In the 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), Karl Marx famously observed that “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.” Nowhere is this more true than in Germany, where the mass of history is heavy and sometimes suffocating.
With this in mind, the recent furor over Thilo Sarrazin is remarkable theater. In case you have not been following, Sarrazin is a German central banker and public intellectual. He recently penned a book claiming that attempts to integrate Turks and Arabs (Fremdarbeiter) into German society have failed, largely because their Islamist weltanschauung prevents it. It does not take a Kant to realize that opinions such as these — whether right, wrong, or between — will cause much gnashing of teeth not only in Germany but elsewhere in the world.
I am not sure what to make of it all — the problems are surely not attributable only to the religious beliefs of German Turks and Arabs. There are other factors at work, ranging from economic inequalities to racist xenophobia. As Craig Martin recently noted in an astute post over at Religion Bulletin, “I would argue people don’t tend to fight over differences in belief; they tend to fight over conflicts of interest. However, characterizing conflicts in terms of belief has the effect of masking conflicts of interest.”
With this in mind, we should consider this recent defense of Sarrazin by Matthias Matussek at Spiegel:
But what all these technicians of exclusion fail to see is that you cannot cast away the very thing that Sarrazin embodies: the anger of people who are sick and tired — after putting a long and arduous process of Enlightenment behind them — of being confronted with pre-Enlightenment elements that are returning to the center of our society. They are sick of being cursed or laughed at when they offer assistance with integration.
And they are tired about reading about Islamist associations that have one degree of separation from terrorism, of honor killings, of death threats against cartoonists and filmmakers. They are horrified that “you Christian” has now become an insult on some school playgrounds. And they are angry that Western leaders are now being forced to fight for a woman in an Islamic country because she has been accused of adultery and is being threatened with stoning.
Should those Turkish immigrants fortunate enough to have exemplary careers not start exerting a bit of influence over their fellow immigrants and their neighborhoods, so that the Koran shows its gentler, more charitable face?
I am not at all sure what Matussek means by people (i.e., Germans) who have put “a long and arduous process of Enlightenment behind them,” but it sounds rather ominous. He is, after all, championing Enlightenment secularism and juxtaposing it to “pre-Enlightenment Islamism.” This may not be a clash of civilizations, but it is a clash of groups within Germany that have very different interests.