German Cultural Appeasement
The country’s art pages consider not Islamists but their critics as the real ‘preachers of hate.’
Just when the murderous lessons of political Islamâ€”from the numerous terror attacks to “honor killings” and hate preachersâ€”were thought to be inculcated into Germany’s media, a wide swath of journalists and academics suffered a collective relapse into appeasement.
Commentators ranging from the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) to the left-liberal SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) and the liberal weekly Die Zeit recently identified not radical Islam but its critics as the real problem. They are “our holy warriors,” (Claudius Seidl in the FAZ) “our preachers of hate” (Thomas Steinfeld in the SZ) who represent “enlightened fundamentalism” (Thomas Assheuer in Die Zeit).
The specific targets of this vitriol are Necla Kelek, a German-Turkish sociologist and author, Henryk M. Broder, a Polish-born Jew and Der Spiegel columnist, and Seyran Ates, a German-Turkish lawyer and author who has been subjected to death threats because of her legal activities opposing honor killings and forced marriages among Muslims. The Kelek-Broder-Ates troika employs a lively and confrontational verbal posture to jolt German society out of its complacency vis-a-vis the Islamist threat. In their writings, the three “holy warriors” show little patience for political correctness and demand that Europe’s Muslims accept liberal society’s views on gender equality, free speech and religious freedom. Instead of cultural relativism, the three believe Western culture embodies universal rights and values that cannot be withheld from the peoples of the Muslim world.
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For the custodians of Germany’s cultural pages that’s too much (Western) cultural confidence. Mr Steinfeld from the SZ went as far as to pooh pooh the recent murder attempt against Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard by a 28-year-old Somali with links to the Islamist al-Shabab militia as another bogus excuse to pounce on Islam: “All we need is for something to happen, a failed attack, for example, like the one at the beginning of the month, and the debate will start all over again, with the same arguments-no, what’s being offered there are not arguments, but slogans.” It is as if the Somali’s radical Islamic ideology, which animated his plan to murder Mr. Westergaard, was non-existent.
The assault on the three Islam-critical authors is par for the course for a media that also excels in playing down the Iranian threat while bashing Israel. Take KatajunÂ Amirpur, a German-Iranian academic of Islam who frequently writes for the SZ. In 2008, she wrote a widely read essay in the SZ rejecting the standard translation of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement thatÂ “Israel must be wiped off the map.” Ms. Amirpur argued inconceivably that the Iranian President merely meant “The occupation regime must become history.” One of the only voices of dissent who confronted Ms. Amirpur’s distortion and her attempt to deny that the Islamic Republic threatened Israel with another Holocaust was Henryk M. Broder.
In January, the SZ sought another academic crutch to shield radical Islam from criticism. In a story headlined “Anti-Semites and Enemies of Islamâ€”Incitement With Parallels,” Wolfgang Benz, the controversial Director of the Berlin Center for Research on Anti-Semitism, claims to see eerie similarities between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Instead of shining light on the growing anti-Semitism among Islamists, Mr. Benz draws hysterical comparisons between legitimate criticism of radical Islam and the sort of Jew-hatred that has led to genocide. That the head of Germany’s only federally funded anti-Semitism research institute would thus belittle the Holocaust became particularly suspect after it was disclosed in late January that Mr. Benz has repeatedly honored his deceased doctoral supervisor Karl Bosl, who was a committed Nazi and energetic ideologue of the Hitler movement.
Mr. Benz, by the way, has a history of rationalizing the violence of political Islam against the West. A few days after 19 IslamicÂ terrorists brought down the Twin Towers, Mr. Benz said the buildingsÂ “are symbols of pride and wealth and arrogance…And that provokes the drastic and dramatic reactions and the martial reactions.”
Where “Islamophobia” is compared with anti-Semitism, it’s only a small step to compare Israelis with Nazis. Patrick Bahners, the editor of the FAZ arts sections, for example, defended in 2008 critics of Israel who liken the West Bank security barrier with the Warsaw Ghetto. According to the European Union, such comparisons are manifestations of modern anti-Semitism. Mr. Bahners countered that “this comparison cannot be eliminated by forbidding speech or insults,” somehow missing the point. The question is not whether his speech should be censored but whether it constitutes anti-Semitism. The problem is that such views are not just held among Germany’s cultural elite. A 2004 Bielefeld University survey showed that 51% of Germans believe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians “is essentially no different from what the Nazis did to the Jews.”
Mr. Bahners’s colleague at the FAZ, Lorenz JÃ¤ger, follows a more traditional anti-Semitic theme: He’s concerned about Jewish power. The fact that there are a few newspapers and bloggers that show solidarity with the Jewish state is for him evidence of an influential network of pro-Israel groups that exert undue influence. In Mr. JÃ¤ger’s conspiratorial world view “it is no longer a secret ” that two French Jewish philosophers, Andre Glucksmann and Bernard Henri-Levy, are serving “the interests of the United States and Israel.” Mr. JÃ¤ger criticized the two philosophers also for urging Western opposition to Russian human rights violations and support for Georgia during the 2008 war with Russia.
All of this helps to explain the fierce attacks on the critics of Islamism. Universal values have been replaced with a bottomless pit of cultural relativity where the proponents of a robust liberal democracy are equated with hard-core Jihadists. The decisive shift toward defending anti-Western regimes such as Russia and Iran in the German arts sections is no longer a harmless fetish but a prevailing view.
Mr. Weinthal is a journalist in Berlin.