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December 29, 2010

Germans and Minorities

For the first time since the fall of the Nazis it has become acceptable, in large parts of German society, to openly criticize another ethnic group. The target of this criticism is the county’s Moslem minority . Many observers, both inside and outside Germany, view this as a resurgence of Nazi era racism, with Moslems replacing Jews as the victim.

The current controversy was started by Thilo Sarrazin, a politician in the Social Democratic (center-left) party and high level official in the German equivalent of the Federal Reserve. Recently, he wrote a book, Germany Abolishes Itself. arguing that Muslims in Germany have become a burden on the general populace and despairing of integrating them into the body politic. The problem with integration, according to Sarrazin, is in some part genetic and some part cultural. The book struck a chord with a large part of the German population, reopening the debate on the place of the Muslim minority in Germany.

Sarrazin himself encapsulates the problem that Germany has with this issue.

I spent alot of time in Germany in the 80s as an employee of the German based multinational Siemens. And, as a Jew, I was particularly interested in understanding their attitude towards minorities.

What struck me most is that Germans don't really have a way to discuss ethnic issues. They live in a historically homogenous society with a horrific history of racism. They have a huge amount of shame over what their parents and grandparents did, but on the other hand, they have absolutely no experience with living in a multi ethnic society. My own experience is that many German's are deaf to the subtleties between criticizing members of a group and stereotyping. In America, we do not realize how careful and skilled we are in defining the boundaries between racism and legitimate criticism. We still argue about it, (and many people don't get it), but there are rules and principles we mostly agree on. Germans seem to swing between crude ethnic stereotypes or political correct culturally relative multiculturalism.

You cannot compare what is going on now with German anti-semitism of the Nazi era or before. The Jews of that time were not a social problem. They were thoroughly assimilated and were in no way a burden or threat to German society. By any measure, the Moslem population of Germany today presents some real social problems. Chief among these are:

* high levels of unemployment
* welfare dependency
* language
* education
* militancy and terrorism.

That being said, Sarrizin's talk about lower intelligence among Moslems in Germany struck me as racist. I know you can interpret it different ways (especially since I haven’t read the book), but this argument has long been a refuge for bigots. And if the problem is genes there is nothing you can do about it. You can persuade someone to stay in school, study and graduate. You cannot persuade them to change their genetic makeup. I would also bet euros to strudel that any difference in average IQ cannot explain why people become terrorists or enter into forced marriages.

His talk about Jews sharing a common gene did not bother me as much, although the language used is very crude. Claiming all Jews share a common gene is a gross oversimplification of reality. However, it is established that there are DNA sequences frequently found among Jews. The most unfortunate evidence of this is the existence of tay-sachs. A more benign example is the evidence of a Kohen DNA signature among Jews of priestly heritage. Either way, the fact that Jews share a common anscestry that reveals itself in DNA should not surprise anyone.

But it bothered lots of Germans. Somehow, talking about Jews as a race is considered racist in itself. This is another way Germans just don't get it. Jews certainly share a common ancestry. The problem with Nazis was not that they thought Jews were a separate race, but that they thought they were an inferior race that had to be destroyed.

Sarrizins' writing seems to me to come from someone addressing a real, serious problem without having the skills to distinguish between criticizing other groups and denigrating them in crude terms. And he is obviously speaking for alot of Germans.

Germans are going to have to collectively refine their social skills to deal with their current problem.

MNA | 12/29/10 at 11:28 PM | Categories: Competing narratives

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