It is the third attempt by the Social Democrats to exclude Thilo Sarrazin from their party on allegations of racism. A chance for the Social Democrats to sharpen their profile?
Sarrazin was leading as a bestselling author in Germany for a whole 21 months throughout the years 2010 and 2011. There is no comparable bestselling book in postwar Germany. Yet, the content of his book was highly critical. "Deutschland schafft sich ab," literally "Germany abolishes itself," proclaimed the racial inferiority of Muslims.
The fact that its author was a long-time serving member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) as well as first a senator of finance in the city of Berlin and later on a member of the German Central Bank, made it worse. For it was a nominally leftist that had normalized racism in a quite overt way. More than that, the fact that he was a social democrat played a central part in the political staging of his book.
The success of his book was especially to be accounted to the widest-circulating yellow press, the famous German Bild Zeitung and the critically acclaimed quality press, the weekly Der Spiegel. The Bild portrayed Sarrazin as a martyr against the political class, who dares to speak out against the threat posed to German society by its Muslim immigrants.
Sarrazin was widely held as a legitimate Islam critic rather than as a racist, although the major thesis of his book was that genetics and cultural differences accounted for the deficits of minorities in Germany and that their strong numerical growth would destroy the German society by making them "dumber."
As a matter of fact, in his original manuscript, he had used the notion "race," which he dropped after the major publishing house recommended him to replace it with "ethnicity."
Sarrazin revealed a superficial philo-Semitism by arguing that Ashkenazi Jews would be especially intelligent. In a way, Sarrazin could connect his views to the tradition of eugenics of his German ancestors, but the larger connection to the biological-racist ideology.
This connection to Nazi policies was not neglected, but it also did not become part of the general debate about his book, which was coined by the press and rather focused on the Muslim threat. Most revealing about the spread of racist attitudes were the polls on the reception of Sarrazin's bestseller. According to the ZDF Politbarometer, 56 percent of the interviewees argue that Sarrazin was right with his criticism, while 28 percent disagreed with this.
Following these developments, the SPD tried twice to strip Sarrazin of his membership in the party. While the first attempt failed in 2010, the second attempt in 2011 ended in a settlement, where Sarrazin assured to hold to the values of the party. But when Sarrazin published another book "Hostile Takeover: How Islam is Hindering Progress and Threatening the Society," this time blatantly calling the enemy by its name, another proceeding was initiated. This time, a party arbitration commission in Berlin approved the leaders' application to expel Sarrazin, arguing that "with the dissemination of anti-Muslim and cultural racist statements […] serious damage for the Social Democratic Party in Germany has occurred."
This is indeed a true and clear statement against the racism that might not even have been able to spread in a similar popular way, would it not have been that its author was nominally a social democrat.
One can read this latest move by the party leadership as a chance to enhance its profile as an anti-racist party. Given the rise of militant anti-Muslim activities by right-wing extremists and the widespread anti-Muslim attitudes in Germany, it is a programmatic and brave statement at the same time and a possibility to mobilize against anti-Muslim racism by supporting legislation that structurally tackles racism and fights for economic and political equality.
* Political scientist and senior research fellow at the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University