A recent decision by the United Nation’s (UN) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) foreshadows an ominous future for free societies should Muslim entities like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) achieve their goal of having “Islamophobia” defined internationally as a form of prejudice.
Former German central bank board member Thilo Sarrazin has got himself in trouble with the UN, as the Turkish Union in Berlin-Brandenburg (Türkischer Bund in Berlin-Brandenburg or TBB) stated with satisfaction in an April 18, 2013, German-language press release. The spokesman of this German-Turkish interest group, Hilmi Kaya Turan, praised a February 26, 2013, “historic decision” by the CERD condemning Germany for not having prosecuted Sarrazin’s criticism of Arab and Turkish immigrants.
Sarrazin, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands or SPD), produced a storm of controversy with his August 2010 book Deutschland Schafft Sich Ab: Wie Wir Unser Land aufs Spiel Setzen (“Germany Abolishes Itself: How We Are Risking Our Country”). In the context of this controversy, CERD’s detailed 19-page decision extensively excerpted in English translation a fall 2009 interview with Sarrazin. In the interview, the Berlin magazine Lettre International discussed some of the upcoming book’s themes.
CERD complained that “[i]n this interview, Mr. Sarrazin expressed himself in a derogatory and discriminatory way about social ‘lower classes’, which are not productive’ and would have to ‘disappear over time’ in order to create a city of the ‘elite’.” Sarrazin specified that about 20% of Berlin’s population depended on welfare payments, which he wanted to cut, “above all to the lower class.”
Berlin’s indigent included within the immigrant population a “large number of Arabs and Turks in this city, whose numbers have grown through erroneous policies, have no productive function, except for the fruit and vegetable trade.” Compounding the problem for Sarrazin was a birthrate among Arabs and Turks about three times their percentage of the population. Sarrazin thereby saw “Turks…conquering Germany just like the Kosovars conquered Kosovo: through a higher birth rate.” Sarrazin “wouldn’t mind if” these immigrants “were East European Jews with about a 15% higher IQ than the one of Germans.” Central to Sarrazin’s thesis was the assumption that “human ability is to some extent socially contingent and to some extent hereditary.” Sarrazin’s “solution to this problem” was “to generally prohibit influx, except for highly qualified individuals and not provide social welfare for immigrants anymore.”
As noted by CERD, Sarrazin’s interview comments prompted on October 23, 2009, a criminal complaint by the TBB under the German Criminal Code’s Article 130 against “Incitement to Hatred” (Volksverhetzung). Yet upon review, German prosecutors suspended their investigations on November 23, 2009, deciding that Sarrazin’s views fell under the protection of free speech contained within Article 5 of Germany’s Basic Law (Grundgesetz). Prosecutors quoted by CERD had judged Sarrazin’s statements as a “contribution to the intellectual debate in a question…very significant for the public.”
Following this domestic defeat, the TBB turned in 2010 to Article 14 of CERD’s governing convention (Article 14), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Article 14 provides that the CERD may “consider communications from individuals or groups of individuals within” a consenting State Party’s “jurisdiction claiming to be victims of a violation by that State Party of any of the rights set forth in this Convention.” In response, CERD agreed with TBB that Sarrazin had made discriminatory comments and that the German “State party failed to provide protection against such discrimination.” CERD thus wanted the “State party” to “review its policy and procedures…to give wide publicity to the Committee’s Opinion,” and to deliver “within 90 days, information from the State party about the measures taken.”
CERD’s decision did not involve Islam directly, for Sarrazin had referenced the ethnicity of Arabs and Turks, not their majority-Muslim faith. Yet CERD’s decision noted various party submissions according to which in Germany the “labels ‘Turks’ or ‘Arabs’ are applied as synonyms for Muslims.” Citing various evidence examples, CERD agreed with one submission that “Mr. Sarrazin’s statements led to public vilification and debasement of Turks and Muslims in general.”
Any such foreign judgment of a country raises sensitive questions of national sovereignty, particularly when involving limitations of free speech. Sarrazin’s case was no exception, especially in light of CERD members mocked by the German conservative website Politically Incorrect as “torches of democracy and human rights.” Analyzing this roster, Germans might well wonder what they could learn in equality under the law from members hailing from Algeria, Burkina Faso, China, Niger, Pakistan, Russia, Togo, and Turkey, among other countries.
The Sarrazin case exemplifies how international law and its institutional developments can impact domestic matters. Observers of the OIC, an international organization of 57 majority-Muslim nation-states (including “Palestine”), would be well advised to keep Sarrazin in mind when considering the OIC’s longstanding campaign against “Islamophobia.” This campaign would only too willingly extrapolate from Sarrazin’s comments about Arab and Turk immigrants, however controversial, to a condemnation of criticizing Islamic ideas as well.
Defenders of free speech should beware. The transnationalist, multiculturalists and OIC have a new mechanism to override domestic legal hate speech decisions. Precedent is slowly but surely being set.
This article was sponsored by the Legal Project, an activity of the Middle East Forum.
Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.