REFILE-German Muslims shrug off attacks by central banker
* German Muslim's reject central banker's comments
* Point to Muslims' contribution to the economy
(Refiles to remove typo in third paragraph)
By Dave Graham
BERLIN, Aug 30 (Reuters) - Descendants of Germany's Muslim migrant workers respond with a mixture of defiance, dismay and laughter to the theories of central banker Thilo Sarrazin, who has spent the past week railing against Muslim immigrants.
Sarrazin sparked strong criticism from the German government and party colleagues in his centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) over his comments that Muslim immigrants undermine German society, refuse to assimilate, and sponge off the state.
Turkish-born electrician Halis Soenmez laughs at the mention of Sarrazin's name, patting the bulge of his stomach to show how well he has integrated in German society.
He says there was no question some Turkish migrants to Germany in the 1960s struggled to fit in -- because nobody thought they would stay.
"After three years they were expected to go back. In the 60s, 70s or 80s there was never any talk about integration. That came later," he said in flawless German with a Berlin accent.
"It's a different story with later generations though. See, I've even got myself a German belly now," the 45-year-old said.
Sarrazin's comments have been condemned from Chancellor Angela Merkel down and the Bundesbank has distanced itself from its board member, saying it would consider steps against him.
From 1961, thousands of Turkish "guest workers" began accepting invitations from the West German government to help power the country's booming postwar economy, originally on the proviso they would stay temporarily. Recruitment ended in 1973.
By then, many had put down roots, and were later joined by their wives and families -- so that an estimated 3 million people in Germany today are of Turkish origin. Around a million other Muslims are estimated to live in Germany.
In his new book, which was previewed in mass-selling daily Bild over the past week, Sarrazin takes aim at Muslim society in Germany, saying he did not want Germans to "end up as strangers in our own land, not even on a regional basis."
Few Muslims dispute that integration has been a struggle for many migrants and that much remains to be done. However, they point to their contribution to the post-war reconstruction of Germany and reject what they see as Sarrazin's divisive approach.
"We helped build up this country," said Zubeyir Tasci, a 55-year-old German citizen of Kurdish-Turkish origin who runs a mini-market in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg. "Much of Germany was still in ruins when we got here after the war."
"Foreigners are a big part of this land," the father of four said. "Imagine what would happen if they took their money and left? A few hotheads like Sarrazin and Germany would be back where it was before the war: you have to learn from the past."
The Bundesbank board member's latest comments, contained in his "Deutschland schafft sich ab" (Germany does away with itself), is no stranger to controversy.
Last autumn, he sparked a furore after telling a magazine:
"I don't need to accept anyone who lives off the state, rejects this country ... and is always producing little girls with headscarves. This is true of 70 percent of the Turkish and 90 percent of the Arab population of Berlin," Sarrazin said.
Germany's population is ageing and shrinking, and lawmakers from across the political spectrum say migrants will be necessary to maintain the workforce and social security systems.
Muslims, who historically have had higher birth rates than the rest of the German population, point out that an increasing number of role models are being drawn from their ranks.
Cem Oezdemir, co-leader of the opposition Greens, and Mesut Oezil, one of Germany's young stars at the World Cup were both born to Turkish guest workers. Teammate Sami Khedira, who is half-Tunisian, joined Real Madrid this summer -- as did Oezil.
Orhan Atesci, a 48-year-old lathe operator, said the tone of Sarrazin's comments, which have won praise from the far right at home and abroad, showed he should not be taken seriously.
"I've heard worse: you can ignore it," he said. "Who is Sarrazin? Every child knows that there's been a problem with integration, but politicians haven't done enough about it."
Some, however, are fed up with the finger-pointing.
Fikret Okur, a 54-year-old running a Berlin sports bar, said although Sarrazin would probably be forgotten without the media coverage, granting him such a platform was dangerous.
"I don't think there's the same kind of xenophobia in America that there is here," the father of eight said. "It's older Germans who are the problem, not the younger ones."
"It wasn't easy when we got here in 1970. We were five families using one toilet. There wasn't even a shower. It's all very well calling me a foreigner and sending me home. But what about my 13-year-old son? He doesn't speak a word of Turkish."
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