Letter from Germany
By Henryk M. Broder
Fela Broder was not a writer but a simple Krakow housewife. Still, she loved to tell stories that were neither appropriated nor invented, but that were, rather, accounts of things that they had experienced and survived between 1939 and 1945. But the immediate post-war era, too, provided a good deal of narrative material. The Nazis were gone, but the collaborators remained, the so-called kapos, Poles as well as Jews, who had performed auxiliary services. Most of them had simply been trying to save their lives, or, at least, to grab a little something for themselves. But some, of course, had performed their jobs with enthusiasm.
One of these kapos, said Fela Broder, was a particularly vicious sadist. His specialty was whipping those guilty of minor disciplinary violations until they could neither stand, walk, or breathe. He did far more than the camp administrators expected of him. On a good day, though, he would turn a blind eye to infractions or give a prisoner a piece of bread. Even a kapo, now and then, wanted to be a man.
His wife and my mother knew each other from before the war.
When it was all over, she went to see my mother and asked her to testify in court as a witness for her husband. «Fela,» said the wife of the kapo, «who could imagine that the Germans would lose the war?»
If you want to understand the phenomenon of collaboration, the anticipatory obedience and «identification with the aggressor,” you need only to understand this one sentence. It is brilliant in its simplicity. After the Nazis, in an astonishingly short time, had brought a large part of Europe under their control, it was not only the remaining decent Germans who found it difficult to imagine that Hitler and his followers could ever lose the war. Those who had not emigrated in time, as Oskar Maria Graf did, went into internal exile, as did Erich Kastner. Under such circumstances, at a distance of more than 60 years, one cannot blame the collaborators for being ready and willing to come to an accommodation with the potential victors if they were offered the opportunity to do so. The idea that the triumphant Nazi war machine could ever run out of gas was beyond imagining.
So it was, too, when the victorious Soviet Union, at the height of its power, crushed the uprisings in Hungary and Czechoslovakia: no one could doubt that the Red Army would soon be on the march once again to crack down on dissenters. The peace movement in the Federal Republic, whose sponsorship by the KGB and the Stasi was still unknown, supported unilateral disarmament, and was entirely sincere in its conviction as to the correctness of the slogan «better red than dead.” Helmut Schmidt and other proponents of the «dual strategy» – to simultaneously rearm and negotiate – were regarded as warmongers who embraced the risk of a nuclear inferno even as they stared into the face of the reality that the Soviet Union, the home of all friends of peace, was invincible. Those who picked an argument with it were doomed to destruction.
More than 30 years later, history is repeating itself, except that this time the color on the horizon is not red but green.
Islam – or, as some prefer to say, Islamism – is on the march, though it is employing different means from those that the Communists used. On the one hand there is the demographic weapon that is now changing the face of Europe, as seen in the debates about the construction of minarets and the wearing of burkas; on the other hand, there is an ideology that many enlightened people, especially intellectuals, find quite attractive, not despite but because of its simplicity: the world is bad, and we want to and will make it better. We know how to do it. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. Your choice.
There are even people who are volunteering for service. Not to stand athwart the oncoming superpower, which would be dangerous, but to show it the way, just as a pilot guides a ship into port. Among these people are intelligent and educated individuals who could not be seduced by slick ad slogans to buy a flat-screen TV or tempted by last-minute deals for Caribbean vacations, but who are now succumbing to the charms of a new totalitarianism.
Take for example Andreas Zielcke, who recently argued in Sueddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) for the recognition of sharia law as a complement to the Western legal system. An extremely bold move, when one considers the terrible penalties meted out to those who got there before he did:
When George Barfuß was about to be appointed as an integration officer in Bavaria, his comment that «Islamic sharia law also applies here in part” cost him the post. When the Archbishop of Canterbury proposed that Britain should recognize «some elements of sharia law,» the public outcry was enormous: «appeasement,» «divisive,” «social chaos.”
Zielcke, of course, needn’t worry about such consequences, for he’s found an expert to confirm his view that there can be sharia without such «atrocities» as “beheadings and mutilations” – namely, Mathias Rohe, Supreme Court judge and Professor of International law in Erlangen. He says: «In Germany we make use of sharia every day.»
The ordinary newspaper reader may find such a statement a bit strange, if he recalls a divorce case that was heard at a family court in Hesse, in which the judge advised the plaintiff to stay a little longer with her Moroccan husband; yes, he beat her, but «in this culture” it was “not unusual for a husband to have the right to punish his wife. The German-born petitioner should have counted on this when she married a defendant who had grown up in Morocco.»
This decision, which breathed the spirit of sharia, sparked nationwide outrage and led to the judge being removed from the case.
Zielcke, himself a lawyer, is not of the opinion «that the West must accept compromises in its core values in order to facilitate the complicated integration of Muslims,» but he feels at the same time that the West, «anchored in its non-negotiable legal culture,” must demonstrate to Islam its civilized ability to forge ties across all spiritual gaps.”
It’s a clear both/and situation of the sort that can make any lawyer’s heart beat faster. While he accepts that Western legal culture is «non-negotiable,” he argues that it is nonetheless the West that must prove to Islam “its civilized ability to forge ties,” and not the other way around.
Zielcke makes clear how flexible he expects the West to be by means of an illustrative example. Polygamy, which «is still practiced in many Islamic regions (although it is on the decline),» cannot be accepted in Germany. Yet if «the husband dies and leaves behind many widows, then German social legislation should direct that the pension entitlements be evenly distributed among them all.» The only question that remains open is which German government agency will issue the licenses to permit a man’s multiple wives to enter the Federal Republic under the family-reunification law.
In this way, says Zielcke, one could «eliminate polygamy, but also address the harmful consequences of exclusion.»
If German jurists are to deal with such problems even as they recognize «honor» as a mitigating motive in killings, then a form of sharia law is indeed already in force in Germany, which one may as well label «sharia lite» – like Oktoberfest without drinking contests or Shrove Monday in Cologne without the prince, peasant, virgin and chestnut?
After all, Zielcke also recognizes that «The norms of sharia migrate along with the ‘stowaways’.» But instead of concluding on the basis of this knowledge that the «stowaways» should be sent back home, he wants to modify the norms of sharia – because he believes he is dealing with tomorrow’s victors today, to whom he wants to send the signal: «I’m on your side! Please remember that!»
Benevolent intellectuals like Zielcke, who like to adopt persecuted minorities, accept reality only in part.
In the case of sharia, which is creeping into the Western legal system, they overlook the fact that millions of Muslims have left their homelands to escape the barbarities of sharia. They leave just as millions of Europeans, from the Pilgrim Fathers to the Jews of the shtetl, once left for America to be able to live in freedom. What about the interests of Muslims who don’t want to be overtaken by sharia?
Zielcke doesn’t care. The benevolent intellectual likes to play the role of guardian to a ward who needs his help in order to develop. Previously, it was the wretched of the earth, the proletariat, of which there now only remains the lumpenproletariat, who is completely immune to all of his advocate’s approaches and efforts to mobilize him. Then there were the poor victims of exploitation in the Third World, who reject any interference in their affairs, since they’ve discovered that they get a lot further by building up tourist centers than by terrorizing their supposed oppressors. The only ones who are still of value as wards are Muslims, who are offended, hurt, and injured by the West all the time – by the Pope and his Regensburg speech, by Kurt Westergaard and his Muhammed cartoon, by Geert Wilders and his film Fitna.
Muslims who are not offended, insulted, or hurt are of no use as recipients of this kind of moral welfare: they’re overlooked; they’re told off. The extraordinary rage that has been directed at Seyran Ates and Necla Kelek in the course of the so-called Islam debate has been the consequence, above all, of the guardians’ frustration with independent Muslims – a frustration which, in this case, is exacerbated by the fact that these are Muslim women – who don’t wish to be anyone’s wards. And what’s a guardian without a ward?
Like Mother Teresa when all the orphans have run away.
In late February, the Central Council of Ex-Muslims was founded in Vienna, Austria, inspired by similar groups in Germany and the Netherlands. Its first chairman, a 30-year-old Austrian-born Muslim, said in an interview: «The ex-Muslims are needed to bring about the long-overdue Islamic Enlightenment. Many Muslims living here are already ex-Muslims without knowing it. Their way of life has little to do with the Islam preached by strict believers.»
And the more Muslims who don’t want to be patronized step up to speak for themselves, the more fervently the opinion and feature pages insist upon their own expertise as ventriloquists of goodness and truth.
Andrian Kreye [opinion editor of SZ], who like Zielcke must be considered one of the more clever members of his profession, wrote after the attempted assassination of Kurt Westergaard that the Danish cartoonist differed from the author of The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie, upon whom the Ayatollah Khomeini imposed a death fatwa more than 20 years ago.
«One cannot compare a work of world literature – in which one of the most gifted writers of our time, when culture is at its historical zenith, is addressing the religious tensions of his home country, India – with the crude wisecracks of a Danish cartoonist. One is an intellectual masterpiece, which must be defended, the other a deliberate provocation, which is about as intelligent as attempting to train a tiger by offering him only a ham sandwich, whereupon he drags you away.»
One need not be a professional linguist to reduce this pretentious, pseudo-intellectual babble to its core: Rushdie’s murder would have been a pity, but not Westergaard’s. Even Kreye noticed this and attempted to offer a clarification on his blog, but he only ended up making things worse, like a doctor who removes a patient’s appendix instead of his tonsils and then explains that the patient was lying on the operating table the wrong way round.
Kreye, too, would like to be a guardian, one who would decide what his ward should regard as an «intellectual feat” and what his ward may consider a valid target because it’s a «deliberate provocation.” Kreye’s presumptuous posture demonstrates the enormous conceit of a newspaper columnist who feels that he’s destined for greater things.
Contrary to a deeply cherished misconception, many free spirits are attracted to a lack of freedom.
Some flirt with sharia, while others stand at the «intersection between leftist politics and Islamic religion.” Such is the case with Oskar Lafontaine [German Social Democratic politician and former Finance Minister], who explained his views in an interview with The New Germany: «Islam depends on community and so opposes exaggerated individualism, which threatens to doom the West to failure. The second point of contact is that the devout Muslim is obliged to share; the left, too, wants the strong to help the weak. And third: in Islam, the payment of interest is still prohibited, as it once was in Christianity.»
So it is that sharia can even be harmonized with the 1869 Eisenach program [in which Germany’s then newly founded Social Democratic Party summarized its strictly Marxist positions]. That the idea of «community» in Islam is archaic, authoritarian, and totalitarian, that it stands in the way of the development of democracy, the separation of powers, and human rights, and that it makes second-class citizens out of women, children, and non-believers seems not to disturb Lafontaine, the Sancerre socialist, as long as it still “bans interest payments.”
But if socialistic dreams come true in Islam, of all things, you can’t blame the stewards of the opinion and feature sections for protecting Islam and denouncing “Islam critics” as “preachers of hate” and “Enlightenment Fundamentalists.” «All it takes is for something to be done, for example a failed assassination attempt as at the beginning of this month, to start the debate going again, always with the same arguments…,” complained Thomas Steinfeld in SZ, which often serves as the voice of the caliphate in the Federal Republic.
Worse than the «unsuccessful attempt» on a crowded Delta Airlines flight on the way from Amsterdam to Detroit, according to Steinfeld, is that the same incompetent people are always volunteering to speak up, such as the Berlin sociologist Necla Kelek, who said: «The Muslims must break away from sharia, they need to reject political Islam and unreservedly embrace civil society and its rights and obligations.»
Steinfeld contrasts this apparently outrageous demand with the moderate view of the expert: “If you run around pushing ’Western values’ as aggressively as radical Islam does its holy scriptures, then you’re behaving just like those you’ve selected as the enemy. And even worse: you’re destroying the social and moral institutions that you purport to defend. This is because of the dialectic between these ‘values’: if one insists on tolerance, one cannot cease being tolerant if someone else does not wish to be tolerant.»
Read this sentence over and over, and it remains what it is: suicidal nonsense. Steinfeld calls for tolerance of intolerance, and warns the representatives of «Western values» against becoming more like the representatives of «radical Islam.” This logic of moral equivalence is the fashionable form of unconditional surrender. Applied consistently, this logic would equate the Scholl siblings [Hans Scholl and his sister Sophia were executed by the Third Reich in 1943 for distributing leaflets urging anti-Hitler resistance] with Nazis and would unmask Martin Luther King as a secret member of the Ku Klux Klan. And in the same way, can’t opponents of the death penalty be mistaken for its supporters?
It was Günter Grass who, seeking to understand the motives of terrorists only a few days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, located the causes of terrorism in the West. It is our policies that empower us through our exploitation of the terrorists – even if the terrorists come from middle-class families and have enjoyed the benefits of the good life in the decadent West. So it was only logical that Grass, when Lübeck applied to be the European Capital of Culture, suggested that a Lübeck church be rededicated as a mosque. This would be «a great gesture,” he argued, for it would improve relations with Muslims as well as Lübeck’s chances of being selected as a Capital of Culture. «Once again,” wrote Gunther Latsch at the time in Der Spiegel, “G.G. has stimulated the G-spot of his clientele – those who, in an effort not to seem intolerant, maintain a masochism that approaches self-renunciation.”
In the debate about the 12 Muhammed cartoons published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Grass again staked out a clear position. He called the violent protests by outraged Muslims, in which Danish diplomatic missions were torched and people killed, a «fundamentalist response to a fundamentalist act» and used the occasion to call for restraint by the West: «We have lost the right under the law to seek protection for freedom of speech. The days of lèse-majesté are far behind us, and we should not forget that there are places that have no separation of church and state.»
Meanwhile, there are even Islamic authorities who represent a very different position, such as London scholar Tahir al-Kadri, who in a 600-page fatwa called suicide bombers and terrorists ”infidels” who embody «an ancient evil with a new name.»
Grass and many «critical intellectuals» share the firm conviction that “we” are the cause of the problems, that the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust oblige the West to be indulgent toward Islam or Islamism and to treat bloody rioting as a trivial event, a “fundamentalist response to a fundamentalist act”; it would be different if “we” had long ago forsworn violence as a means of communication.
Perhaps such attitudes arise from the bad consciences of the great-grandchildren of Godfrey of Bouillon, Tomás de Torquemada, and Heinrich Himmler; it is also possible that a simple opportunistic calculus is in play: sit down with the Islamists, and they may show their gratitude for these anticipatory bows.
And if they lose the «clash of civilizations» and the «hegemony of the West» remains in place, it won’t matter. After all, civil society, first of all, takes offense at nothing, and, second, has a short memory.
The affinity of critical intellectuals for totalitarian systems isn’t a new phenomenon. Halldór Laxness defended the excesses of Stalin, Egon Erwin Kisch was impressed by cultural life in the Soviet Union, and Luise Rinser was so taken with the North Korean dictator Kim il-Sung that she would have preferred to live in his empire if the Greens hadn’t asked her to be a candidate for the Presidency of the Federal Republic.
Today it’s the poor, persecuted Islamists who must be protected from the fury of the «critics of Islam.» The guardian has again found a ward. The tolerant one is he who speaks the word of intolerance.Translated from the German by Bruce Bawer . A shorter version of this article appeared in Der Spiegel on March 7.