Islamophobia and a German central banker

By Bernd Debusmann
September 17, 2010

How do you reconcile the traditions of many Muslim immigrants with the freedoms and values of 21st century Western Europe?

It’s a question that has led to periodic outbursts of vigorous debate from France to Holland and Switzerland. In Germany, the discussion has been relatively subdued. Until now.

Why? A passage in a book considered so unsettling that its author, Thilo Sarrazin, was forced to resign from the board of Germany’s central bank this month, provides part of the answer.

Criticism of Islam and Muslim immigrants, he writes, is wrongly seen to “equal Islamophobia which equals racism which equals anti-Semitism which equals right-wing radicalism which equals national socialism (Nazism).” In a country deeply ashamed of its 1933-1945 Nazi past, that’s enough to mute debate.

Sarrazin’s book, “Deutschland schafft sich ab” (Germany abolishes itself), came under withering assault from Germany’s political and intellectual elite even before its publication and (judging from some of the comments) even before many of the critics waded through its 461 dense, statistics-laden pages.

It is not an anti-immigration, anti-Islam tirade, it is an argument against a combination of flawed immigration and social welfare policies that, according to Sarrazin, have tended to attract a sizeable number of immigrants more interested in living off generous government handouts than in finding a place in the labour market, climbing up the economic ladder and integrating into German society.

Immigrants from Muslim parts of former Yugoslavia, from Arab and North African countries and from Turkey (the largest group) “are the core of the integration problem,” Sarrazin writes, citing dismal statistics on scholastic achievement, unemployment, dependence on welfare payments, crime and reluctance to learn German, an essential step towards integration. In contrast, immigrants from Asia or India were doing particularly well in integrating and in making economic progress.

Sarrazin’s arguments are part of a European backlash against multiculturalism, the notion that all cultures are equal and society is enriched by encouraging separate cultures to exist side by side rather than blending into one. The first serious critique of the concept came from the left, with an essay in 2000 by the Dutch author Paul Scheffer who said multiculturalism had blinded politicians to the fact that ethnic minorities, mainly Muslims, had higher rates of unemployment, poverty, school drop-outs and crime and that they failed to integrate.

Scheffer’s controversial piece preceded the murder in 2002 of Pim Fortuyn by a Dutchman who objected to his criticism of Muslim immigration and the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist. Scheffer’s essay was followed by others, outside Holland and from both sides of the political spectrum. Some political leaders agreed. Before he became Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron said multiculturalism contributed to “deliberately weakening our collective identity.”

FRENCH BAN BURQAS, SWISS BAN MINARETS

In the week the German debate over Sarrazin’s book reached a crescendo, the French parliament banned burqas and niqabs, the head-to-toe robes worn by devout Muslim women. Switzerland drove another nail into the coffin of multiculturalism last year with a referendum that ended in a ban on the construction of minarets.

Back to Germany, where those who rebuked Sarrazin included chancellor Angela Merkel and the head of the conservative Christian Social Union, Alexander Dobrindt, who remarked “this guy is nuts.” Embarrassingly for politicians and political commentators of all stripes, much of the citizenry disagreed.

The first edition of his book was sold out nationwide within days. By mid-September, there were long queues in one of the few bookshops in central Frankfurt that had stocked ample supplies. A few days later, the publisher said the total print run would be 250,000, ten times what had been expected.

A public opinion poll in September showed that 70 percent of those surveyed partly or fully agreed with Sarrazin, who is a member of the left-of-centre Social Democratic Party from which he now faces expulsion after close to 40 years of membership. Party leaders deem some of the arguments in his book racist.

The front page of the German news magazine Der Spiegel carried a portrait of the bespectacled, 65-year-old ex-banker with the headline “Folk Hero Sarrazin.” Sub-headline: “Why so many Germans are seduced by a provocateur.”

Provocation is in the eye of the beholder and one commentator, Susanne Gaschke of the liberal weekly Die Zeit ascribed the “enthusiastic acceptance for Sarrazin’s belated taboo-breaking” to a retroactive settling of accounts for the years in which politically correct multiculturalism made it difficult to touch the subjects he covers.

One is demographics and boils down to a gloomy forecast: ethnic Germans are dying out, slowly but surely. If present trends continue, ethnic Germans will be a minority in their own country by 2100, comfortably outnumbered by Turks. Long-range demographic forecasts have to be taken with a pinch of salt but there is no dispute that Germany’s birth rate, the lowest in Europe, has fallen way below the so-called replacement rate.

There is no dispute either that the higher a woman’s education, the fewer children she has. Conversely, the lower a women’s education, the higher her fertility. That applies to a large proportion of Muslim immigrants. And that leads to Sarrazin’s nightmare and controversial prediction: a smaller, older and dumber Germany.

15 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

German is a democratic country. If they see issues long term with the future of Germany. Now is the time for the majority of the population to vote in changes they want long term.

Banning Islam is a radical and controversial step – however would guide them into a future they can control right now.
I don’t know why the world is so afraid to not stand up for themselves and instead bow to media pressure to appease everyone.

Soon we’ll see sects of religions that suck your blood and to appease them, we’ll let these people drain us on the streets – even though we don’t like it. mmm Nazism was like this wasn’t it?

You are in control of your own destiny in a democracy – as long as you have the majority and the courage to make a difference.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

If it walks like a duck…how many stats and how much proof does it take before you can point a finger at the muslims for something they are doing and not be labled a racist or a nazi? We are slowly losing a battle that has our ideals used against us. The muslims have capitalised on the fact that they can get away with certain behaviors in societies that other groups cannot. When another group would have to answer for their actions…the muslims enjoy the fact that our own ideals protect them. When a criticism is brought up about them, it is often labeled racist or anti-muslim. In a society where multi-culutres coexist we should all be bound by our actions and have to answer to the consequences, and not divert blame by claims of oppression to your group. Living in a society is a 2 way street. If you enjoy the freedom to be part of a certain group freely, you should also be aware of the other different groups and their ways. I think the golden rule should apply to everyone.

Posted by gpag | Report as abusive

2100 is four generations away. No dumbing down is going to happen, if those who are born and raised in Germany will be given equal access to the tools needed to climb the social ladder and the opportunity to excel.

Posted by PeterMelzer | Report as abusive

Stop the hate, stop fighting Islam. slam is a religion of true faith, peace and tolerence and that’s why it’s spreading among the materialistic world in the west. Muslims believe in Moses and Jesus and love them as they, Prophet Muhammad and the other prophets are responsible for guiding people to the right path. It’s wrong to base your views about Islam , the last and best eligion from God to Mankind, on extremists’ doings and ideas ..

Posted by HossAmr | Report as abusive

Let’s consider the other side too. Americaphobia and Europhobia and Christophobia. Let’s all take a look at the man or woman in the mirror.

When I think about the existing conditions of cultures in some of the critics homelands, I am amazed that they feel so entitled to speak out so righteously and critically of their host country’s laws and customs. Good grief, as Americans, we are continually cautioned by the State department about threats of violence for even visiting some parts of the world, simply because we are American.

Posted by garrisongold | Report as abusive

If Germans aren’t reproducing enough then some other group or groups must replace them. Fifty years ago these women were having big families, four kids or more. Today these women are having one or two.

Posted by bluemen | Report as abusive

@ Sonnyjc9: In what way is Congress considering “giving” them what they(who?) want?

I think the quote by David Cameron in this article sums up what is happening. Multiculturalism inhibits social cohesion.

Posted by MarcL3 | Report as abusive

Germans invited Turkish nationals in the early 1960′s, when the country experienced full employment and needed more workers primarily in the manufacturing sector (difficult to imagine today). The recruitees hailed predominantly from impoverished and poorly-educated Eastern Anatolia. Turkey was fighting a Kurdish insurgency there and showed little interest in improving the lot of the locals. Neither the guest workers, as they were called in Germany, nor the hosts considered the arrangement as permanent. The workers wanted to improve their family’s lot back home and retire there. In fact, quite a few did. Nothing was done to integrate anyone.

However, for a large number of guest workers, life turned out different. They stayed much longer than anyone on either side had anticipated. The lot at home got worse. They brought their wives. They raised children and grandchildren in Germany. The latter were born into a situation in which they did not seem to belong anywhere. Sending them ‘home’ ? Where would that be? Offenbach! Kreutzberg!

The Federal Republic of Germany took great advantage of her guest workers when they were so direly needed. The Republic is obligated to offer their children and grandchildren a fair chance. The cause for the dour situation of Turkish guest workers in Germany is that they come from a part of the Earth where education is perceived as a threat to the traditional way of life. Opening access to education in Germany offers a way out. Nobody claims that this feat is easy.

Residents of Germany are required by law to send their children to school. If they don’t, they break the law.

Posted by PeterMelzer | Report as abusive

I think that the threat is not the Islamism neither the Mexicans, but the opposition of some social groups to adapt to the customs of the places they are living on. I was not born in US, but I have lived here for a year adapting myself to everything. Adaptation does mean that you need to forget who you are, but that you need to respect the other cultures and (at least) learn the local language. If people (from whatever culture) doesn’t want to learn the customs, then I think that they should lose some of the social benefits the country provides them. If they do not contribute to the development of the country…why are they here for?

Posted by aveiro | Report as abusive

(Continued) By the way, Bernd, Sarrazin’s book seems so appealing because it deceives us with the explanation that the problems we are experiencing with immigrants are ultimately rooted in their genes. Therefore, any effort of integration must fail and any penny spent is wasted. Very convenient, isn’t it?

Rather than immigration, the dumbing down of Germany is likely the result of the embrace of superficial materialistic values after the Wirtschaftswunder, giving rise to today’s shallow Schicky-Mickey society.

Finally, let us not forget that the economic success of the U.S.A. has been, in good part, shouldered by the industriousness and ingenuity of her immigrants.

Posted by PeterMelzer | Report as abusive

First question: What is an “ethnic German”? Which Germans are not “ethnic”?
If you want immigrants to integrate, the first thing you need to do is offer them a well defined path to citizenship. The USA does that. You can buy a manual that tell you exactly how to become a US citizen in the nearest bookstore. Five years from the day you legally move to the US you can be a citizen, 3 years if you are married to a citizen. I went through that procedure.
In Germany there is no straightforward way. You can be born in the country and live there all your life without being a citizen or being encourage to become one.
Instead of giving immigrants a permanent permit to live and work in the country, and a path to citizenship, Germany branded them as “Gastarbeiter”.
Last time I looked, there were about 80 million people living in Germany. so how on earth can they be dying out????

Posted by nossnevs | Report as abusive

Nossnews: In the context of the Sarrazin discussion, “ethnic” means native, as opposed to immigrants who are not citizens. As to the shrinkage, there are projections that each successive generation will be around 39% smaller than the preceding one.

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive

Komment:
… “ethnic” means native, as opposed to immigrants who are not citizens. As to the shrinkage, there are projections that each successive generation will be around 39% smaller …

So, ethnic means native. Then how many ethnic Americans are left? It seems like America has done pretty well without them.
And again: Why can’t the Germans solve the problem by offering the immigrants (or Gastarbeiter) a realistic possibility of citizenship with the rights and responsibilities that come with it?

Posted by nossnevs | Report as abusive

I recently read the Quran cover to cover. I was shocked to find it filled with hate speech, racism, bigotry and the harshest form of suppression ever put to pen. I encourage everyone to read it and form their own opinion. Ever wonder why people are instantly attacked for saying anything against Islam…read the Quran ASAP!

Posted by All_Hope777 | Report as abusive

We don’t want to have our freedoms taken and live in the middle ages with Sharia law. The more you know about Islam the more you can see it’s not compatible with freedom and democracy. Learn more at The Center for the Study of Political Islam and citizenwarrior.com. Or better yet read “An Abridged Koran” it’s about 200 pages or so.

Posted by joego | Report as abusive

[...] Party officeholder Thilo Sarrazin is a case in point. Sarrazin, author of the shrill 2009 tome Deutschland schafft sich ab (‘Germany Does Away With Itself’), was echoing and extending the arguments of Dutch [...]