Politicians have rushed to condemn a board member of the German central bank for a new book tackling immigration, but his views have found considerable support among the population at large.
Thilo Sarrazin’s book “is not convincing, but it has convinced many people,” said the influential Spiegel magazine, which this week has the Bundesbank executive on its cover, calling him a “people’s hero.”
His publisher is rushing to print more copies of “Germany Does Itself In” to meet demand. Online retailer Amazon.de has a massive 207 reader reviews on its website, with the average score 4.4 stars out of a possible five.
The Social Democrats (SPD), the centre-left political party Sarrazin belongs to, has been inundated with thousands of letters, emails and phone calls attacking the central bank board’s desire to expel him.
“Listen to the voice of the people for once,” Spiegel quoted one of the almost 4,000 emails as saying.
In the book, Sarrazin says Europe’s top economy is being undermined, overwhelmed and made “more stupid” by poorly educated, fast-breeding, badly integrated and unproductive Muslim immigrants and their offspring.
“If I want to hear the muezzin’s call to prayer, then I’ll go to the Orient,” he says, saying that allowing in millions of “guest workers” in the 1960s and 1970s was a “gigantic error.”
He also says that Turkish and Kurdish “clans” have a “long tradition of inbreeding,” leading to higher rates of birth defects, and ponders whether this might be one reason for immigrants’ poor school performance, Spiegel said.
This and his comment to a newspaper that “all Jews share a certain gene”, critics say, is akin to the kind of pseudo-science used by the Nazis.
Chancellor Angela Merkel called the remarks “completely unacceptable.” The Bundesbank’s board has asked President Christian Wulff to fire him, as it cannot do so itself.
Sarrazin has no intention of going quietly, however, and has threatened to appeal in the courts if Wulff dismisses him in a “show trial.”
But at the same time, Sarrazin’s book has thrown the spotlight on the fact that Germany’s record is poor on integrating its 15.6 million people with what the government calls “a migration background.”
According to official figures, nearly one in five young people without German nationality, which many second and third generation immigrants do not have, leave school with no qualifications.
Other figures show that people in Germany of Turkish origin, who number around three million and make up the largest minority, are significantly more likely to be living below the poverty line.
The debate has taken on such proportions that Merkel, 56, gave an interview to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, and on Sunday she admitted in the Bild am Sonntag weekly that Germany has made mistakes and has a lot of work to do.
In the past, Germany “dreamed a so-called multi-cultural dream and didn’t do enough to remind immigrants of their responsibilities,” she told the paper.
“Unfortunately, it is true that children from immigrant families still today on average get worse grades at school. . . . Our policies have made many things better but we still can’t be satisfied.”
But a Pandora’s Box has been opened. Backing for Sarrazin, 65, is so strong that a survey published on Sunday indicated that if he set up his own new political party, almost one in five (18 percent) would vote for him.
Sarrazin has no intention of doing any such thing, but the survey raised fears that a charismatic right-wing populist in Germany, like anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, could win considerable political support.
According to a study from Bielefeld University, one in two Germans thinks there are too many foreigners in the country.