Are Muslim immigrants making Europe "poorer and stupider"?
"Intellectual arsonist" or "The ghost writer of a frightened society"?
German economist and author Thilo Sarrazin (65)
BACK IN THE RESTLESS 1990s, when the German far right was undergoing yet another short-lived rebirth into the political mainstream, the racist Republican Party under the leadership of ex-Nazi and SS man Franz Schönhuber used to put up what I still regard as the most remarkable political poster ever. Printed in the nationalist colors black, white, and red, it simply displayed the words: “We say what you think.” Today, another German politician has been making headlines in recent weeks for also saying aloud what millions of Europeans fervently believe but rarely dare to put into words. His explosive new book Germany is Abolishing Itself appeared on store shelves this morning, and the future of European politics may depend on what happens next.
Thilo Sarrazin has courted controversy ever since he became finance senator (i.e. finance minister) of Berlin in 2002, before transferring to the board of directors of Deutsche Bank last year. But nothing in his upbringing suggested that this skilled economist would eventually rise to become the “great white hope”of the German right. Sarrazin was born to a successful Westphalian doctor and his wife, the daughter of an East Prussian aristocrat, in the last weeks of the Second World War. The bookish youth attended an exclusive humanistic Gymnasium and studied economics at the University of Bonn, where he earned a doctorate in 1973. He later joined the progressive leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD) and played a significant role in stage-managing the currency union between East and West Germany in 1990.
As finance senator, Sarrazin quickly gained a reputation as a hardcore cost-cutter, slashing welfare benefits and making disparaging remarks about Berlin’s unemployed and its large Muslim immigrant population. He has never been a believer in political correctness. For example, in 2002 he reacted sharply to complaints about his plan to raise children’s preschool fees, complaining that “people act as if the [Berlin] Senate is sending the children to concentration camps.” When challenged for claiming that welfare recipients should learn to feed themselves on no more than four Euros per day, he famously replied that “losing weight is the least of their problems.”
It is therefore no surprise that Sarrazin is offering readers a repeat performance in his new 464 page book, Germany is Abolishing Itself – How We Are Putting Our Country At Risk, which comes bound in an eye-catching black, red, and white cover. The only surprise comes in the vehemence of his arguments – and the bluntness of his anti-Muslim bias. “From an economic perspective, we don’t need Muslim immigration to Europe,” he writes. On the contrary: Muslim immigrants are making Germany – and the rest of the continent – poorer and stupider.
"Germanness is HOT"
Poster of the anti-immigrant Republican Party
Sarrazin sees Germany's predicament in biological terms. “The problem is not that the number of descendants of people with an advanced education shrinks from generation to generation,” Sarrazin writes. “That would not be so important if all people were equally gifted, because then education would be a mere question of upbringing. But since the education level and inherited intelligence impact one another, this represents a negative trend over time for the population’s intellectual potential when people with a high educational level show below average fertility and people with low education show an above average fertility.” As a result, “human evolution ultimately depends on the process of natural selection: The genetic material of those who survive the best and reproduce the most spreads. Since the survival chances in modern society are identical, the genes of those with the highest fertility are spread the farthest.”
Islam itself represents a serious challenge for Europe, as women remain oppressed and sharia law takes root across the continent. “In no other religion is there such an easy crossover to violence, dictatorship, and terrorism.” Sarrazin goes on to say that “in Berlin 20 percent of all acts of violence are committed by only 1,000 Turkish and Arab youths, a population group that represents 0.3 percent of the entire Berlin population.” He believes the problem is exacerbated by a culture of machismo and misogyny that threatens European values and may pull the rest of the continent down with it. Sarrazin points out that only 14 percent of Muslim young people finish the advanced secondary school (Gymnasium) and 30 percent do not complete their school education at all, a figure greatly at odds with those measured among native Germans and the children of immigrants from Asia. In the meantime, Muslims choose to smooch off the German welfare state and refuse to assimilate. “I do not want to become a stranger in my own country,” Sarrazin says.
What is to be done? Sarrazin's prescription is a bitter medicine indeed. Of course greater assimilation is necessary, including language courses and a ban on head scarves and other symbols of female oppression. And yet, “the only reasonable course of action can be to put a general halt to further immigration from the Middle East and Africa. This will, of course, require countering the high and growing immigration pressure with all due energy.”
The German press has been publishing excerpts from the book for the past week and it has also interviewed Sarrazin himself, whose spoken statements only increase the frenzy. In a major interview for the Berliner Morgenpost on Sunday, Sarrazin stated glibly that “all Jews share a certain gene. Basques have certain genes that distinguish them from others.” Sarrazin’s critics from the left gleefully compare passages from Sarrazin’s book with strangely similar statements in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, particularly the Führer's infamous chapter on “Volk and Race.” But Sarrazin’s protests that “I am not a racist. When you read my book, you will know that I have traced the integration problems of Muslim immigrants in Europe to their Islamic cultural background.”
Berlin's popular annual Carneval of Cultures
What's the point if Muslim women can only watch
from their apartment windows?
Sarrazin himself has noted the irony in his position and his personal biography: His own family is descended from French Huguenot immigrants from Lyons. The name “Sarrazin,” a common one in southern France, in turn derives from the Saracens, Muslim Arab pirates who terrorized the Mediterranean in the Middle Ages. “As a young man, with a black mustache and thick hair, wearing a parka and jeans, I looked more Turkish than many Turks," he says. "I wouldn’t have stood out in [Berlin’s largely Turkish neighborhood of] Kreuzberg.”
The political and journalist reaction has been fierce, similar to that shown to Richard Herrnstein's and Charles Murray's comparable The Bell Curve in 1994. Chancellor Merkel is said to be outraged at Sarrazin’s provocation. SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel is pressing Sarrazin to resign from the SPD, whereas other forces are trying to get him fired from the board of the Deutsche Bank. The head of the German Central Council of Jews has sarcastically told him to go and join the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD). Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung columnist Frank Schirrmacher calls Sarrazin “the ghost writer of a frightened society.” The Mannheimer Morgen calls him "an intellectual arsonist." Azize and Gabriele Gün Tank, who are both integration officers in Berlin, have filed charges against him for “incitement of the people” and call him “a threat to democracy.” In the meantime, far-right politicians are eager to welcome him into their ranks. The anti-Islam “Pro Deutschland” organization, which runs candidates in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, has already offered him the chairmanship of their party.
Not a man to mince words
But the popular reaction has been remarkably positive. Just listen to any talk radio show, look at online message boards, or check out the readers’ responses on Amazon Books (42 people gave it 5 stars and only 10 gave it 1 star). Sarrazin, we learn, is “a man who tells unpopular truths,” “whom politicians fear because they want to win the next election.” Sarrazin “tells it like it is.” In short, he says what most people already think.
Sarrazin’s book fits into a recent pattern of hardening attitudes towards Muslim immigrants who fail to assimilate. The Scandinavian comic controversy, the burka ban in several European countries, the minaret ban in Switzerland, construction bans on various mosque projects across the continent, and a range of new books and initiatives are all evidence of a profound shift in opinion. In fact, the content of Sarrazin’s book is in no way original. What is unusual about it, however, is the depth and precision of its research and the respectability of its elitist author – who in his attitude and demeanor bears more than a superficial resemblance to Hjalmar Schacht, the respectable, progressive star economist who eventually joined Hitler’s Nazi government and helped transform the Third Reich into an economic and military power house. Ever since 1945, the far right has been kept away from power by its vulgarity more than anything else. An image makeover could change that.
"A fanatical bureaucrat" and "Mr. Respectability":
Reichsbank president and Nazi finance
minister Hjalmar Schacht (1877-1970)
(Source: Wiki Commons)
No, Sarrazin is no Nazi, although he and those who identify with him share the potential to develop into one of the classic definitions of a Nazi: a fanatical bureaucrat with a sense of mission. Because skinheads and storm troopers are not particularly dangerous in themselves. They are tools of those in power. It is nationalists equipped with power and brains who make an authoritarian order possible.
Am I exaggerating the potential threat emanating from Sarrazin’s book? Yes, I probably am. But history is a funny thing: you never know what will be considered important later on. And yet, it could be – it could just possibly be – that today, August 30, 2010, will at some far future date be remembered as the day when the European far right became respectable once more.