Thilo Sarrazin and the politics of political correctness

When best selling German author Thilo Sarrazin arrives in Australia for the Centre for Independent Studies Big Ideas Forum his hosts will promote him as a courageous opponent of political correctness while his critics will denounce him as a racist.

Sarrazin’s 2010 book Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab (Germany Abolishes Itself) warns that Germany risks being overwhelmed by the descendents of poorly educated, poorly integrated Muslim migrants. It set off a huge controversy within Germany that quickly spread across Europe.

But if the aim of political correctness is to silence dissenting voices, it wasn’t particularly effective. Sarrazin’s book went on to sell over a million copies. Last year he told the New York Times : “As an author who had something to say and who wanted to influence the public debate, I could not be happier.”

The price of this popular success has been relentless criticism and exclusion by members of Germany’s political elite. As a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP) and a board member of the Bundesbank Sarrazin’s views attracted considerable attention. Not wanting to be associated with his views, both the central bank board and members of the SDP leadership took steps to expel him. In the end, he resigned from the Bundesbank but was allowed to remain in the SDP (after making an apology and agreeing to abide by party principles).

Had Sarrazin been a member of a fringe right wing party, his views would not have attracted this kind of attention. But as a member Germany political and institutional establishment, his peers believed they would be tainted by his views if they did not take action against him. According a report in Spiegel Online, the Central Council of Jews in Germany suggested Sarrazin join the extreme right-wing party, the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) arguing: "That would at least make it clearer where he stands in the debate and would unburden the SPD."

What Sarrazin says

In a review for the New York Review of Books, Timothy Garton Ash describes Sarrazin’s book as: "a huge, indigestible pot of goulash, mixing numerous statistical tables and bullet-point lists, of the kind you might find in a German finance ministry internal report, with amateur history and philosophy, fragments of autobiography, and a meandering rant about Islam and the decline of the West."

In an interview on the BBC’s World Have Your Say program, Sarrazin explained that his book dealt with three issues. First Germany’s native born population is in decline, he said. Each generation is smaller than the one before. Second, the brightest people are having the fewest babies. And third, Germany was attracting the wrong kinds of immigrants. Instead of attracting qualified, professional people, Germany was taking in migrants from countries where educational levels were low and people had difficulty integrating into German society.

As Garton Ash writes, he uses these points to "conjure a nightmare scenario in which, by the year 2100, a dwindling puddle of perhaps as few as twenty million true German Germans are dominated and pushed around by the descendants of Turkish and other Muslim immigrants, who build mosques and ‘Koran schools’ while the country’s ‘churches, castles and museums’ fall into decay."

Muslim immigrants are the crux of the problem according to Sarrazin. He says that 90 per cent of Germany’s immigrants are from Muslim countries but this group are far less likely to achieve in education and employment and far more likely to rely on welfare. He explains this lack of success in terms of cultural factors related to the Muslim religion. He also says that Muslims tend to keep to themselves and resist integration.

According to Sarrazin, non-Muslim migrants are almost indistinguishable from the native born population in terms of economic and social success. Migrants from countries like Vietnam or Poland seem to have no problem integrating and getting ahead. "This is the core of the scandal," he says, "the economic and integrational success of groups can be explained by factors within the group itself."

Critics accuse Sarrazin of arguing that Muslim migrants are genetically inferior. While he rejects this charge he seems happy to suggest that Jews have been successful because they have superior intelligence. On World Have Your Say he said:

We know that the success of the Jewish people in countries all over the world, economic success, is far above average and the scientific success as well. And we also know that the measured intelligence of the Jewish people is also above average and we know that part of the human intelligence, not all of it, is inherited. These are facts which explain themselves.

When questioned he insists that the relationship does not work the other way around. The failure of Muslim immigrants cannot be explained by genetics.

Asked about the policy implications of his views, Sarrazin argues that Muslim migrants already settled in Germany should be forced to integrate. This means offering incentives and exerting pressure: "For example, people who don’t send their children to school don’t get the child allowances anymore."

One of the implications of integration is that Muslim women should abandon the headscarf. "If you wear the headscarf it’s your own choice" he tells a Muslim woman who questions him about his views. "But if you wear the headscarf you should not be surprised if you are regarded by your environment as something separate. Those who wear the headscarf in Germany separate themselves from the mainstream of the society and it’s their own choice."

Why all the fuss?

Sarrazin repeatedly claims that his facts speak for themselves. But at times he seems to just make them up. For example, in a 2009 interview for the German edition of Lettre Internationale he said:

I don’t need to respect anyone who lives off this state, rejects this state, does not properly provide for the education of his children, and constantly produces new headscarf-girls. That’s true of 70 percent of the Turkish and 90 percent of the Arab population in Berlin (quoted in Garton Ash).

In the same interview he claimed that many of Berlin’s Arab and Turkish population had no productive purpose besides the fruit and vegetable trade and said that it was a scandal that Turkish boys would not listen to female teachers because of their culture.

It’s comments like these that have provoked much of the criticism. As Garton Ash argues, writers like Paul Scheffer have already criticised Western Europe’s immigration and multiculturalism policies. But Scheffer book The Immigrants "obviously never had a chance of becoming a best seller, since it was well-informed, accurate, nuanced, moderate, and sensitive."

The juste milieu of a consensus society?

Sarrazin argues that the reaction to his book and public statements signals deeper problem in German society. On the BBC’s World Have Your Say he said:

It always takes courage to express an opinion which is not shared by everybody and in the Germany it is getting more and more difficult to have this courage because most people are not very courageous and those people who are cautious think twice before they express their opinions. This is a development which can endanger the democracy. What I experienced over what I have experienced over the last few months was extraordinary.

Others argue that a little more caution might be a good idea. If Germany needs to attract highly skilled, highly educated migrants from outside of Europe, is it really a good idea to encourage a climate of hostility towards one of the world’s largest religions?

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conrad
conrad
10 years ago

This reminds me of the Bell Curve 20 years on (at least the German version of it), although since people didn’t worry too much about religion in 1994 in the US, marginalizing blacks seemed like a good idea instead. Unfortunately, no-one actually offers any decent solutions to the real problems (like how to get German woman to have more kids), and most of it seems to ends up as the equivalent of calling the social-out group a bunch of monkeys in a more intellectual manner. It’s also curious that he didn’t look across the border at France, where the local population has many more kids (presumably because women can actually work in France with kids, unlike Germany), the Arabs don’t seem to wear head scarfs etc. . Despite this, people can still think of reasons to dislike them, so unless the two groups share entirely different problems, the superficial differences noted are presumably just manisfestiations of the problem and not what the problem really is.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

said that it was a scandal that Turkish boys would not listen to female teachers because of their culture.

On this note, and completely ott (sorry!), Conrad, have you seen La Journée de la Jupe?

This particular problem is not entirely made-up. But it isn’t their parents’ culture at fault.

Paul Montgomery
Paul Montgomery
10 years ago

This is the sort of awesome, thoroughly researched, level-headed post that keeps me coming back to the Club. Just thought I should say that out loud, instead of lurking all the time. :)

Paul Frijters
Paul Frijters
10 years ago

I follow the internal European immigration debates and when I see posts like this I wonder what the Europeans who denounce people like Sarrazin would make of the highly selective policy that Australia has had for decades now. I did not read Sarrazin, but if I read the post correctly, Sarrazin is calling for Germany to adopt the policies Australia already has, and is worried about the people Germany has let in that were simply not let in here in the first place. It is the kind of situation that calls for either silence or extreme mental agility. I see Don is very careful not to judge either way.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

Paul, I haven’t read Sarrazin either (I assume it’s in German), however I have read a number of reviews, and they sound pretty much the same as what one reads in France about the Tunisians and Moroccans. I think there are also a few points which people don’t separate well.

One is that which you mention, which is that you could have a smarter immigration policy than Europe has generally pursued and is probably necessary given the population structure in some of those countries. Sarrazin’s view differs from the Australian view in that he’s happy to exclude people based on culture, although a harder look at what has actually happened in Australia shows that we’re happy to as well — the quick shift away from Africans to “people of our neighborhood” or whatever it was shows this, and I would suspect that if we were giving Malaysia 800 Burmese and getting 4000 Afghanis back, that deal would never have been struck.

The second is that there are underperforming groups, and you can measure this 20 different ways if you want. This of course is no surprise to anybody with eyeballs, but then just complaining and saying it’s because they don’t integrate well and stick together (and if they were just to give up their scarfs that would make things so much better…) isn’t exactly helping anyone and nor is it correct. For example, I assume that, like where I’ve lived in Melbourne, in Germany there are Orthodox Jews that keep to themselves (more than second generation Germans of Turkish heritage or Tunisians and Moroccans in France I’ll bet), have their own religion and wear funny and oppressive looking clothes (especially on Saturday in hot weather). However, almost no-one complains about them, so integration clearly isn’t the problem, the problem is the groups are poor, they don’t meet the standards of white Germans, and because they’re poor they create crime etc. .

Now one might ask whether religion or their culture is responsible for this. The blame from people like Sarrazin almost always rests entirely with the other group. But this can’t be correct, because if you look at some of these groups in other countries (like the US and Australia), they’re successful enough that no-one is bothering to complain about them much (there are more than 100,000 Turks in Australia), and it’s not like the first generation wouldn’t wish that their kids become doctors, engineers, and other such profession. So the real problem is the interaction between the cultures, including presumably just low level things like the looks of the two groups (I won’t employ you because you look funny..), which has led to one group being highly marginalized in terms of jobs and employment, with the inevitable consequences. To me this suggests that the Germans themselves are at least partly to blame for this — if you’re going to invite a whole lot of strange people into your country, you really need to make sure that they don’t get constantly marginalized by the majority population. If they get jobs and are not bothered too much, like in Aus and the US, then they won’t cause you problems.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

All of that Conrad, which I mainly agree with, seem to leave you blaming socialist labour laws! I agree with that too (of course) but I wonder how many other people do?

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

Patrick, I agree that socialist labour laws are probably responsible for some part of the difference between countries (the ones you are thinking of are really restricted to some socialist countries incidentally, not all). If you can easily hire and fire people, it’s obviously far easier to hire an individual that you might be prejudiced against if you know you can get rid of them easily too. That can’t be the whole story though since even without socialist labour laws it is still costly to replace employees in many instances.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

Wouldn’t Denmark be a good test? I gather that hiring and firing there is relatively straightforward – to what degree do they have a problem with recent non-Western immigrants finding jobs?

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

Well, it would be, wizofaus, if Denmark wasn’t an insular and restrictive country which didn’t really believe in multiculturalism with non-white people: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article489146.ece

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

Patrick, I think that’s one of the other major factors (actually interactions) — if you have restrictive labour laws or populations that are just xenophobic, then some groups won’t get anywhere. The third interaction is between the culture of the group — some groups look like they succeed no matter what, even if they get discriminated against (e.g., Southern Chinese). Of course, they’d probably do even better if they wern’t, so that’s still a loss to the country that has them. It also leads to consequences as, for example, the types of jobs the model minority groups tend to do is more restricted because of this, and then the majority population complains about that (too many Chinese doctors…).

I think this proves that if you are a minority group that looks physically different to the majority population, it doesn’t matter whether you are poorer, about the same, or richer (e.g., Chinese) than the majority population, they will still find something to dislike about you that they will then complain about. They’ll then complain when you decide to live with other people of your own group even though they don’t want you in their neighborhood anyway.

wizofaus
wizofaus
10 years ago

Patrick, wow, thanks for that. Certainly rather dulls my enthusiasm for thinking of Copenhagen as potentially a pretty decent sort of place to try living in for a while (I’m eligible for a British passport, but my partner is a Japanese citizen).

Michael
Michael
10 years ago

It looks as if Don Arthur hasn’t read Sarrazin’s book, but tries to give some kind of “balanced” commentary between supporters and critics of the man. The article gets off to a bad start by setting up a tension between those who “promote him as as a courageous opponent of political correctness” and those who “denounce him as a racist”. The former is a bit over the top because Sarrazin simply raises matters of great importance in the face of PC, and the latter is completely wrong as neither Sarrazin’s argumentation nor his conclusions are in any way racially based.

Even more unfortunate is the article’s trust in Garton Ash’s politically über-correct critique of Sarrazin. Garton Ash decries it as “a huge, indigestible pot of goulash, mixing numerous statistical tables and bullet-point lists, of the kind you might find in a German finance ministry internal report” – yes, the book makes for difficult reading, but his theses are meticulously underpinned by facts and numbers – just imagine the deafening PC chorus had Sarrazin NOT provided those data. And well, disqualifying Sarrazin’s writing, who was after all a top-ranking and influential bureaucrat and state minister for many years, as “amateur history and philosophy” and as a “meandering rant against Islam” is plainly malicious and has little to do with the book, but all with PC.

Last and least, it would have been nice if Arthur had got the acronym of SPD right for the Socialdemocratic Party of Germany!

Michael
Michael
10 years ago

@conrad
Sarrazin’s book is not about the Germans “not liking” Turkish immigrants. It is about a large proportion of those immigrants not making an effort to integrate into German society: not learning the language, not making a serious effort to find work, for young men even in the third migrant generation to go back to Anatolia to marry a village girl and bring her back to Germany. A case in point: if you ever go to Berlin, have a look at typical blocks of flats in Kreuzberg, where you’ll see a 10-story building with 200 flats, and there will be 200 dishes, all pointing in the same direction – that of the satellite broadcasting Turkish TV. An entirely parallel society has developed there and in other large cities in Germany where many of the Turkish migrants live wholly among themselves, never integrated and apparently not intending to integrate either. And cynically, according to Sarrazin’s data, many in that parallel society reject the German state while at the same time living happily on the welfare payments it provides.

The book is also NOT about the fact that migrants to Germany find life difficult there because they “look different”. Sarrazin compares other migrant communities who also “look different” with the Turkish migrant community. And he finds that, for example, the Vietnamese migrants have integrated much better than the Turkish migrants despite looking equally, if not more, different.

JC
JC
10 years ago

Patrick says

If you can easily hire and fire people, it’s obviously far easier to hire an individual that you might be prejudiced against if you know you can get rid of them easily too. That can’t be the whole story though since even without socialist labour laws it is still costly to replace employees in many instances.

Wizo says

Wouldn’t Denmark be a good test? I gather that hiring and firing there is relatively straightforward – to what degree do they have a problem with recent non-Western immigrants finding jobs?

Actually the place to look at successful Muslim immigration is the US. A few years ago the WSJ carried a piece about Muslim immigration there showing that it had been hugely successful with median income around twice the national US average. This was before the GFC of course, but I would assume the stat would remain pretty close to the same.

I would also guess the difference is that “muslim” isn’t what is important. The origin of the new arrivals and the host country’s attitude is what really counts.

European immigration hasn’t succeeded while the US has to some degree. I would suggest that a lot of the problem is two monocultures looking right at one another and not liking what they see.

conrad
conrad
10 years ago

“Sarrazin compares other migrant communities who also “look different” with the Turkish migrant community. And he finds that, for example, the Vietnamese migrants have integrated much better than the Turkish migrants despite looking equally, if not more, different.”

It’s quite possible to like some groups and not others, so the comparison with the Vietnamese isn’t great. If you look at studies that look at racism, for example, you’ll find there is a whole hierarchy. For example, in Australia, people here know Andrew Leigh, who has now become a politician. Before that he was doing randomized studies on racism, and found that if you just have an ethnic sounding name, you will get discriminated against (i.e., far lower chance of ajob interview). Interestingly, the worst names to have are Arab and Asian sounding ones, but most Asian groups are quite successful here and don’t cause much trouble. Perhaps if they wern’t a model minority, they too would have got sick of the white population here and stuck to themselves more and then perhaps then the second generation, who would be poor due to discrimination would, like many other poor groups, start dislinking the groups that discrimate against them and then their parents (why wouldn’t they?). The same is true of France, except the results are even more extreme. In addition, as I pointed out right at the start, and as JC points at too, these groups are successful in some places. Turks are fine in Australia and the US, for example — Almost no-one complains about them despite quite a lot living here. So it is clearly the case that there is an interaction going on, and neither group is entirely to blame, unlike the way it is almost always potrayed. Of course, now the problem in Germany is more complex because you have a group in endemic poverty, and once that happens is very hard to fix. As for Kreuzberg, where I stayed last year for two weeks, I found it fine.

Richard Tsukamasa Green
Richard Tsukamasa Green(@richard-green)
10 years ago

To add to Conrad, in the 90s the Australian Turkish community was little discussed, but the Vietnamese copped it hard. It’s really astonishing to go back and look at how those in Australia were portrayed in the late 90s. There you can read and hear about a community in endemic poverty, cursed to be ruled over by thugs and to become heroin dealers and gambling addicts and to stab each other and outsiders in a constant orgy of violence in a Cabramatta ghetto. That never fit the reality, but it’s amazing how quickly the treadmill of prejudice moved on to talking about the impossibility of integrating Middle Eastern Muslims (which somehow tended to exclude the Turkish Australians) or East Africans.

And it’s possible to follow the treadmill all the way back to the Catholics and emancipists, who have been subsumed into a “mainstream” that was comically improbable at the time.

On a side note, the term “Anglo-Celtic” may be amusing in light of the history between the two, but it pales in comparison to a description I remember reading in the Herald Sun about “ethnic gang warfare” in which a single gang was described as drawing members from the Irish, middle eastern, asian and pacific island communities. That’s a triumph of integration!

KB Keynes
KB Keynes
10 years ago

how can Germany ever be overwhelmed by the descendants of poorly educated, poorly integrated Muslim migrants when most jobs in Germany require skills. as in most Western countries the number of unskilled jobs are declining.

The only way Germany could be overwhelmed is if those said immigrants became educated like the rest or in other words ‘Westernised’

Take a look here. Are those children of poorly educated immigrants the same as the parents or did they climb the ladder of opportunity?

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

I think you have it arse-about, unsurprisingly: if they were educated and employed (as eg in the US) they wouldn’t pose a risk to social cohesion and we wouldn’t be talking about them.

Also I think ‘overwhelmed’ is in a purely numerical sense.

Dehne Taylor
Dehne Taylor
10 years ago

You guy’s have put forward some interesting theories, but it might be helpful to know that the 1960s (West) German government actively encouraged temporary migration of Turkish citizens to undertake more menial jobs, partly due to low population growth because of a shortage of males arising from WWII. The deal was that the migration was temporary in nature and therefore German citizenship would not be available to them. Three generations later, there were Turks in Germany who basically were German in all name but were forbidden citizenship. Not surprisingly, a schism developed with Germans claiming lack of integration by German ‘Turks’ who in turn pointed to the citizenship barrier as the reason.

Michael
Michael
10 years ago

Perhaps a significant difference between migrant communities in the US and Germany is the fact that in order to survive in the US you will have to work hard, while in Germany the welfare system allows some people to opt out of work and to live on the poverty line supported by the monthly welfare cheque. Given that the German poverty line (details see Sarrazin) is way above what would be considered poverty in rural Turkey, there is a proportion of Turkish immigrants, even in the 2nd and 3rd generation, who are content to live on welfare in Germany rather than being really poor back in Anatolia.

There is, however, also a contributing cultural-religious factor, which Sarrazin points to, namely the fact that many Turkish immigrants despise the German lifestyle as deeply immoral and seek, even in the 2nd and 3rd generation, partners and particularly wives who are neither German nor even women of Turkish origin who are seen by their dress or behaviour to have adapted too much to the German way of life. And so the cycle continues with more poorly educated and mal-adapted Turkish migrants while migration in the US and also in Australia on the whole has led to communities, or simply individuals, who work hard, get the best possible education for their kids, practise their religion in a kind of moderate way and enjoy the way of life of their adopted country.