The Man Who Divided Germany: Why Sarrazin's Integration Demagoguery Has Many Followers

Part 4: The Genetic Argument

Photo Gallery: Sarrazin's Book Divides Germany Photos

What Sarrazin fails to mention is that these numbers only apply to the first generation of Turkish immigrants. According to the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), 8.9 percent of second-generation men with Turkish backgrounds marry German women, a percentage that increases in future generations.

To stir up anxiety over Muslim immigrants, Sarrazin also discusses congenital diseases in his book. On page 316, he writes: "Entire clans have a long tradition of inbreeding and a correspondingly high rate of disability. It is known that the percentage of congenital disabilities among Turkish and Kurdish immigrants is well above average. But the subject is usually hushed up. Perish the thought that genetic factors could be partially responsible for the failure of parts of the Turkish populations in the German school system."

This supposedly hushed-up phenomenon is common knowledge in the field of human genetics, and is discussed, for example, in a 2008 report by the Robert Koch Institute, "Migration and Health." According to the report, genetic diseases are "seen with greater frequency among children of Turkish descent, but also among children from the Middle and Near East, and from North Africa (Morocco)."

The probability of serious hereditary diseases among the children of marriages within extended families increases to 8 percent when they are the product of unions between cousins. The risk is 4 percent in marriages between unrelated partners. However, the absolute prevalence of ailments is low, as evidenced by the example of phenylketonuria, a disease in which a specific amino acid is not properly metabolized. In Turkey, one in 2,500 people is born with the disease, whereas the ratio among ethnic Germans is 1:10,000.

The Jewish Gene

Sarrazin's attempt to cite these cases as examples of "hereditary factors" that supposedly lead to poor performance among ethnic Turkish students is bizarre. "It's nonsense," says Bernhard Hortshemke of the Institute of Human Genetics at the University Hospital of Essen in western Germany. "One cannot use cases of extremely rare hereditary diseases to draw conclusions regarding the intelligence of an entire group."

Sarrazin's comments in an interview with the national Sunday newspaper Welt am Sonntag illustrate his propensity to assume that there are relevant genetic differences among ethnic groups: "All Jews share a certain gene, all Basques have certain genes that make them different from other people." This statement is scientifically untenable, because the genetic makeup of all human beings is based on an original population of about 10,000 individuals. "All human genes already existed in this population, and these genes are found in all of today's ethnic groups," says Diethard Tautz, president of the German Life Sciences Association (VBIO).

For this reason, all human beings share the genes -- presumably hundreds, if not thousands -- that are responsible for cognitive abilities. "This is why it can be assumed," says Tautz, "that every ethnic group has fundamentally the same genetic potential for intelligence."

Sarrazin's assessment of the genetic differences among ethnic groups is incorrect, as is his main thesis on intelligence. "Fifty to 80 percent of human intelligence is hereditary," he writes, suggesting that it is illusory to believe that intellectual stimulation can significantly alter cognitive abilities.

By No Means Born Stupid

But this statement makes no scientific sense, because conclusions on heredity do not relate to the intelligence of an individual but to differences in intelligence among individuals. When children in upper socioeconomic groups are tested, genes are responsible for about 50 percent of differences in intelligence. The situation changes considerably when children from lower socioeconomic groups are tested: Differences in IQ levels are almost completely attributable to socioeconomic factors, whereas there is virtually no measurable genetic effect. This finding, which Sarrazin neglects to mention, shows that genetic potential is suppressed by family conditions informed by poverty and stress. In other words, the weaker of these children are by no means born stupid. In fact, they are precisely the ones who would stand to benefit more from support programs.

Klaus Bade, a leading German expert in the field of migration studies, actually paints a rather upbeat picture of the overall situation. The process of integration has "by no means failed," he says. "A rational analysis shows us that the situation is significantly better than the way it is portrayed in the public debate," he argues. "In fact, in many empirically measurable areas, it is quite satisfactory or even highly successful."

In short, Sarrazin's book is unconvincing, and yet it has managed to convince many people. That fact has now become a problem for Germany's two main political parties, the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

Listening to the Voice of the People

When SPD party leaders met on Monday of last week, it didn't take them long to decide that Sarrazin should be expelled from the party. But even throwing him out could prove to be a headache for the Social Democrats.

By Friday afternoon, the party headquarters had received nearly 4,000 e-mails and hundreds of phone calls about the issue, according to officials at SPD headquarters in Berlin. Party members and non-members alike had expressed outrage at the way Sarrazin was being treated.

"It's about time that you listened to the voice of the people," urged one writer. "If far more than 80 percent of Germans agree with the arguments presented by Mr. Sarrazin, but the politicians reject them, then either you are acting against the will of the people or you feel that they are immature and deranged." In another e-mail, someone wrote: "If you just regularly watch the TV show "Aktenzeichen XY … ungelöst" (a German show similar to Britain's "Crimewatch" or "America's Most Wanted"), you can't deny that in the majority of the cases foreigners are somehow involved in the crimes depicted." The "Turks living among us" in many cases "do not adhere to German law" and do not shy away from "killing young women or 'disfiguring' them so that they are no longer 'women' (female circumcision)."

Gerd Andres, a former member of parliament for the SPD and the President of the German-Turkish Society, said that many SPD members in his home electoral district of Hanover "tell me that Sarrazin is right." Andres feels that the SPD "has no choice but to expel him, but I'm very unhappy about it. You can't replace factual debates with expulsion proceedings." Such a move would give many people the impression that Sarrazin has been "gagged," he says.

The party leadership felt compelled to react to the mood among the rank and file. In an e-mail to party members, SPD general secretary Andrea Nahles wrote that the expulsion proceedings are "not a rejection of an intensive debate on integration policies in our country." Rather it is also necessary "to address and tackle uncomfortable truths." One of these is that "there are at times significant educational and linguistic deficits" among young immigrants.

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Graphic: Muslims in Germany Zoom

Graphic: Muslims in Germany

A Brief History of Integration in Germany
1949 -- The Constitution
The German constitution comes into force. Cognizant of Germany's Nazi past, the "Basic Law" provides for far-reaching asylum rights that include constitutionally guaranteed individual rights to sue for asylum.
1960 -- Recruiting Abroad
Some 280,000 workers from abroad are already employed in Germany. But more are needed. Recruitment agreements are signed in 1960 with both Greece and Spain.
1961 -- The Berlin Wall
The construction of the Berlin Wall puts an immediate stop to the flood of people flowing into West Germany from East Germany, meaning that new sources of labor must be found. Germany signs a recruitment agreement with Turkey.
1964 -- One Million Guest Workers
Armando Rodrigues from Portugal becomes the 1 millionth guest worker in Germany. He is given a moped as a welcoming gift.
1966 -- East German Recruitment
East Germany too needs to recruit workers from abroad to help with reconstruction. Between 1966 and 1989, some 500,000 people are brought in, mostly from Vietnam, Poland, Mozambique and other countries.
1971 -- Residency Made Easy
The West German government eases rules for residency permit applications. The change makes it easier for immigrants to stay in the country and leads to many of them bringing their families to Germany.
1973 -- The Oil Crisis
Due to the oil crisis and the concurrent economic slowdown, Germany ceases recruiting new guest workers from abroad. The German labor market is saturated with 2.6 million guest workers.
1983 -- Going Home?
The government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl passes a law that provides financial assistance to those guest workers who want to return to their home countries. But the law does not result in the wave of returns the government had hoped for.
1990 -- Fall of the Iron Curtain
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of communism in Eastern Germany, tens of thousands of ethnic Germans from the former Soviet bloc stream into newly reunified Germany and dominate immigration for a time.
1993 -- Xenophobic Attacks
Five people with Turkish backgrounds die in Solingen, Germany following an arson attack on the house they were living in. It was one of several xenophobic attacks in the early 1990s, including ones in Hoyerswerda, Rostock-Lichtenhagen and Mölln.
1999 -- Petition against Dual Citizenship
During the runup to a state election in Hesse, conservative politician Roland Koch -- who would go on to win the vote and become state governor -- caused controversy with a petition campaign against allowing immigrants in Germany to hold dual citizenship. The campaign was criticized for being xenophobic.
2000 -- Launch of Green Card Program
Then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced a "green card" program, which was aimed at recruiting 20,000 IT specialists from outside the European Union. The move sparked a new debate on immigration.
2001 -- 9/11 Attacks
After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the issue of security came to dominate the immigration debate. Immigrants were increasingly presented as being a risk rather than an opportunity for Germany.
2005 -- New Immigration Law
The so-called Immigration Law came into effect. It laid down new rules for immigration and included measures to promote integration within German society, such as the right to attend an "integration course."
2006 -- First Islamic Conference
Then-Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble held the first Islamic Conference. It led to the founding of a new umbrella group representing Muslims, the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany. Previously, Muslims living in Germany had not had a unified lobby group to represent their interests.
2006 -- Citizenship Tests
The states of Baden-Württemberg and Hesse introduced so-called "citizenship tests." Foreigners living in those states who wanted to become German citizens were obliged to correctly answer a series of questions about Germany.
2010 -- Diverse World Cup Team
Eleven of 23 players on Germany's national football team at the World Cup in South Africa came from immigrant families, including Mesut Özil, Marko Marin and Miroslav Klose. The diverse team was hailed as a symbol of multiculturalism in German society.
Thilo Sarrazin's Urge to Provoke

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