Terror in Europe

No Better Place Than Germany To Ask Muslims The Hardest Question Of All

It's not important whether Islam is "a part of Germany," as the country is debating. Fascism once was utterly German. The real question is, will Muslim leaders accept reason and freedom as the central values of society?

Muslim women in Germany
Muslim women in Germany
Jacques Schuster

-OpEd-

BERLIN — The tears had barely dried after the French terror attacks when citizens there began looking towards their philosophers for consolation. Demand for Voltaire's Treatise on Tolerance grew rapidly just days after the deadly shootings by Islamic radicals. The 250-year-old book, denouncing religious fanaticism, is leading many French bestseller lists, from Amazon to FNAC to Gibert Joseph.

It seems as if France, in its hour of need, grief and confusion, wants to reassure itself. Added to this is the general feeling of being partially culpable. But very few would venture quite as far as Pascal Bruckner has. In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Neuen Zürcher Zeitung, the writer said that "by letting radical Islam exist in its current form, we become its accomplices."

In France, the will to overcome the indifference and relativism towards other cultures, which held sway until now, is growing, mostly by reflecting on the country's own values. One can only admire the French for looking towards the works of the Enlightenment and its most important minds for counsel.

What would the Germans read if they were in a similar situation? Which books and which philosophers would they consult? At the moment, Germans appear to prefer a heated discussion about whether Islam is actually part of Germany. That's curious enough in itself because it gives the discussion a national flavor. Moreover, it assumes that only the good, civil and tame are part of Germany. But is that really the case? Was it ever?

Are Christian churches part of modern-day Germany? Analyzing the Catholic Church's history, it becomes evident that it was opposed to every progress of the human mind, every improvement of criminal law, every measure to decrease war, every step to improve the treatment of Jews, every alleviation of slavery and every moral improvement on earth. Is that German? Is that un-German?

Even if many fellow countrymen want to suppress this thought: Not only are the Enlightenment, the "blue flower," Goethe, Heine and Thomas Mann part of Germany, but so are Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger and other adventurers of German intellectual life. Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels wasn't wrong when he said that National Socialism was a German movement.

The smell of decay

Communism and fascism are part of Germany. Following this train of thought, even Islam has roots in Germany. American political scientists Walter Laqueur and Paul Berman once referenced the fascist role models of the Muslim Brotherhood and explained how the movement had interwoven these "ideals" with Islam and European totalitarian ideas. It is from this that a power reeking of decay arose.

As different as communism, fascism and Islamism may be, they all have in common the law of eliminating something harmful. If you transformed this into a positive law, its decree would read, "Thou shall kill!" Is this a German decree? This thought alone demonstrates that this is a futile debate if it is limited to what Germany once was, what it now is and what claims to be or not be a part of it.

It's not German nature that counts but its values, values chosen after 1949. Those who internalize these values don't even have to speak German, although it would be to their advantage. It is enough to secure social cohesion and the peace of a communal society to approve of these values happily, rather than living unwillingly in an open-minded (German) society. Which brings us straight to our German philosophers.

Just as the French are contemplating Voltaire, it would be beneficial for Germans to consider Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, although it can be difficult to read. In Kant's opinion, we should never obey the decrees of authority, even if that authority is God himself.

"It sounds disturbing, but it is under no circumstance reprehensible to say that every man fashions his own God after his own moral beliefs," he wrote. "That he even has to shape his own deity to believe in and worship it. It does not matter in which manner this being has been introduced to him as God … or may have even presented itself to him as such. … He has to, first and foremost, determine if his own conscience can consider it to be and worship it as a deity."

Kant's ethic is not limited to the sentence that a man's conscience is to be his only authority. It is attempting to determine what our conscience can demand of us. Kant's philosophy can be summarized comprehensively: Dare to be free and respect and protect the freedom of all others. Can the political and religious leaders of the Islamic organizations truly subscribe to this idea?

Berlin's mosque — Photo: Axel Mauruszat

Kant was convinced that human reason was a universal tool of communication. He is one of the influential progressive thinkers of critical rationalism, whom philosopher Karl Popper described centuries later as the attitude of the West. "I could be wrong and you could be right. But if we both try we can get closer to the truth."

Are the Islamic organizations, their imams and mullahs willing and ready to accept this attitude of mind?

Heaven and hell

Kant also wrote that "nothing straight has ever been fashioned from the warped wood mankind is made of." Popper went even further to add, "and nothing straight should ever be fashioned from it." To Popper it was obvious that, after having traipsed through the history of closed societies from Sparta to the Third Reich, the "attempt to create heaven on earth only results in hell."

Whether it be the communist attempt to overcome class structures by eliminating certain classes, the National Socialist endeavor to create a racially pure society, or the effort to establish a worldwide Islamic State.

Kant and Popper didn't advocate religious intolerance or even the end of religious belief within society. But at least Popper demanded the same rights for the belief in reason, rationalism and humanistic conviction as for other creeds.

Is German Islam ready to recognize this as a basic human right? Can its political and religious leaders approve of Kant's imperative, "Dare to use your own mind"?

"We can return to animalistic attitudes, but if we want to remain human then there is only one way we can take, and that is the way towards an open-minded society," Popper wrote.

Germany has walked along this path after having lived through the most painful experiences and has become free and prosperous as never before.

Does Islam lean towards accepting this open-minded society, accepting reason as the measure of all things, accepting the competition of values as a principle of the West? The evidence for that is slim so far. Islam isn't part of an open-minded society. It is Islam's responsibility to become a part of it. We are waiting, but our patience is running dry.

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COVID Chaos In Bulgaria: One Reporter Is Tired Of Asking “Why”

With much attention now focused on rising COVID-19 cases in the UK and Moscow's new lockdown, a hidden story is in Bulgaria, which claims both Europe's highest death rate and lowest vaccination rate. By now, this reporter knows the drill…

Walking in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Oct. 9

Carl-Johan Karlsson

SOFIA — I suspected, while Google translating the Bulgarian news Wednesday morning, that I might be the last person in Sofia with an internet connection to have found out about the new COVID rules.Following reports of 4,979 new COVID-19 cases and 214 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, the Bulgarian government had announced that proof of vaccine or negative PCR tests will be required for access to restaurants, theaters, cinemas, gyms, clubs and shopping malls. Starting tomorrow.


I'd heard some chatter at the co-working place the night before, but after 18 months of coronavirus reporting, and pandemic living, both in my native Sweden and my former home in Paris, I wasn't up for another round on the topic.


The world's highest mortality rate

Perhaps, that same plague fatigue was what caused me — when deciding to set up shop in Bulgaria a month ago — to miss the detail that this is both Europe's least vaccinated country and the one with the highest COVID-19 mortality rate.

I had chosen Sofia (Europe's oldest city!) on the latest stop of my now 12-year hunt for a place to sort of settle down for its cheap rent, cobblestoned city center … and its excellent nationwide WiFi. What more could you ask?

Well, vaccinations, it turned out. So here I was facing the COVID story again, after months exploring France's extra strict lockdown measures, Sweden's famous flirt with herd immunity, the mask morality police and anti-vaxx ideologues everywhere.

Photo of people wearing COVID protective masks in Sofia, Bulgaria

Inside a tram in Sofia, Bulgaria

Artur Widak/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Pandemic fatigue

The world's pandemic press this week is focused on the UK, where again cases are skyrocketing, and Moscow's new lockdown. But here in a country of barely 7 million, where I didn't speak the language or know the history, what might I find? After just six weeks, I considered the social dispositions I had discerned, what political leanings I'd nosed out that might explain why 80% of the population still isn't vaccinated.

Where does a hungry reporter go?

I had, for example, observed with great interest that Sofians never jaywalk. Maybe that was the angle? The striking incongruence between social conformity and vaccine refusal? Or maybe the upcoming parliamentary elections held a clue to the bad COVID management.

To answer these questions, I went where any hungry reporter would go: the burger joint on the corner.

- "So new restrictions huh? You think they might lockdown?"

- "Dunno. The usual? No chili?"

- "Right, no chili … So you think more people will get vaccinated now?"

- "We'll see. That'll be four leva."

Having spent the past 18 months among the army of finger-wagging, number-crunching armchair social scientists (both in and out of print) I had suddenly lost my hunger to "explain" why Bulgarians were the world's bad boy of the moment on the COVID front. Consider this just one roving reporter's version of pandemic fatigue.

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