Monday, August 30, 2010

You can't get there from here

The outrage du jour in Germany is an interview with Thilo Sarrazin, veteran politician and currently member of the board of the real European Central Bank, the Bundesbank. Sarrazin has a record of concern about the impact of immigration from Muslim countries on Germany and the European Union, and he must feel that his time has come with the row over the "Ground Zero Mosque" in the US tapping into related anxieties. Anyway, here's an interesting part of the interview (with the German publication World on Sunday) run through The Google translator --

Until a few decades, immigration played for the gene pool of the European population only a minor role and, moreover, took place very slowly. Three-quarters of the ancestors of today's Ireland and the British were already 7500 years ago the British Isles. Indeed, it is wrong that it immigration movements of the scale, as we have it today, had always existed in Europe.

This is meant as a response to the claim that Europe has always had large population movements, so there's nothing unusual about the relatively recent wave of immigration from Muslim countries.

The interview doesn't provide any reference for the idea that the bulk of Britain and Ireland's current gene pool was in place 7500 years ago (note: pre-Celtic) but The Google (is there anything it can't do?) establishes that it traces to the respected Oxford geneticist Stephen Oppenheimer.

The problem is that Oppenheimer's genetic argument is a strange one to rely on for emphasizing the importance of cultural influences. In fact, the genetic perspective leads to the conclusion that genes have much less to do with culture and language than Romantics like to think. How much about modern Britain and Ireland would you understand from Newgrange and Stonehenge even if 3/4 of our ancestors were in place at that time?

In short, there's no harm in thinking intercultural interfaces can be a tad tricky in the modern world. But trying to relate these to genetic theories -- particularly if you're German -- is going to be a rocky road.

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