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Thilo Sarrazin
Thilo Sarrazin

Thilo Sarrazin

In August 2010 Thilo Sarrazin, a member of Germany's Social Democratic Pparty (SPD), former senator of finance for the state of Berlin and until recently board member of the German central bank (Bundesbank), published a book that has provoked a huge debate in Germany. By the end of October 2010 1.1 million copies of the book had been printed of which 750,00 had already been sold: "Deutschland schafft sich ab" ("Germany abolishes itself") looks at the effects of immigration, the shrinking birth-rate in Germany and the growth of a social "underclass". Above all, Sarrazin accuses Muslims in particular of being unwilling to integrate. German integration authorities, academics and politicians, he argues, are refusing to even discuss the problem:

"In Germany, a host of integration researchers, Islam scholars, sociologists, political scientists, interest groups as well as a flock of naive politicians work hand in hand and intensively in belittlement, self-delusion, and denial."

(Deutschland schafft sich ab, p. 279)

In an interview with the weekly Die Zeit, Sarrazin summed up his analysis in "the rule of three":

"First: the natural population dynamic of our people is declining. Second: birth-rates are related to class - the lower classes are having more babies. This asymmetry results in a contraction of the intellectual potential of society, even without immigration. Third: Measured by the deficits stemming from demography and birth-rate structure, the current immigration doesn't match. Especially immigration from Muslim countries poses a threat to the European cultural model."

Die Zeit: Sind Muslime dümmer? ("Are Muslims more stupid?"), 26 August 2010

Sarrazin is not a newcomer to the topic of Islam and integration. While senator of finance in Berlin, he repeatedly commented on the issue:

"I did not make up my opinion about Kreuzberg by going there and saying, ah, another headscarf or another pram. I looked at the Berlin statistics. As senator of finance, of course I thought to myself: how are we to pay for all this?"

Berliner Morgenpost: Thilo Sarrazin: "Ich bin kein Rassist" ("I am not a racist") (29 August 2010)

In 2009, Sarrazin clearly spelled out this line of thinking in a long interview with the cultural magazine Lettre International in a special issue on "Berlin on the couch - writers and artists on 20 years the fall of the Berlin Wall":

"I don't need to respect people who live off the state, despise that state, don't properly care for the education of their children and constantly produce new little headscarf-girls."

"The lower the class the higher the birth-rate. The share in birth-rates of Arabs and Turks is two to three times higher than their corresponding share in the population. Many of them are neither willing to integrate nor capable of doing so. The solution to this problem can only be no more immigration; and those who would like to marry should do this abroad."

"A large number of Arabs and Turks have no productive function, except for trade in fruits and vegetables and in all likelihood there won't be any other perspective."

"The Turks are conquering Germany in the same way the Kosovars conquered Kosovo: by using higher birth-rates. I would like this if it would be Eastern European Jews who have an IQ which is 15 points higher than the one of the German population."

Lettre International: "Klasse statt Masse" ("Quality, not quantity"), 30 September 2009, issue 86

Sarrazin's statements on immigrants in Berlin caused an uproar in the media and among many politicians who called for his dismissal from the Bundesbank and his expulsion from the SPD. These calls were renewed after Sarrazin published his book in August 2010.

Two of his statements in particular drove politicians and journalists to the barricades. In his book he wrote:

"We have to assume that for demographic reasons the underclass section of the population is growing steadily. Among migrants we have seen that the birth-rate 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 fold. 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 whether there is such thing as a "genetic identity", Sarrazin replied, "All Jews have a certain gene in common. Basques have a certain gene which differentiates them from others." Sarrazin later apologised for the remark, saying that he had read about two studies (by Harry Ostrer and Doron Behar) which suggest that many Jews have shared genetic roots, the interview effectively sealed the fate of the book.

Most of Germany's politicians united in a choir of disapproval of Sarrazin's ideas. 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 in a TV interview. Shortly thereafter the chairman of the Bundesbank asked German President Christian Wulff for permission to remove Sarazzin from the bank's board. Only a few hours later the SPD filed for his expulsion from the party. While the procedure for Sarrazin's expulsion from the SPD is still ongoing, he has withdrawn from the Bundesbank board without waiting for the president's official decision.

Sarrazin and his controversial book have rekindled a debate on Islam and integration that has made headlines in Germany for almost a decade. Despite the claims made by Sarrazin and many of his supporters, the problems of integration have certainly not gone unnoticed or unmentioned for reasons of political correctness in the five years preceeding his book, as this website also shows.

Many mainstream media have also been critical.

"'Germany abolishes itself'" 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 an attempt by a disoriented elite to exonerate itself. No wonder it is such a success."

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: "So wird Deutschland dumm" ("This is how Germany is becoming stupid"), 25 August 2010

The Frankfurter Rundschau concluded that the book's thesis is the work of a madman. The book "attempts to connect his statistically-grounded contempt for the overweight, welfare-grabbing underclass couch potatos with racist theories on cultural mentalities." And the Frankfurter Allgemeine on Sunday observed that the book is an attempt

"to establish a very different understanding of culture. One that links genetics with culture, 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. Those who succeed in making a 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 different: 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."

At the Tagesspiegel, writers, Islam scholars, education and immigration experts spoke out more or less in unison. 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 wrote:

"In the US we have started to hear discussions about whether black people are less intelligent than whites. This is 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."

And the publicist Mark Terkessidis explained:

"It might be an insult to the intelligence that Sarrazin swears by to have to dwell for any length of time on the lengthy 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."

There were also voices in support of Sarrazin, however. In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Necla Kelek asked why Sarrazin had 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 a 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 that? The economist in Sarrazin has calculated that the 750,000 Turkish immigrant workers now number almost 3 million and that 40 percent of the able bodied among them 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, speaking with 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 doling out in welfare cheques, the education deficit and the criminality among 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 else has to happen?"

The debate about Sarrazin's book was also picked up by the international media. In its online edition, the Economist wrote that

"In a way, the stir [Sarrazin] has created is a tribute to Germany's political culture. The mainstream parties are not blind to the problems he identifies but strive to be politically correct about them. The few openly xenophobic parties are marginalised. Mr Sarrazin has given voice to fears and resentments that have no political outlets. Germany has rightly worked hard to close them off. Now that Mr Sarrazin has prised one open, politicians will have to work doubly hard to prove him wrong."

The Washington Post refers to the fact that while the political elite and mainstream media refuted Sarrazin's arguments almost in unison, the picture among the ordinary population is not as clear. (According to some surveys, more than 40 percent support Sarrazin.)

"Yet Sarrazin's critique of Muslim immigrants has without question touched a national nerve. In the bars, taxis and offices of Berlin these days, it is the hottest topic of conservation, with his supporters feeling almost liberated by Sarrazin's willingness to throw caution to the wind and speak openly about their concerns. More than anything, he has tapped into German frustrations about the tendency of Muslim Turks - who began large-scale immigration in the 1960s to help run German factories - to live clannish lives, jealously guarding their language and religious traditions."

The New York Times places the Sarrazin debate in the wider context of Islamophobia:

"Mr. Sarrazin has set off a painful public discussion here that highlights one of the nation's most vexing challenges: how to overcome what is widely seen as a failed immigration policy that over decades has done little to support and integrate the nearly 20 percent of the population with an immigrant background. It is a policy that also stokes anti-Islamic sentiment and hostility."

Suggested readings

English articles


Interviews with Thilo Sarrazin

Other interviews