BERLIN -- Most books don’t continue to generate intense controversy nearly half a year after publication. But a bitter debate continues to dominate German talk shows over whether the nation’s 4.2 million Muslims are dragging the nation down, a charge made by a work published last year that argues the nation’s growing minority is bleeding the welfare budget and lowering the intelligence of German society.
“Germany is Doing Away With Itself,” written by Thilo Sarrazin, a former member of the German Central Bank, has already sold more than a million copies. And while the book has been repudiated by the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, there’s no question it has hit a very raw nerve in German society.
“When I go on talk shows and we discuss the book, callers say ‘I’m not a Neo-Nazi, or a Nazi, but this book has finally allowed me to tell you that the Muslims in this country are here to get welfare and they don’t want to accept our values,' ” Wolfgang Benz, the former head of the center for anti-Semitic research at the Technical University in Berlin, told FoxNews.com. “The scholarship is awful in this book, but the guy at my gas station, who didn’t read it, thinks it’s great, and so do many others who find out what it says about the Muslims. Their pent-up feelings come out.”
Germans are now openly discussing the failure to integrate Muslims, a problem that has been largely ignored for decades.
It has roots in 1961, during the post-war economic boom, when Turkish workers were invited to Germany to do heavy manual labor at the minimum wage. Turks now make up 3.2 million of the 4.2 million Muslims in Germany. Most of the rest come from Arab countries.
The debate is also making Germany less attractive to foreign skilled workers it desperately needs because its population is rapidly aging and shrinking.
The Federal Statistics Office projects a possible 17 million decline in Germany’s population of 82 million over the next 50 years. With Germany’s birth rate of 1.4 percent -- too low to maintain a stable population -- a shrinking workforce could slow growth and make it increasingly difficult to pay for an aging population.
An editorial in the German edition of the Financial Times contained this warning: “Indian technological experts, Japanese engineers and Kuwaiti investors are unlikely to move to a country where those in power fight over immigration.”
The trigger for this debate over immigration was Sarrazin’s genetically based indictment of Muslims, reminiscent of the racial theories of Germany’s Nazi past.
“Culturally and morally the Muslims represent a step backward for German society,” Sarrazin writes. “If the birth rate of the migrants continues to remain higher than the indigenous population, within a few generations the migrants will take over the state and society and create a nation of dunces.”
The Berlin newspaper Tageszeitung asks: “What should be done if 66 years after the banning of Hitler’s "Mein Kampf" another treatise on racial theory turns into a best-seller in Germany?”
Polls following the book’s publication show considerable anti-Muslim sentiment. The center-left Friedrich Ebert Foundation poll in October showed that more than 30 percent of Germans believe the country “is being overrun by foreigners.” Sixty percent of Germans would “restrict the practice of Islam.”
The government soundly repudiated the book and said Sarrazin’s words “were totally unacceptable.” Sarrazin was eventually forced to resign from Bundesbank, Germany's central bank.
But Merkel is faced with a dilemma. While industry urgently needs skilled foreign workers, the German experience with the Turkish migrants has generated much opposition to more immigration. Although Merkel denounced Sarrazin’s book, she recently called multiculturalism – the co-existence of parallel German and Turkish societies – a failure.
“We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn’t stay, but that’s not the reality,” she told her Christian Democratic Union party, referring to the influx of Turkish guest workers that began in the 1960s.
Merkel says the nation’s Muslims “should integrate and adopt German values.” She calls upon them to master German and respect the constitution.
Neighborhoods like Kreuzberg, in Berlin, reflect the extent of Turkish presence. Head-scarved women pass the Istanbul bistro where Turkish shwarma turns in the window, enticing passersby. They stare next door at the Wasser Pfeiffen Paradies (The Water Pipe Paradise). Many head to the Inter Gida Supermarket. Turkish is spoken everywhere, and little German is heard.
Benz believes Sarrazin’s book is a best-seller “because he is saying what many Germans believe, but don’t feel comfortable saying because talking about race and religion has been taboo in this politically correct country.” Benz said that Sarrazin’s book has encouraged Germans to break their silence.
“Many Germans see Islam in their midst as an existential threat to their way of life,” he added. Kenan Kolat, the leader of an association of Berlin’s 200,000 Turks, denounced the book.
“Sarrazin has given Germans permission to be openly racist,” he said during an interview in his Berlin office.
At the same time, Kolat refutes German assertions regarding integration. According to Kolat, “90 percent of Turks have been here for decades and are fully integrated and I can’t bear to hear this discussion anymore.” He says that, “Integration to Germans means that Turks must adapt to German society and its values, and that is not acceptable.”
“There is hardly any other country in Europe where immigrants are so poorly educated,” wrote Reiner Klingholz, a demographer and director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, in the national news magazine Der Spiegel.
“No comparative study can hide the fact that people with roots in Turkey have the greatest problems with integration.”
This month, 52 men and women met at the Hotel Maritim in Berlin to form the Freiheit (Freedom) Party, that is anti-Muslim.
Its platform states: “We will do everything in our power to oppose the Islamization of our country.”
The new party reflects the country’s growing frustration with the failure to integrate the Muslims and the fear that they are a threat to Germany.
Donald Snyder was a news producer at NBC for 27 years and has been a freelance writer since his retirement. He specializes in Germany and Eastern Europe.