September 2, 2010 | Quote

Why Are Germans Upset Over Critic of Islam?

“Everyone’s against Sarrazin!” was the headline that Bild,Germany’s largest daily newspaper, chose for its Tuesday issue. Deutsche Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin has sharply criticized both German Muslims for failing to embrace integration and Islam for its tendency to lead to terror.

Sarrazin, 65, a former Social Democratic finance commissioner for Berlin state (2002- 2009), has become, according to some observers, the subject of a feeding frenzy by the German media and political establishment, which is turning an unconventional thinker into a pariah.

“What did he say that was so sensational? You can look up all the facts. You can see – Germany supposedly loves people who think outside the box. But Germans don’t trust non-conformist opinions. That’s why this witch-hunt is happening,” the well-known German-Jewish journalist Henryk M. Broder said.

While Turkish and Islamic organizations have accused Sarrazin of racism and damaging Germany’s reputation abroad, the prominent German- Turkish sociologist and best-selling author Necla Kelek, who has defended Sarrazin, introduced him at a Berlin press conference on Monday attended by roughly 300 journalists, a number normally reserved for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s infrequent press appearances.

Kelek said Sarrazin addressed “bitter truths” in his new book and the chattering classes have judged it without reading it.

What first triggered the controversy surrounding the publication of the book, Germany Abolishes Itself, which appeared in bookstores on Monday, were Sarrazin’s comments about Islam and Jews.

Regarding Islam, Sarrazin said, “No other religion in Europe makes so many demands. No immigrant group other than Muslims is so strongly connected with claims on the welfare state and crime. No group emphasizes their differences so strongly in public, especially through women’s clothing. In no other religion is the transition to violence, dictatorship and terrorism so fluid.”

While Sarrazin has tapped into a raw nerve among the politically and socially correct elites of Germany, which roundly slammed him for his language, his critique of Muslims and his right to articulate his views enjoy widespread support within mainstream German society. Polls have revealed extraordinary levels of approval for Sarrazin, ranging from 85 percent to 95% of those questioned.

The first edition of his 460- page book (25,000 copies) promptly sold out, and a second edition of 15,000 was quickly purchased, prompting a third edition (70,000) and a fourth (80,000) to be commissioned.

CNN Turkey said on its news site that “The Netherlands has their Gert Wilders. Germany has its Thilo Sarrazin.” Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom in his country, has waged a campaign against political Islam in the Netherlands. The Sarrazin debate had dominated theTurkish press.

The furor associated with Sarrazin’s book has led to a bizarre wave of anti-intellectual hysteria, triggering leading German politicians and journalists to trash Germany Abolishes Itself without having read it. A bookstore in Hildesheim, 30 km. southeast of Hanover, announced the cancellation of Sarrazin’s first public reading on Thursday due to “security concerns” in connection with a group called “Alliance against the Right.”

The Alliance has urged on a poster that Sarrazin be kidnapped.

Arno Widmann, a cultural editor for the Frankfurter Rundschau daily, whose writings are considered to be anti-Israeli by some, went so far as to call for the prosecutor’s office to indict Sarrazin for inciting hatred.

Sarrazin’s thesis that “all Jews share a particular gene. That makes them different from other peoples” provoked perhaps the most controversy. He also said Basques share a common gene.

While the discussion about a shared genetic makeup among Jews was reported on in June in The New York Times and Jewish newspapers, Germans react in a Pavlovian way to genetic theories, because the Nazis employed biological racial theories to dehumanize Jews and other groups. All of this helps to explain the hysterical attacks on Sarrazin’s references to Jewish genetics.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle went so far as to term Sarrazin’s comments “anti-Semitic and racist.”

Back in 2002, Westerwelle could not bring himself to rope in Jürgen Möllemann’s (then a top Free Democratic Party politician) mass-mailing of election flyers bashing prime minister Ariel Sharon. Möllemann’s campaign strategy was widely viewed as the first public use of anti-Semitism to win over voters since the Hitler movement.

Leading members of the FDP, including Westerwelle and Development Minister Dirk Niebel, have refused to recognize the outbreak of Israel-hatred within the FDP as modern anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, Sarrazin further clarified his comment and said, “A statement I made in an interview on August 29, 2010, caused irritation and misunderstanding that I regret. When I said that ‘all Jews share a particular gene,’ I did not express myself with sufficient precision.”

Does that make Sarrazin an anti-Semite? Broder, the Spiegel newsweekly commentator, offered what might very well be the most cogent explanation for Sarrazin’s statements about Jews.

“And there’s a second trick that’s being used now: he’s being accused of anti-Semitism. If you could accuse him of anything, it’s philo-Semitism, because he wrongly thinks Jews are more intelligent than others,” Broder said.

He added, “But of course, behind the anti-Semitism accusation you can really go after the man, because anti-Semitism of course is no longer acceptable in Germany, and rightly so. There is no substantive debate here at all – the issue is that a nation gets up, as it were, they all agree and they take it all out on a scapegoat who they’d like to send into the desert. It’s very disturbing.”

Sarrazin has acknowledged that he used emotionally charged language to jolt Germans out of a dogmatic slumber about their country’s failed integration policies toward Muslims. His rhetoric is at times prone to clumsy generalizations and sweeping provocations. The efforts to silence him and prevent a debate about his book seem to prove his thesis correct. A closing of the German mind does not help advance the discussion about the dangers of German Islamism and failed assimilation programs.