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

Thilo Sarrazin's controversial new book on Muslims in Germany has not only generated opprobrium from the political elite, it has also generated a mass following from the population at large. The tome may be full of inaccuracies, but it has struck a nerve. By SPIEGEL Staff


The man who is has cleaved Germany in two isn't sleeping well at night. Thilo Sarrazin normally needs five to six hours of sleep, but these days he's getting only two or three. He describes his frame of mind as that of someone whose adrenalin levels are constantly elevated and who has trouble finding peace of mind.

It's a Friday afternoon and Sarrazin, the German central bank board member whose controversial book about integration and Muslim immigration in Germany has dominated the headlines for the last 10 days, is back home in Berlin. On the previous evening in Frankfurt, Sarrazin met with his attorney to discuss his challenge against the Bundesbank, which is currently seeking to oust him.

He also made a brief appearance in his office, but his secretary tells anyone who asks that he isn't in. All the calls, letters and e-mails Sarrazin has been receiving at the Bundesbank are simply too much to process. "It's 99 percent support and letters of congratulation," he says proudly.

Following two recent appearances on German talk shows, Sarrazin has decided to keep a lower profile for awhile. He still communicates with friends and acquaintances -- and had a technician come by to fix a problem with his Internet at home -- but aside from that he has imposed a "media blackout" on himself.

Many people would like to speak to him and offer their support. He claims that he has yet to have a negative encounter as a result of his book. He was even greeted with smiles and nods in the elevator at the Bundesbank as he was on his way to discuss the crisis with his fellow board members on the 13th floor. "Naturally, I hoped that my book would attract attention. But the intensity surprised me," he says.

Bordering on Revulsion

Rarely has a man influenced the German public discourse as much as Sarrazin has done with his book "Deutschland schafft sich ab" ("Germany Does Itself In"). In just two weeks, Germany has been hit by three waves of debate stemming from the tome.

Criticism bordering on revulsion dominated the first wave of the reaction. Politicians and opinion leaders condemned Sarrazin almost unanimously.

But then it slowly became apparent that many citizens agreed with Sarrazin. The publisher announced that, due to high demand, it was going to increase the book's initial printing to 250,000 copies. Furthermore, Internet forums and political events made it clear that Sarrazin -- a member of the center-left Social Democrats, which has initiated proceedings to throw him out of the party -- had broad public support. Many are saying he is right; or, even if he does make a mistake here and there, he isn't being treated fairly.

The following e-mail, for example, was received at Social Democratic Party (SPD) headquarters: "Sometimes I'm frustrated and even furious about the fact that, in today's Germany, it's no longer possible to speak your mind and call a spade a spade! This is the sort of thing I'm used to seeing in totalitarian countries." Suddenly Sarrazin seemed like a popular hero.

The third wave arrived in the middle of last week. Politicians have begun demanding that the political elite cease ignoring the fact that many in Germany support Sarrazin. Peter Hauk, head of the Christian Democratic Union's parliamentary group in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, says: "Even if I don't share some of his views, he does address issues that our citizens are concerned about."

Out of Control

The procedure to dismiss Sarrazin from the Bundesbank board is taking place in parallel with the public debate. The Bundesbank has officially requested that German President Christian Wulff remove Sarrazin from his position. Wulff will hardly be able to deny the request, even if it turns Sarrazin into a martyr for some. Indeed, the case is making it clear that German political leaders will have their hands full this autumn reconciling Germans with integration.

To be sure, the subject of immigration should be up for discussion, but the current debate has gotten out of control. From the very beginning, Sarrazin's choice of language has been unfortunate. He described problems with integration, which are indeed deplorable, but he introduced an element of biological determinism. He reflected on the inheritability of intelligence and speculated over a "specific gene" that "all Jews share."

This placed him squarely in the disgusting realm of race theory -- and has called forth uncomfortable memories of the Nazi scourge. Sarrazin, too, sensed that he had gone too far and apologized for his statement about the Jewish gene. But he almost certainly has enjoyed the provocative nature of his statements, as have, no doubt, some of his supporters.

It would seem, in short, that Germany has been cleaved in two, between those horrified by Sarrazin's choice of words and those who support such a forthright assessment of integration. That, in fact, is the first of three big questions the book has raised: In what country are we living? After the 2006 World Cup, it seemed that Germany had become cheerful and cosmopolitan. But the popular approval of Sarrazin leads us to question whether there isn't an underlying xenophobia after all. "There are many Sarrazins," says Aylin Selçuk, a university student and co-founder of a group called "Deukische Generation" (or "German-Turkish Generation").

The second question the debate raises concerns the current state of affairs. Is Sarrazin right when he claims that the integration of Turks and Arabs has largely been a failure?

New Copies on Wednesday

The third question has to do with the relationship between the political and journalistic class with the rest of the country. Do citizens feel abandoned on the question of integration? Or, asked another way, does Germany have a fertile breeding ground for the kind of populist right-wing party that is already par for the course in many European countries?

Sarrazin's theories meet with widespread approval in large segments of the German population. His book quickly sold out and is currently difficult to obtain. "We hope to have new copies on Wednesday," says Wilfried Weber, 69, manager of the Felix Jud bookstore in Hamburg. "There are diehards who show up every day, hoping that I might just have a copy left."

There is a weekly market in Hamburg's Eppendorf neighborhood. The customers arrive in large SUVs and push their babies around in expensive strollers. Rainer Schaefer, 67, and his wife Barbara are regulars. When asked how he feels about Sarrazin's theories, Schaefer promptly replies: "I agree with him completely. He was just went too far on the genetic issue. Nevertheless, we shouldn't stifle the man. Rather, we should address the problems of integration instead." In general, says Schaefer, "those who come to this country ought to like us and be willing to integrate." Then, his wife Barbara chimes in: "But if we're honest, we too have sometimes said that it was getting to be a bit much with the foreigners."

Sarrazin even has some supporters among immigrants in Germany. On the third floor of the Emil Krause Gymnasium in Hamburg, German teacher Manfred Jäger is asking the class to quiet down. His students are between 17 and 19 and hope to graduate this year. Most of them support Sarrazin and his ideas. "He's right about many of the things he says," says Depak, who is from Afghanistan, noting that many immigrants are criminals and take advantage of the social welfare system.

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