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You Can't Say That

Against its wishes, Europe’s political class is hip-deep in immigration debates.

Oct 4, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 03 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
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WaS: So we have different genes than the people here in this Turkish café?

Sarrazin: You’re not going to get me riled up. I’ll say my thing: Up until a few years ago, immigration played only a very small role in the European gene pool, and the changes happened only gradually, over long periods. Three quarters of the ancestors of contemporary Britons and Irish were there in the British Isles 7,500 years ago. So it is actually not true that Europe has ever had movements of immigrants to the extent it does today.

I would be the last person to quarrel with these points. Sarrazin’s source for this genetic information, as he has noted in other interviews, is my own book on immigration, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, which was published last year. I cited the British numbers to make exactly the point Sarrazin did—that whether a nation is a “nation of immigrants” is not a fuzzy concept but a quantifiable thing. Whatever one’s wishes on the matter, none of the European nations is a nation of immigrants in the way that the United States is. 

Nor was Sarrazin wrong about shared genes among Jews, as anyone familiar with Tay-Sachs disease will know. In Germany, however, the mere mention of Jews in a discussion of genetic attributes is a taboo, for reasons readily understood. Sarrazin certainly understood. He apologized for having chosen that example. (He probably chose the Basques as his other example because, as the oldest European people, they feature prominently in most scientific literature on population genetics.) While no convincing case has been made that Sarrazin is inclined towards anti-Semitism, his remarks made it possible to attack his book without appearing to be merely censoring his unpopular remarks on immigration. 

When we say “unpopular,” we mean unpopular among the German political classes, who condemned Sarrazin almost univocally. You can count the exceptions on one hand. There was Edmund Stoiber, the former Bavarian minister president from the Christian Social Union, who warned that the last time public sentiment against heavy immigration was ignored—in the 1990s—the result was the rise of right-wing movements. Wolfgang Clement, the SPD budget czar, thought Sarrazin’s points were reasonable. 

The need to discipline Sarrazin in the teeth of widespread public support posed very tricky questions for almost all of Germany’s institutions. It was as hard as passing a health care plan that nobody wants. It was particularly hard for Sarrazin’s party, the SPD. The party head, Sigmar Gabriel, who led the effort at ousting Sarrazin, admitted that mail and emails from members were running 9-to-1 in Sarrazin’s favor. As one Bavarian SPD leader told the press, “Our party members need enlightenment, and yet more enlightenment.”

Gabriel insisted that he was not objecting to the book, which he had not read, but to Sarrazin’s “core thesis” of genetic determinism. And that core thesis, Gabriel said, was “close to” Nazi ideas of “racial hygiene.” This is typical of immigration debates: Gabriel would not accuse Sarrazin of actually holding Nazi views, because Sarrazin does not. So he criticized Sarrazin’s views on the grounds that they have “overtones” of views that he doesn’t hold. “This smacks of .  .  . ” “It is almost as if .  .  . ” “There is an uncomfortable echo .  .  . ” Once this is your standard, you can ostracize anyone for anything and still make believe the discussion you’re censoring is something “well worth discussing.” No one’s censoring anybody! It’s just that absolutely everything that questions the immigration status quo is deemed to fall short of some ever-shifting standard of intellectual propriety. 

In the end, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats did not escape damage. “The only solution is education, education, education,” was about the best response she could manage to the question of what she would do about the issues Sarrazin had raised. The Christian Democrats are an umbrella party of Christians, free marketers, and conservatives. The conservatives found all of this a bit mealy-mouthed. There was talk of a rupture in the ranks. A poll found that if Sarrazin were to start a political party, 18 percent of Germans would consider voting for it. In almost every newspaper, there were forebodings that Sarrazin might wind up as the German equivalent of Geert Wilders, the Dutch anti-Islam party leader, or, worse, that the truculent impatience with the German ruling classes that he had unleashed might signal the beginnings of some Teutonic Tea Party.

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