Immigration Debate Challenges German Tolerance of Minorities

Thilo Sarrazin is an unconventional figure. Until recently he had been a leading politician in the German Social Democratic Party and a member of the Executive Board of the German Bundesbank. Then in August last year, contrary to the modern German tradition of political correctness and tolerance, he published a book titled Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany does itself in), denouncing Germany’s post war immigration policy and declaring German multiculturalism failed, taking principal aim at Turkish Muslim immigrants.

The book has become the most successful German language book in the last decade. Before it had even appeared on shelves, 25,000 copies were pre-sold. As of May this year, 1.5 million copies had been sold. Chancellor Merkel reacted strongly against it, as did many politicians, calling it “unacceptable” and “injurious”. But politicians are in a quandary as to what to do – Mr Sarrazin enjoys approximately 50% support of the German population and 18% say they would vote for him if he were to form his own party.

Shortly after publication in September the Bundesbank asked the German President, Christian Wulff, to dismiss him, a move that Mr Sarrazin pre-empted by resigning despite his initial refusal to do so. Then his party began proceedings to expel him before the Arbitration Commission though the proceedings were ultimately discontinued in April this year.

Germany’s attitude of tolerance towards minorities, including immigrants, comes as an obvious reaction to the national horror of having let the Holocaust take place. In 1949 the new German Constitution came into force, which, recognised Germany’s Nazi past and thus included in its “Basic Law” far-reaching asylum rights which included a constitutionally guaranteed right to sue for asylum.

Following this throughout the 1960s strong immigration incentives were provided to foreigners as Germany tried to rebuild post World War II. However already by the early 1970s there was less demand for migrant workers and by the 1980s the government was actively trying to wind back immigration by offering repatriation with compensation to those guest workers who would take it. However take up was less than expected and by the 1990s the immigration debate had turned violent with neo-Nazi style attacks being launched against immigrants.

Though his target may not be Jewish people, it is the overwhelming similarity to the anti-semitic, Nazi propaganda in Mr Sarrazin’s own style and reasoning, and the German people’s susceptibility to its persuasion, that is alarming. For example, just as Hitler appealed to the idea of the higher intelligence of the German people, Sarrazin also employs this same ideal. He argues that the mere presence of immigrants from Turkey, the Middle East and Africa in the German education system is contributing to the dumbing down of German society.

He has also employed the highly provocative idea that German people are in the process of losing control over their country, being overrun by Arabs and Muslims who have higher birthrates claiming, “The Turks are taking over Germany exactly as the Kosovars took over Kosovo: via a higher birth rate.” Nazi propaganda also employed this idea where Germans were reminded of the struggle against foreign enemies and Jewish subversion in the lead up to controversial legislation. The propaganda then encouraged passivity and acceptance of the impending measures against Jews, as these appeared to depict the Nazi government as stepping in and “restoring order”.

In fact according to Der Spiegel there are 4 million Muslims in Germany of a total population of 82 million citizens. Somewhat ironically, his polemics may have excited the sort of political activism from Muslim German citizens that he is so fearful of. It seems since the publication of his book there has been a wave of political activism amongst Muslims who resent being stereotyped and who have begun to speak up.

In 2008 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turks living in Germany: “No one can expect you to subject yourselves to assimilation, because assimilation is a crime against humanity.” What Prime Minister Erdogan is arguing against is the requirement for immigrants to replace all aspects of their Turkish cultural background with German culture. This is not a question of integrating as it is a question of becoming the same.

This may be at the heart of the issue as one American on the Der Spiegel discussion board remarked. After having come to the Netherlands, adopted the customs, passed all the language and cultural exams and become a Dutch citizen, he is still told by his Dutch compatriots that he will never be a “Dutchman”. If assimilation is what Germans are seeking, perhaps Mr Sarrazin’s book and the ensuing debate will bring that to light.

Eye on Europe

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