Category Archives: Comparisons

Comparisons

There is rhetoric in the United States that keeps insisting on making the comparison between Nazis and ISIS/Daesh. And as an American Germanist/Auslandsgermanist, I feel compelled to articulate why this comparison falls short.

One of the most disturbing instances I have seen comes from a meme circulating on Facebook. Vice News notes that this image was tweeted by a US State Department Account:

This image has turned into a meme on Facebook. The meme text labels the two images: NAZIS and ISIS. The bottom of the meme reads: UNDERSTAND YET? (This is not the only image – do a GoogleSearch and you’ll come up with hundreds of similar comparisons, some of them German).

Like most slick comparisons, this one falls short – although it has political weight. As VICE reports:

In American political oratory, a Nazi or Hitler comparison is the ultimate in establishing an enemy in need of fighting. After all, who could turn a blind eye to the Nazis?

Both groups are responsible for war and terror, yes. Both have committed acts of ethnic cleansing. But the historical precendents are different. The Nazis were a political party that morphed into fascist dictatorship and relied on a cult of personality. Daesh are religious terrorists who believe the end times are near and are willing to court the apocalypse. The motivating factors for each group are different, as are the structures within their organizations. And as Natasha Lennard points out in her VICE article, comparing Daesh to the Nazis misses the mark because it does not acknowledge the power of Daesh in their own right. Constantly comparing America’s enemies to Hitler prevents us from acknowledging that Daesh (and any other potential enemy) is ruthless on its own terms. No comparison is necessary to understand the level of brutality Daesh is capable of enacting.

In a bizarre twist on this comparison, Donald Trump told Yahoo News today that he would not stop short of targeting American Muslims in ways that resemble the political persecution of the Jews:

Yahoo News asked Trump whether his push for increased surveillance of American Muslims could include warrantless searches. He suggested he would consider a series of drastic measures.

“We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it, but I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule,” Trump said. “And certain things will be done that we never thought would happen in this country in terms of information and learning about the enemy. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago.”

Yahoo News asked Trump whether this level of tracking might require registering Muslims in a database or giving them a form of special identification that noted their religion. He wouldn’t rule it out.

“We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to look at a lot of things very closely,” Trump said when presented with the idea. “We’re going to have to look at the mosques. We’re going to have to look very, very carefully.”

If you’re looking for a comparison to Nazi Germany – and I want to be very clear, I don’t think we should be looking for such a comparison – then there’s one group I can think of which really does bear some resemblance to fascists: the wonky cast of characters currently seeking the Republican Party nomination for president. As frontrunner, Donald Trump is the most obvious example. Trump, whose campaign the Huffington Post will only cover in the Entertainment Section, has spouted racist rhetoric, developed a cult following, and quite literally, has just been prodded by a Yahoo News reporter into proposing a system of religous persecution that has a historical precedent as part of a fascist regime. Trump’s bombastic rhetoric is insane, yes, but it is also populist to the core, elevating the “people” above all other groups. All political slogans carry with them a hint of nationalism, but “Make America Great Again” is not shy about its narrative. This narrative is also prototypically fascist, calling for a rebirth of the nation after a period of decline (such as World War I or – in more moderate terms – the Great Recession). Trump’s obvious megalomania and large following begs to be described as a “cult of personality,” and his unwillingness to answer any questions that require him to acknowledge his own weaknesses point to the desire to consolidate power.

Comparisons require some level of similarity in order to be apt. Obvious violent acts are not specific enough to prompt comparison. A lot of groups use violence, but their motivations for doing so are almost always different.

But violence almost always starts with rhetoric. By that logic, the prevention of violence can start from rhetorical analysis.

Feminist Refugee Politics – Points of Entry

What constitutes a feminist refugee politics?

This question is not new. But there are some particularities about the current crisis which demand that discussions of gender take a larger part in conversations than it has so far. Gender matters – it always matters. There are a couple of tropes that have been circulating which are specifically about gendered trends. One, which I have blogged about for the feministische studien, reflects the relationship between Kanzlerin Merkel and the CDU. To set up a binary: Merkel = female. The CDU (if we look at the photoshopped image from Die Welt below) = male.  (The caption reads: #MoreWomen Campaign. Without men Angela Merkel stands almost alone up there.)

The ideological conflict between moderate CDU members and the far-right CSU is influenced in some way by this discrepancy in proportional representation between female head of state and male party members. There are masculine expectations for hard power which Merkel supposedly inadequately exercises, especially in the eyes of her sister party. And now to deconstruct said binary: It is more likely for the press or party members to discredit Merkel as a “monarch” or “Mama Merkel” than to acknowledge that Merkel’s experiences growing up under dictatorship in the GDR (East Germany) are historically legitimate reasons for reacting to this kind of humanitarian crisis with open arms. Merkel, in a beautiful moment of living standpoint theory, insists that she knows what it is like to live behind a closed border and that she is very well aware of the violence a sealed border requires. Thus her emphasis on sentences like “Fences don’t help.

Another trope that has been given a lot of airtime is assertion that the refugees/forced migrants are 70% (or more) male. Given recent discrepancies brought to light by Nando Sigona on The Conversation, in an article which recounts his Twitter communications with Frontex that reveal that a large number of migrants might be counted twice, it seems increasingly urgent to use rigor in the ways that we quantify. While the majority may be young men, the racist associations of criminality, rape, assault and possible infiltration by religious terrorists rest on gendered fears of masculinity. The anonymous blog called The Syrian Boy has an interesting collection of images (the sources are unclear) which aim to disrupt that generalization.

According to this article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, this is how the gender totals break down across age groups:

  • 70% of asylum-seekers who were in the EU in 2014 were male
  • the gender split amongst children was nearly equal
  • 54% of the refugees are between the ages of 14-34 years; 75% of this group are men
  • refugees above 65 years of age were more likely to be women

They list their source as raw data from eurostat.

According to statistics from the Federal Agency for Migration and Refugees in Germany cited in the SZ, in 2014:

  • 2/3 of all asylum applications were from men
  • 28% of all applications were submitted for children under 16 (the largest group; slightly more boys than girls
  • among 16-34 year olds, the proportion was 70-77% men

The German feminist blog PinkStinks.de has published a recent post frustrated with the way these numbers are being interpreted as representing a threat to (White German) women. As they write on PinkStinks:

And while they [the editors of the magazine EMMA] raise important demands in order to protect women, they also swear on the image of a constantly assaultive Muslim man. “Our equality is in danger, too, when hundreds of thousands of mostly young men pour into our country.”

These political moves are unacceptable, PinkStinks writes:

The line was crossed a long time ago. And not just at the point where demands for equality and more protection for women are used in the service of nationalistic interests, but also at the point where people who are fleeing are being instrumentalized in order to push through their own images of equality and more protection for women.

It is nothing new to cover up racism with assertions of needing to protect women. Laura Bush was used effectively by her husband’s presidency to argue for protections for women under the Taliban and to justify war after 9/11. Blue burkas pervaded the national imagery alongside the image of vicious terrorists. These are tropes with which the Right is all too familiar – not just in Germany, the EU or in the United States. Canada just had a presidential campaign in which the niqab was a potent political symbol. The HuffPost has an entire page devoted to niqab articles. Düsseldorf just banned the piece of clothing for elementary school mothers.

While women’s equality is being evoked by (male?) politicians in the service of nationalism, what do we make of this info graphic from a study conducted by the Humbolt University in Berlin about volunteers in serving this population? This tweet from the WDR (Westdeutsche Rundfunk) describes the exact opposite proportions of volunteers compared to refugees: 70% are female; 30% male. (The tweet comment reads: There’s room for improvement, boys!)

 

The very acts of fleeing and helping are gendered; for forced migrants, the physical obstacles they encounter are great. It seems, however, as if the obstacles impeding men from assisting these people in effective ways are just as great within European society, if not as evident as the physical obstacles along the flight path.

For right now, this is simply about gathering evidence that shows some of the points at which gender is functioning as political capital in the European crisis. Part II (to be posted later) will explore how these tropes and images can inform feminist refugee politics.

The Naivete of Evil

Bernd Ulrich, the main editor for Die Zeit‘s political pages, has written a beautiful essay in the October 7th edition of the paper. Despite my frequent blog posts and twitter and facebook accounts, I am an open Luddite who makes her students hand-write assignments and who has a paper subscription to Die Zeit. I also have an erratic mail carrier, which means that the arrival of my paper can arrive anywhere from three days to three weeks late. Despite seeing the click bait for this essay on twitter, I’m glad to have read this one on paper. The graphic design is quite strong, featuring a long length of barbed wire which ropes its way through the article, dividing the manifesto-like text from other columns and advertisements:

Zeit image

The essay by Ulrich is titled “The Naivete of Evil,” which is a play on Hannah Arendt’s famous subtitle for her book detailing the Eichmann trials in Jerusalem in the 1960s. Written in numbered, thematic sections, Ulrich’s article lays out a comprehensive understanding of the global forces which have led to the refugee crisis in Europe. The conditions of depravity in the Middle East, he asserts, are twenty years in the making – they did not happen overnight. (Americans might also do well to remember that the War on Terror is now almost fifteen years old).   Furthermore, Ulrich identifies a transition amongst Germans on what Demetrios G. Papademetriou, President Emeritus of the Migration Policy Institute, called “the day after” on WEBZ earlier this week. Suddenly, Germans are feeling overwhelmed – and for good reason, given that there are simply not enough doctors, lawyers, teachers and social workers to reach the refugees who need them. Not just traumatized refugees, but also their caregivers, are in shock that events far, far away from them have led to “physical, mental and financial” realities on German soil. The inability to foresee the problem – even though it has been obvious that something like this was brewing – has created a political vacuum. And a vacuum must be filled: in this case, by Horst Seehofer scapegoating the Chancellor and clinging to the dream that a change in course will stop the tide.

Like the Chancellor, Ulrich asserts that this is a fantasy – one among many. Fantasies of fences (which can only function if aggressively enforced); fantasies of military might (Europe, America and now Russia will only inflict damage); and fantasies of being overrun (hold up, says Ulrich, you can’t declare a state of emergency with these numbers) are ever present in the national imagination.  Ulrich even engages with the rich propaganda found at PEGIDA rallies and in Lachmann’s article I analyzed yesterday. “Of course the West is in Danger” reads the title of section 8 – but not because of the refugees. Because of Europeans:

“This, the aggressive nationalism, the exclusion and internal de-liberalization are the tangible threats against the West. Because all of that, unfortunately, is actually present in European genes.”

Ulrich is not actually advancing a genetic argument – that last bit is a metaphor which reads better in German than in my poor translation here. What he’s saying is that nationalism has a European precedent – and it is this nationalism that threatens to undo us.

As for the Middle East, Ulrich says, it would probably be better for all of us if we admitted that our imperial and militaristic strategies have failed. Knowing our limits is the first step towards moving beyond them (Ulrich citing here a quote by Baruch de Spinoza he freely adapted).

Admitting that there are limits seems like a particularly difficult pill for politics to swallow. Fortification is not a way to acknowledge limits – it is rather a desire to construct those limits on terms that are self-directed and seen as politically beneficial. If we follow Ulrich’s line of reasoning, however, limits are given to us by the situation itself rather than by our own imagination, which is why attempts to defend the Vaterland through nationalistic means or to stop the flow of refugees simply because we feel overwhelmed misses the mark.

It’s Not What it Looks Like

Tagesspiegel7.Okt.15

German news media have been having a rough week when it comes to images. Der Tagesspiegel printed a rather unfortunate front page with an image of Adolf Hitler (played by an actor for the upcoming film version of Timur Vermes’ novel Look who’s back) above a title about Merkel’s decision to make the head of the Kanzleramt (Altmaier) the coordinator for refugees. The insinuation: that the refugee crisis requires a dictator. They apologized with a sorry/notsorry-style tweet: “Oops, didn’t pay attention. Sorry! #wronglayout.”

Just a few days ago, on October 4th, the ARD television channel aired an episode of “Bericht aus Berlin,” their Sunday evening show about German politics. A discussion about refugees moderated by Rainald Becker took place against a backdrop of Angela Merkel wrapped in a black chador, posing in front of a Reichstag topped with minarets.

Merkel.BerichtausBerlin.4.Okt.2015ARD later issued a statement in which they stated that they hoped this “satirical” image would prompt discussion. Unfortunately, such images are all too common amongst the right-wing movement PEGIDA, which frequently defaces or photoshops images of the Chancellor, whom they would like to see resign. According to the ARD editors quoted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the ARD is not too concerned about the resonance of their state-sponsored, public television graphic with the right-wing:  “We are pleased about the numerous criticisms of our graphic, and regret very much that some people are not in agreement with our representation of the Chancellor or have completely misunderstood it.”

The imagery in both of these examples, however, hints at long-standing criticisms of the German government, especially from conservative positions: if we swing too far left, and welcome (Muslim) refugees into our country, we run the risk of losing our identity. The position of the Muslim woman as a trope in this rhetoric of identity loss has been present for many decades (see the work of Fatima El-Tayeb, Yasemin Yildiz, Rita Chin, and Beverly M. Weber in English).  The identity loss, in this image, would also be drastic – and therein lies the potential for satire (which has missed the mark). For a stoic, East German CDU politician, who holds a doctorate in physical chemistry, to be swayed by the simple polemics of Salafism is more than unlikely, it is incredible. Furthermore, this image plays on racist stereotypes about the supposed submissiveness of Muslim women, and is also a way to punish Merkel for being a strong woman who is not yielding to the criticisms of some of her more conservative male colleagues in her party. Caricature is the direct outgrowth of ideological disagreement. What is bizarre about this caricature on the ARD network, however, is that this station – channel 1 – is supposed to provide dispassionate, public television broadcasting, not stoke the ideological flames of right-wing movements literally setting homes for Muslim asylum-seekers on fire.