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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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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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