A Turk at the Top By Michael Giglio Politician Cem Özdemir is set to soon become Germany's first national party leader of Turkish descent. As head of the Green Party, he will break through a glass ceiling that still persists for most of the country's estimated 2.5 million ethnic Turks. (...) Özdemir became a political cult hero in 1994, when, at 28, he became the first person of Turkish descent to enter Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. Now an influential member of the European Parliament in Brussels with three books and countless public appearances under his belt, the charismatic politician recently acquired the aura of a future titan within the country's influential Green Party. Nine days earlier, Volker Ratzmann withdrew from the November 14 race for the party's top leadership post, clearing the way for Özdemir to claim another high-profile milestone as the first member of an ethnic minority to lead a German national party. Drink in hand, wearing jeans and a grey blazer along with his trademark beatnik sideburns, and surrounded at last by his wife and some friends, he now takes the opportunity to give a brief history of the Turkish term for "cheers." It started when the American military occupied Istanbul after World War II, he explains over the rock music from the stage below. "Serefe" derives from the English "sheriff" and is used in semi-formal situations. Best friends or brothers, meanwhile, would say "deputy," and you use the deferential "marshall" with people like your boss. "By the way," he says after taking a few sips. "Don't ever tell that to a Turkish person. Because I just made it up." Özdemir, who was born and raised in conservative Swabia, a region in the southern German state of Baden-Württemburg, has riffed on his role as de facto spokesman for the Turkish people since the days when schoolmates approached him and asked questions about things like how Muslims drink. (The response then was an elaborate ritual that involved sprinkling the drink in everyone's face, in the spirit of Islam's call for sharing. Özdemir is a self-described secular Muslim.) Known for his impeccable High German, he also speaks the Swabian dialect, something he likes to use as a "friendly provocation" to those who consider him a foreigner. But his Turkish roots help to define him as well. The son of guest workers, his books have titles like "Currywurst and Döner," "I am a Native" and "Turkey." He decided to run for the national parliament after a 1993 arson attack in Solingen killed five Turkish women and children, he says, "in order to help symbolize that things are changing, just by having a foreign-sounding name, a name which doesn't sound like a typical German name." Özdemir got his start in environmental politics, but upon his arrival in the Bundestag he was tasked with integration and immigration. Özcan Mutlu, a Green member of the Berlin parliament, calls that political portfolio "box with a tag: Migrant/Integration issues" -- a political purgatory to which ethnic Turks have long been confined. Özdemir has managed to escape it by establishing himself as decidedly more than just a Turkish spokesman. "If I were somebody who stood as a symbol, who wasn't really competing, it would have been maybe easier. We had that type of candidate for a while," Özdemir says. "That has changed with my generation, because we don't want that. We want to be where the others are. And we want to compete." 'You Are always the Turkish One' Of the 82 million people living in Germany, the 2.5 million ethnic Turks form the largest minority. Since first arriving as guest workers in the 1960s, however, they have remained estranged from mainstream society. This holds true in politics, where just five of the Bundestag's 613 members claim Turkish heritage and the number of Turks holding elected office throughout all levels of government -- including local, state and national -- typically hovers around 80. Those who do get elected find what Lale Akgün, a Social Democrat in the Bundestag, describes as a "glass ceiling" once in office. "This society thinks very ethnically," she says. "You are always the Turkish one. So it's very difficult to be a normal member of a party." Mutlu, who oversees education, recalls struggling to convince his Green colleagues that politicians with immigrant backgrounds could address things other than migrant issues. He says Özdemir faces the same problem with the general public, which he believes remains hesitant about having ethnic-Turkish politicians in positions of power. "He has to convince many, many people that he is the right person," Mutlu says. "There are still some people who don't agree with the idea of having a person of Turkish descent running for chairman." But it's not just voters who need to be convinced. After he decided to run for his party's chair, Özdemir's staff started a Facebook group called "Yes We Cem." It has 293 members. (Barack Obama's, by comparison, has over 700,000.) Grassroots campaigns just aren't the same in Germany. (...) Cem Özdemir is about becoming chairman of the Green Party in Germany link But aren't Muslims dangerous? Don't they want to impose Sharia law on us and destroy our way of life? Here the answer: link Özdemir was the patron of the 2007 Christopher Street Day in Stuttgart. "Lesbians and gays still fight for their acknowledgment as natural part of our society, in family politics, for the equality of homosexual couples with heterosexual couples, against discrimination at the workplace or in everyday life", he wrote. So him becoming chairman of one of the five major parties in Germany is a first step towards Sharia law? Really?