The “mosque menace” is not confined to Lower Manhattan or the USA. In many European countries similar alarms are sounded, usually in tones recalling Paul Revere: “The Muslims are coming!” Although according to Sarkozy in France, Berlusconi in Italy, and the militarized neo-fascist Jobbik party in Hungary the danger is more from the Roma people (also called Gypsies), more often than not it’s those scary Muslims who are seen as the most menacing threat. Yes, we better watch out! Switzerland had its referendum against minarets, bleached-blond rabble-rouser Wilders won third place for his “Hate Islam” party in the Netherlands, and now barroom brawlers in Germany are being called to struggle against the Turks and any or all of their Islamic fellow religionists.
The best-known crusader for Germanic purity at the moment is Thilo Sarrazin, no typical rabble-rouser but a finely dressed, proper-looking Prussian-type banker, with bristly mustache and a slightly drooping right eye. To the embarrassment of some of its leaders he has long been a member of the Social Democratic Party and for years was minister of finance in the city-state of Berlin.
In those days his righteous anger was not focused against immigrant groups but against “lower castes” in general, and he wielded sharp scissors against social programs. Since Berlin has been heavily in debt for years, this was long accepted as unpleasant necessity. His notoriety began with comments that the jobless should be satisfied with the dole money they got, or even less; a sausage and some sauerkraut made a good, inexpensive dinner, he pointed out, and as for heating, he found that “. . .people should consider whether they can’t get along at home quite sensibly with 15-16 degrees (c. 60 degrees Fahrenheit) by putting on a heavy sweater.”
He insisted that pensions should really be cut not raised, and people should take care of pension problems privately, with as little government aid as possible. As for families he inquired: “‘How can I arrange things so that only those people get children who can manage with them.’ Some women get two, three, or more children even though they lack the ‘wherewithal’ or the ‘personal characteristics’ to see to their education. That means that the social system must be altered ‘so people are not able to improve their standard of living simply by having children, as is the case today’.”
All too gradually, Sarrazin became impossible as a Social Democratic minister in a city-state government, especially when the Left Party joined to form a coalition. Therefore he was kicked upstairs into an extremely remunerative job on the top floor of the Federal Bank, a cousin of the American Federal Reserve System. Before leaving he fired off a final salvo indicating his new field of endeavor. In an interview targeting especially the three to four million people in Germany with a Turkish background, he asserted: “I don’t have to recognize anyone who lives off this state, but rejects this state, and who doesn’t properly care for the education of his children while constantly producing more little girls to wear headscarves.”
Quite understandably, the Turkish population, citizens and non-citizens, of first, second, or third generation, pointed out indignantly that it was they who had done much of the heavy, dirty work in rebuilding West Germany, often at low pay, and who now, in countless cases, were moving into a wide variety of trades and professions. The fact that all too many were still caught in semi-slums, received only second- or third-class education, and were rejected when job-hunting, with all the consequences, was not completely their fault. And many were making real contributions to society.
But Sarrazin stepped up his attacks: “The Turks are conquering Germany, just like the Kosovars conquered Kosovo, with a higher birthrate.” He extended his attacks to the many more recent Arab immigrants: “Since Arab boys can’t make out with their Arab girls they use easier-to-get lower-class German girls whom they then despise for being so easy to make out with.” At the same time he attacked Turkish men for not marrying in Germany but instead “importing illiterate Turkish women.” He insisted that Muslims were less intelligent, and their increase a threat to the general intelligence level in Germany. All of this clearly aimed at building on and increasing existing prejudices and getting groups to look down upon or hate each other.
The unions opposed him, and his Social Democratic Party also picked up the criticisms, though an attempt to expel him from his Berlin party group was unsuccessful. His new institution, the Federal Bank, cautiously criticized him for engaging in political statements which had nothing to do with banking, but kept him on in his high managerial position.
Now Thilo Sarrazin has published a book, Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Does Away with Itself), which warns in dire terms that, unless German women hurry up and have more children, the country will be overrun and ruled by Muslims in a matter of decades. He claims that there are such things as Jewish genes, which he praises, and Turkish genes, which are responsible for the lower intelligence rates. Most leaders of the Jewish Congregation objected to any such references to “Jewish genes” and were highly critical, but some members joined in attacks against the Muslims.
The book was publicized in the entire media with talk shows, reprints, debates. Some, as in the Springer press (similar to Murdoch’s media empire), were highly appreciative and reprinted long excerpts; others were highly critical. But the result was that the first edition sold out immediately.
The Social Democratic Party is still thinking over what to do about him, while one of its most prominent “wise men,” former chancellor Helmut Schmidt, expressed barely-disguised affirmation: “If he had expressed himself a little less crudely I could have agreed with much of what he said.” Therein lay the true danger connected with Thilo Sarrazin: Not in any imagined Muslim rule some day, a totally ridiculous idea when confronted by the facts, but rather that so very many Germans have been infected by the bacteria of nationalism and xenophobia, fearing or hating anything new or strange to them. Such feelings, all too common all over Europe and North America, but have an especially sinister tradition in Germany, especially in times of depression, which can occur or re-occur almost anytime. Seventy years ago the menace was supposedly the “Jewish danger.” Now it’s Muslims.
Two very different reactions should not be overlooked. Gesine Lötzsch, co-president of the Left Party, insisted that a man with such views was “intolerable in such a public position.” The same party’s delegate in the Bundestag, Sevim Dagdelen, herself from an immigrant background, denounced Sarrazin’s “racist tirades.” “It is unacceptable that a managing member of the Federal Bank spreads such poison which splits society,” she said and called on the Social Democrats to “do something at last and expel Sarrazin from their party” while comparing his views with those of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD).
Sure enough, the neo-Nazi bloggers were quick to voice support for Sarrazin. With an anti-Muslim group called PRO Berlin making plans to enter next year’s elections in the capital city, and with growing ties between racist, anti-Muslim groups in many countries, the call for opposition to Thilo Sarrazin and his propaganda gained dramatic urgency.
Victor Grossman, American journalist and author, is a resident of East Berlin for many years. He is the author of Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003).