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03/09/2010

From the Feuilletons

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what's been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

Thilo Sarrazin, SPD politician, former finance senator in Berlin and board member of the German central bank, the Bundesbank, has published a book that has scandalised Germany. "Deutschland schafft sich ab" or Germany is abolishing itself, looks at the effects of immigration, the shrinking birthrate and a growing social "underclass". Above all, Sarrazin, who is famous for his tactless and abrasive comments, accuses the Muslims in particular of being unwilling to integrate. And German integration authorities, academics and politicians of refusing to discuss the problem.

Two of his statements in particular have driven politicians and press to the barricades:

From his book: "We have to assume that for demographic reasons the underclass section of the population is growing steadily. Among migrants we have seen that the birthrate is highest among those groups of migrants with the lowest levels of education, in other words those from Turkey, the Middle East and Africa. Studies on the workforce have come to similar conclusions. These show that women who are poorly or not integrated into the labour market at all are more likely to have children or increase the size of their flock. But intelligence is 50 to 80 percent hereditary and thanks to the class-related reproductive rate, this unfortunately means that the hereditary intellectual potential of the population is continually shrinking."

And when asked in an interview with Die Welt on 29.08, whether such thing as a "genetic identity" existed, Sarrazin replied: "All Jews have a certain gene in common. Basques have a certain gene which differentiates them from others."
(Sarrazin later apologised for this remark. He said he had read an article in the Tagesspiegel about two studies - carried out by Harry Ostrer of New York University (more in English) and Doron Behar of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa (more in English) that suggest that many Jews today have shared genetic roots.)

That effectively sealed the fate of the book. Journalists, politicians and academics united in a choir of disapproval for his ideas. Even Chancellor Angela Merkel described them as "nonsense". Sarrazin's statements were "marginalising" and "contemptuous of entire groups of society... His language is socially divisive," she said on 28th August on TV. She also outlined the consequences the book's publication would have for the Bundesbank. This institution, she said is "an advertisement for our entire country." Yesterday the chairman of the Bundesbank asked the German President Christian Wulff for permission to remove Sarazzin from the board. Only a few hours later the SPD filed for his expulsion from the party.

In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Christian Geyer is despairing: "'Deutschland schafft sich ab' tells the tale of a nation's decline. And the Muslims who make up a mere six percent of the population are being held responsible. It begs the question as to what the remaining 94 percent have spent the past decades doing to secure the future of their country. Sarrazin's book is the attempt of a disoriented elite to exonerate itself. No wonder it is such a success."

With reluctance and a mix of pathological fascination and disgust Arno Widmann read the book for the Frankfurter Rundschau. It is the work of the madman, he concludes: "This is Sarrazin's second book which attempts to connect his statistically-grounded contempt for the overweight, welfare-grabbing underclass couch potato with his racist theories on cultural mentalities. His conclusion is unequivocal: The underclass – even the Germans among its ranks are not real Germans. What is unclear though is where he intends to go with this theory. And explains why he is calling for end to immigration from Turkey, Africa and the Middle East. Indian engineers don't bother him as long as the Germans are more likely to become social workers than technicians."

For Frank Schirrmacher in the Frankfurter Allgemeine on Sunday, this is a clear attempt "to establish a very different understanding of culture. One that links genetics with culture, and on the basis of a word that Sarrazin (citing Darwin) drops as casually as Gottfried Benn once did: 'selective breeding'. Sarrazin is not talking about Goethe and Schiller, though his book does mention poetry. For him, culture is the reflex of a biological process. The fact that in Germany ever more children are being born to families from the underclass milieu, automatically results in the dumbing down of society, and those who succeed in making career for themselves in spite of their background do nothing to influence his findings. There is nothing new about this theory. On the contrary, it is based on the Enlightenment idea of education, school and upbringing. But Sarrazin's message is another one: education, which he refers to contemptuously as a 'mantra', is powerless as a vehicle for intellectual advancement. Individuals and entire nations are limited by their genetic and ethnic dispositions."

In the Tagesspiegel, writers, Islam scholars, education and immigration experts spoke out more or less in unison. The writer Feridun Zaimoglu explained: "People like him are fire starters. He is handing over the Muslim as the boogie man to a frightened middle class, with the implication that the Muslim is also responsible for the bank crisis and for the collapse of the welfare system." The publicist Hilal Sezgin writes: "From the USA we have started to hear discussions about whether black people are less intelligent than whites. This is very obviously racism talking. In Germany too we need to develop a sensibility for the kind of debates which upset the underlying moral consensus. It is pure negligence to define groups and stir up bad blood between them." The publicist Mark Terkessidis explains: "It might be an insult to the intelligence that Sarrazin so swears by, to have to dwell for any length of time on the long passages of utter nonsense in his book, but the debate it has triggered has clearly demonstrated that certain opinions are no longer tolerated in the political spectrum of the German republic."

These are just a very few of the voices who spoke out almost in unison against Sarrazin. There were however one or two individuals who said that this criticism was missing the point:

Sociologist Necla Kelek asks in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung why Sarrazin has simply been demonised when a proper discussion about his book was what was needed. "All this fuss strikes me as somewhat staged and the racism argument smacks of red herring. So he doesn't want to live in a Muslim Germany because he is suspicious of that sort of society. What's wrong with this? The economist in Sarrazin has calculated that the 750,000 Turkish immigrant workers now number almost 3 million and of the able bodied among them, 40 percent live off the state instead of working. This makes no economic sense for him and leads him to ask whether immigration, in its current form, is not a mistake. This is no reason to get upset at Sarrazin. Instead we should be asking the politicians who are responsible for this state for affairs whether or not they have really served the interests of the country."

For the writer Monika Maron in an interview in Die Welt, the public debate has missed the point: "Why can't we leave aside Sarrazin''s obviously potty ideas about genetic theory and start talking about something much more worrying: the growing confessionalisation of our society, the millions of euros we are shelling out in welfare cheques, the deficits in education and the criminality of Muslim youth? Government schemes and vast sums of money have done little or nothing to change a situation that has been well-known for many years. What has to happen?"

In the Frankfurter Rundschau, Markus Tiedemann, a professor of educational philosophy, dismisses Thilo Sarrazin's nonsensical hereditary theories in two paragraphs before turning on some of Sarrazin's critics who, he says, are no better. "In 2007 Pascal Bruckner, a representative of the French nouvelle philosophie, tried to rock the self-satisfied boat of political correctness. His concept of the 'racism of the anti-racists' exposes the negative dialectic of multicultural tolerance. ... Anyone today who claims that it is too much to expect 'the Muslims' to embrace the achievements of the modern age such as emancipation and freedom of opinion, are no better that the voices who used to say that the blacks lacked the maturity to vote."

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