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.
ARD 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.