German banker comments raise concerns about new 'intellectual racism'

German banker and Bundesbank member Thilo Sarrazin caused a stir yesterday with remarks widely perceived as anti-Semitic. This comes on the heels of his disparaging comments about Muslim immigrants.

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
German banker Thilo Sarrazin speaks during the presentation of his book 'Deutschland schafft sich ab' (Germany does away with itself) in central Berlin, Monday, August 30.

A German central banker, who stirred controversy last week with disparaging remarks about Muslims living in Germany, is now being pressured to resign following his comment yesterday – widely perceived as anti-Semitic – that “all Jews share a certain gene.”

Thilo Sarrazin, a member of the left-leaning Social Democrats, a former finance minister of Berlin and current board member of Germany’s Bundesbank, said a “Jewish gene” made Jews “different from other people” ahead of today’s launch of his new book, “Germany Does Away With Itself: How We are Risking the Future of our Nation.”

The book critiques immigration policy in Germany, a hot topic around Europe, and makes genetic arguments about intelligence linked to ethnicity, suggesting that immigrants are not as gifted as Germans and that the country is losing its identity, becoming “smaller and stupider.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in yesterday saying the remarks were “utterly unacceptable” and that Mr. Sarrazin is likely to come before the Bundesbank board – though previous attempts to remove the banker from what is an independent body have failed. Last fall Sarrazin said the birthrate of Muslims threatened Germany’s future and that he wished that it was “Eastern European Jews” that were reproducing quickly since “their IQs are 15 percent higher than that of the German people."

A new 'intellectual racism' in Germany

The controversy comes amid a gradual mainstreaming of anti-Islamic feeling in Europe, including inflammatory depictions and often exaggerated projections about a continent on the verge of becoming a “Eurabia,” as the genre is often called, say analysts.

Kenin Kolat, head of the German Turkish Federation described Sarrazin as representing “the climax of a new intellectual racism that damages Germany’s reputation abroad.” Jewish leaders said Sarrazin’s views were a reprise of Nazi racial ideology, and that “Whoever tries to define Jews by their genetic makeup, even when it is superficially positive in tone, is in the grip of a race mania that Jews do not share,” according to Stephan Kramer, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

Germany’s foreign and defense ministers also released condemnations of Sarrazin’s views. Bundesbank officials have said they can’t comment on what are “private matters” – though the Financial Times reports that Bundesbank chief Axel Weber, a frontrunner to take over the European Central Bank, is under pressure to discipline Sarrazin following Mr. Weber's return from a US Federal Reserve meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Misunderstood? or racist?

Yet a distance between official and popular sentiments in Germany were affirmed by such editorials in the Stuttgarter Nachrichten yesterday, suggesting Sarrazin “is only getting so much attention because he is saying what many people feel and experience every day.”

Sarrazin on Sunday argues he is misunderstood, “I am not a racist.” He said his attacks are not on Turks or Arabs but on “the culture of Islam.”

The pending book kicked up a firestorm last week as portions of it were serialized in newspapers, with passages such as this one: "I do not want the land of my grandchildren and great grandchildren to be predominantly Muslim, where Turkish and Arabic are spoken in broad sections of the country, where women wear a headscarf and where the daily rhythm of life is determined by the call of the muezzins."

Germany's population of 80 million comprises 3 million people of Turkish descent, 700,000 of whom are German citizens. Sarrazin says that in 90 years Germany will have only half of the native population figures it had in 1965. German federal authorities have disputed his claims, saying that second and third generations of immigrants are already showing significantly reduced birth rates as they integrate and are faced with sustaining their families in a European economy. Brookings Institution expert Justin Vaisse argues similar declines with immigrant birth rate in France, which has an estimated five million persons originating in states with a Muslim majority.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.