From the Feuilletons


From the Feuilletons

Islam criticism: the German feuilleton debate

Since the Swiss minaret ban and the attack on Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, newspaper debate on criticism of Islam (more here) has become increasingly aggressive. Over the past fortnight the feuilletons have published a mass of articles attacking outspoken critics of contemporary Islam – in particular Henryk M. Broder (here his article after the attack on Kurt Westergaard, here an excerpt of his book "Hurra, Wir Kapitulieren"), Necla Kelek (here two of her articles), Seyran Ates (articles here, here and here) here and Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Under the headline "Our holy warriors", Claudius Seidl, head of the Sunday feuilleton of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, counters Germany's Islam critics by arguing that western secularisation also took "almost a thousand years." "Not every argument is as easy to refute as Necla Kelek's conjecture that jihad lasted a thousand years, and it was not until 1683, before Vienna, that it was finally stopped, when the imperial army, the Polish, the Badenese and the Bavarian troops forced back the Ottoman army. But if the imperial wars of the Ottomans were holy, when did the western jihad come to an end? With the complete extermination of the Native Americans? Or with the last throes of colonialism, which was legitimised with the aim of converting and civilising the heathens?"

In an article headed "Our hate preachers", Thomas Steinfeld, the head of the Süddeutsche feuilleton accused Henryk M. Broder and Necla Kelec of calling the kettle black: "To wield 'western values' as aggressively as radical Islam does its holy script, is to stoop to the level of your chosen enemy."

Feminism can also be racism if the aim is to liberate Muslim women, according to psychology professor Birgit Rommelspacher in the taz: "People are less likely to use arguments of 'racial' superiority these days, resorting instead to the civilising function of the west. One of the aims of this 'civilising mission' being - as in colonial times - the liberation of 'the oppressed Muslima', which led Leila Ahmed to coin the phrase 'colonial feminism'. But anyone who is reluctant to connect colonial and feminist pretensions to power should remember that under the Nazis, there were women who substantiated their 'racial' superiority with their commitment to the equality of man and woman."

In an indignant riposte to Rommelspacher's article, Regina Mönch writes in the FAZ: "She has obviously neither noticed nor considered the fact that, unlike herself, a political die-hard taz writer, Kelek, Ates and Hirsi Ali are being threatened and persecuted. She has also failed to notice that they are acting in their own interests, that Rommelspacher herself is being discriminatory in denying three Muslim women – because that is what they are – all right to critical reflection."

Also in the FAZ, Necla Kelek asks why criticism of Islam always attracts such vitriol – particularly when it comes from Muslims who "are not content only to be the conversation piece", but who dare "to question the opinion of the top dogs in the media": "Luther and Lessing were not the first ones to make religious criticism one of the cornerstones of civil society, and as a Muslim woman, I am not going to let anyone stop me from criticising my religion. Out of self interest, because I want Muslims to learn to cope with the challenges of modern life. I only wish that more secular and articulate Muslims would finally open their mouths and start voicing their criticism of both archaic traditions and the unreasonable demands of civil society alike."

In Perlentaucher, Thierry Chervel is amazed that people are still calling for "freedom of opinion to be handled responsibly." The democracies are doing it already: "Gunnar Herrmann writes approvingly in a SZ article about the current state of the caricature debate in Denmark, where so many Danes are expressing their respect for religious sentiments: 'Behaviour like this might be described today as self-censorship but it used to be called tact.' The refusal to print the caricatures in a book about the caricature conflict, the refusal to erect Gregor Schneider's black cube in front of the Hamburger Bahnhof museum in Berlin: all these are examples of 'freedom of opinion being handled responsibly.' And our quality newspapers are often the most prominent advocates of pre-emptive religious censorship."

Stories from Haiti

Berliner Zeitung

Hans Richard Edinger, picture editor of the Berliner Zeitung, writes about the photos he is being sent from Haiti, which are among the worst he has ever seen. "Is this how a Caribbean apocalypse functions in the media? Climaxing in a photo of a man astride a pile of corpses, his right hand clasping the ankle of a small child? Its fragile body hanging lifeless, upside-down just like a doll: a lamb headed for the slaughter in a remorseless media world."

Frankfurter Rundschau 19.01.2010

In a lengthy and informative interview, Arno Widmann talks to the writer Hans Christoph Buch about Haiti's long history of suffering. (Buch has written several novels about the island, where his grandmother moved to work as a chemist in the 19th century.) Under Papa Doc's voodoo dictatorship for example. "The USA occupied Haiti in 1934. During those years Haitian intellectuals started to reflect on their African roots. Papa Doc – although only loosely – was one of them. He published obscure essays on voodoo in an ethnographic magazine. During the elections in the Fifties, he styled himself has a voodoo doctor or voodoo priest in horn-rimmed spectacles, black hat and suit and walking stick. He looked like a reincarnation of Baron Samedi, the voodoo god of the underworld. He, himself was a high priest of Haitian voodoo. Prayers were introduced in schools which began: 'Our Doc, who rules in the palace, may all your enemies be killed." - let's talk european