Tag Archives: thilo sarrazin

Since When Did It Become “en vogue” To Be Politically Incorrect?

The titles of the increasing amount of blogs, online communities and forums that call themselves “politically incorrect”, or “heretic”, or “against the mainstream” seem to suggest that they are somehow more bad-ass and controversial than what else can generally be found in the media. A closer look, however, usually reveals that they are just trying really hard to denounce everything left-wing progressive thought has been fighting for for the last forty years.

Political correctness were the buzzwords of the New Left rhetoric during the 1970’s. Politically correct language meant talking about topics in a way that took into consideration the sensibilities of particular groups of people that were often ignored, marginalized, belittled or degraded in the political discourse. Examples of politically correct speech include gender neutral speech, not using the N-word, not referring to people as retarded, and all other means necessary to minimize people taking offense.

Feminism in particular has taken a special interest in political correctness since the theories of Derrida and Lacan revealed the importance and all-encompassing relevance of language as a crucial determinant of all of our lives. Post-structuralist feminists found that language cannot be thought outside of the power structures that generate it, and thus it is inherently a male construct that determines which things we consider male or female, normal or deviant, and which in turn we connote positively or negatively. Gender-neutral speech was a way of lessening the problem, as well as increasing the visibility of minorities that were previously ignored or subsumed under the default person: a white, heterosexual, able-bodied man.

Naturally, political correctness is not without its discontents. To use it appropriately can be complicated and long-winded. In fact, there are no distinct rules for the perfect use of politically correct speech. These are guidelines that are in constant flux and dispute, making it an easy target for anyone who is traditional-minded and reactionary.

Needless to say, the backlash was quick to follow. In the 1990’s the political right used political correctness as an insult for all ideas that they rejected. It was decried as censorship and cultural Marxism, two concepts that they equalized with intolerance when, in fact, political correctness was supposed to achieve the opposite. The Angry Black Woman writes:

It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that people who rail against Politically Correct speech are those who do not want to have to be polite or civil to folks different from them. They see nothing wrong with using the language they grew up with or that they’ve come to use. They do not care if the language they use is hurtful to others because, after all, the most important thing is that they get to do what they want when they want. This is the prevailing attitude of people with privilege.

Political correctness and what it stands for are often misunderstood, not just as being in line with the leading ideology, but as being in line with the ideology that one doesn’t like. That’s why Sarah Palin finds nothing contradictory with getting upset about the “lamestream media” trying to “shut her up”, while at the same time complaining at length about a politician’s use of the word “retarded”.

Europe, too, has its own heroes of political incorrectness: Nicolas Sarkozy thinks women’s rights are not that important (except when it’s about protecting women from the burqa, of course), David Willetts blames feminism for widening the poverty gap, and Marine Le Pen, Thilo Sarrazin and the likes blame Muslim immigrants for, well, pretty much everything. These individuals pose as provocateurs and are being praised for their seemingly controversial statements by their sizeable following, online and off. Finally someone says it how it really is! Finally a slap in the face of the establishment! Or is it? Alfie Kohn writes in the Huffington Post:

To classify something as PC isn’t just to say that one would prefer not to deal with it. It implies that what might be called a liberal sensibility represents the conventional wisdom (of which the challenger is attempting to remind us). I’d argue that exactly the opposite is true: Our political system and the norms of our culture are largely built on an edifice of conservative beliefs regarding power, tradition, religion, and nationalism, many of them invisible to us precisely because they’re so widely and uncritically unaccepted.

Being politically incorrect is nothing but a way to ensure self-confirmation, to feel special and extraordinarily brave, when really all they do is repeat the same polemic bullshit that’s already well-established in mainstream opinion. I wish the “lamestream media” would shut them up already, but sadly their voices are being heard loud and clear. And any attempt at criticism is being denounced as limiting our freedom of speech.

No one is trying to take away your freedom of speech! Political correctness is not censorship. There are hardly any laws that prevent you from saying whatever is on your mind. I just don’t see the positive effect of getting into everyone’s faces just because you can. But when you think you have to call out “p.c. lies” and claim to call things what they really are, be sure to apply this to yourself as well. When you state that Muslims are stupid, you’re not being politically incorrect. You’re being a racist.

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The Issue with Public Opinion: How the Sarrazin Debate Encourages Socially Accepted Racism

The current debate in Germany about Berlin’s former finance minister and social democrat Thilo Sarrazin may not have lead to solutions regarding Germany’s integration problem, but it sure has once again pointed out the great divide between the public opinion and the political and cultural elite. While many politicians, authors and academics have spoken out against Sarrazin’s highly questionable theses, public opinion polls have shown that a large percentage of the population supports his ideas. Regardless of whether these people constitute a majority or not, it appears necessary at this stage to question the will of the people. Does living in a democracy mean people should be able to directly vote on subjects such as building mosques and wearing head scarves because of their gut feeling?

Let’s face it – the whole debate has generally been more about emotions than based on actual facts. The controversy already started before Sarrazin’s book was even released and many of his supporters and critics refer to his general ideas and interviews more than to his actual written theses. And that is what people respond to: not to all the numbers and statistics but to the public statements that confirm what they believe they already know.

When talking about political and media-related phenomena it usually pays off to take a look at what’s happening in the United States where one can often find similar examples taken to the extreme. The analytical comment by Jakob Jochmann does just that by relating the current debate to the satirist Stephen Colbert’s concept of ‘truthiness’, “a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.” Jochmann gives two examples: the current debate about the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’, which is neither a mosque nor located at Ground Zero, and the well-established, yet completely absurd belief that Barack Obama is a Muslim.

“Professional demagogues such as Thilo S. take advantage of this new media reality. The often quoted master of ‘truthiness’, also known as ‘inconvenient truth’, is a child of the zeitgeist rather than a prophet, because self-promoter Glenn Beck uses the same virtuosity on the claviature of this attention spiral to fire up the American culture of outrage.” [my translation]

Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin are all perfect examples of demagogues who appeal to the people’s gut feeling, which now equals the truth that needs to be vocalized by someone even if it ‘hurts’. However, these ‘truths’ are not inconvenient or difficult at all. They are simple solutions to complex problems. Instead of trying to find ways which encourage integration and a feeling of belonging among immigrants and to lessen the current fear of the Islamic take-over, which often is little more or less than the common fear of the unknown – instead of doing actual hard work, Sarrazin reduces all of these problems to the inferiority, be it cultural or biological, of a certain group of people.

Luise F. Pusch examines this way of thinking within a feminist framework. She sees parallels to the Eva Herman controversy from a few years ago by pointing out that both debates are about putting a certain group of people, be it women or foreigners, in ‘their proper place’: “In the past, an entire sex – mine, the female one – was considered “dumb” and genetically inferior. That is one reason why I am not keen on those theses that deny the intelligence of entire groups of people. […] Because women were dumb, had a smaller brain than men and studying would harm their uteri, they were not allowed to study, to vote – so as not to steal men’s place in the sun.”[my translation]

The parallels to the Sarrazin controversy are obvious and emphasize that his theses are not only not helpful for the immigration discourse, they are simply discriminatory and tainted with his belief in racial and class superiority. What complicates the whole issue is the fact that Sarrazin is a member of the social democratic party and not part of the spectrum of the far right and a potential Tea Party activist. However, he should seriously reconsider his political convictions. Being left does not necessarily mean being anti-racist and many voters of the left-wing parties wish for social benefits and welfare, but only for the ‘genuine German population’ (whatever that might mean) and not for immigrants. However, the left parties generally stand for equal chances for everyone, and that means equal support as well. Sarrazin believes that some people are more valuable than others and therefore more equal than others, and that disqualifies him as a social democrat. It is not surprising, then, that openly nationalistic far-right parties such as the NPD and the Pro Köln movement have announced their support for Sarrazin and welcome the current debate as a means to make racism (in their words: “critique of foreign infiltration”) socially acceptable. If Sarrazin continues to be stylized as the martyr for middle-class worries, they will be right. Far-right movements and xenophobic attitudes are on the rise all over the world, but at least Germany should know better than that.

“In the 19th century and during the 1st World War, poverty, hunger and a lack of working opportunities forced many Jews from the east of the austro-hungarian monarchy to relocate in Vienna. After 1918, the systematically fuelled fear of foreign infiltration made anti-semitism a popular element in almost all political parties.” [my translation]