“What’ll we do to Holy Cross”?
It was only a rallying cry in a football match against Holy Cross High School. No one took it literally, of course. And none of the players wound up dead after the game. Nevertheless, our Franciscan educators were not amused.
On the eve of his visit last month to Germany, of all places, Bibi Netanyahu had kicked up what Angela Merkel might call a shitstorm by not taking literally Hitler’s early threats to destroy European Jewry. Many Jews, as we know, wound up very much dead, even before a Judeophobic Palestinian Mufti, according to Bibi, planted the extermination idea in the Fuehrer’s head.
The Israeli leader was obviously more interested in further discrediting Palestinians than in giving Hitler a pass. Rumors that he was hoping to pass off a few million of them to Merkel along with the millions of Middle East refugees she’s been welcoming appear to be based on his wishful thinking. Speculation that he faced arrest for violating Germany’s Holocaust denial laws has also been dismissed. Visiting heads of government traditionally enjoy diplomatic immunity!
Whatever, Netanyahu has since clarified his position which, aside from trying to increase the Mufti’s notoriety, essentially reflects the “functionalist” school of history rather than the “intentionalist” school. The latter looks at the ultimate deeds and concludes that Hitler’s earlier threats of “Vernichtung,” translated as destruction or annihilation in English, were to be taken literally and translated as genocide in any language. Netanyahu and the “functionalists” look at the expulsion policies and conclude that the final solution, genocide, was only decided on after expulsion proved unsuccessful.
Merkel, facing enough problems without rekindling the controversial 1980s “Historikerstreit” between these two “schools,” took the high road. She accepted full responsibility of former Germany for the Holocaust and returned to the task of highlighting how much newer the new Germany has become. Going beyond the past 70 years’ laudable record of domestically protecting rights of minorities rather than killing or expelling them, the new “different” Germany is adding to their numbers by importing them by the millions. Demonstrating a worldly openness is a national imperative, a symbolic “cross to bear” in the interminable task of distancing today’s Federal Republic from its predecessor. To make the case more palatable for its less contrite citizens, many in the establishment argue that an infusion of new blood as opposed to the old spilling of it will be good for the economy. Some day!
Coping with the changes is proving increasingly difficult, as nearly every practical idea for managing the refugee “invasion” is burdened by semantics. The word itself is atop the proscribed list among the legions who view all roads outside the politically correct region as leading back down the slippery slope to the gas chambers. In Bavaria, a local CSU ruling party official was just dismissed from the party for uttering the word. It is now considered equally as inacceptable as use of the more offensive “n” word that understandably got her deputy expelled.
Taking liberties with historical symbols and semantic analogies, however exaggerated and irrelevant, is a one-way street, open only to those heading toward a different Germany “enriched” through greater ethnic and religious diversity. Some other terms or concepts symbolic of a drive down the wrong way include:
Fences, walls etc. – long preferred by the far right and increasingly used by center right coalition parties. The rest, when not dismissing them as ineffective, see them as a return to the Cold War’s Iron Curtain. The difference between locking people in a cellar and locking out intruders goes unacknowledged. Spuriously, fence fans are accused of having no accompanying ideas for containing the influx.
Hungary’s recently built fences have been very effective. But use of tear gas a few times against migrant mobs trying to penetrate them has further demonized the country’s leader, Victor Orban, by those on the left sensing little difference from Zyklon B gas of Holocaust notoriety.
Detention facilities – another symbol of bygone tyrannies. Center-right parties struggle for an alternative term to placate governing coalition partner objections to “transit zones” along the border. Their more modest aim would be to sort out credible asylum applicants from migrants whose countries of origin are considered safe to return to. Few establishment figures suggest detention camps for the masses whose asylum appeals await adjudication. There’s nothing that Paul Newman (Cool Hand Luke) has in common with Stalin or Hitler other than that they all gave detention and especially labor camps a bad name. There’s no escaping the analogy, no matter how well encamped refugees might be fed, cared for, given extra remuneration for their work or free to leave for their own country. Free if they deem their country to be safe again; required to leave if their host countries eventually decide conditions have changed sufficiently for the better.
Expel or deport – inevitably compared to the practices Netanyahu recently reminded us of. Trains of box cars on their way to Auschwitz are the images readily awakened. That there is a difference between driving people from their native lands for gassing and sending people back to their homes following conflict resolution is a “detail” that gets ignored. For similar reasons, the word “deport” itself, an established US immigration law procedure, has long been frowned upon in German speaking lands.
Diseases – suggesting that refugees might carry diseases is a sure way to get compared with the Nazis. Poland’s former prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, warned that recent refugees were already connected to “signs of the emergence of very dangerous diseases which haven’t been seen in Europe for a long time.” He was rebuked by a political opponent for using “racist language that Adolf Hitler himself ‘would not be ashamed of.” Kaczynski’s party , which he still leads, has since returned to office. His newly elected conservative government promised to distance itself further from Germany’s open door policy towards Middle East refugees. In the meantime, a scientist writing in the Washington Post made similar warnings, calling specific attention to a dramatic increase in leishmaniasis among Syrian refugees in Lebanon, a disease known as the “Aleppo evil” because of its ability to disfigure the faces of young people.
Crossing borders, traditions, and probably lines of tolerance
I was required to step on a disinfectant mat prior to entering a police facility after meeting refugees on the Austrian side of the Slovenian border last week. No such mats awaited the roughly 8,000 migrants daily heading from there to the long columns of taxis and busses awaiting to take them to processing facilities throughout Austria, or to wherever else they wanted to go. In case they might get lost, “Germany” appeared in English on the newly erected sign at the first traffic circle from the border. A few migrants I spoke to mentioned Holland, Finland and Sweden as hopeful destinations. None talked about staying in Austria, a country mostly known to them as just another transit point. It nevertheless has a similarly attractive welfare regime for the refugees and word is starting to get out. Austrian officials claim that growing numbers have been applying to stay.
With alarm bells getting louder about just such a prospect, I was not too shocked to hear a young waitress warn of civil war if the situation continues. We were some 40 miles north of the border, in a southern province with the confusingly similar name of “Styria,” where refugees from “Syria” are still not seen in large numbers. Nothing compared to Germany’s similarly conservative Catholic southern region of Bavaria, where resistance to Berlin’s migrant magnanimity grows stronger by the day. One of the many Afghans awaiting ongoing transport to Germany heard that it was now sending his compatriots home and asked if Austria might be a better alternative. He confirmed what Syrians had told me about tensions between them and other nationals not automatically entitled to their same refugee status. The Syrians “behaved very badly to us,” the English-speaking Afghan told me, even though Afghans and Iranians will have a harder time faking Syrian national status than the Iraqis and other Arab speakers among the thousands of fellow refugees. There was also some unease that such competition had likewise led to conflicts among refugees recently settled in Germany. Few seemed to suspect local “natives” would be anything but welcoming.
A common site the Syrians in Styria encounter are traditionally ornamented crucifixes along the roads. My visit to the border was the day after All Saints Day, a national holiday in Austria despite its purely religious nature. Graves in churchyard cemeteries throughout the country are decorated afresh with flowers and priests offering blessings walk among relatives of the deceased standing alongside. For an increasing number of “cultural Catholics” the ritual is more of a fond tradition than a sacred undertaking. It’s not going to be taken away from them because of a growing Muslim population. But the challenge to religious-derived symbols and ceremonies in the public sphere grows stronger .
The traditional mid-November St. Martin’s Day goose dinner will not likely disappear from restaurant menus. But the elimination of school festivities to commemorate the feast day is making some headlines. It might reflect the paternalism of militant secularists more than a popular revolt by new Muslim citizens. There is a shallowness behind a common intellectual assumption that one can separate belief systems from a nation’s sense of identity and collective cultural experience. A Swiss journalist’s recent remarks on a German talk show were on the mark: the established media and political class in Berlin have become part of a “Glaubensgemeinschaft” (community of beliefs) whose “creed” deemed that Germany should be turned into a different country. But they didn’t bother to ask Germans if they wanted to become a different country. It is the same creed that deems it acceptable to demand “solidarity” from other EU governments in the distribution of refugees, though the German leader alone had invited the refugee masses without first consulting those governments.
This “New West Glaubensgemeinschaft” regurgitates ad nauseam the sanctimony about “European values” while hardly reflecting on the elements of traditional “faith” and its symbols that have been building blocks to their current creed. EU officials who reject all forms of national interest use the term “un-European” to disparage those who think differently, reminding one of the “un-American” charges brandied about by conservative US politicians in the early 1950s.
Everyone agrees that the refugee problem needs fixing at its source. Symbolically, Vienna’s Hotel Imperial was the venue chosen for the October 30th talks that included ministers from more recent imperial powers as well as from the very ancient as Persia. Reportedly, important first steps toward a fix were agreed upon. Syrians protestors outside offered a sober reminder of difficulties ahead, however. They resented Iranians being part of the talks, though they are increasingly part of the conflict. Reflecting to an extreme degree the regions’ penchant for conspiracy thinking, a leader among the demonstrators told me that Shia-hating ISIS was actually a tool of the Iran’s Shia regime. The road to peace in Damascus seems not to be getting any shorter.