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Germany

Fascism Masked? A Different Kind Of Far Right Movement In Germany

The IB group says they just want to preserve their country's identity. But officials warn they are using "camouflage tactics" to hide their real proto-fascist intentions.

IB protesters in Geretsried, Bavaria, on March 12
IB protesters in Geretsried, Bavaria, on March 12
Christian Böhm

SIMBACH — This small German town looked like a war zone. Streets were torn open, houses abandoned, containers stuffed. Torrential rain had completely destroyed this corner of western Germany. Images of the destruction went around the world. But since German officials hadn't yet provided proper support, members of the so-called "Identitarian Movement," which goes by the German acronym IB, quickly put together a team of 30 young people who helped clean up.

Soon there were pictures of it on the Internet. The video was clicked on more than 13,000 times on Facebook. A father reported how the wave hit them, how he had tried to save his belongings and get his children out of harm's way. IB members shovel mud and clear away rubbish. The message is clear: They're not afraid to get their hands dirty.

"The community grows together, and you do something useful," says the Bavarian head of IB, Sebastien Zeilinger. "After all, we're doing this for our home country, our people."

So far, so good? There's nothing wrong in doing good deeds and talking about it. But Identitarians, as the movement's members call themselves, don't just carry dirt away, they put it somewhere else. Like in front of the Munich headquarters of the Green Party.

The group's most striking operation took place in Vienna, Austria. When refugees got on stage during a play written by Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinke, the group stormed the theater and spilt fake blood. It may sound like a prank, but it drew the attention of politicians and authorities.

"The Identitarian Movement has right-wing extremists," said Miriam Heigl, a member of an anti-racism and pro-democracy organization at Munich's City Hall.

Heigl is watching the group's growing popularity with concern. The idea behind the group is clear: Germany for the Germans. Italy for the Italians. Syria for the Syrians.

Members of IB say they love their culture and want to preserve their country's identity. They deny leaning toward extremism and fascism. But officials say that's not the case, and that the group instead uses "camouflage tactics" to hide their real intentions.

"The Identitarian Movement clearly opposes the free and democratic order," said Markus Schäfert from the Bavarian state office for the protection of the constitution. "Bottom line, we're dealing with a whole new form of racism."

They consider it their duty to protect European culture.

Identitarians often cite pioneers of the conservative movement like Oswald Spengler or Ernst Jünger as inspiration. "Their image is less antiquated than those who proudly hang up swastikas and Hitler portraits in their living rooms," says Schäfert. Instead, their members are young, educated and connected.

The group is active in countries neighboring Germany, particularly Austria. "They instill fear against foreigners, refugees, and especially Muslims," said Katharina Schulze, a representative of Parliament in Munich.

Schulze, a Green Party politician, believes it's a good idea that the Bavarian state office for the protection of the constitution is investigating IB. But she's critical that the government didn't react sooner. Schulze believes the German political agenda experienced a right-wing drift.

IB is now grouping together with other right-wing extremist groups like Pegida and AfD. Schulze said that AfD, Pegida and IB are all like construction sites that together are building one huge house.

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Future

AI Is Good For Education — And Bad For Teachers Who Teach Like Machines

Despite fears of AI upending the education and the teaching profession, artificial education will be an extremely valuable tool to free up teachers from rote exercises to focus on the uniquely humanistic part of learning.

Journalism teacher and his students in University of Barcelona.

Journalism students at the Blanquerna University of Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

© Sergi Reboredo via ZUMA press
Julián de Zubiría Samper

-Analysis-

BOGOTÁ - Early in 2023, Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates included teaching among the professions most threatened by Artificial Intelligence (AI), arguing that a robot could, in principle, instruct as well as any school-teacher. While Gates is an undoubted expert in his field, one wonders how much he knows about teaching.

As an avowed believer in using technology to improve student results, Gates has argued for teachers to use more tech in classrooms, and to cut class sizes. But schools and countries that have followed his advice, pumping money into technology at school, or students who completed secondary schooling with the backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have not attained the superlative results expected of the Gates recipe.

Thankfully, he had enough sense to add some nuance to his views, instead suggesting changes to teacher training that he believes could improve school results.

I agree with his view that AI can be a big and positive contributor to schooling. Certainly, technological changes prompt unease and today, something tremendous must be afoot if a leading AI developer, Geoffrey Hinton, has warned of its threat to people and society.

But this isn't the first innovation to upset people. Over 2,000 years ago, the philosopher Socrates wondered, in the Platonic dialogue Phaedrus, whether reading and writing wouldn't curb people's ability to reflect and remember. Writing might lead them to despise memory, he observed. In the 18th and 19th centuries, English craftsmen feared the machines of the Industrial Revolution would destroy their professions, producing lesser-quality items faster, and cheaper.

Their fears were not entirely unfounded, but it did not happen quite as they predicted. Many jobs disappeared, but others emerged and the majority of jobs evolved. Machines caused a fundamental restructuring of labor at the time, and today, AI will likely do the same with the modern workplace.

Many predicted that television, computers and online teaching would replace teachers, which has yet to happen. In recent decades, teachers have banned students from using calculators to do sums, insisting on teaching arithmetic the old way. It is the same dry and mechanical approach to teaching which now wants to keep AI out of the classroom.

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