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?