Archive for September 14th, 2010

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Freedom, without Ifs and Buts

Thilo Sarrazin, a member of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), a former Berlin senator of finance, has resigned his post at the board of the German Central Bank after publishing a controversial book. By doing so, he avoided a struggle between himself and the bank, and probably the federal president, too, to remove him.

His resignation isn’t bad news. The Central Bank’s task is the stability of our currency – the Deutschemark in the past, and the Euro now, as an influential member of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB). A board membership in such a bank is a full-time job, and it requires restraint when commenting on day-to-day politics. A too provocative bearing doesn’t serve the organization’s reputation well.

That said, the way the federal president himself initiated the struggle for Sarrazin’s dismissal didn’t serve the federal president’s office well either. He told the Bundesbank board to act on Sarrazin, and therefore later found himself in a partial position when he had to decide about the resignation.

There are a lot of do-gooders who do more harm than good to this country’s development. Especially within Sarrazin’s SPD. And when Sarrazin’s “racism” is the issue, there seems to be no room for subtleties. The World Socialist Website wrote on Saturday that Hamburg’s former first mayor, Klaus von Dohnanyi, who has offered to defend Sarrazin in a party hearing that could lead to expulsion, had

justified “Sarrazin’s basic thesis,” which he summarized by saying that Germany was “in danger of seeing its intellectual elites melt away,” as they were having too few children, while groups that have thus far “not distinguished themselves through their work or performance” have produced more children, and thereby depressed “the long-term performance level of the nation.”

Dohnanyi also explicitly defended Sarrazin’s racist theory that there were “special cultural characteristics of ethnic groups, and that Jews had a slightly different genetic structure.” His contribution ended with the call: “Please don’t shrink from words such as race, Jews, Muslims.”

To be clear: I haven’t read Sarrazin’s book, and I’m not going to spend time on it. Sarrazin doesn’t look like a reliable source to me. But I’m not trying to judge either if there are genetic factors that may help people to develop skills, or if every skill is “learned”. I simply don’t know the answer, and one of my tasks is to assist people in developing their skills, to the best of their individual abilities.

The lines by Dohnanyi the World Socialist Website refers to are apparently those he wrote for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung on September 6.

Sarrazin’s assertion that there are particular, cultural characteristics of ethnic groups can’t be denied by anyone with experience. The American Encyclopedia of Social Sciences refers to this as “social race”. Sarrazin sees rejection of integration within parts of Islamic groups, and therein dangers for our educational and performance-oriented society. Integration was also a duty of migrants
[literally, a “Bringschuld”, i. e. a “debt  to  be  discharged  at  creditor’s  domicile” – the creditor would be the society the migrant joins – JR].
Is that wrong?

Sarrazin also mentioned “bi0logical” points. He cites a certain hereditability of intelligence. Wrong? He means to say [or believes – “meinen” can mean both “mean to say”, or “believe” – JR] that certain ethnic groups’ or social communities’  insufficient endeavors can, in the long run, affect the mensurable intelligence level of these groups. And in an interview, asked for possible genetic shares in intelligence inheritance, he suggested, referring to scientific American publications, that jews, too, (whom he admires for their intelligence in his book) might feature a somewhat different (i.e. superior) genetical structure – he has since regretted this statement. Racism?

His main criticism of muslim migrants in Germany isn’t directed against their (unknown) individual IQs, or their religion. He criticizes the refusal of the part of migrants in question to educate their children to learn the German language, to ambitious learning, and preparedness for integration.

Categories like “race”, “jews”, and “muslims” exist, writes Dohnanyi. It is permissible to think about them and to use them. Cowardice in thought wasn’t called for, just as racism wasn’t called for. Dohnanyi argues that no other European left party would cancel a membership because of such a book – and that he was prepared to defend Sarrazin in such a hearing. After all, he expected a fair hearing, and cites Willy Brandt, who had said that freedom came first – “without Ifs and Buts” (ohne Wenn und Aber).

I see no good reasons to doubt that Dohnanyi wants every individual be judged on his or her individual merits. If he quoted Sarrazin correctly, one might say the same thing about the former Berlin finance senator.

Many of Sarrazin’s critics, if they want to convince people with facts, rather than with wobbly and blurry references to Germany’s nazi past, will have to do better. But as cabaret artist Volker Pispers once said: “our intellectuals measure everything in units of Hitler”.


… ohne Wenn und Aber: Freiheit, Willy Brandt, June 14, 1987

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