BERLIN // A top German central bank official has caused outrage by saying Turkish and Arab immigrants sponge off the state, are incapable of integrating themselves into German society and "constantly produce little girls with headscarves". Thilo Sarrazin, a former finance minister of the city-state of Berlin who was appointed as a board member of the Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, this year, is under growing pressure to resign after he made the comments in an interview with Lettre International, a cultural magazine, about Berlin's economic problems last week.
"A large number of Arabs and Turks in this city, who have increased in number as a result of wrong policies, have no productive function other than the fruit and vegetable trade," he said. "The Turks are conquering Germany in the same way the Kosovars conquered Kosovo: through a higher birth rate," he said. "I don't have to acknowledge anyone who lives off the state, rejects this state, doesn't properly take care of the education of his children and constantly produces little girls with headscarves," he said.
About 70 per cent of the Turkish and 90 per cent of the Arab population in Berlin were like that, he said. "In addition they have a mentality that is aggressive and atavistic." Mr Sarrazin, 64, is well known in Germany for making provocative comments. But this time he may have gone too far. His centre-left Social Democrat Party is considering expelling him and the Berlin state prosecutor's office said it was investigating whether to prosecute him for racial incitement.
Immigrant groups and politicians from all parties, apart from the far-right National Democratic Party, expressed their disgust. The deputy governor of the Turkish central bank, Ibrahim Turhan, said: "May Allah give him sense." Kenan Kolat, the chairman of the Turkish Community in Germany, which represents some of the 2.8 million people with Turkish roots living in Germany, called Mr Sarrazin's comments "shocking and populist".
"Such remarks are grist for the mill for right-wing extremists. Mr Sarrazin doesn't think about what impact his words have," Mr Kolat said. Despite the public outrage, it is believed many Germans secretly agree with Mr Sarrazin's comments. The interview reflects the country's failure to integrate many of the 15 million inhabitants with an immigrant background, who account for almost one-fifth of the population.
Germany has about 4m Muslim residents, most of whom are descendants of Turks invited in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s as "guest workers" to make up for a shortage of manpower after the Second World War. They helped rebuild the country from the rubble of the war, but German society remains reluctant to accept them. Their unemployment rate is twice as high as the national average, and they are under-represented in parliament, with just 15 MPs of foreign extraction in the Bundestag lower house. That is 2.4 per cent of the 622 MPs.
International surveys show the German education system is failing to provide adequate schooling for the children of many Turks, who are still widely described as "foreigners" even if they and their parents were born in Germany, and who regularly complain of discrimination when applying for jobs or trying to rent apartments. Die Welt, a conservative daily, defended Mr Sarrazin in an editorial. "If people who carry responsibility aren't permitted to publicly voice their thoughts and make mistakes, public debates will become barren and stupid," the newspaper said.
The venerable Bundesbank, one of Germany's most respected public institutions, took the highly unusual step of issuing a statement distancing itself from Mr Sarrazin's remarks. Its governor, Axel Weber, said Mr Sarrazin had damaged the image of the bank and indirectly urged him to resign. However, Mr Weber does not have the power to sack Mr Sarrazin, because he was appointed by the German president, Horst Köhler, who has so far remained silent on the matter.
The controversy has led to the creation of a new political party to defend the interest of immigrants in Germany. One of the founders, Vlad Georgescu, a Romanian-born author, said: "We need a party so that immigrants have a voice and can effectively defend themselves in the political arena against such defamation." Mr Sarrazin apologised for his comments. "Not every formulation in this interview was well chosen," he said in a statement last week.
"I wanted to describe the problems and the outlook for the city of Berlin, but I didn't want to discredit individual ethnic groups." It is unclear whether that apology will suffice to let him keep his job. "He has to resign," wrote the Berliner Zeitung, a Berlin newspaper. "He argues in racist terms. And that is unacceptable." Mr Sarrazin is no stranger to controversy. While he was finance minister for Berlin, he said unemployed people were too fat and he presented a menu that would allow them to eat a healthy, balanced diet for just 4.25 (Dh23) per day, including a sausage and sauerkraut for lunch.