Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Know-It-All Fundamentalists

JLH sends his translation of “a wonderful diatribe directed at quite an array of MSM media”. It was originally published in Der Spiegel on January 25, in the “Religion” section of the paper.

Update: The latter part of this text was inadvertently left off when I posted the article. It has now been restored:

Know-It-All Fundamentalists

by Monika Maron

Prominent Islam Critics Called Fundamentalist in Recent Debates. What Nonsense.

The writer, Monika Maron, 68 moved from the German Democratic Republic to the West in 1988, and is now living in Berlin. Her most recent publication: a book of reportage, “Bitterfeld Pages”.

It’s crazy! The Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper maintains that anyone who defends tolerance is intolerant. It compares Henryk M. Broder, who writes for Der Spiegel newsmagazine with a bomb-throwing terrorist. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper pathetically defends the hijab head-covering against freedom of expression. In the daily online newspaper, taz, Necla Kelek, and with her the entire feminist movement, find themselves placed in the same neighborhood of the Nazis.
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What is going on here? How can the Enlightenment suddenly be fundamentalist? Why is it now preferable to put Western values in quotation marks? What is this talk of Christian fundamentalism, as though we had not, thank God, overcome it? As if we were still suffering under it? Why does the word “secular” now have a shady connotation?

What moves our enlightened comrades in editorial offices to question the legal guarantees of our individual freedoms? They rush to denounce freedom of speech for critics of Islam, calling them “preachers of hate” and “holy warriors” who do not deserve to speak.

Who are they to deny secular or believing Muslims the right to grapple with their religion? Where do they get the nerve to disenfranchise people in their own disputes and speak in their place?

The pattern is not new. Günter Gaus — and he was not alone — considered the founding of the Polish union, “Solidarity” to be irresponsible and dangerous to world peace. In 1988, one and one-half years before the fall of the Wall, I came to Hamburg and tried to explain the situation in East Germany to a group of leftist women. I said that democracy had never in 55 years prevailed in that country. The reply was an outraged cry. Did I by any chance think there was democracy here? Did I think that things were any better in the West?

Shortly after the Wall fell, I was in the Hamburg Institute for Social Research where I said that German unity was desirable. My reward was jeering laughter and outraged looks. I was the enemy — not the dictatorial state I had every reason to want to see perish. This state served as a model for a West German utopia and therefore had to be protected from me and — above all — from their own hated country, the Federal Republic of Germany.

The members of the West German left also did not become critics of the East German regime during the process of unification. In no political party did the citizens’ rights activists become so invisible as in the Green Party. Lawyers you would not expect it of rushed to save the fallen rulers and their minions from West German law. In their self-distrust, the West Germans even used the term “Know-it-all Westerners.”

Lots of people made hay from the uncertainty in the East: the unions that were worried about their funds; every party that was not in the government and so had no responsibility. The political conflict in the West spread into the East. The unresolved conflicts of the East Germans among themselves were absorbed and from that point on considered to be part of the East-West conflict, as if the East Germans had been a homogeneous mass for the 40-year tenure of the dictatorship.

At that time, it was not about religion and a foreign culture but about taking the high ground in a conflict you were only indirectly involved in and turning it to your advantage. In the case of German unification, the motives are apparent: some wanted to preserve at least the image of their utopia; some celebrated the failures of their political opponents as their own triumphs; some just wanted to go about their business undisturbed.

In the case of Islam and its critics, the diagnosis is more difficult.

Easiest to identify is the interest of those who want the churches to have greater influence, and for whom secularism — no matter whether in Islamic or Christian countries — is undesirable. In Necla Kelek and other secular Muslims, they see the opponents of their own ideas and goals. A fearful possibility is that for them sharia, measured against an impending atheism, is the lesser evil.

I cannot believe that all the columnists of our great newspapers have become agents of the Church. But then, how else can I explain this sentence from Thomas Steinfeld in the Süddeutsche Zeitung: “Anyone who treats the basic tenets of democracy as if they were articles of faith — commandments he must believe in — he has already lost his mind. He is overcome by the enemy”?

In Western Europe the tenets of democracy are not articles of faith or commandments. They are law, not to profess belief in, but to comply with if you live here. Freedom of expression, freedom of religion, individual self-determination, a far-reaching separation of church ad state and equal rights of women — these are all part of it.

Those berated critics of Islam want nothing else. They are defending what is valuable to them in a free society — in our free society. Those who attack them apparently consider their demands unreasonable.

The debate is not about Islam and its critics. It is about us, about our trust in democracy and our right to insist on maintaining laws and a way of life which was achieved in centuries-long battles against tyrants of both church and state.