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Eight years after his last contentious work, former politician Thilo Sarrazin is back with another controversial take on Muslim culture, "Hostile Takeover." A political science and Islam expert reviews the book for DW.
The fact that Thilo Sarrazin doesn't have a high opinion of Arabs and Turks is no secret ever since his bestseller Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Abolishes Itself) was published in 2010. At the time, the book's controversial theses on integration and immigration had sparked a heated debate in Germany.
In the book, the former Berlin senator of finance and former member of the executive board of the Bundesbank claimed that Muslim immigrants had educational deficits and refused to integrate. While Sarrazin already explained why he perceived Muslims as a threat to Western societies in his previous book, he did not deal explicitly with the religion of Islam.
He now tackles the religion more directly in his new book, Feindliche Übernahmen (Hostile Takeover; no English version available). However, the author's claim that his book provides a sober and impartial study of Islam quickly proves to be an empty assertion.
He explores Islam through the Quran, which he claims to have read in its entirety. Even though this approach sounds correct, his claim to be able to determine the core statements of Islam by reading the Quran without any knowledge of Arabic or theological background is an absurd presumption. Sarrazin openly admits that his analysis "exclusively" follows his own "direct understanding of the text," as if the Quran were really to be understood without taking into account the context of its origin and the history of its reception.
He ignores everything that doesn't fit into his own interpretation. He does not discuss the ambiguity of the text nor its poetic dimension. Instead of looking at the Quran as a whole, he takes individual excerpts out of context and reorganizes them under selected themes.
The "religious content" of the Quran is "very simple, the guidelines for the faithful are therefore very clear," writes Sarrazin. His conclusion: The Muslims' holy book is obsessive about questions related to sexuality, and it is full of hatred for unbelievers and calls for violence.
"If you take it literally, it leaves little room for misunderstanding," writes Sarrazin about the Quran. His reading does not see a separation of politics and religion in Islam as possible. "The more literally one takes the Quran, the clearer it appears that the world's governance can only find its legitimacy through God," he writes. Like many other Islam critics, Sarrazin picks up one of the Islamists' core arguments; he presents their interpretation of the Quran not only as a conclusive view, but also as the exclusive one.
A distorted picture based on prejudice
Sarrazin also ignores the fact that the political ideology of Islamism is a product of modernity and that its interpretation is rejected by a great majority of Muslims. He does not say a word about the moderate versions of mystical Islam prevailing in most Muslim countries.
It may appear contradictory that he should adopt the radical reading of the Islamists as the "true" version of Islam, but that is necessary to support Sarrazin's concept, in which he condemns Islam in its entirety as an "ideology of violence in the guise of a religion."
His portrayal of Islam is a caricature that has more to do with his own prejudiced views than with the beliefs guiding the lives of the majority of Muslims.
Beyond his study of the Quran, he tries to provide an appearance of objectivity though quotes, numbers and statistics, but the book's goal remains clear: to confirm his preconceived ideas. His description of the history of Islamic culture as an 800-year-long decline reveals his downright malicious urge to deny Muslims anything positive.
Anyone who has ever been to Istanbul, Granada or Cairo can only be astonished to read Sarrazin's declaration that "an independent Islamic building culture never developed." Anyone who knows Iran's impressive Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, can hardly agree with his statement that Muslims do not know anything "about urban planning with axes and public spaces."
Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Isfahan, Iran
He also reveals an almost astounding ignorance when he claims that Muslims, "apart from a few fairy tales," have never developed their own literature — as if poets such as Hafis, Saadi or Mevlana had never existed.
Revealing the full force of his deeply Eurocentric perspective, he cites the lack of symphonic orchestras as evidence of the cultural backwardness of the Islamic world. He apparently cannot imagine that there are other concepts of culture and beauty than the ones developed in Europe. Instead of appreciating the richness, complexity and elegance of the ornaments on carpets, tiles and facades created in Muslim countries, he only sees the absence of portraits and sculptures. You can almost feel pity for Sarrazin for such narrow-mindedness.
No interest in finding solutions
Throughout the book, it is clear that he only takes into account anything that fits into his preconceived world view. He avoids mentioning that the credibility of the statistics he uses has been questioned — that would ruin his narrative. Beyond all the figures on birth rates, levels of education and economic performance, it's his basic thesis that appears the most questionable, in which he claims that all the Muslims' social and economic problems can be blamed on their religion — or as the second part of his book's title states: "How Islam Impedes Progress and Threatens Society."
Hardly a Muslim bases his actions primarily or even exclusively on Islam. But even if Islam were the cause of all problems, what would be the solution? That all Muslims give up their culture and their faith? That's not likely.
Sarrazin does not present a solution to this dilemma, as he is not even interested in finding solutions. His whole book shows that he is not concerned with helping shape peaceful coexistence, but rather with the strict separation of peoples and stopping the immigration of Muslims.
Ulrich von Schwerin works as a freelance correspondent for various media in Istanbul. In addition to Turkey, he also focuses on Iran. His political science PhD dissertation was about Iranian cleric and dissident Ayatollah Montazeri.