Thilo Sarrazin, a Bundesbank director who criticized Turkish and Arab immigrants in a recent interview, has been punished by his employer and may lose his job. Apart from receiving threats by Islamist extremists, he may also be taken to court by the German authorities on charges of “incitement to racial hatred.” For many Germans, however, the 64-year old Mr. Sarrazin, who until last May was Finance Minister in the regional government of the state of Berlin for the Social-Democrat SPD, is a hero.
Last week Axel Weber, the president of the Bundesbank, Germany’s equivalent of the FED, needed body guards on an official visit to Istanbul. Normally, the head of the German central bank never travels with body guards, but life at the Bundesbank has changed since two weeks ago. Lettre International, a German cultural magazine based in Berlin, published an interview with Thilo Sarrazin, in which the Bundesbank director criticized the unwillingness of Turkish and Arab immigrants to assimilate into German society. The interview provoked the anger of these very immigrants. Immigrant groups accuse Mr. Sarrazin of espousing the “racist views of the far right.”
In contemporary Europe, leading a life surrounded by body guards has become normal for people such as Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who criticizes the Islamization of his native land, and Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist who made a drawing depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Thilo Sarrazin has now joined their ranks. His boss Mr. Weber, however, does not want to become the target of angry Muslims. He has apologized to everyone who might feel offended by the “discriminatory comments” of the Bundesbank official. Indeed, the Bundesbank issued a statement distancing itself in the strongest terms from the interview. It also demoted Sarrazin; he may even be fired altogether.
In the Lettre International interview, Sarrazin talked about the economic and cultural situation in his hometown of Berlin. He argued that Berlin has been unable to recover the cultural and economic status and prestige it had before the Second World War. Even its contemporary population figure of 3.2 million is lower than the pre-war 4 million. Sarrazin says that Berlin’s dynamics was broken when the city lost its Jews. The Jewish elite was driven out and instead the city acquired a Turkish and Arab underclass.
“The large scale disappearance of the Jews could never be compensated,” Sarrazin said. “Thirty percent of physicians and lawyers, eighty percent of all theatre directors in Berlin in 1933 were of Jewish origin. Commerce and banking were also largely Jewish. All this has vanished; it was also a considerable intellectual loss. Sixty to seventy percent of the extermination and expulsion of the Jews in the German speaking countries affected Berlin and Vienna.”
Sarrazin argued that during the Cold War, ambitious and dynamic people moved away from the highly-subsidized West Berlin while left-wing activists and drop-outs took their place. Meanwhile a Turkish and Arab underclass was imported, which also lives mostly off government subsidies without making economic contributions to the city.
“Berlin has a bigger problem than elsewhere of an underclass that does not take part in the normal economic cycle. Many Arabs and Turks in this city, whose numbers have grown as a result of wrong policies, have no productive function except selling fruit and vegetables,” Sarrazin said. The plight of his home town makes him very bitter. He lashed out at what he called policies that were “too plebeian” instead of elitist. “Anyone who can do something and strives for something with us is welcome. The rest should go elsewhere,” Sarrazin told Lettre International. The Turks, however, “are conquering Germany in the same way that the Kosovars conquered Kosovo: through their high birthrate. […] I do not need to acknowledge anyone who lives off the state, rejects this country, does not take proper care of the education of his children and keeps producing little girls in headscarves.”
Since the publication of the interview, Sarrazin has received threats from Islamists. The Social-Democratic SPD Party has started a procedure to oust him from its ranks. He has also been criticized by the Zentralrat der Juden (Central Council of Jews), whose General-Secretary Stephan Kramer compared his comments about Turkish and Arab immigrants to the “opinions of Göring, Goebbels and Hitler.” The Berlin prosecutor is currently examining whether Mr. Sarrazin can be prosecuted for the crime of “racial incitement.”
An opinion poll indicated, however, that 51 percent of the Germans agree with what Mr. Sarrazin said. Conservative newspapers, such as Die Welt, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and the mass circulation Bild have come to his defense, arguing that he has merely stated uncomfortable facts. Prominent Germans, such as former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and the writers Henryk Broder and Ralph Giordano, have also spoken out in support of the Bundesbank official.
Helmut Schmidt, the nonagenarian former leader of the Social-Democrat SPD, said that the presence of seven million immigrants in Germany are proof “of a wrong development for which the political class [of the past 15 years] is responsible.” It would have been better, Mr. Schmidt told the weekly magazine Focus, that those who refuse to integrate into German society “had been left outside.” He added that “The further inflow of people from Eastern Anatolia or Black Africa will not solve the problem [of Germany’s ageing population], but will only create an enormous new problem.”
Ralph Giordano said that Sarrazin’s analysis was “right on the mark.” Henryk Broder stated that he “does not even go far enough.” Since both Messrs. Giordano and Broder are Jewish, their support for Mr. Sarrazin has earned them severe criticism from the Central Council of Jews, whose Mr. Kramer derisively called both men “Jewish intellectuals.”
On October 14th, Jasper von Altenbockum, an editorialist of the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, wrote in his paper that Mr. Sarrazin’s frank remarks were proof of his great “civil courage.” “Civil courage is more than just courage. It is also a service to the state, whose legal constitutions and social achievements are worth defending.” Mr. Altenbockum criticized those who accuse Sarrazin of acting irresponsibly and foolishly. “In a civil society it is not considered foolish to risk one’s own existence when one defends the civil society and its freedoms and security. What is foolish, is for the civil society to punish those who act thus.”