Thilo Sarrazin and Censorship in Germany

by Hugh Fitzgerald

Thilo Sarrazin is a former German central banker, soft-spoken and thoughtful, who has for years been observing the effect on German society of the millions of Muslim migrants it has welcomed into its midst. Though he is now inevitably connected in the Western media with the anti-Islam Alternative for Germany party, he is in fact a longstanding member of the center-left Social Democratic party. Even before Chancellor Merkel opened Germany’s doors wide in 2015 to Muslim migrants, making Germany’s problem with Muslim migrants considerably worse, Sarrazin had put his thoughts on the matter into a book, which immediately became a best-seller in Germany. Germany Does Away With Itself appeared in 2010. Many were shocked at Sarrazin’s thesis, that Muslims were making Germany “more stupid,” by which he meant that the low I.Q.s of Muslims, and their lack of education,  were causing problems in German schools and workplaces. The mainstream media pounced on Sarrazin; talk of comparative I.Q.s made many nervous, and his book was dismissively labelled  as “incendiary” and Sarrazin’s name forever after preceded by the Homeric epithets “controversial”  and “right-wing.” But he presented data that could not be gainsaid; many believe his book helped the rise of  Alternative for Germany, which now has 100 members in the Bundestag.

According to the Bild newspaper, Sarrazin had in November 2016 signed a deal with Random House for a study — a “critical close reading” of the Qur’an, with the working title Hostile Takeover: How Islam Hampers Progress and Threatens Society.

Random House accepted the delivery of Sarrazin’s manuscript in February this year, but then apparently had second thoughts. At the end of May, Random House told Sarrazin that they  would not put out the book after all. According to Bild, the publisher was worried that the new book could “amplify anti-Islam sentiments.” Sarrazin is now suing for breach of contract.

A spokesperson for Random House insists that the publishing group neither planned to “stop” Sarrazin’s new book “nor hinder its publication,” and that the author was free “to publish his book with another publishing house.” That does not justify a breach of contract, and it is cold comfort to Sarrazin, who had every right to expect that his contract with a major publishing house — one with a large advertising budget and a wide distribution network — would be honored.

When Random House signed a contract for that second book, that “close critical reading” of the Qur’an,  it was perfectly aware of what Sarrazin thought of the effect Muslims were having on Germany, and of his critical view of Islam. The publisher was not blindsided. What must have happened is that once the Random House editors received the completed manuscript, and read it, it turned out to be far more devastatingly “critical” a reading of the Qur’an than they had bargained for.

For Random House had two worries. One was, as it stated, that Sarrazin’s book could “amplify anti-Islam sentiments.” But it always knew, when it first signed the contract, that a “close critical reading” of the Qur’an by Thilo Sarrazin would “amplify anti-Islam sentiments.” How could it be otherwise? And so what if it did? Publishers should not be in the business of shielding Islam from criticism. The only legitimate reason for rejecting Sarrazin’s book would have been if his criticisms were exaggerated or baseless, his analysis faulty, his use of sources doubtful, his conclusions unfair. Random House offered no such substantive criticism of the book’s contents, only its fear of the effect it might have on non-Muslim views of Islam — that is, “amplify anti-Islam sentiments” — precisely because it was convincing.

There is another reason why Random House, which is owned by the even larger German publishing house of Bertelsmann, would have decided to drop the Sarrazin book. It was well aware of the aggressive, and deadly, Muslim reaction around the world to the “blasphemous” cartoons of Muhammad published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. In response, Musims had rioted outside Danish embassies and consulates around the world and 200 deaths resulted; there was talk in Muslim lands of boycotting Danish goods; Danish imams travelled to the Middle East to whip up anti-Danish feelings; there were death threats not just to the cartoonists, but also to the staff of Jyllands-Posten.

Of course Random House was worried about the effect on its business, which might suffer  all over the Muslim world, if it published Sarrazin’s book on the Qur’an. It worried, too, about possible physical retaliation against its offices and staff by Muslims enraged by the book. These are legitimate worries, given the murder and mayhem that followed the publication of the Muslim cartoons, but if such considerations are allowed to dictate the contents, or even the publication, of  books on the subject of Islam, Muslim censors will have won, and the West be deprived of the very information that, right now, it most needs if it is to understand the meaning, and menace, of Islam.

Sarrazin suggested that before the book was unilaterally cancelled, he was under pressure to tone down his remarks — he refers to a considerable “back and forth” with the publisher. He  refused to yield to demands for changes in his text, and in the end Random House cancelled the contract.

The question this contract contretemps raises is whether a mainstream publisher is willing to publish a sober study, albeit critical, of Islam, or whether these publishers  are justified in refusing to do so, not because the evidence and the argument are insufficient, but  because such a book could “amplify anti-Islam sentiments.”

The good news is that Sarrazin has found a new publisher, Finanzbuch Verlag, for his book, which house traditionally publishes books on finance, but because Sarrazin was a central banker for so long, is willing to help him out, stepping into the breach (in every sense). The book should be out this August, the same month Random House was originally to have published it. Whatever happens in Sarrazin’s breach of contract suit against Random House, its pusillanimity will have been exposed. And let us hope, as we have every reason to expect, that this new book will become a bestseller like his first book, dismaying both Muslims and Merkel, and heartening, while usefully informing, the rest of us.

First published in Jihad Watch.