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German angst over immigration

Gavin Hewitt | 13:20 UK time, Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Thilo SarrazinI am in Germany, preparing a profile of the Pope - but all the talk is about a politician and banker who has caused outrage by his comments on immigration.

Thilo Sarrazin has written a book called Germany Abolishes Itself. He is a member of the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD) and on the board of the Bundesbank. His concern is that immigrants who do not integrate are undermining German identity. It is an echo that can be heard in many European countries.

But in comments at the start of a book tour he mentioned that, in his opinion, "all Jews share a certain gene". It is not acceptable in Germany to make comments like this - with all their resonances of the past - and condemnation came swiftly. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the remarks were "completely unacceptable" and has called for his removal from the bank.

The thrust of the book, however, is aimed at immigrants that do not integrate and, in particular, at Muslim groups. He points out that only 3% of men of Turkish origin and only 8% of women of Turkish origin marry Germans. This compares badly with other groups, he says. He says that in Berlin 20% of all acts of violence are carried out by only 1,000 Turkish and Arab youths; a population group that makes up only 0.03% of the actual population in Berlin.

He says of Islam that "with no other religion is there such a fluid connection between violence, dictatorship and terrorism as there is with Islam". He says "boys are taught an exaggerated idea of the readiness to be violent... for the sake of honour you must take the role all the more seriously the less successful you are in the school system".

He goes on to argue that Muslim immigrants are "unwilling or incapable of integrating into Western society".

A leading member of the Turkish community said "this is pure racism". The Council of Muslims called him "the embodiment of an ugly German". The boss of Siemens, Peter Loescher, says the comments "are damaging the international reputation of Germany as a business location".

His remarks have been widely rejected, but they have stirred up real debate too. In the German tabloid Bild, Prof Ernst Elitz, one of the founders of Deutschland Radio, writes that Thilo Sarrazin is a scandalous author but he also speaks the truth about Germany - "too many headscarves. Too many unemployment benefit receivers, with society not getting enough back."

"The real scandal," the professor goes on, "is that this is all known (what Sarrazin says) but nothing has been done about it in Germany". The first 40,000 copies of the book have already been sold.

Similar fears have been expressed in many parts of Europe. In the past they have largely been confined to the fringes of society, but in countries from France to Switzerland to the Netherlands they have entered more mainstream debate. At their root is unease at the speed with which society is changing and a concern that societies may develop separate, parallel communities.


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