A year ago the German banker and Social Democrat Thilo Sarrazin caused a stir in Germany — and the rest of Europe — when he wrote the book Germany Abolishes Itself. As a man of the Left, his criticism of Muslim immigration created more uproar than it would have if it had been written by a “right-wing extremist”. The scandal was intensified by his assertion that mass Muslim immigration is lowering the average IQ of the German population.
On the occasion of the first anniversary of the publication of his book, Die Zeit interviewed Thilo Sarrazin. Many thanks to JLH for the translation:
“Wow, This Sarrazin!”
Encounters with “head-scarf girls” and other fans: The best-selling author and Social Democrat, Thilo Sarrazin, on the year that has changed his life.
Superficially, it is like our interview of exactly a year ago. Thilo Sarrazin enters the capitol office of Die Zeit. This time he does not have a backpack, but a brown briefcase and in it his book and a red Lever Arch file with articles on intelligence, press articles, material, so he can be — as he says — forearmed for all questions. But Sarrazin will only open the file one time. We did not want to argue with him again about his thesis. We wanted to know something else: what has the past year been like? And incidentally: what has he done with his money? What indeed, in a year of change in energy policy? He has remodeled his house into an eco-house.
Zeit: Has the Sarrazin debate changed Thilo Sarrazin? Sarrazin: Yes, naturally. Everyone is happy to be successful. At any rate, I would never have thought — not even last year when you interviewed me — that questions that occupy me also occupy so many other people. Whether I gave the right answers, that is another question. Zeit: And how has the debate changed you? Sarrazin: I have lost some of my illusions concerning whether the human being is good or not. I have also become harder. Zeit: In regard to the subject of integration? Sarrazin: In regard to myself, as concerns the world and how it works. Before, there were some bright spots. They are somewhat dimmed down. Zeit: Do you have more friends or fewer friends than before the appearance of your book? Sarrazin: I still have all of my old friends and I have gained some new ones. When — a few days before the advance copies, Federal Bank president Axel Weber pushed for my dismissal from the board and the SPD chair decided on my ouster, when the Federal President and Chancellor commented negatively — that upset me a little. I had never intended to put my civil reputation and my work at the Bank at risk. I called old friends and asked: Did you buy my book? Read it and give me an honest reaction. Every reply had the same thrust: We see this or that differently, but we do not find anything offensive or bad in it. Zeit: There has never been so much talk about Muslims and Germans and between Muslims and Germans in the Federal Republic as in this Sarrazin year. Have you performed a service in respect to integration? Sarrazin: There are interesting indicators for that. My party colleague and sometime friend, Heinz Buschkowsky… Zeit: …district mayor of Berlin-Neukölln… Sarrazin: …was despised and ridiculed in much of the Berlin SPD. In leadership circles he and his concerns were the butt of jokes. When they wanted to expel me from the party, they needed a recognized critic of integration. That was the revival of Heinz Buschkowsky. He thanked me for that. Zeit: Have you become better acquainted with Muslims in the past year? Sarrazin: We had an exchange about that in our last interview. Zeit: But that was before the publication of your book. Sarrazin: Correct. At that time, I told you that the analysis of statistical indicators of attitude toward integration is independent of whether you personally know some of those being investigated. Excuse the rather daring comparison: If Edward O. Wilson is writing about social habits of ants, he need not have spoken to any one ant personally. Zeit: Let’s not argue about your propositions. Let’s discover how you have experienced this last year. Sarrazin: I did not systematically seek out acquaintances among Muslims, but I had a series of experiences. I traveled a lot and in train stations, two or three times, young men of obvious Turkish or Arabic origin confronted me aggressively. When they saw me in the train they hit their fists against the window. Zeit: Apparently you have become a cult figure or integration icon. Sarrazin: It varies a great deal. I get many positive responses from integrated Turks. Recently, when I was in Berlin-Neukölln for a TV broadcast, a couple of young girls in headscarves approached me: “Are you Sarrazin? Do you think we are stupider than the others?” I said that I had never said that. Anyway, then they began joking: “May we take a picture?” Zeit: It sounds as if the girls managed to rattle you. Sarrazin: (laughs) Usually I get along well with women. Zeit: How was it for you when “headscarf girls” spoke to you? Sarrazin: It was hilarious. Zeit: Admit it, you liked it. Sarrazin: A young woman with a headscarf sat in my course in Speyer. At the end of the semester, she came to me and said, That was a good lecture, but can I not perhaps see the matter of the headscarf differently? I said, “If you want to wear a headscarf at the age of 26, I will do nothing to stop you.” Zeit: Have you thought: Well, OK, maybe “headscarf girls” aren’t “produced,” perhaps they are made now and then with love? Sarrazin: Children develop as they develop…. Zeit: Oh, I see… Sarrazin: …There was one more interesting encounter. At the end of December, the federal center for political education brought me together for a talk with eight Arabic and Turkish graduates of the Otto Hahn comprehensive school in Neukölln. Four girls, four boys. All four girls were wearing headscarves. One of them looked at me boldly and asked what she could do to integrate better, I said: “You speak perfect German. If you take off the headscarf, you will look like an Italian or a Spaniard. In Germany, you are automatically integrated. You consciously set yourself off from the majority population by your choice of clothing. You want people to notice that you are different.”
She answered: No, the headscarf was required by her religion. With my smattering of knowledge, I replied: “The Koran does not demand the headscarf. It is possible to be a good Muslim without a headscarf.”
The eight graduates stirred, they all denied that. They said, you have to observe the clothing requirements strictly. Finally, I asked: “So you believe that all the requirements in the Koran are absolutely valid?” All of them said yes. Then again me: “In the Koran it says that a man can have four wives,” and I asked the bold girl, What if you husband has four other wives besides you? She: “If he treats all of us alike, that is all right.”
The director, who was sitting off to the side, almost sank into the floor. The four boys thought that was great. “It’s clear that you like that, “ I called over to them. They grinned. And after that, they all wanted their picture taken with me. Again.
Zeit: What impression has the revolution in the Arabic world made on you? Sarrazin: Basically, I think that anything that loosens up the petrified conditions in the Near East cannot be bad. But you can only evaluate a revolution at the end. Zeit: Were you surprised that Muslims threw off their dictators? Sarrazin: I fear that Islamist regimes will form in most of these countries. What is rising up there is not an intellectual and educated class. The yeast of the uprising is the young people who did not want things to go on as they are; who wanted to have access to the internet and Facebook Zeit: …who are educated, who speak English. Sarrazin: As I said, it s not just the educated and intellectual class who are rising up. In the second phase of a revolution, those who get a chance are the radical, the unscrupulous and the more well-organized. I cannot predict, but I think it is likely that we will soon see Islamist-dominated governments. Zeit: Is Islam’s capacity for democracy an open question for you, or not? Sarrazin: I have the impression, at any rate, that democracy is in retreat in Turkey and the religious fundamentalists are increasing. I will read you a quote from Prime Minister Erdogan (pulls the file folder out of his briefcase): “Democracy is like a streetcar. When you reach your stop, you get off. Thank God that we are adherents of sharia. Our goal is the Islamic state.” Zeit: What is that you are quoting? Sarrazin: A flyer from Pax Europa. Zeit: Mr. Sarrazin, pardon me. Do you work with rightist populist sources on the internet? That i not up to your standard. Sarrazin: The quote is correct, even if it is in a defamatory pamphlet. I know similar comments by Erdogan from other connections. Zeit: What did you feel when you heard about the killing in Norway? And what did you think when SPO chair Sigmar Gabriel mentioned your name in this connection? Sarrazin: The attack struck me as it did everyone else — I was shocked. Shortly after that, I flew to Australia where I gave two speeches. BILD magazine called me there and read me Gabriel’s comment. All I said was: Apparently Sigmar Gabriel has not gotten over his embarrassing defeat before the party’s court, Zeit: Ha, ha! Sarrazin: Fine, but I have not commented on the thing itself. Recently, the writer Chaim Noll wrote: If the federal president says, Islam belongs in Germany, then criticism of Islam also belongs in Germany. I thought that was well said. If criticism of Islam is not possible, there is this stifling atmosphere where you feel that you and your opinions are persecuted, stonewalled and oppressed. Where there is argument, there is at least a draft passing through. And where there is a draft, there are at least no small niches where there a stink hangs. Zeit: Your opponents were not always treated tolerantly at your readings. Did you sometimes feel uncomfortable with your supporters? Sarrazin: For the most part I have a public that is very, well-disposed to me, even to some degree fanatically. Among them at times are right-leaning figures. However, I notice that immediately from their questions and don’t let them come to anything. A typically silly question is — should foreigners be deported. I always say that the Turks who are here and are working have a right to stay. They are here legally.
I remember only one event where an opponent was shouted down. It was a panel discussion in Munich. Participants were the sociologist Armin Nassehi and the editor-in-chief of the trade journal, Gabor Steingart. The latter had obviously not read my book, which naturally annoyed me. The thrust of his argument was: The business with intelligence and heredity was complete nonsense. I answered that rather sharply, and there was naturally applause. The people in the audience did not understand the fine points of intelligence research. They perceived only one thing: Steingart was peeing on Sarrazin and Sarrazin returned fire sharply. Steingart was shouted down. I watched it calmly and thought, he would just have to put up with it.
Zeit: Again: “Haha.” Sarrazin: I have been shouted down often in my life. It is something that can be handled. Zeit: Do you regret anything? Sarrazin: I was also a strong finance minister because I could stand it when almost everyone had a different opinion. But that only went so far. After this past year, I understood how the Soviet Union turned its prisoners and coerced them into false confessions. The person must be isolated long enough and continuously exposed to certain accusations. In the end, he will confess to the craziest things. At first, I felt under great pressure. Then I noticed that I had a number of strong supporters. I reviewed again and again. Where did someone catch me in a mental error? Where did I make a factual mistake? Where did I misconstrue the matter? That did not happen. Zeit: If we were not doing an interview, but a portrait, it would show: Thilo Sarrazin sees himself unrefuted but he is just a little bitter and lonesome. Sarrazin: I am actually not bitter, nor am I lonesome. Zeit: You said you have no illusions today. Sarrazin: Yes, but that is not bitterness. You know many things, but could wish they weren’t true, because the world is much nicer otherwise. Zeit: But the German world is really not so bad. Just look at our European neighbors. In the matter of integration too. Sarrazin: I have my doubts about that. Besides, if the Germans are so fine, then it is because they tend toward pessimism and self-criticism. They see problems where others suspect nothing. That is why German engineers are so good. The people in Germany who ruminate most and commit suicide are the Swabians. Not for no reason were they always in the forefront of innovation and the spirit of reform.
But there are also signs of decline. Jürgen Baumert, the educational researcher, wrote recently: Educational achievement in Baden-Württemberg will decrease because of the rapidly rising percentage of immigrants in the population.
Zeit: If that is true, then there can only be one result — we all have to try that much harder. Where does your life go from here? You can’t top your bestseller. Do you intend to write a new book anyway? Sarrazin: Certainly I will write something else in my lifetime. But when and what, I leave open. Zeit: How about “Germany is Actually Not Destroying Itself”? Sarrazin: (laughs) You won’t get that out of me.