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The Saracen and the Jews

A Bundesbank official stirs controversy again.

1:07 PM, Sep 1, 2010 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
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Another interview and another controversy for Thilo Sarrazin, the embattled board member of the German Bundesbank. Last autumn, Sarrazin found himself embroiled in controversy and accused of racism following the publication of a wide-ranging interview in which he questioned the capacity for integration of Muslim immigrants in Germany.

“Integration is an accomplishment of those who integrate,” Sarrazin said – among many other things –

I do not have to respect someone who does nothing. I do not have to respect anyone who lives off the state and at the same time rejects the state, who does not decently provide for the education of their children and who is constantly producing more and more little girls in headscarves. This goes for seventy percent of the Turkish population and ninety percent of the Arab population in Berlin. Many do not want to integrate. …

(On the first Sarrazin controversy, including extensive translated excerpts from the interview that sparked it, see my “Racism or Sociology? A Bundesbank Official Stirs Controversy” on Pajamas Media.)

Now, Sarrazin has done it again. Though out of an interview comprising nearly 3000 German words, the source of the controversy this time consists of exactly six. The interview – provocatively titled “Do You Not Like Turks, Mr. Sarrazin?” – appeared in last Sunday’s edition of the daily Die Welt. The six words are as follows: “All Jews share a certain gene.”

“His argument is racist at this point,” Sigmar Gabriel, the chair of Germany’s Social Democratic party (SPD), has declared. As consequence, Gabriel has called for Sarrazin – a longtime SPD member – to be expelled from the party.

Apparently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agrees with Gabriel’s assessment. She has described Sarrazin’s remarks as “completely unacceptable” and expressed confidence that the Bundesbank will take up the matter: i.e. presumably in order to initiate proceedings to have Sarrazin removed from his post. Sarrazin was already stripped of his principal duties at the Bundesbank following the controversy last year.

Dieter Graumann, the vice-president of Germany’s semi-official Central Council of Jews in Germany, has even gone so far as to accuse Sarrazin of resurrecting Nazi-era “racial theory.” Sarrazin stepped over “a red line,” Graumann told the German wire service DPA.

But when restored to their context, it is obvious that in using the six words, Sarrazin was merely attempting, however infelicitously, to express what is in fact a simple tautology: namely, that to the extent that we refer to “Jews” and are not doing so on the basis of religion, then we must be supposing some sort of common “genetic heritage” or, in other more colloquial terms, shared ancestry. Otherwise, the use of the word to refer to persons who are not religious makes no sense whatsoever.

Just how far afield Sarrazin’s reflections are from the Nazi-like notions of “racial purity” that have been attributed to him by his accusers is indeed made clear by the very passage that precedes the six words in the interview. Sarrazin employs here the common German word Volk, which can variously be translated as “people” or “nation.”

The identity of a people [Volk] or a society is not anything static. There is a French identity, a German identity, a Dutch identity. When things go smoothly, immigrants grow into such identities; at some point they get dissolved into such an identity; the image of the melting pot is not false. The faces of peoples [Völker] change over the course of time, but this occurs on the basis of the continuous development of their identities….The cultural particularity of peoples is not a myth, but rather determines the reality of Europe.

At this point, it was in fact the interviewers who brought up genetics, asking “Is there also a genetic identity?” To this, Sarrazin replied matter-of-factly, “All Jews share a certain gene; Basques have certain genes, which distinguish them from other people.”

The hysteria of the reactions to this remark in the German media and among the German political elites appears to be a function of two distinct factors.

Firstly, the interview coincided with the publication of a new book by Sarrazin titled Deutschland schafft sich ab, which can be roughly translated as “Germany is Consigning Itself to Extinction.” The six words appear to have been exploited by Sarrazin’s opponents as the perfect “gotcha!” moment, in order to trouble the book launch. Never mind that Sarrazin’s prior record of comments about Jews is far more obviously philosemitic than anti-semitic. Thus in last autumn’s interview, for example, he described the Nazi expulsion and extermination of Germany’s Jewish population as “an enormous intellectual bloodletting” from which the country (and, in particular, the city of Berlin) has never recovered.

Secondly, the hysteria can be presumed to be driven by bad conscience. In fact, the German constitution, or Grundgesetz, continues to employ an ethnic definition of “Germanness” (or “deutsche Volkszugehörigkeit”) that is explicitly distinguished from “mere” possession of German citizenship. The distinction, which appears in Article 116 of the Grundgesetz, has massive consequences for the functioning of German society. Critics like the historian Wolfgang Wippermann of Berlin’s Free University have long criticized it as an obstacle to the successful integration of “non-Germanic” immigrants and have called for the suppression of Article 116.

The operational definition of ethnic “Germanness” in German law is contained in Article 6 of the so-called Federal Law on Expellees from 1953. It reads as follows: “A member of the German nation [Volk] in the sense of this law is whoever has in his or her homeland avowed adherence to the German nation, to the degree that this avowal is confirmed by definite characteristics such as ancestry, language, education and culture.” As the German sociologist Nora Räthzel has pointed out, this definition reproduces nearly word-for-word the definition contained in a Nazi-era German Interior Ministry directive, which was issued on March 29, 1939. The Nazi-era version, however, continues: “Persons of alien blood [artfremden Blutes], in particular Jews, are never such members of the [German] nation, even if they have hitherto described themselves as such.”

In his interview with Die Welt, Sarrazin insisted, as he has in the past, that intelligence is largely (“from 50% to 80%”) genetically determined. This in-and-of-itself seemingly banal assertion prompted the following exchange: 

Die Welt: Pardon me, but one could see a certain closeness to Nazi ways of thinking.

Sarrazin: Utter nonsense. Intelligence tests were prohibited under the Nazis, because their results disproved the myth of the superiority of the German race. I am myself a European mongrel. On my father’s side, the family is descended from [French] Huguenots from Lyon. I have an English grandmother, somewhere or another an Italian great-great-grandmother, and you can see from my Slavic cheekbones that my mother comes from West Prussia [i.e. what is nowadays part of Poland]. 

Die Welt: Is there also some Muslim element in there somewhere?

Sarrazin: My name is common in the South of France. It is derived from the Arab pirates that were called “Saracens” in the Middle Ages. As a young man with a black mustache and thick black hair, in a parka and jeans I looked more Turkish than many Turks.

And then referring to Berlin’s most famous Turkish neighborhood, the former chief of the city’s finances added, “I would not have stood out in Kreuzberg at all.”

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