Monthly Archives: February 2015

Freedom of Expression – The New Millennium’s Tightrope Act

…Carnival, Fastnacht or Fasching, whatever you call it, in German-speaking countries means a tradition of satire. And politics and religion are the favorite targets.

But this year, with the terrorist acts in Paris and now in Copenhagen so fresh in everyone’s thoughts, those responsible  in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz had to perform a veritable tightrope act when designing the parade floats. Do we stand up and deride / denounce the terrorists for what they are – (mainly) young men dispossessed from our modern affluent society, claiming to murder to defend Allah’s honor? Or in doing so, would we provoke violent responses that endanger the crowds of people – including families with children – who come out for a day of jolly celebrations? What a monumental responsibility to carry!

The reaction of the carnival club in Cologne: self censorship. They canceled the first float they created that showed the pen mightier than the sword. The outcry was great. They were bending to the terrorists, some wrote; others defended them for taking seriously the danger to the public. On the day, they did come through with another float that proclaimed the same message. Mainz and Düsseldorf also showed backbone. In Braunschweig were concrete threats of attacks were received, the organizers canceled the parade. What else could they do?

Life is becoming, for all of us, a veritable balancing act. Does criticism offend others’ beliefs? Shouldn’t we respect their beliefs and opinions? I was speaking to a teacher friend of mine who said they try to teach the kids to respect the differences in others, whether religious or political or whatever. Then terrorists acts like those in Paris come along and everyone is defending the satirists who are often way past the borderline of respectful criticism. How do you draw a line between what is an acceptable critique and satire that’s gone over the top? We do, in our western democracies, have the freedom and the right to declare our opinions. We must be perfectly clear that the terrorist perpetrators consider every one of us to be infidels and they have absolutely no respect for our freedoms, rights and beliefs.

Sorry. Unfortunately, I don’t have a final answer to this dilemma. All I can say is that Kalashnikovs versus words and cartoons is overkill! No one forces anyone to look at the cartoons or read satirical magazines. If it offends you, turn away. But shooting down the authors in cold  blood is just not a commensurate response.

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Old Europe Ain’t What She Used to Be…

…Isn’t that a blessing?

 

This is not the first time that the movement of migrants into her parts is changing the character of the many diverse societies on the continent. It has been happening for millions of years. So why are some people pretending that the current status quo needs defending? Of course, there are elements that must be defended at all cost. Those include the rule of law and human rights which have been hard-won from the forces who would subject us. Some things are just not up for negotiation.

We have only to look at the two world wars in the 20th century to recognize what must be fought for and how precious peace is.

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On 27th January Holocaust Memorial Day was celebrated worldwide. For the uninformed, this year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops (1944). The truth about the heinous crimes Hitler’s Germany had been committing in murdering innocent Jews, Communists, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma and anyone else who opposed the regime became a fact that could no longer be ignored or denied. This crime was the culmination of what happens in a country where basic human rights are flaunted and the rule of law replaced with jack-boot justice. In coming years the world would also find out about the genocides committed by Stalin and co. One can debate at length which of the two dictators murdered more innocent people, but that question is academic.

The nature of authoritarianism has altered in the course of those 70 years. Rather than institutionalized terrorism from pseudo-elected governments, now terrorism is diffuse, existing in cells – some sleeping until woken for duty, and supported by internet recruitment of the next suicide bombers or IS warriors. It is impossible to combat effectively.

On 7th January the long automatic rifle of terrorists’ justice reached out to Paris and murdered 17 people – some random as in the Jewish supermarket, some targeted as the journalists at Charlie Hebdo. Do they really believe that we of this western civilization will surrender our freedoms just because they kill people they consider to be committing crimes against Allah and Mohammed?

Personally, I find it extremely difficult to understand why these Islamists think they have the right to terrorize the modern world and transport it back to the Middle Ages. For them, tolerance is an unkown concept. And quite honestly, they aren’t thinking this through. Were they to succeed in destroying the West, they would lose the internet tools that serve them so well. They would also have to give up their cell phones, their SUVs and all their modern weaponry. What if the source of their bankrolling (oil?) was no longer raking in the money to finance it all? They fail to recognise that these amenities exist only because of the freedom of ideas, speech, press and a lot of capitalism.

Of course, there have been positive side-effects from the Paris attacks. Mainstream Muslims are speaking out and disowning terrorism. And indeed, we must be very careful not to judge all Muslims by the actions of a few radicals. As they have said, those terrorists are not genuine Muslims. They are instumentalizing the religion for evil ends.

As a result of the attacks, tens of thousands – in France, millions of people – took to the streets to march and express their solidarity with the victims and their families. This all comes at a time when, in Germany, some groups have appeared on the scene to defend German culture from becoming inundated by foreign influences. The high number of foreigners is supposedly endangering the country as we know it. The largest center for this is the eastern city of Dresden, a city with a comparatively low percentage of people with migration background. Is this anxiety because of the 40 years during which east German society had little contact with the outside world?

Similar groups have sprung up across Germany, but their demonstrations are comparatively small and the turnout is totally outnumbered by the demos of those opposing them and marching for a “colorful” Germany. These anti-immigrant demos were reported in the foreign press . Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to consider it newsworthy to report on the opposing demos. That is disturbing!

However, I have been heartened in my belief that Germany and a large portion of its citizens are opening their arms to receive the refugees streaming in from such diverse places as Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Serbia. Our newspapers are filled with articles on local private initiatives to find housing, furnishings and clothing for these people.  Private citizens organize get-togethers to welcome them into the communities. And for those who intend to settle, they are offering German courses. Everyone knows: language is the key to integration.

This help for the refugees is not just coming from one segment of society. Young and old are pitching in. In fact, many of the older generation who experienced being driven out of their homes in Poland or Czechoslovakia after the war and were forced to build a new life in western Germany, are especially open to helping. In the late 1940s and early 1950s they were in the same boat, arriving with nothing more than a few meager possessions. Now they are returning the favor – passing it forward, so to speak.

Europe is changing, developing. Nothing is perfect, to be sure, but to stand still would be fatal.

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