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.