Germany

Fatwa Envy

Protestant pastor, Clemens Bittlinger is a gentle-voiced singing clergyman who wrote and performed a song mildly critical of the Pope.

The songs title is Oh man, Benedikt, a walk with the Pope, and asks two or three questions because theres a lot I dont understand.

Why do you revile other Christians? its lyrics ask. Why are you openly looking for a fight, saying: Yours is not a church. You ban condoms, even for the poor of this world. So you encourage the spread of AIDS even if you do not like it. Meanwhile you abandon limbo for babies who havent been baptised. Did you seriously believe that the Lord had something like that in the first place?

And the inevitable hate mail and threats have poured in (via), causing enough concern that Bittlinger is now receiving police protection.

“You dirty protestant pig, I shit on you and your dirty songs,” read one note.

“When a newspaper prints a Mohammed cartoon, entire cities burn, read another. But when the Holy Father is ridiculed in blasphemy, we are supposed to just accept that? No, not like that Mr. Bittlinger – you will surely receive the justice you deserve.”

Its was inevitable that the insane overreaction to the Muhammed cartoons would encourage other religious groups to adopt an equally aggressive stance towards perceived slights.

Surrendering to the stupid

Surrend is a group of Danish artists which seeks to make fun of the worlds powerful men and crazy ideological conflicts – including religious extremism - using stickers, posters and advertisements. An exhibition organised by the group in Berlin has been closed down following threats from religious extremists.

The extremists objected to a poster that showed the Kabaa - the black granite cube-shaped building in Mecca towards which Muslims pray – with the words stupid stone in German were superimposed on it. The poster also showed the faithful walking around it with speech bubbles saying Zionist occupied government.

The artists had set out to satirise the the conspiracy theory that Jews are behind everything - a view prevalent among neo-Nazis and in parts of the Arab world. It sounds like they struck a bit close to home for some of these people.

The director of the art gallery said that the exhibition had been temporarily closed following threats of violence if the poster was not removed. He has also expressed concern about groups of individuals censoring art.

Deluded, for their own good

Germanys Family Ministry is pushing (via) for the childrens book How Do I Get to God, Asked the Small Piglet to be included on a list of literature considered dangerous for young people.

The 20 page book, written by Michael Schmidt-Salomon and illustrated by Helge Nyncke, tells the story of a piglet and a hedgehog, who discover a poster attached to their house that says: If you do not know God, you are missing something! So they set out to look for God and, along the way, encounter a rabbi, a bishop and a mufti. By the end of the book, the hedgehog concludes - reasonably enough - that God probably doesnt exist and, if he does, he definately doesnt live in a synagogue, cathedral or mosque.

According to the ministry: The distinctive characteristics of each religion are made ridiculous. Which isnt exactly hard to do.

Alibri, the books publisher, has called the ministrys accusations an attack on freedom of expression, and said the book answers the question of whether a nonreligious child is missing part of life from the perspective of secular humanism.

Schedel added that the book is intended for nonreligious parents looking to provide their children with a critical view of religion.

All three religions are treated equally in the book, he said. No one is negatively singled out.

Author Schmidt-Salomon said the book was desperately needed considering the enormous mass of religious childrens stories. He added that he the book offers children and their parents the opportunity to read about agnostic beliefs if they choose.

Children also have a right to enlightenment, he wrote on a Web site set up dedicated to the book. They should not be left defenseless to the scientifically untenable and ethically problematic stories of religion.

The German department responsible for reviewing childrens literature will be discussing whether the book presents a danger to childrens upbringing in a March meeting.

The law of unintended consequences

German politicians are currently piloting legislation through the Bundestag aimed at stamping out child prostitution. The intent here is, of course, perfectly commendable but the proposed laws are so badly drafted that they have attracted a storm of protest (via) from legal experts, liberal politicians and even sex therapists. The law was due to be introduced last week but the Government withdrew it at the last minute because of the scale of the opposition.

The new law reduces the minimum age at which sexual offenders can be prosecuted from 18 to 14, and raises the maximum age at which a victim is entitled to legal protection from 16 to 18. The idea is to stop the recruitment of minors as prostitutes by other minors — pimps in big cities are often 17 or younger — but the initiative is a legal minefield.

According to Jerzy Montag, a Green MP who is trying to rally opposition in parliament: “If a 15-year-old says to a 17-year-old, ‘Ill invite you to the cinema providing we have a bit of heavy petting afterwards, then that will now be a criminal offence. Even if the 17-year-old says no, it will still be illegal. The mere attempt to secure sexual favours in return for payment in kind is against the new law.”

Magazines, such as Bravo, which are aimed at teenage girls will have to think again before publishing photo-stories of scantily clad young couples in passionate embrace, or risk landing their editors in jail for ten years. And writers and painters will have to be careful when depicting under-age subjects in sexual situations. They too could be sent to prison.

Andreas Hill, a sexual researcher in Hamburg is one of several experts calling on the Government to drop the bills. “This is going to lead to a wave of pointless investigations and court cases,” he said. “They will burden the already overloaded police to such an extent that the really relevant cases slip out of view.”

The limits of documentation

Katina Schubert, a deputy leader of the German Left party has filed charges with Berlin police against Wikipedias German language site on the grounds that it contains too much Nazi symbolism, particularly an article on the Hitler Youth movement.

Schubert said she hoped [the action] would encourage public debate on how far internet platforms should be allowed to aid proponents of extremist, anti-Semitic, and racist ideologies. She added: There are signs neo-Nazis are trying to take advantage of such structures, and this needs to be stopped in good time.

Displaying Nazi symbols is illegal in Germany, but they are permitted for educational and artistic purposes. Arne Klempert, managing director of Wikimedia Deutschland, duly countered: We dont really know what Ms Schuberts problem is. Whats important is the context the symbols are used in, and here its quite clearly education and documentation.

Anyone who tries to prevent the Nazi period being documented properly has a strange understanding of the world, in my view. Because thats the best weapon there is [to prevent] something like that from happening again.

Members of Schuberts own party have also criticised her. Heiko Hilker, a Left party media expert in Saxonys state parliament, said: Katina Schubert fails to grasp the self-regulating mechanisms that work in Wikipedia. Right-wing extremism on the World Wide Web cannot be tackled via national criminal proceedings.

Police will now pass Schuberts charges to state prosecutors, who will decide on any further action.

Postal ad banned in Germany

When he made Postal, director Uwe Boll described his intention in an open letter:

Postal’s objective is to insult all cultures, religions, political groups and leaders. No one is spared. The film is intended to provoke thought, laughter and open debate. Our world is out of balance and “POSTAL” will reflect just how fucked up we are.

It appears that some of his fellow Germans have missed the point. Provocative radio ads for the film have been banned (via) over a joke about funding Osama Bin Ladens terrorism plans.

Radio bosses are afraid that listeners will take the satirical promotions in a literal context. In one commercial an actor parodies Bin Laden and informs the audience that five per cent of the box-office receipts will be used to support Al-Qaeda. But angry Boll has lashed out at the radio executives, alleging they think listeners are dumb. He rages, No German would be so naive and stupid as to believe that Bin Laden is talking in German via a German radio station. This is a huge scandal and definitely the wrong signal as this self-censorship only helps these religious fanatics gain control. Tolerance as well as art, freedom of speech and freedom of expression has always been one of the strong pillars of strong democracies.

Dead cease rising

According to XBoxer (via), zombie shoot-em-up, Dead Rising is being sized from retailers in Germany.

Dead Rising was refused a rating by the USK when it was initially released but this did not mean that it could not be sold or marketed in the region, so this new hard line against the title would seem to point to a new and incredibly harsh stance against violent video games.

If anyone out there can confirm or refute this, it would be much appreciated.

Gamers scapegoated in Germany

German politicians are pushing new legislation that would ban games deemed violent or that incite hatred. And they are lobbying the European Union to impose continent-wide censorship of especially inflammatory games.

Some German officials are claiming that violent video games are linked to an increase in violence among the young. They cite an instance where a gamer went on a real-life murderous rampage and leap to the conclusion that by banning games they can prevent further violence - because no-one ever committed a crime before computer games existed, did they?

Germany already has some of the strictest video-game censorship laws in the Western world but the media and conservative politicians want to go further.

Frank Sliwka, chairman of Deutscher eSport-Bund, an electronic sports association that serves as a mouthpiece for the gamer community has accused the politicians of playing on voters fear and ignorance of the genre. While films have existed for over a century, video games are a comparatively new genre, and are not yet fully understood by the general public, he said.

Alexander Mueller, manager of SK Gaming, agrees. German politicians only look at gaming in one (way), Mueller said. When a (societal) problem occurs, it is easy to find just one argument and you then have someone to blame, and you dont have to go any deeper.

German politicians are also lobbying against video-games European Union. In January, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble asked European justice and interior ministers to seek more pan-European restrictions on violent video-game titles.

A European Commission spokesman confirmed that EC officials are considering whether member states should regulate the production and distribution of certain violent games. EC ministers will convene in perhaps a month to decide what course of action to take, the spokesman said.

A fright at the opera

The first showing of Berlins Deutsche Opers the now controversial production of Mozarts Idomeneo passed without incident last night, despite airport-style security checks.

The opera was cancelled back in September for fear of offending overly sensitive non-opera goers. This decision sparked debate in Germany about free speech, with Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble calling the decision crazy and Chancellor Angela Merkel warning against “self-censorship out of fear”.

The West, it seemed, was capitulating before Islam, surrendering Mozart, one of the defining symbols of European culture, on his 250th birthday. “The decision to cancel was insane, laughable and unacceptable,” Wolfgang Schäuble, the Interior Minister, said. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, agreed. The Cabinet, which is dominated by Wagnerians, became fans of Mozart, an Austrian, overnight.

German politicians turned out in force at the performance and were determined to draw a line, if not between Islam and Christianity, then at least between artistic freedom and the paralysing fear of terrorism.

Mr Schäuble was there; Ms Merkel was not, but allowed Bernd Neumann, her Culture Minister, to leave a Cabinet session early so that he could get through the police cordons. Earlier, Mr Neumann had said: “If the mere fear of Islamic protest leads to self-censorship, then the democratic principle of the freedom of expression is directly threatened.” The leaders of the Green Party were in attendance, as was Klaus Wowereit, the Mayor of Berlin.

Newspapers sent their terrorism experts rather than music critics. They wore grim expressions, as if they were about to charge out of the trenches into the clash of civilisations.

Leaders of the Muslim community, having at first promised to attend, stayed away.

The production includes a scene - added by director Hans Neuenfels as a protest against organised religion - in which the severed heads of Muhammad, Bhudda, Jesus and Greek sea god Poseidon are presented by the king.

(via MediaWatchWatch)

Idomeneo returns

Following widespread criticism over their decision to cancel a production of Idomeneo over fears of protests, the Deutsche Oper has announced that the opera will now be staged in Berlin.

Four performances were dropped in September following a security assesment that described the risks of staging the opera as incalculable. This decision sparked debate in Germany about free speech, with Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble calling the decision crazy and Chancellor Angela Merkel warning against self-censorship out of fear.

On Thursday, the police told the opera company that its staff faced no concrete danger if the performances went ahead, and would discuss any possible security measures ahead of the performances.

Deutsche Opera issued a statement saying it had begun without delay the relevant preparations for reviving the opera.

The production includes a scene - added by director Hans Neuenfels as a protest against organies religion - in which the severed heads of Muhammad, Bhudda, Jesus and Greek sea god Poseidon are presented by the king.

Kirsten Harms, director of the opera house, had originally refused to go ahead with the production citing security risks in the wake of the furore over the Jyllands-Posten Muhammed cartoons.

Next