Sie haben das Recht zu schweigen. Henryk M. Broders Sparring-Arena

Henryk M. Broder

17.05.2003   13:02   +Feedback

An Arab State in Europe

Hannes Stein

Is Germany an Arab country? At the surface, the answer seems clear: it is still easier to get wurst than falafel, and bars serve beer rather than sickly sweet tea with nana. If the German chancellor made a habit out of beginning speeches with »In the name of Allah, the all-merciful«, it would come as a surprise; and it has not yet become customary to start conferences at newspapers by reciting a sura from the Holy Quran.

And yet, one sometimes wonders. I got my first whiff of the things to come on the evening of 9/11. The news of the bloodbath in New York City had arrived in Germany in the afternoon, so we had had to re-arrange our entire newspaper. I felt exhausted and sad and needed a pint of something: so I went to a pub in what used to be East Berlin. The pub was crammed full, the TV was showing the unbelievable news again and again and I could not help overhearing a man at a neighbouring table who used his mobile phone as if it were a microphone. He kept shouting about »that criminal Bush«, »arrogant Americans« and »Sharon, that fascist«, and of course about »those Israeli swine who are behind it all«. Ah well, I thought. A lunatic. But after the initial shock and the spontaneous feeling of solidarity with the US had worn off - and this happened rather quickly - in a sense it was the voice of this sole lunatic that became dominant.

The most amazing conspiracy theories about 9/11 became rampant. Soon it was accepted knowledge that »the US had it coming«. This was not something you heard only in pubs and on campuses; the majority of German journalists and writers (most notably the Nobel-laureate Günter Grass) were in utter and terrible agreement. One was constantly being admonished not to draw the wrong conclusions from this incident, i.e. not to search for its roots in the Arab world. Rather one ought to respect the honourable religion of Islam. I wondered at the time what would have happened if the perpetrators of 9/11 had been found out to be devout Catholics. Would we then have been told not to tell jokes about the Pope? Would Günter Grass have reminded us that »the Americans had it coming« since their nation had been founded by radical protestants?

Once the US started bombing the Taliban out of Afghanistan, virtually everybody knew instantly that this was only about oil, stupid. (George W. intended to build a pipeline or something.) During these weeks Edward Said gave a lecture at a theatre in Berlin. Said, an American professor of literature, famously wrote a book in which he argues that the Orient is the defining »other« against which the West defines itself; he also authored an autobiography in which he claims that the plight of the Palestinian nation is very much his own. Usually Mr Said is admired for the subtlety of his thinking, but there was nothing subtle about the speech he gave at that theatre. It was nationalist propaganda, pure and undiluted: and there was hardly any question that Mr Said called for more than a withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territories. (He made this plain by referring to Haifa as part of »Palestine«.)

About one third of the audience were members of Berlin´s Palestinian diaspora community. It was clear that they should be jubilant. The larger part of the audience were Germans, however—middle class people of moderate political persuasions, not flag-waving left-wing radicals. And now comes the surprising bit: they, too, thought it was a riot. Their ovations lasted for several minutes. Only three people among them did not cheer; and only one of them was not Jewish. (And even these three did not dare to voice their disapproval.) In Ramallah or Damascus such a scene would have been quite normal. But in Berlin?

Roll on the war against Iraq. It is true that there were hot debates about this issue everywhere, particularly in the US itself: both the legitimacy and the wisdom of the war were questioned, journalists voiced reasonable doubts whether the Iraqi regime did in fact possess weapons of mass destruction. In Germany such debates were conspicuously absent. Here it was very simple: the entire country had turned into one big peace camp. The sentence »Mr Stein is in favour of this military campaign« sounded like »Mr Stein lives in a house which is made of green cheese«.

Writers and intellectuals were even more unanimous than they had been re. Afghanistan. All newspapers - with the notable exception of DIE WELT, the paper I happen to be working for - denounced Mr Bush and Mr Blair as dangerous lunatics. German television stations began to resemble outposts of Al Jazeera. Civilian casualties were mourned like martyrs. When the coalition forces encountered difficulties in the early days of the war, this was reported with unmitigated glee. When the bloodshed was over after three weeks and none of the apocalyptic prophecies had come true (no street fighting, no burning oil wells), there was a keen sense of disappointment.

None of this would be worth mentioning were it not for the fact that the German government and TV stations and newspapers spoke with one voice. What does this kind of consensus remind us of? Certainly not a Western democracy in the middle of Europe. But it does have an uncanny resemblance to countries like Egypt or Syria. Even more so if one takes the the Zionist entity into account. For if one pointed out that this war might - as a side-effect - contribute to the security of Israel, this was not perceived as an argument in its favour. Quite the contrary. One journalist wrote that a conspiracy of people like (you know) Wolfowitz and Perle was responsible for this military adventure; another journalist suggested the US might be securing Iraq´s oil fields for the benefit of Jerusalem.

So, is Germany seriously turning Arab? Perhaps. We may yet see demonstrations in the streets of Berlin where ordinary German citizens in suits and ties burn American flags and call for the introduction of Islamic law. Personally, I would prefer them to call for hummus and tea with nana.

17.5.2003

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