German banker bows out after stirring race, religion debate
A German central banker, Thilo Sarrazin, whose outspoken comments on race and religion sparked a fierce national debate unexpectedly quit the Bundesbank board on Thursday evening, sparing Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Christian Wulff and Bundesbank President Axel Weber a messy legal and political battle.
But Sarrazin, 65, made it clear that he will not go away and plans to use his new-found fame to press forward with the issues tackled in his best-selling book: that Muslims are undermining German society and threatening to change its character and culture with their higher birth rate. Whether Germans like his views or not, there is no denying that Sarrazin has struck a chord.
“It seemed to me to be too risky…to try to push forward against the entire political establishment and 70 percent of the media,” Sarrazin told hundreds of people at a book reading in Potsdam near Berlin. “That would have been arrogant and wouldn’t have worked. That’s why I’m making this strategic retreat now and will tackle the issues that are important to me.”
Despite widespread condemnation from political leaders, opinion polls showed there is widespread public support for at least some of Sarrazin’s observations in his bestselling book “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (“Germany does away with itself”).
Some of his book’s more explosive passages include:
* “In every European country, due to their low participation in the labour market and high claim on state welfare benefits, Muslim migrants cost the state more than they generate in added economic value. In terms of culture and civilisation, their notions of society and values are a step backwards.”
* “I don’t want my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live in a mostly Muslim country where Turkish and Arabic are widely spoken, women wear headscarves and the day’s rhythm is determined by the call of the muezzin.”
* “If the birth rate of migrants remains higher than that of the indigenous population, within a few generations, the migrants will take over the state and society.”
* “I don’t want us to end up as strangers in our own land, not even on a regional basis.”
* “From today’s perspective, the immigration of guest workers in the 1960s and 1970s was a gigantic mistake.”
Sarrazin, a former finance minister in the city-state of Berlin, had offended Muslims in the past. In an interview with the magazine Lettre International, he said: “I don’t need to accept anyone who lives off the state, rejects this country … and is always producing little girls with headscarves. This is true of 70 percent of the Turkish and 90 percent of the Arab population of Berlin.” He got stripped of some of his duties at the Bundesbank after those comments.
Sarrazin revealed at his book reading in Potsdam on Thursday evening that the response to his interview was overwhelmingly positive. He needed police protection from anti-Sarrazin demonstrators but there were also many supporters, some from the far right who held signs reading “Thilo, fuehre uns!” (Thilo, lead us!)
“I’d like to tell you how I’m handling this. I got nearly 1,000 letters after the Lettre interview and analysed them: all but 16 were positive. And from the nearly 1,000 positive letters there were only about four or five percent from ‘brown’ (neo-Nazi) segment of society. And you see that everywhere. Across Europe there is a far-right potential of about five percent. In order words, it was a snapshot of society. And, by the way, applause from the wrong side should never stop you from doing or thinking about what’s right.”
So why did he quit now and what will he do next? Sarrazin has already achieved his key aim: breaking a taboo and getting Germans to talk about immigration and integration. Getting dragged into a long legal dispute would have only have been an unwelcome distraction. It is likely that Sarrazin, who was little known outside financial circles before his book, will use his newfound fame to push hard for immigration reforms in Germany.