Ferguson As 'America's Spring'

Ferguson As 'America's Spring'

The death of teenager Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., has been getting plenty of attention beyond U.S. borders, and Arabic-language media is no exception. It has made Ferguson front-page news, while Twitter users have transliterated "Ferguson" into an Arabic hashtag.

A recent Al Jazeera article, filed under its website's "human rights" section, focused principally on comments from top UN human rights official Navi Pillay about the events in Ferguson. Originally from South Africa, Pillay said in an interview earlier this week that "there are many parts of the United States where apartheid is flourishing."

Commenters on the Al Jazeera article variously offered legal suggestions and lamented the failure of what one described as "civilized America … number one in freedoms and human rights." One reader insisted that the only solution in the Ferguson case was to pursue the death penalty for the officer involved. Others elaborated on what they viewed as further manifestations of America's racism.

One commenter linked America's support for Israel to the "racism that underlies each country." Another described America's treatment of Native American Indians as "one of the great curiosities of our age," saying they are forced "to live on reserves like wild animals."

An Algerian commenter argued that the source of American racism lay in the original of Americans. "American people came from Europe, fleeing from hunger, poverty and misery. ... We all know when the poor man becomes rich what he will do to those who were like him."

Twitter users have been equally vocal about Ferguson, retweeting photos and links to videos of the shooting aftermath and of protests. Some Arabic-language users echoed refrains from the Arab Spring, such as this young man: “#Ferguson: Down, down with military rule!”

#فيرجسون يسقط يسقط حكم العسكر 😁

— فارس الفارس (@Lettermore_) August 22, 2014

Others went so far as to directly link events in struggling Egypt to what's happening in Ferguson. This photoshopped image of protesters from Ferguson shows one young woman holding a sign with a mantra of Arab Spring activists, "Dear Obama … the revolution is not finished."

One young Egyptian woman put it plainly:

Time for a revolution in the USA let it be the #americanspring #فيرجسون #Ferguson #FergusonShooting #Ferguson livestream

— nouran diaa elsayed (@nourandiaa63) August 17, 2014

In line with intense international concern over the destruction of churches in Egypt and the violent persecutions of Christians in Iraq, other Twitter users retweeted an image of Ferguson's Greater Saint Mark's Church. "American police raid a church in #Ferguson under the pretext that the protesters were sleeping there, despite the fact that pastors confirmed that the site was a field hospital," the Twitter account of a Kuwaiti news site explained.

الشرطة الامريكية تداهم كنيسة في #فيرجسون بحجة ان المتظاهرين ينامون بها مع ان القساوسة أكدوا انه مستشفى ميداني .

— جهينة الإلكترونية (@johenaq8) August 21, 2014

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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