-German, of the Fereshta Ludin case:

On June 29, 2003 The New York Times reported that

…education officials prohibited …Ludin … from taking a public job because she wears a head scarf. The officials, from the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg where Ms. Ludin received her qualifications, contended that the head scarf could have a negative religious influence on schoolchildren. Ms. Ludin sued. Now, after being rejected by three lower courts, her case is before the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, Germany's highest court. The dispute has divided public opinion and become a touchstone for anxieties about the country's growing Islamic minority. Experts say that the court's decision, which is expected as early as July, could affect German integration policy for years to come.

(June 29, 2003, The New York Times)

A few months later, on September 24, 2003, Deutsche Welle reported:

Germany’s highest court on Wednesday confirmed the right of a female Muslim teacher to wear a headscarf in the classroom. The move lays to rest a long-standing row in Germany that has caused controversy all over Europe. Fereshta Ludin will be celebrating a victory on Wednesday, after the Federal Constitutional Court (BVG) ruled in her favor and said Stuttgart school authorities were wrong to bar her from a teaching job because she insisted on wearing a headscarf in the classroom.

On October 10, 2003 The Christian Science Monitor recounted that

…following a decision by Germany's highest court, allowing teacher Fereshta Ludin to wear her head scarf in class as long as there are no state laws against it...a majority of German states, including Berlin, have announced plans to pass such laws. In the debate that has ensued, politicians and Muslim leaders have begun to ask some serious questions about the place their religion and identity holds in a Europe rooted in Christianity and Judaism, but with a growing Muslim population.

On April 1, 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an Associated Press article that reported,

A conservative German state on Thursday became the nation's first to ban Muslim teachers from wearing headscarves in public schools, … The measure could be open to challenge because Germany's Supreme Court ruled last year that teachers are allowed to wear headscarves unless state laws ban them, and that any such laws should treat all religions equally. … In Thursday's debate in the state capital, Stuttgart, state education minister Annette Schavan said the headscarf was 'part of the history of women's suppression' while Christian symbols were part of Western tradition. She also alluded to many Germans' view that the headscarf is an Islamic political symbol. 'The headscarf has no place in school because of its ambiguous symbolism,' Schavan said.


Appendix II:

“What is deliberative democracy?

Deliberative democracy is a term that signifies an approach to democracy that puts citizens at the center of the political process and that is more "voice-centered" than "vote-centered." In this conception of democracy, citizens play a more robust role from the local to the global levels in helping to set the public agenda and to decide about what will be the broad directions for public policy. They are expected to meet in public to discuss, debate and deliberate their reasons for the claims they make and to link their efforts and ideas with those of their elected and appointed representatives in public office. Deliberative democracy is animated by the idea that public deliberation and dialogue are essential for better and fairer solutions to public problems, a stronger sense of legitimacy for public processes and institutions, and greater social unity and solidarity in society, in general.

What is deliberative dialogue?

Deliberative dialogue is a set of practices for communicating with others and addressing common problems and issues. These practices enable people to talk about difficult issues not only on the basis of knowledge, facts, and professional expertise, but also from the perspective of their deeper concerns, values and personal experience. These practices help participants speak not only as individuals, but as members of a community, not only as groups with competing interests, but also as a community with shared interests, concerns and goals.

Deliberative dialogues are structured conversations of varying lengths and formats with ground rules and a discussion guide that lays out a range of possible approaches to an issue—an issue book or an issue brief—that participants move through with the help of a trained moderator. The ground rules encourage participants to listen to each other, and to get beyond debating and other adversarial ways of communicating. Discussion guides or issue books/briefs frame the issue in a way that helps participants wrestle with choices and tradeoffs associated with making tough public policy decisions. Moderators encourage participants to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of various approaches to an issue that are laid out in the issue book or brief, and to reach for common ground in creating general directions for acting together. This is what is called doing "choice work". Deliberative dialogues are not debates, nor are they casual or superficial conversations. They involve thinking and reasoning together and working through conflicting possible choices with others in an effort to reach some common understandings and decisions about how to address and take action on an issue.

Why use deliberative dialogue to address public issues?

When citizens engage in deliberative dialogue about an issue and when a community has a habit of asking its members to make choices, the directions that are chosen often are better and they have a legitimacy that simply doesn't exist otherwise. Citizens catch the bug of being engaged and of taking ownership of problems. They talk about what they can do, not what others ought to do.

Deliberative dialogue is a way of making a connection with others in your community that you don't usually interact with and to an issue that can often feel too big to influence or too impersonal to relate to directly. Participants in deliberative dialogue forums are able to see their personal stake in public issues because they are encouraged to draw on their own values, concerns and life experiences as well as on pertinent facts and technical information in addressing those problems. And because they are doing this in the company of others engaged in the same thing, they are able to make stronger connections to others, especially with those whom they might not otherwise associate.

Participants in these dialogues develop a public voice, and they are transformed by that experience. Someone who may seem intellectually unable or inarticulate will begin to show their thoughtfulness and develop their ability to speak with more facility about issues in public. The practice has a way of sensitizing people to the life experiences and interests of people that are significantly different from themselves. So, as they become more active and powerful participants in their communities, they also become more empathetic. They develop into stronger and more confident individuals while simultaneously becoming more connected to others, and often with people they have not been able to relate to before. When citizens develop these qualities and capacities, the conditions for significant social change are in place. People are enabled to act differently because they have learned to talk and listen to each other differently.

And often something new—some new understanding, some new insight or idea for acting differently to address a problem—gets created as a result, an idea that no one individual or group of individuals had in mind fully going into the dialogue. When that happens—as it almost always does to some degree—one realizes the truth of the idea that we are more together than we are alone.

The kind of action that follows is a rich array of varied and collaborative efforts that reinforce one another. They spring spontaneously and unpredictably from the connections and sense of interdependence that are forged by the practice of dialogue. Action will be imagined at many levels and from a variety of angles because deliberative dialogue allows for problems to be addressed in their full complexity and authentic thickness.

What issues can be addressed using deliberative dialogue?

Deliberative dialogue can be used to deal with a wide variety of issues including education, social security, foreign policy, health care, and the challenges of biotechnology. The particular approach used by the NECCL has been developed and refined over the last 20 years by the Kettering Foundation of Dayton, Ohio and the many people who organize and moderate National Issues Forums (NIF) across the country. National Issues Forums are deliberative dialogues among adult citizens primarily on issues important in their communities and in the nation. Recent NIF forum booklets include:

Some examples of locally framed issues include:

What is an issue book and an issue brief?

Deliberative dialogues often use a certain kind of discussion guide to help facilitate public deliberation—the making of choices together. Public issues and community problems often present us with a variety of choices for understanding and acting on a problem. We find that polarization is avoided and productive dialogue and deliberation are encouraged when issues are presented with more than two sides, which is the way citizens actually tend to relate to issues. Issue books or issue briefs frame an issue in terms of three and sometimes four approaches or choices. (Issue briefs are shorter, at-a-glance versions of the choices for deliberation.) Less than three seems to promote debate and more than four gets too unwieldy for group discussion.

These various approaches often conflict with each other and have tension between and within them mirroring the conflicts and tensions that are among and within the participants as well. The issue book or brief provides a brief overview of the problem and presents three or four "choices" or approaches one at a time. Each choice includes a general statement of the problem from the perspective of supporters of that choice, a few of the best arguments for the position, and a list of a few possible actions that could be taken and the likely tradeoffs associated with them. As participants deliberate on each of the very different and conflicting choices, they try to discover what they value most about each approach, what costs and consequences they think they can live with and what future actions they would more or less support together.

How are issues framed for deliberation?

Framing issues and developing issue books or briefs is one thing we do to help along the process of deliberation. It is a difficult and time-consuming process that requires some training and experience, but it has many rewards. When we frame an issue well, we capture the most fundamental concerns that are behind the ways people see a problem. The goal is to make sure everyone can see themselves in the choices or approaches they're asked to consider. When this is accomplished it can encourage citizen participation. Framing an issue well—for public deliberation—requires "working through" the following steps, ideally with a group which represents the diverse views in a community: Identifying people's concerns, grouping like concerns and perspectives, bringing the problem into focus, recognizing the tensions, outlining the benefits and drawbacks of each approach, listing the actions and trade-offs, and testing the framework.

What is the purpose of having issues framed in terms of choices for action?

Having the choices framed ahead of time by others helps participants in the deliberative dialogue forum get quickly into the meat of an issue and forces them to come to grips with the major tensions and trade-offs associated with it. The choices are not meant to be exhaustive and participants are encouraged to bring up ideas that they feel aren't included in the framework. But a well-developed issue framework should provide the building blocks for the group's work of co-creating a general sense of direction for where they want to go on an issue. The objective in a deliberative dialogue is not to take a vote at the end on which choice individuals prefer. Rather, the goal is to arrive at a better common understanding of the issue through a thorough examination of the major choices we have in relation to it. Ultimately, participants are trying to discover and create some sense of common ground among them upon which future action might be taken, creating their own approach which may involve parts of some or all of the choices in the framework of the issue book.

What is common ground? How is it different from compromise or consensus?

Discovering and creating common ground for action is the goal of deliberative dialogue. It is often created out of a discovery of shared concerns and interests among participants, or at least a better understanding and acceptance of why people hold valuable the things they do. Common ground is more than a compromise, where parties agree to disagree and split the difference, and less than consensus where the objective is to arrive at like-mindedness on an issue. Common ground, on the other hand, is that place (or those places) where participants can see how their goals are shareable, their values overlap and their interests intersect with those of others. It is the basis for win/win solutions to problems, where all parties in the dialogue have had their concerns and interests heard and accommodated to some degree in the decisions made.

Common ground for action describes the relationship we have when we must take action together, even when we do not fully agree about our convictions. When you think about it, much of our daily decision making is in the area between agreement and disagreement. We usually don't fully agree with or fully disagree with others. We don't often give up our convictions to other people. But we do find ways to work with others—sometimes even if we don't particularly like them. That is the reality that common ground for action attempts to address.

Deliberative dialogue is that form of talking that helps us to address differences of conviction. If we differ in conviction, we can't have consensus and we are very unlikely to compromise. What we do is find over-lapping self-interests that enable us to take action together. That behavior is common ground for action.”(29)



1 Professor Manfred Stassen (Johns Hopkins University, Washington, D.C.), “How much “Inter” is too much? Intercultural communication and its discontents,” paper read at the international conference Communication over Boundaries – Current Approaches towards Intercultural Understanding, January 7-9, 2008, University of Pune, Department of Foreign Languages, Pune, India.
2 As cited in Schulz, Renate, John L. Lalande II, Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim, Helene Zimmer-Loew, and Charles James, “In Pursuit of Cultural Competence in the German Language Classroom: Recommendations of the AATG Task Force on the Teaching of Culture,” in Die Unterrichtspraxis – Teaching German 38, 2 (2005), pp. 172 – 181 (hereinafter referred to as “Schulz et al.”), 173.
3 Erickson, Robbi. “Intracultural and Intercultural Causes of Stereotypes.” December 23,2005 (
4 Lustig, Myron, and Jolene Koester. Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication across Cultures. New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
5 New England Center for Civic Life—Strengthening Democracy Through Public Deliberation and Dialogue  (
6 Definitions of culture (
7 Hofstede, G. (1984). “National cultures and corporate cultures,” in L.A. Samovar & R.E. Porter (Eds.), Communication Between Cultures. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 51.
8 Heike Henderson, “Beyond Currywurst and Döner: The Role of Food in German Multicultural Literature and Society,” Glossen, Oktober 2004. Published at Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA. Retrieved May 2006 from
9 Schulz et al.
10 Schulz et al.
11 Michael Byram, ed. Routledge Encyclopedia of Language Teaching and Learning. London: Routledge, 2000.
12 See Appendix II for a detailed description of the Deliberative Dialog as articulated by the New England Center for Civic Life.
13 Editorial: “Intolerance in Europe.” Retrieved March 2007 from
14 Cf. n. 4.
15 Jody K. Biehl in Berlin, “The Whore Lived Like a German.” Retrieved March 2006 from,1518,344374,00.html.
16 See Appendix I for a genealogy of the Ludin case!
17 Andreas Tzortzis, “Germany divided over hijab,” Christian Science Monitor (online). Retrieved February 2005 from
18 Leslie Adelson, The Turkish Turn in Contemporary German Literature (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan 2005), 129.
29 Adelson, 129.
20 Quoted in Seyhan, 5.
21 Seyhan, 6.
22 Altmayer, Claus (2002). „Kulturelle Deutungsmuster in Texten. Prinzipien und Verfahren einer kulturwissenschaftlichen Textanalyse im Fach Deutsch als Fremdsprache.“ Zeitschrift für Interkulturellen Fremdsprachenunterricht. Retrieved March 10, 2008 from, 6.
23 Altmayer, 6.
24 Altmayer, 6.
25 Danielle DeVoss, Julia Jaskin and Dawn Hayden, “Teaching Intracultural and Intercultural Communication: A Critique and Suggested Method,” in Journal of Business and Technical Communication. Retrieved May 25, 2007, from, 5.
26 Libby Miles, “Globalizing Professional Writing Curricula: Positioning Students and Re-Positioning Textbooks,” Technical Communication Quarterly 6 (1997): 179:200 (here: 181)
27 DeVoss et al., 5.
28 I am in the process of compiling summaries of the final deliberative dialog and the various recommendations the students made for civic action. I hope to publish these findings along with a more detailed account of my research and interviews on the headscarf in a forthcoming book tentatively entitled To Veil or not to Veil: Turkey, Germany, and the Shifting Boundaries of Alterity.
29 Some other sources for information about the democratic process known as deliberative dialogue:

3.2. Transcontinental Transfer of Literature and Arts to Transform Traditional Societies

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