Germans argue over 'failure to integrate'
Thilo Sarrazin is not charismatic, but he has become a man of influence. He has changed the debate over immigration in Germany.
In his view "suppressing emotion is even more dangerous" than broaching subjects that were recently largely off-limits.
Others, like analyst Prof Klaus Kocks, have issued a note of caution. "As a German," he told me, "you have to be more careful than others. You have to accept our history."
I met Thilo Sarrazin at his old school in Recklinghausen. He was there to promote his book, Germany Abolishes Itself. He is both reviled and admired for its controversial thesis.
Outside the school were a handful of protesters. One banner accused Mr Sarrazin of acting like the Nazis. There were many more, however, who had bought tickets to hear him. His book has sold close to a million copies.
His essential message is that Muslims are either "unwilling or unable to integrate" into Western society. "If the majority of migrants from non-Muslim countries don't have any obvious problem integrating," he told a packed hall, "then the failure to integrate on the part of migrants from Muslim countries can't be due to a fault on our side - because all are treated equally. It has to be because of a characteristic of Muslims themselves."
He is not a great speaker. He deals in statistics. He recognises that some Muslims have integrated, but he believes Germany has gone too far in trying to accommodate them. "People who obey laws are welcome to live here," he told me, but he wants to end Muslim immigration.
For those already in Germany, welfare payments would be dependent on learning German and acquiring language skills. Parents who do not send their children to school (for religious reasons) should be fined. Forced marriages should be forbidden. His message is that Muslim migrants must accept German laws, the constitution and the values of their new society.
His comments have set off a huge debate. "We have a very serious shift in discussion," Prof Kocks told me. What makes his book sales all the more extraordinary is that Thilo Sarrazin said, as part of the publicity for the book, that Jews had a certain gene. He was condemned by mainstream politicians and the remark led to his resignation from the board of the Bundesbank. Even so, the public made his book a best-seller.
Last month, Chancellor Angela Merkel said multiculturalism had "failed utterly". What she meant was that some immigrants and others who had lived in Germany for some years were not integrating. Last week at a regional conference for her party in Essen she said: "Of course integration has changed our society, but not at the expense of our core values... We are Christians and this informs everything we do... We are for diversity but we will not abandon our basic beliefs."
What seems to be changing is what is expected from immigrants. The past idea of multiculturalism was that migrants could live in their new societies much as they had done previously in their home countries. Now the emphasis is on them adapting. The fear is that otherwise there will be separate, parallel communities.
So mainstream politicians are speaking out. Joachim Herrmann is the interior minister in Bavaria. His party, the conservative CSU, is in coalition with that of Angela Merkel. He told us in an interview: "You have to accept our laws... Just because you come from a different culture where a man can treat his wife differently, you can't do that here. There can be no compromise."
The premier in Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, has called for an end to immigration from "Turkey and other Arab countries".
Muslims are fearful of where this new tone is heading. Nurhan Solkan is general secretary of the Council of Muslims. She says that the views of the far right have now entered the political mainstream. She points out that many immigrants have integrated well. Many will tell you how when they first came to Germany, no one wanted them to integrate. They were guest-workers. They were barred from citizenship. Nurhan Solkan said more and more people of Turkish origin were moving back to Turkey.
Dr Kocks told me: "I don't want to go back to nationalism again." He does not think that is happening. There is no growth in far-right parties. But he says there is a deep anger in society over stories, for instance, that some female teachers have been shown disrespect by Muslim boys.
Prof Jurgen Habermas, writing in the New York Times last week, said Germany was being roiled by "waves of political turmoil over integration, multiculturalism and the role of the 'Leitkultur', or guiding national culture." He said it was reinforcing trends towards xenophobia. He sees clear dangers in getting immigrants to assimilate "the values of the majority culture and to adopt its customs".
But that is the new mood and, judging by the success of Thilo Sarrazin's book, it seems that many Germans want minorities to positively embrace being German.