Sarrazin and Turkish hair dressers
A year ago a Turkish entrepreneur set up a Kebab shop, just opposite my baker, at the entrance to the S-Bahn Grunewald tunnel. First there was döner and burek, then he expanded to include newspapers, coffee and grilled chicken. Finally, he sold Currywurst. Last week the shop was shut. A sad development but the business plan was not exactly brilliant: Grunewald is not famous for its thriving Turkish community, there is nobody under the age of 68 living in a half-kilometre radius and if you tried to communicate in Kanakendeutsch with your neighbours they would call the police. One rumour is that it will be replaced with a high quality sex shop selling red satin dessous. And why not? The nearest brothel is just a short walk away, in the Hagenstraße. We could call the shop Chez Thilo and dedicate it to increasing the German birth rate.
Thilo Sarrazin has of course been on everybody’s lips in our sedate and resolutely conservative Kiez. He has become a kind of martyr, a truth-teller; a hero in the struggle against suffocating political correctness. I know that the story is a little more complex than that. He organizes his expertly analysed statistics to make a variety of contradictory arguments and in the end it is not clear whether he is trying to tell us something about intelligence and race, about education and finance, about the science of natonal decline; the book is a bit of a Stammtisch jumble. But I have always liked Mr. Sarrazin. You can’t be a bad person if you have an English grandmother and you have been sacked by Hartmut Mehdorn. And he is no racist, merely a trouble-maker. After all, he carries the Huguenot gene.
He is, however, naïve.
There are two ways to defend a book that no one has read. You either make clever 90 second statements (The Americans call these ‘soundbites’) that say nothing of importance. Or you stay silent. Mr. Sarrazin is not a master of either of these techniques. Instead he tells his critics: “Read the book”. But Mr. Sarrazin has been in Berlin long enough to know that this is pointless advice. Berliners, in particular, are very suspicious about the reading process. They buy books for three reasons: a) to give as presents, demonstrating their depth of knowledge. Nowadays, a book is cheaper than a bunch of flowers ; b) to clinch an argument in the pub (“Schließlich habe ich das Buch zu Hause!”); or c), in the case of intellectuals, to see if their names figure in the index.
Very few people in Berlin–and I’m not talking about Anatolian drug dealers–read books. The honorable exception, my publisher tells me, is women aged between 28 and 56. Visit the house of ,let us say,a bright young architect, run your finger along his book shelves and you will find a line of books that were once supposed to be essential reading– Charlotte Roche, the Roadkill girl, Big Franky Schirrmacher, Generation Golf–and you will find that most have not been read beyond page 17. There will be crumbs, or a hair, marking the spot where the reader gave up.
So Mr Sarrazin’s true error was not to offend the muslims and the jews–anyone can do that–but to imagine that he was going to be the spearhead of a movement that will ask suppressed questions about the meaning of immigration. In fact he has merely filled(along with a supposed cannibal resturant and Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s kidney) the Spaetsommerloch, the critical ten days between the end of holidays and the beginning of the school term. This is when newspapers have to reclaim their readers after a long summer absence. As soon as Mr Sarrazin has been formally sacked from the Buba by the president, he will have fulfilled his function : the creation of outrage. He will sell books but will not convince the political establishment that it needs to change.
The SPD Vorstand would be stupid on Monday to run after the Buba and expel Mr Sarrazin. If I understand my (borrowed) copy of the book correctly, Mr Sarrazin is primarilly concerned with the Underclass. Immigrants, as we know, form a significant chunk of this class but so do Germans who can trace their roots back to the Middle Ages. One section of the Sarrazin book calls for the withholding of welfare payments if parents do not send their children to school. That is the punitive Sarrazin, and you can love him or hate him. His underlying case however is that the Unterschicht should be opened up, made more socially porous. Work has to have meaning; individuals have to take their lives into their own hands. This, surely, is a core message of the modern Social Democratic party. Mr Sarrazin is not some kind of right-wing fanatic.
Perhaps he would have been given more credit if he had accepted that some immigrants do indeed make determined efforts to rise in German society(look at the Vietnamese for example) or if had suggested ways in which the Turkish community could be better motivated. I have written before about a friend, Ayfer, who is now a fashionable hair-dresser in Mitte. One of many children of a gastarbeiter family, she left school early but discovered a passion for hair dressing. The zweite Bildungsweg–far superior to anything we have in Britain–allowed her to catch up with her Abi.Then Vidal Sasoon, Tony and Guy, Meisterbrief. She decided to open her own salon but the bank rejected her as a bad credit risk(single, female, hairdresser, Turkish). Ayfer’s parents then gave up their savings–intended for their retirement in Turkey–so that she could open up the salon. Today she employs four Germans and is of course German herself.
What does that show us? That the German system really does open up chances for the ambitious–but that it can also throw up obstacles. And that you don’t have to know a single line of Walter von der Vogelweide in order to commit yourself–as Ayfer’s parents did–to a German future for their German-Turkish daughter. These are the mechanisms of social integration. They have to be understood and refined but we are still a long way from Sarrazin’s Abschaffung of Deutschland. A young woman I know, a Sarrazin fan, told me the other day:”Kulturpessimismus ist doch geil!”
But it isn’t reallly. Let’s just remove the hysteria ftrom the debate, look at the problems unblinkingly(that’s why we need Sarrazin to stick around), and see what can be improved. Every major European society has similar issues; it is time that Germany exchanged experiences with some its neighbours, and opened up. It is no use pretending that everything is perfect.