Thilo Sarrazin is the director of Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank. He has always been a provocative thinker. But now he has a new book out called, roughly translated, "Germany Is Destroying Itself" in which he argues that Muslim immigrants pose an existential threat to Germany as it is currently known. Not only are Muslim African and Middle Eastern immigrants in Germany currently un-integrated and poor, but in 120 years, he claims (erroneously, says Der Spiegel), 70 percent of the German population will be made up of these immigrants. His solution? Well-educated Germans need to out-breed them. It's time to step up reproduction in the upper classes.
You can see how this might cause an uproar, particularly in a country ever-conscious of its 20th-century history. Germany has exploded with the backlash, and the tense, ensuing debate about integration. Meanwhile, other countries are watching with interest and concern, as immigration debates heat up there, as well. Here's a sample of reaction from both sides of the Atlantic.
The Questions This Raises for Germany "In just two weeks," points out the massive team put together by Der Spiegel to cover the story, "Germany has been hit by three waves of debate stemming from the tome." The first was "criticism bordering on revulsion. ... Then it slowly became apparent that many citizens agreed with Sarrazin." The third wave involves "politicians ... demanding that the political elite cease ignoring the fact that many in Germany support Sarrazin." Der Spiegel's team then notes that Germany, seemingly "cleaved in two" by this book--one side "horrified by Sarrazin's choice of words" and the other "support[ing] such a forthright assessment of integration--is now dealing with "three big questions":
In what country are we living? ... The popular approval of Sarrazin leads us to question whether there isn't an underlying xenophobia after all.
The second question the debate raises concerns the current state of affairs. Is Sarrazin right when he claims that the integration of Turks and Arabs has largely been a failure? ... The third question has to do with the relationship between the political and journalistic class with the rest of the country. Do citizens feel abandoned on the question of integration? Or, asked another way, does Germany have a fertile breeding ground for the kind of populist right-wing party that is already par for the course in many European countries?
- Just How Offensive Is This Book? Joachim Güntner,
Berlin cultural correspondent for the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung, offers a
painstakingly even-handed evaluation, translated at Signandsight. "You
can read seven, perhaps even eight or nine chapters of 'Deutschland
schafft sich ab [the title] and come across plenty of nay-saying but
little of real offence," he decides. The author "has a merciless
streak," and "openly denies any rich-poor divide"; he relies on
"second-hand information" in his description of certain areas; and his
"little jaunt into theories of justice" is a bit rocky. Where Sarrazin
really gets into "unsavoury" territory is in "the defamatory way he
combines remarks on the 'uneducated' milieus of Muslim migrants in
Germany with dubious sentences about hereditary intelligence." Decides
That the "instruments" Sarrazin recommends for raising the birth rate among the educated classes are of a socio-political and fiscal nature and have nothing to do with the biology of breeding, should be added to his defence. ... But this does not alter his fundamental belief that the intelligence of the population can be boosted by the mating of bright minds ... Sarrazin has only himself to blame for his being given the role of the bogeyman.
- Its Genetics, at Least, Are Very Out of Date, remarks Alex Harrowell, blogging at A Fistful of Euros. "It's not just that Sarrazin’s political thought is trapped in the Wilhelmine era--his understanding of genetics is, too." What Sarrazin doesn't seem to grasp about "Mendelian genetics," explains Harrowell, is that "Variation is conserved." In other words, he continues dryly, "not only will the German working class continue to produce bright kids, the elite will occasionally toss out a Sarrazin."
- 'Frightening' Echos in America "The saddest part about Serrazin is not so much Serrazin himself (I mean, why waste the breath), but about how much he reminds me of what's going on at home," writes Lauren Markham at liberal site Change.org. She sees similar "social-Darwinist thinking--albeit in more latent and less belligerent terms--all the time in the U.S. immigration debate."
- Why the German Backlash Is Misguided The "public lynching" following the book's publication was too much, says Stefan Theil
at Newsweek. He refers, for example, to Germany's chancellor,
president, and finance minister encouraging the Bundesbank to fire
Sarrazin. "That Germany remains hostile to any mingling of genetic
theories with social policy is all to the good," he agrees. But Germany needs
to admit that it has "done just about everything wrong" with regard to
immigration and that there are serious problems with integration and
In Germany, any critique of the welfare state quickly gets tarred as "social Darwinism," which fed into Nazi ideology. That has made rational debate of the welfare system almost impossible, says Thomas Petersen, political analyst at the Allensbach Institute. But no one--not even Sarrazin--is calling on immigrants to go home, as former chancellor Helmut Kohl did in the 1990s. Most Germans have come to accept the idea that their nation has become more multiethnic. And unlike in France or Austria, in Germany the far right is a tiny fringe, and there is little chance that German society would ever allow such a party to grow. That's all the more reason for Germany's establishment to stop thwarting public debates. Germany's political culture seems less threatened by the extreme right than by its tendency to publicly destroy contrarian thinkers.
- 'The Larger Problem' The Guardian's editorial board argues that there are lessons here for other countries:
In Germany as elsewhere, mainstream politicians both play to anti-immigrant feeling and deplore it. Even while they subtly exploit the majority's fears, in the name of diversity they tread far too carefully in their dealings with minorities. This is a bad combination at a time when economic pressures are widening and a new selfishness and readiness to blame others is on the rise across Europe.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.