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Ach So … A Dispatch From the Brave Old World
You may recall that the Chancellor Angela Merkel, bizarrely, authorized German prosecutors to investigate the German comedian Jan Böhmermann on charges of violating Germany’s lèse-majesté laws, this because he recited a poem suggesting that Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, enjoyed carnal knowledge of goats.
I was flabbergasted, as I’m sure you were, by this development. I was particularly astonished that Merkel could make such a blunder in the runup to the Brexit referendum. Merkel’s a highly intelligent woman: It didn’t seem plausible to me that she would have no clue how outraged her own citizens and those of the rest of Europe would be by this.
The views of the latter are perhaps even more important, one could argue, given that Merkel’s put keeping the EU together, come hell or high water, at the center of her agenda. She clearly sees a united Europe as central to Germany’s interests. Yet it would be hard to have handed the Out campaign in Britain a bigger gift, and impossible further to delight Vladimir Putin.
Her refugee policy is not universally admired on Ricochet. But I’m sure we’d all agree that the case for it may be made by reasonable people. The decision to allow a comedian to be prosecuted for being a comedian can’t. It’s outrageous. It was widely and immediately recognized as outrageous, and Europe was widely and immediately outraged, as the “Je suis Böhmi” hashtag suggests.
Merkel’s explanation, you may remember, was that the law was on the books, and Germany was a country under the rule of law. She would move to have the law changed as quickly as possible, she said, but until then, the decision was not properly hers to make. It was a matter for the judiciary.
But this was patent nonsense, and immediately understood to be nonsense. A probe under section 103 of Germany’s criminal code — “insulting organs or representatives of foreign states” — can only proceed with the approval of the federal government. The law specifies this deliberately, presumably because its original purpose was to allow the criminal law to be deployed as an instrument of foreign policy. Previous German governments have rejected requests made on behalf of President George W. Bush (yes, really) and Pope Benedict XVI. Germany did accept a case on behalf of the Swiss president, oddly enough, in 2007: A Swiss man living in Bavaria was fined for insulting the Swiss president in comments posted on the Internet.
The Swiss also have a lèse majesté law, by the way. It was used in the 1970s by the Shah of Iran, who was displeased with his depiction in a Swiss satirical magazine, and used again in 2010, when a group in Geneva put up posters depicting Moammar Gaddafi with the tagline “He Wants to Destroy Switzerland.” The case was dropped a few months before Gaddafi was killed.
In one sense, we have to give Merkel credit for uniting Europe: She united it against Merkel. The Greek Finance Minister Yanis “Stinkefinger” Varoufakis was thrilled to be able to stick it both to Merkel and Erdoğan at the same time. O, happy day!
Fury as Merkel bows to Erdogan over sex slur, reported the Times of London. Angela Merkel must go, intoned the World Post. The Dutch comedian Hans Teeuwen went into high-arch postmodern mode. (Strong language warning on that one.) German intellectuals went berserk. German satirists competed to improve upon the original poem:
Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter got into the Merkel-must-go act. The Spectator introduced The President Erdogan Offensive Poetry Competition. An anonymous reader offered a £1000 prize to the victor (a language warning on that link, too). The Economist headlined the story in verse: “There once was a prickly sultan/Whom Germans were fond of insultin’ …” Foreign Policy joined in: How Many Angela Merkels Does It Take to Screw German Comedy?
The Hague promptly and wisely voted to abolish the Netherlands’ own lèse-majesté laws. (The last person to be prosecuted for insulting a foreign head of state there, by the way, was a student named Geert Mak who in 1968 likened LBJ to a Nuremberg war criminal. Yes, really. I was quite surprised to learn that American presidents, too, have in recent memory made use of these laws. They should not have.)
Austrians showed their dismay by voting for a pro-Putin wingnut.
Merkel managed to earn the disapprobation of the European Council president, Donald Tusk: “The line between criticism, insult and defamation is very thin and relative,” he said, correctly, recalling his own imprisonment for opposing Poland’s communist regime, “and the moment politicians decide which is which can mean the end between freedom of expression, in Europe, in Turkey, in Africa and Russia, everywhere.”
She likewise managed to earn the disapprobation of the head of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker: “One thing is clear to me: no matter how important the work for refugees may be, our values on press freedom and fundamental values do not change,” he said to lawmakers in Strasbourg.
Even her press flacks seemed baffled, reported Der Spiegel:
On Monday morning, during a press conference that itself almost bordered on satire, Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert and Sawsan Chebli, the deputy spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, answered questions about Böhmermann’s broadcast. They came across as being confused and perplexed — as if they had been caught off guard.
Then Bruno Kramm, the head of the Berlin branch of Germany’s Pirate Party, protested by reciting the original poem in front of the Turkish embassy in Berlin — and was promptly arrested:
Obviously, we’re now in total cuckooland territory. Russia Today and Sputnik news have gone into raptures:
The head of the Berlin branch of Germany’s Pirate Party, who was arrested for citing an insulting poem about Turkish President Erdogan, has told RT people should expect to lose their freedom of speech when their government “signs deals with dictators.”
And everyone (pretty much) in Europe has been asking the same question:
By giving the green light for Mr Böhmermann’s prosecution for mocking a foreign government, under an obscure section of Germany’s 19th-century penal code, she has indulged repression abroad, and tarnished her own country’s reputation for freedom. So how on earth did Angela Merkel allow a joke to go so wrong?
She has, the Guardian correctly observed, emboldened “every over-sensitive authoritarian leader around the world to start demanding that foreign courts step in to save them from being mocked.”
Erdoğan’s certainly been emboldened. The Turkish consulate in Rotterdam has sent e-mails to Turkish groups in the Netherlands encouraging them to report any insult to Erdoğan they spot on social media. Turkey just deported one of my American colleagues, no doubt having properly understood the message: Prosecute our comedians, deport our journalists, lock up your own journalists, whatever — the West doesn’t care.
According to pretty much everyone, the answer to the question, “What on earth was Merkel thinking?” is that Germany, because of its refugee deal with Turkey, made itself vulnerable to blackmail.
But this didn’t quite make sense to me. The point of the refugee deal, after all, was to save the European Union, not hand it to Russia. Merkel may quite badly need Turkish cooperation on managing the refugee influx, but the idea that she would cave on a matter like this just to protect the deal seemed to me implausible.
Then another colleague in Turkey sent me an e-mail with the subject line, Ach so. It linked to a small news item, barely noted anywhere else.
“So it is true,” he wrote:
Germany to build air base in Turkey for ISIS campaign.
The air base, according to a planning paper from the Defence Ministry leaked to Der Spiegel, will be built at Incirlik where the Bundeswehr is now flying reconnaissance and refuelling missions into Syria. Germany is reportedly in discussions with Ankara about a treaty for stationing German soldiers on Turkish soil for long-term deployments.
The plans foresee that in the coming six months Germany will invest around €10 million in an air controller area which is especially for the German aircraft, a further €15 million in accommodation for around 400 soldiers, and €34 million in building a combat headquarters from where missions will be coordinated.
Meanwhile, Obama has been in Hannover, scolding Europe for being complacent about its own defense.
Be careful what you wish for.
“When ISIS is defeated will they will pack up and go home?” wrote my colleage. “Or replace the departing Americans? It didn’t work out too happily last time around.”
The return of Germany to great power politics — and to the Middle East — is at hand. Yet no one seems to have noticed. It’s been buried in the back pages of the news.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it won’t be under NATO’s command, a point that’s probably worth some thought from the White House and some debate among Americans.
What do you think: What might the consequences of this be?Published in General
This gives me great hope for the world. It really does.
The same case that can be made, reasonable or otherwise, for surrendering a sovereign secular nation to Islam leads to the following.
If Merkel was an American politician, she would be a Democrat, yes? If a Democrat similarly tried to punish insults against political allies, it wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. And that’s with the 1st Amendment, which is extreme by European standards.
Certainly, Merkel’s action merits concern. But it’s difficult to believe that she will suffer greatly for it politically.
I don’t think that decision had a thing to do with Islam. Our own presidents have availed themselves of that law.
Your title is wrong. There’s nothing brave about the old world.
400 soldiers co-ordinating matters at an airbase doesn’t sound like much. And EUR 25 million will buy you 7 of the new Russian tanks.
I favour the argument that the best way to strengthen NATO is to de-emphasise the EU. And, for this, the best medicine is Brexit. (A pity the Remain campaign is riding fear, uncertainty and doubt to a 10 point win.)
I think the outpouring of contempt for Merkel’s cowtowing to Erdogan is the healthiest thing I’ve seen in Europe for the last 30 years. Suddenly, it really does mean something to be a European. Something important not to lose, something maybe worth fighting for.
I want the EU to fund and support NATO as much as you do. When I said that Putin could go through the Baltics like a knife through butter I wasn’t kidding. Trust me your Russian Revanchists want the Czar’s window on the west back with Rus.
However, we must get real on a variety of issues and we must do it quickly because we are running out of time. When the audience must explain reality to those on stage you know we’ve got problems.
The consciousness that there is a Europe of transcendent values that the reaction to Merkel just expressed must be held onto. This is the precious truth that can save the situation. That is why the EU must support NATO in the defense of Europe’s eastern frontier. Britain’s complaints against a bureaucratic meddling Brussels should be honestly addressed. The economic scare tactics won’t work. The concerns of average Europeans about the quality of their lives in relation to the migrants must also be honestly addressed. No answer and just be quiet won’t work.
If a politician will surrender the sovereignty of their nation and/or continent to Islam they will surely, and evidenced by your article, surrender basic freedoms such as free speech in pursuit of the same end.
Why are people surprised at this? It’s not like Europe has been particularly admirable in their defense of free speech before.
The issue isn’t Islamic law. The issue is a German law. Germany — and a number of other European countries — have had these laws on the books since the early 1800s. Erdoğan isn’t appealing to any notion in Islamic law, nor even pretending to. He’s making use of these laws on the grounds that he, personally, has a right not to be offended because he’s a foreign leader. And Merkel is, I suspect, indulging him because she wants an airbase independent of NATO and the US at Incirlik.
They’re surprised because generally, the laws are used in a way that matches people’s intuitions about what is and isn’t acceptable. You’re right to say that no country in Europe understands freedom of expression as the United States does.
I know that some people are claiming that such prosecutions require the offended party to file a complaint of some sort, but from what I can find, there’s no such requirement in the law.
Mostly, it looks like various German politicians have unilaterally decided to enforce the law when they needed an extra diplomatic button to push, but didn’t want to take the blame for it.
I understand that.
Let me make this as clear as possible.
Islam is invading Europe and it has nothing to do with a refugee crisis.
The powers that be in Europe beginning with Merkel have no interest in admitting their policies have opened the doors.
Thus better to squelch any kind of dissent humorous or otherwise lest people wake up to Europe’s shortcomings and lack of will to fight for their own sovereignty.
Any country or continent that encourages invasion by single men posing as helpless refugees will gladly squelch freedom of speech that may offend their cultural origins or loosely associated dictators of the same.
Not defending Merkel here but she is refusing to let anything derail an agreement with Turkey on keeping Syrian refugees out of Europe. Even if it means kowtowing a bit; it is despicable but she won’t upset the balance on this thing.
Das Gesetz ist ein Esel, as Herr Bumble well knew.
That’s possible, I suppose. It’s an empirical question and shouldn’t be difficult to answer: Who instigated the complaint in the cases of LBJ and G.W. Bush? Where would the records of this be kept?
Islam’s a religion and has no agency. If you think Muslims are invading Europe, do you believe that they’re doing this in an organized way and under central supervision? If so, whose? Do you think these people were part of the plot?
Merkel has said very clearly that Germany’s policy is to admit refugees. This isn’t a secret or something Merkel would “admit,” it’s a policy. It doesn’t strike me as remotely reasonable to blame Germany for the conflicts that are producing these refugees. Arguably, we could say the entire world failed Syria, but certainly Germany’s not more responsible for this than Assad, Iran, Russia, the Saudis, Turkey, and the US.
This doesn’t reflect what happened. The Turkish government lodged the criminal complaint; there’s no reason to think that Merkel independently wished to suppress a comedian. What she does seem to want is a closer relationship with Turkey, for which she’s willing to suppress a comedian. And my best guess is that her motivation in this is not a lack of will to fight for German sovereignty, but exactly the opposite: She wants to use Turkey as a staging ground for a long-term German intervention in Syria.
These people are indeed helpless refugees.
I never argue with Claire. The reason being that she is a million times smarter than me. Or to say it more accurately, I am a million times less smart than she.
The value of human life to these barbarians is low.
Nobody is blaming Merkel for Syria. The invasion of Europe is a different story.
Syria is Syrian’s problem.
What obligation is she under to respond to the complaint? She could easily say we value freedom of speech, get over it.
Cowardess takes many forms.
There is no such thing as a 13-50 year old male that is a helpless refugee. Only cowards unwilling to fight for their family or freedom.
The connection of this to Germany’s operations in Turkey are significant. Thanks for connecting them, Claire.
Another way of looking at the situation is to consider how selective officials can be in enforcement of laws. Few laws are stricken from the books. More laws and pseudo-representative regulations are added every year. So their power over individual citizens is constantly growing.
Men should not try to argue with pretty women. It’s an inherent conflict of interests.
Damn it spin don’t give up so easily. She doesn’t know everything. There is more to Yankee ingenuity than she thinks.
Pinsk is in Minsk is out. No culture just cash. Do you want the agreement in triplicate or…
Were the People’s Crusade part of the plot of the First Crusade? How many Goths died fleeing the Huns? Were they part of the plot to bring down the Roman Empire? Were the surviving Mthethewa who fled the Zulu armies part of the plan when they adopted Zulu tactics and crushed the Ndwande?
This is not the first time we’ve seen this. I’d bet those who study Africa and Asia could tell you that it isn’t even the first time we’ve seen it this century.
They’re on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign outside the door saying “Beware of the Leopard.”
You raise a very good point!
The Offensive Poetry Party might go somewhere – not a bad idea – maybe to a certain Paris newspaper? I have never seen anything like what is taking place across the world – safe spaces, offensive cartoons, firing people for expressing an opinion, even leaders of countries whining like babies about something that is snickered at today and gone tomorrow…..like we don’t have BIGGER problems to be concerned about?? Freedom of the Press – Freedom of Religion – Freedom of Speech – didn’t we fight and die for these freedoms and we are still doing it? I am speaking of Europe too, not just the US.
I really never comment, because my English is too poor to engage in the kind of substantive conversations, which are standard here. But I feel I have to put forward a little different view on the state of affairs in Europe, especially Austria (I was born and live in Vienna). First let me say this: Up to the “refugee”-crisis I was always looking forward to your posts, but – and it pains me to say this – no more. I wonder if you even keep on reading, when I tell you, I am one of those lunatics, who voted this Austrian wingnut into the presidential run-off. Nothing is decided yet – it also can turn out, that his opponent – whose supporters call him OE-bama (OEsterreich=Austria) – wins in the end. In contrast Hofer obviously has a different kind of role model, he inserted a quote by Reagan (“We have a rendezvous with destiny”) into his victory speech – that it was a quote went totally unnoticed by the media of course -, he is also the proud owner of a Glock (now we are really getting into wingnut-territory, at least by European standards), he initiated a petition to constitutionally prevent the looming cash-ban in Europe, he worked as an aircraft engineer and parliament president, he visited Israel several times and supports Netanjahu (this in Austria goes way beyond the definition of a wingnut), he overcame paraplegia after a sport accident and most importantly … cont.
… he will make sure – if elected – that the Schengen agreement comes into effect again and the migrants are controlled at the borders. As long as 3/4of the asylum seekers are male (eurostat) – which suggests to me that there is no eminent threat to their parents, wives and children, because they wouldn’t leave them behind unsecured and helpless, would they? – and the official crime statistics show, that more than 1/3 (!) of the “asylum seekers” in Vienna are committing crimes (I can provide this parliamentary inquiry and the answer of the ministry of inner affairs only in German), I do not share your admiration for Mrs. Merkel unlawful, single-handed refugee-welcome-party. Donald Trump is more conservative than this lady, but I digress. Let me finish with some recent (personal) experiences – by its nature only of anecdotal evidence: After visiting her mother in Grinzing (a very fancy district in Vienna) a 17 year old friend of my niece was sexually assaulted last week in broad daylight at a bus station by an Afghan “asylum-seeker”, pants down and the condom ready, thankfully he wasn’t “successful” in the end and captured by police. We can sleep calmly, though, he is strolling the streets pending the verdict while the young girl is now afraid to leave the house. Even though I myself volunteered at the “refugee” reception facilities of the Red Cross last autumn (with very mixed experiences), I will not hear anything anymore about “refugees” as long as
… there doesn’t go at least one week by without thefts, assaults, (anal) rapes (of children and 70 year old women – for God’s sake) and murders (a compatriot of yours, who studied in Vienna and thought, it was a wise idea to throw a refugee-party) committed by “asylum-seekers”. What really gets me started, is the growing number of cases of sexual assaults and rapes of women and children in the refugee camps on Austrian and German soil. How many more unreported cases are there? We can’t even guarantee the security of the weakest and protect the real refugees from the very threats they were fleeing from, it’s a disgrace (experiences of a Russian journalist in a German refugee camp – translation of an article published in “DIE WELT”)
What we are witnessing – to paraphrase Max Weber – is a battle between the ethics of responsibility versus the ethics of opinion. A responsible approach to the “refugee”-crisis routed in reality is only possible, when one real wingnut steps finally down, her name is Angela Merkel, and it can’t happen fast enough.
Don’t worry about your English, lilibellt. It is more than adequate for getting your point across.