Thilo Sarrazin: Islamophobia is okay, but mention Jews just once…

A rightwing blowhard spouting racist nonsense, even when he is a high ranking official at the German Central Bank, does not become an international scandal, but Thilo Sarrazin made one big mistake. He targeted the wrong ethnical group:

Over the weekend, Sarrazin went even further. In an interview with Welt am Sonntag, Sarrazin waded into the fraught field of genetics, saying “all Jews share a certain gene, all Basques have certain genes that make them different from other people.”

The comment came as he was discussing the identities of different European cultures, but the reference to a Jewish gene has unleashed yet another storm of critique. Such references have been largely taboo in Germany since World War II.

When asked by the interviewer if perhaps he meant to talk of “races” rather than “cultures,” Sarrazin responded “I am not a racist.”

Had he only kept his racism to the usual Islamophobia, it wouldn’t have mattered, but talking about a “Jewish gene” when you’re a German banker? That’s asking for trouble. As The online archive at Der Spiegel shows Sarrazin has been Islamophobic for a long time without it harming his career much. He might have faced censure by his own party (the social democratic SPD!) and criticism from the usual quarters, but his job was safe and he has been described as a “provocateur” and “blunt talking” rather than “racist bastard” in respectable newspapers. One little mention of the “Jewish gene” has changed all that….

Geert Wilders is smarter; not only a “critic of Islam” but also a “friend of Israel” (and you do wonder how much of his Islamophobia is caused by this friendship and imbibing the Israeli views of it, or vice versa). He has kept his racism confided to acceptable targets and as a result is taken seriously as a coalition partner in the next Dutch government. That’s the bad news. The good news is that one of its intended coalition partners, the Christian Democrat CDA has gotten cold feet at the last moment, as many of its members do not feel comfortable with Wilders. As well they should: rightwing or leftwing, no non-racist politician should want anything to do with somebody who wants to use a specific ethnic group of citizens (and in the vocabulary of Wilders’ followers, if not always with Wilders himself, the word “Islam” is interchangable with “Moroccan”) as the scapegoat for all of our country’s problems.

Wilders in trouble –for copyright infringement?

wilders picking his nose

So Fitna debuted yesterday to an universal reception of yawns, though of course there was much navel gazing in the Dutch newspapers today. One thing everybody noticed is how little original material there was in the movie, much of it being news footage from various events like the September 11 attacks, the Madrid bombings etc. There was some speculation online on whether or not all those images were properly licensed. Well, we got our answer: The Danish cartoonist whose Mohammed cartoon was used in the opening and ending parts of Fitna is preparing to sue for copyright infringement:

The Danish Union of Journalists said Friday it will sue Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders for copyright infringement for using a Danish cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in his anti-Quran film.

The union said it will file a lawsuit on behalf of Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist who made a controversial drawing in 2005 depicting Islam’s prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb.

“Wilders has the right to make his movie but he has no permission to use my drawing,” Westergaard said in a phone interview with Denmark’s TV2. Westergaard has been living under police protection since an alleged plot to murder him was uncovered last month.

“This has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It is all about copyright,” Westergaard said. “I won’t accept my cartoon being taken out of its original context and used in a completely different one.”

So if that wasn’t licensed, how much of the other images were? Was this perhaps why Wilders was asking his supporters to send money, earlier this week?

Fitna: attention seeking moron got his wish again

As I said earlier this week, if you follow this blog you should know Wilders by now for building a career by exploiting Islamophobia and drawing attention to himself with media stunts. The most recent of which being his anti-Islam movie, Fitna, which he had threatened to release since the middle of last year, but which only released an hour ago, via Liveleak. It had to be done that way because he couldn’t find any Dutch broadcaster to show it and his own website got taken off the air by his American provider. Actually, there was one broadcaster that did want to see it, but that was a Muslim broadcaster, who wanted to show it during an evening of debate with Wilders, but this was just a little bit too scary for him…

I don’t really want to pay too much attention to his silly little film, because it is nothing but the usual warmed over Islamophobic cliches. You know the drill: the Islam is threatening your freedom, it wants to subjugate the entire world and kill all the unbelievers, it leads to terrorism (cue images of the September 11 attacks) and so on. Bo-oring.

It’s just the impact this will have that I’m worried about. Not so much the inevitable reaction of Muslim hotheads, but there’s already a climate of fear and hatred surrounding Islam in the Netherlands and this movie is deliberately throwing oil on the fire. Wilders is intelligent enough to make use of the wave of unreasoning hatred that followed the September 11 attacks and the murder of Fortuyn to make his political career, so he should be intelligent enough to know his movie is one big lie. The question is, is he cynically using this lie just to further his career, or does he wants a Reichsdag fire? What’s he going to do with all the media attention coming his way?

A thought experiment

Last Saturday there was a big anti-Wilders demonstration in Amsterdam, which unfortunately had a disappointing turnout, partially due to the weather and partially due to crap organisation and promotion; I only heard about it on sunday. Wilders, as you should know if you’ve been following this blog for any length, is the Islamophobic bigot who has built a political career on stoking fear of and hatred of Muslims, soon to climax in the public showing of his anti-islam movie. He himself denies he’s a racist, that he has anything against Muslims –here largely people of Turkish or Moroccan descent– but that he just dislikes their religion as inherently backwards and evil. As you can imagine this has made him the darling of the sort of people who dislike “Islam” enough not to want Ayaan Hirsi Ali as their spokesperson.

Wilders enjoys the support of a frightingly large part of the Dutch population, not just the kind of racist Lonsdale wearing meatheads you’d think would be suggestable to a good bit of Islamophobia but also various kinds of more respectable people, including not a fair few media people. Free newsrag De Pers (motto: “free but not cheap”) for example can always be counted on to give him or his party a friendly hearing. Not that these people are racists of course, no they’re just frightfully concerned with the problems of integration and fanatical Islamism and if Wilders might be a bit too extreme in his rhetoric, at least he’s addressing these problems.

so some anonymous genius at Saturday’s demonstration had an idea: create a pamphlet with various Wilders soundbytes, but everytime he mentions “Muslims” or Ïslam” replace it with “Jews” or Jewry” and see what happens. The result? He got arrested. Which is odd when the same remarks about Muslims had never gotten Wilders into trouble with the police, despite numerous complaints …

It’s official: Holland is Islamophobic

So says the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance:

Geert Wilders

The new report from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance said Islamophobia in the Netherlands has ‘increased dramatically’ since 2000. ‘The criminal justice system, and notably the police, still needs to enhance its role in monitoring and countering racially-motivated offences,’ the report said.

‘The tone of Dutch political and public debate around integration and other issues relevant to ethnic minorities has experienced ‘dramatic deterioration,’ the report say and goes on to warn of a ‘worrying polarisation between majority and minority communities’. It criticises the official approach to integration for focusing too much on the ‘perceived deficiencies’ among the minority population.

The Netherlands Muslims – around 6% of the population – face ‘stereotyping, stigmatising, outright racist political discourse and biased media portrayal,’ the report continues. Anti-semitism is also on the rise.

The report calls on the Dutch authorities to take the lead in promoting a public debate on integration that avoids ‘polarisation, antagonism, and hostility’. It calls on ministers to take steps to counter the use of ‘racist and xenophobic discourse in politics’ and review a number of policies which it says result in direct and indirect racial discrimination.

All of which, to be honest, isn’t news to me or anybody else who has paid attention to what has happened here in the last decade or so. If you’ve read this blog for a while you have seen me write about this before. That the report also singles out Geert Wilders is not a surprise either. Wilders entire career has been built on xenophobia. Which of course also means that there is an audience for his xenophobia, which is worrying.

More worrying is the general acceptance of Wilders and his followers. We’ve had periods of xenophobia before, most recently in the mid eighties when the economy had tanked and the extreme rightwing Centrumparty managed to get some seats in parliament by blaming guest workers. What’s different is that polticians and the media then formed a solid block against the racists, not giving them the “oxygen of publicity”, not working or even engaging with them in Parliament, etc. This time, not so much. Wilders gets a lot of publicity for his views and is largely treated as if what he says is or may be wrong, but within the boundaries of acceptable debate, with his more extreme remarks dismissed as publicity stunts.

I’ve long found this trend worrying, as it has moved the boundaries of what’s acceptable closer and closer to naked racism and xenophobia and has helped create a climate of intolerance in the Netherlands against Muslims and other “foreigners”, where just being a Muslim is reason for fear and suspicion. The attempts by the government to come to a burka ban are a symptom of this disease.

Hopefully this report will serve as something of a wakeup call for those politicians and journalists who have been content to disapprove of, but not oppose Wilders. If not, I fear we are heading for some of what happened in France two years ago…

“I think Martin has suffered terribly at the hands of the Guardian”

Martin being Martin Amis, the quote being from his writer pal Ian McEwan, refering to Mart’s growing reputation as a racist and/or Islamophobe, because of remarks like these:

caricature of Martin Amis

“What can we do to raise the price of them doing this? There’s a definite urge – don’t you have it? – to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suff­­er­­­ing? Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan… Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children. They hate us for letting our children have sex and take drugs – well, they’ve got to stop their children killing people. It’s a huge dereliction on their part. I suppose they justify it on the grounds that they have suffered from state terrorism in the past, but I don’t think that’s wholly irrational. It’s their own past they’re pissed off about; their great decline. It’s also masculinity, isn’t it?”

McEwan, who is slightly but not much less nuts than Amis on this subject seems to blame the Guardian for publishing articles like the age of horrorism rather than Amis for opening his gob in the first place, which seems a bit unfair. The man himself meanwhile has hit back at his critics with a spectacularly incoherent piece in, you guessed it, the despised Guardian itself:

I want to talk about the discourse, and about the kind of public conversation we should be hoping to have. But before I do that, I will pay my Islamic readers – and I know I have a few – the elementary courtesy of saying that I DO NOT “ADVOCATE” ANY DISCRIMINATORY TREATMENT OF MUSLIMS. AND I NEVER HAVE. And no one with the slightest respect for truth can claim otherwise.

Has he read his earlier remarks quoted above, or does he think that if he denies them hard enough they will go away? Because, you know, that blaming of an entire population for the acts of a few seems awfully close to racism to me, especially considering the context. Ever since the September 11 attacks Amis has left no opportunity unused to discuss his disgust at the ideology behind it and over time he has done so in increasingly general terms, culminating in that awful “Age of horrorism” article which came very close indeed in blaming all of Islam for the misdeeds of September 11.

So is Amis a racist? Not in the sense that he’ll be sticking burning crescents on the council estates of Birmingham perhaps, but at the very least he’s an arrogant, self-absorbed ignorant blowhard who mistakes his regurgitation of whichever book he last read for insight. Very telling indeed in this context is the second paragraph of his “I’m no racist, honest” piece, which begins with “When I was five or six years old, my father took me to meet a black man.” That’s the level of self-absorption we’re dealing with here.