Dienstag, September 02, 2008


There's a great essay in this week's Spiegel magazine. It's not online (yet) and there's no english translation...

But that's not gonna stop me. :-)

I'm not going to translate it: that's not what I do.

But let me give you the gist of what Broder says. What follows is my take on what he writes, and any errors and omissions are mine.

The title of the essay is "Games Without Frontiers".

To tolerate something or someone says something about the one tolerating: he doesn't, and indeed the implication is that the one tolerant could do something - destroy - that which is tolerated, but has chosen not to. The word has a positive valence, but the meaning of the word is difficult. There's no guarantee from the tolerant, no rights for the tolerated, it is nothing more than a declaration of interest, a gesture of the vastly more powerful against someone whom the tolerant can't be bothered to actually deal with. It's a private protectorate for marginal existences that depend on society's willingness to give them space.

Tolerance as such has no value, no intrinsic worth, but is contextually determined. It depends on what is and who are tolerated: can an observant Jew and a party-book carrying Nazi tolerate each other? Gays and gay-haters? Children and child molesters? Smokers and non-smokers? Vegetarians and those who view such as a main dish?

There are no limits to tolerance, especially not in a society (like Germany) who can't even agree to rules of grammar, let alone being able to define what right and wrong are; what good and evil are; who can't decide between health and sickness, since even this is an evaluation and hence discrimination; a society where everyone is supposed to do whatever it is that makes him happy, regardless of what that might be.

This also means that there is no common understanding what tolerance really means: Michael Friedman demands education for more tolerance, but really means the opposite, that the democratic society must be intolerant of those who would destroy it; the Augsburg bishop Walter Mixa recommends that Muslims living in Germany be more tolerant of the "Christian majority culture", but at the same time calls for more tolerance with Muslims, i.e. he wants both sides to be tolerant (which, as we've seen above, is a contradiction); The TV chef Ralf Zacherl prepares an international meal in the spirit of tolerance, but within an "Action-Week against Racism"; and while the head of the CSU basic ethics commission, Alois Glück, calls for his party to open up to Muslims (the CSU is specifically a Christian party...), but at the same time the Hamburg Diakonie (a church-related social services group) refuses to even interview a German-Turkish girl because she isn't Christian, and is sentenced to a fine of €3900 for having done so.

Tolerance is redefined every day, and can take on very, very strange forms: the German employment office has confirmed that it is ready, within the programs to support free-lance workers, to pay women who decide to become prostitutes subsidies to cover the transition from unemployed to self-employed, while at the same time the same agency pays subsidies for women who are trying to stop being prostitutes.

The question arises: how much tolerance can a society afford without going bankrupt or becoming ludicruous. This is even more critical when the society in question - in this case Germany - places more value on "equality" then it does on "freedom." Freedom includes risks, equality removes them: in this case, no one is to be discriminated against. Hence you've got the singer Nena, who was rather successful herself, who belongs to the founders of a school in Hamburg where there are no classes, unless the students decide to have one, where everyone sits down once a week together to discuss what is to be done, and everyone - students and teachers - have one vote each.

Wow, that will really prepare the kids for a life in the competitive society of today, where each and every welfare recipient can do whatever they damn well feel like, as long as the rest of society - viewed by those welfare recipients as idiots - stand on the assemby line every day at Opel and pay their taxes. The Games Without Frontiers depends on tolerance: if you are trickier and shameless, you get ahead. And you can never be ashamed for that.

Of course, there are situations where tolerance doesn't work. That is where civil courage is needed: but the German police recommend, when an argument in the subway starts to escalate, that you don't get involved, and you should help the victim get off the train at the next station, rather than try to stop the attackers.

If you are confronted with the choice between being "tolerant" and having to show civil courage, well, tolerance appears, in the short term at least, to be the better choice. That's what the Berlin police say and that is why they emphasize de-escalation. When they are on the streets, they wear green-yellow bibs marked "Anti-Conflict-Team".  This is the same police who, during the annual May Day demonstrations with the usual burned out cars and looted supermarkets, hope that things are better than they were last year, but acknowledges at the same time that they can't force the rioters to be non-violent. If that sounds like resignation and the tacit admittance that it's a struggle to even show the colors on such a day, that is exactly the case.

Tolerance is pretending to show civil courage: it gives you the feeling that you have stood up, but without the risk of actually doing so. This is especially true for intensive and repeat offenders: two brothers, for example, 16 and 23 years old, who beat a passenger on a Berlin streetcar, while the other passengers looked away and only one showed true civil courage, telling the thugs to stop beating  the victim and start on the rest of the passengers. One of the thugs turned around, spun on a pole and kicked the guy in the face with both feet, knocking him unconscious. Despite the fact that he was unconscious, they continued to kick him while he lay on the ground.

Both brothers were arrested, but then released: there was no "real" reason for arresting them, since they had a permanent address: according to the newspaper "Tagesspiegel", there was another reason not to arrest them: the adult of the two had only had problems with simple assault, rather than assault and battery. This fine example had been up on charges four times, sentenced three times to fines and only on the fourth occassion of assault, destruction of property and insults, was he sentenced to probation, as well as a fine. He's apparently not worred about the fifth court case now - charges were pressed - while his victim remains in intensive care and has recieved a letter from Berlin's mayor commending him for civil courage, that his actions were an example for everyone.

The mayor of Berlin got that one wrong: the only ones who were really an example for everyone were the two thugs. Such are becoming younger and more violent, and their chance of being punished are increasingly small. An example: a 16-year old was arrested first after he beat up 5 teachers in his school, despite the fact that the police knew he was a serial beater with no less than 30 cases pending, mostly for theft and assault, but always with no consequences. His parents are more than thappy, who always ran to help their poor child. "He was just defending himself" said the father, a computer specialist, "the teachers were threatening him and wouldn't let him go. I'm proud that he defended himself".

How can a 16 year old beat up 5 teachers? Does it have something to do with trying to solve conflicts without violence, just by arguements and compromises? That's an honorable position that guarantees that despots will have long and comfortable lives, and thugs can "develop their personalities".

Two young men, 23 and 25, immigrants, were on a bus after a family celebration and decided to beat the bus driver. They were sentenced to 3 years and 3 years, 6 months, respectively, for assault and battery, rather than attempted murder: they stabbed the bus driver from behind, but didn't stab twice. While the judge declared their behavior inacceptable, there were extenuating circumstances: neither were thugs, but rather "overgrown kids who under the influence of alcohol resolved a conflict with the wrong methods." The threat "We stab you!" was the result of their just trying to impress everyone, rather than a statement of intent. And besides, the stab would wasn't that dangerous and wasn't life-threatening. Not so bad, given the circumstances, you just have to see everything in right ligth and proper relation to reality, don't lose your cool.

After the Spiegel magazine reported on mishandling of muslim women by their fathers, brothers and other men, a sociologist in Berlin complained that there were plenty of examples in Germany of kidnapped kids in divorces, family tragedies, death threats from ex-partners and the like: however, when was the last time anyone heard of a nice family from the Allgäu who decided to kill one of their daughters because she shamed the family and sent the youngest son to kill her, since he couldn't be tried as an adult? That is exactly what a Turkish immigrant family in Berlin did, who understood German law very clearly and knew their Family Rights under German law. The sister of the murdered daughter requested that the son of the murdered daughter be given to her, so that he wouldn't grow up in the same "perverted" environment that led to the shame for the family. Only the joke about the murderer who wants leniency because he is an orphan after he killed his parents is more macabre.

Emotional and empathic intellectuals, those who speak of "structural violence" when minorities are under-represented, are particularly vulnerable to a rather morbid form of understatement when real violence appears: that sociologist from Berlin speaks of over-dramatized problems, that also appear elsewhere, and that the problems usually clear up by the 2nd generation or so after immigration. But he misses the fact that it is the 3rd generation which has major problems with assimilation and integration, and it doesn't really help a 15-year old who is forced into a marriage with someone she doesn't even know when you tell her that her grandchildren will have it better.

There are not a few intellectuals that happily play the lawyer for murderous tolerance. Jean-Paul Sartre was convinved to visit the RAF prisoners in 1974 to talk with them about "the concept of revolutionary action." Claus Peymann, the director of the Berliner Ensembles (theatre), gave an interview where he spent a lot of time explaining why he wants to hire the murderer (9 victims and 11 attempted murders) Christian Klar in order to train him for the theatre. Klar just recently sent a message to the Rosa-Luxemburg-Conference where he called for the final destruction of capitalism and to open the door for a new future.

That's where the Broder essay basically ends: it is from his new book, "Critique of Pure Tolerance", which I will be buying.

What Broder writes here points to the absurdity of tolerance tolerating intolerance and being intolerant of those who refuse to tolerate the intolerant: this has nothing to do with tolerance...

I'll expound more on this later...

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