Months after its publication last August, Thilo Sarrazin's book, Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany does away with itself), is still a runaway bestseller in his native country. The book makes an apocalyptic argument -- that immigrants are destroying Germany. In Sarrazin's view, most of the country's large Arab and Turkish populations are not just unwilling but also unable to integrate, and the nation must take urgent steps, starting with a radical overhaul of its welfare system, to avoid a hastening demise.
The German political elite could hardly ignore the debate. Sarrazin is no uncredentialed radical: he has been an executive at Deutsche Bahn, the Berlin finance minister, and a member of the board of the Deutsche Bundesbank, Germany's central bank. Within days of the book's publication and an incendiary follow-on interview in which he mentioned a Jewish "gene" (an especially taboo subject in Germany), he was kicked out of the center-left Social Democratic Party.
Politicians on the center right were not sure whether to co-opt or criticize him. Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced the book but registered her own concerns about immigration, declaring that multiculturalism had "utterly failed" in Germany. President Christian Wulff, who, like Merkel, hails from the Christian Democratic Union, tried to put some distance between the state and Sarrazin, claiming that Islam "belonged" in Germany. But Horst Seehofer, prime minister of Bavaria and leader of the CDU's sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), chose to side with Sarrazin, announcing that Germany did not need any more immigrants from "other" cultures and calling for a crackdown on "integration refusers."
The challenges of immigration are not a new topic in Germany. For decades, both native-born Germans and newcomers to the country clung to the myth that the Gastarbeiter (German for "guest workers"), a group of immigrant laborers who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s to drive the German economic miracle, were not going to stay permanently. Not surprisingly, as a consequence, many of those who did stay failed to integrate