Over the years, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism (SEN) has published a variety of articles which engage with questions of multiculturalism in different societies from diverse academic perspectives. As part of SEN’s continuous engagement with these debates and aware of their relevance beyond the purely academic discourse, this current affairs comment is dedicated to the recent invitation of Thilo Sarrazin to the London School of Economics and Political Science.
In hindsight, it would be interesting to know whether those members of the LSESU German Society who had organised the panel debate on “Europe’s Future – ‘Decline of the West?'”, ultimately held in the Waldorf Hilton on Aldwych on 14th February 2011, were aware in advance of what they were getting themselves into. Surely, someone among the decision-makers of the German Society at some point must have questioned what kind of reaction they might receive if they, first, invite Thilo Sarrazin, former senior official at the German Central Bank and author of the controversial book “Germany does away with itself” (Deutschland schafft sich ab), alongside Henryk M. Broder, Ali Kizilkaya and Hellmuth Karasek, and then choose the aforementioned title for the event which should alert even those who had not heard of the debate surrounding Sarrazin in Germany before that this was to be an emotionally and politically highly charged discussion.
In newspapers, open letters, the radio and the internet, others have already commented widely on the invitation of Sarrazin, given his highly controversial and contested claims on the “unwillingness” of some immigrants in Germany to integrate and their “dumbing down” of German society or his statements regarding biological predispositions for ethnic group identities. It is not our purpose to repeat these arguments at this point – the esteemed reader can find them easily online or in recent archives of the print media.
However, as a German working in another student-run body at the LSE which specifically deals with questions of ethnicity and nationalism on a daily basis, I would like to refute the LSESU German Society’s apparent claim that their critics seem to have a somewhat misconstrued understanding of freedom of speech by emphasising what others have alluded to before: Being concerned about the populist version of socio-biological primordialism that underlies Sarrazin’s statements and hence his invitation to LSE should not be seen as trying to undermine freedom of speech or even as an attempt to censor the LSESU German Society for whom they invite.
Rather, it is based on the recognition that giving Sarrazin’s theses an international forum at a world-renowned social science university is in fact a political act itself – whether the organisers of this event realised this or not – as it further legitimises Sarrazin’s claims by presenting them as valid and worthy of discussion; surely, history should have told us that giving legitimacy to essentialist claims on ethnicity and nationalism is a dangerous route to follow. Against the background of a new wave of (highly controversial) integration debates all over Europe, it is not people like Thilo Sarrazin who should be given a greater forum, but the likes of Will Kymlicka, Tariq Modood or Bhikhu Parekh who offer constructive insights into the workings and possible improvements of multicultural societies.
Ulrike Theuerkauf, London School of Economics and Political Science