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Books this Season: Politics

Spring 2005

Fiction and Poetry / World War II / Politics / Nonfiction

Work can no longer form the foundation of our self-image. With this simple statement, Wolfgang Engler seems to have struck a nerve among Feuilletonists. Engler, born 1952 in Dresden, teaches Cultural Sociology and Aesthetics at one of the the famous Ernst Busch acting school in Berlin. Although many reviewers find Engler's proposal of "citizen's assistance"– a base welfare for all – to be impracticable either for anthropological or financial reasons, there is general consensus that Engler's radical "Bürger, ohne Arbeit" (citizens, without work) provides food for thought in Germany, a country with over 5 million unemployed (12.6 percent of the population). Die Zeit agrees that "it's time for us all to think about how we want to live and work in the world of tomorrow". For the SZ, the "citizen's assistance" suggestion does not go far enough; the FR likewise finds the anarchic measures inappropriate if all they amount to is a call for a European social compact.

"Rudi Dutschke, Andreas Baader und die RAF". This volume of essays by Wolfgang Kraushaar, Karin Wieland and Jan Philipp Reemtsma has provoked a major debate in Germany. The overarching thesis is that from its very inception, the 1968 student movement leaned towards violence. While the German left has always preferred to see a qualitative difference between the student idealists and the RAF terrorists, Kraushaar places them on a continuum. Particularly controversial is Kraushaar's depiction of Rudi Dutschke, the charismatic student leader who died as a result of injuries from a bullet wound – he was shot during a student demonstration – and thus earned martyr's status in some quarters. Kraushaar alleges that Dutschke wittingly promoted the use of violence. Reemtsma and Kraushaar, scholars of literature and political science respectively, are both members of the 1968 generation and both currently seated at the Institute for Social Research in Hamburg. In 1996, Reemtsma, heir to his family's tobacco empire, was abducted and held captive for a month before being released in return for payment of 30 million Deutschmarks (more). In his writing, he discusses justice, criminality and historical conscience.

"We have to hope that Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit are wrong", writes Die Zeit about "Okzidentalismus" (which has appeared in English as "Occidentalism: A Short History of Anti-Westernism"). Buruma and Margalit have presented various author's positions on "occidentalism" – a widespread hatred of the West and response to Edward Said's notion of "orientalism". Die Zeit hopes that the compilation does not reflect reality, but adds, "we cannot be certain". The FR likes the sophisticated thesis that the ideological anti-Western position in the Islamic world actually takes its inspiration from within Europe. The FAZ is not convinced by the inventory of unconnected prejudices and demands a more rigorous analysis. Dutch-born Ian Buruma lives in London, teaches at Bard College and is an expert on Asian literature and history. Avishai Margalit, born in Palestine and now Professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is considered one of the most original thinkers in the areas of social philosophy and ethics in Israel and beyond.

Necla Kelek does not mince words in her condemnation of arranged marriage practices among Turkish families in Germany. The taz believes "Die Fremde Braut" (The Foreign Bride) should be compulsory reading in German schools. The SZ and FAZ are more reserved, the latter accusing the author of over-generalisation. Necla Kelek, born 1957 in Istanbul, studied economics and sociology in Germany and wrote her doctorate on "Islam in the Everyday". Today she is consultant to the justice authorities in Hamburg on the treatment of Turkish-Muslim prisoners; she also supports the current legal initiative in Baden-Württemberg to criminalise forced marriage. In the collection "Islam in Sicht", (Islam in sight) compiled by Ludwig Ammann and Nilüfer Göl, however, the public face of Islam is presented in a nuanced and sophisticated way, writes to the NZZ. The FR learnt from the "highly stimulating reflections" that Islamic practice is not invariably oriented to the past but rather is always partly a reaction to developments in the West.

Fiction and Poetry / World War II / Politics / Nonfiction - let's talk european