Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Antiterrorism "Debate" in Germany?

The second hot topic in Germany these days is the arrest of a Lebanese student on suspicion of having taken part in a stillborn terror attack on Germany's rail system, which, as SPIEGEL ONLINE puts it, "has forced the country to face up to the fact that it, too, is a target for extremists":

Big Macs and DIY Bombs

The article gives a press review of German newspapers. This review clearly shows that the perception of the terror threat is still related to the political camp a newspaper feels warm with. The Lebanese wannabe terrorists didn't change anything.

Mark Landler of the New York Times doesn't realize that:

Bomb Plot Shocks Germans Into Antiterrorism Debate. By Mark Landler, The New York Times


The bombing plot, which has led to the arrest of the Lebanese suspect in northern Germany and an intense manhunt for a second suspect, is also reshaping a politically charged debate in Berlin over how much latitude to give law enforcement authorities in fighting terrorism.


[T]he case has rattled Germans, many of whom have clung to the belief that their government’s opposition to the war in Iraq would insulate them from attacks like those in London or Madrid. The trouble-free World Cup in Germany last month reinforced the sense of security.

"People thought for the longest time that Germany would be safe because we didn’t send troops to Iraq," said Johannes Schmalz, the president of the agency for the protection of the constitution — a rough equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation — in the state of Baden-Wurttemberg.

"This presumption is wrong," he said. "The enemy of violent Islamists is the Western world as a whole."


Germany, owing largely to its Nazi past, has been reluctant to pursue more aggressive antiterrorism measures that are standard in Britain and the United States. Berlin and other cities have far fewer surveillance cameras than does London, and the government does not keep a central antiterrorism database.


*sob* Yeah, Nazi past... My goodness. Did the Nazis use surveillance cameras to spy terrorists? Oups, I didn't know that.

A few points:

1.) The term "debate", used in an U.S. "quality" newspaper, is misleading (or bluntly: wrong). We don't have debates in Germany. What we have are a.) a (usually clueless) journalist interviews a biased expert and b.) a bunch of talking heads all speaking at the same time (we call it "talk show").

2.) It's not that we haven't had loads of law inforcement in the aftermath of 9/11.

3.) The fact that there isn't a national data base has nothing to do with the Nazi past, but with the federal system in Germany, which is, bwt, why the comparison between the FBI and the "Verfassungsschutz" of a German state is ridiculous.

4.) I have yet to meet a person who thinks that the decision not to send troops to Iraq was an appeasement measure to prevent terrorism.


Don said...

"We don't have debates in Germany. What we have are a.) a (usually clueless) journalist interviews a biased expert and b.) a bunch of talking heads all speaking at the same time (we call it "talk show")."

That's exactly correct in the US also - what US 'journalists' call a debate. I don't watch news channels any more. Once it was an addiction of mine but now it is an aversion. Or possibly an allergy. Journalists run in packs and bay at the moon - but I don't have to watch.... ;)

I get my news off the internet.

Joerg said...

I think there is much more serious debate in the US than in Germany.

"ZEIT -- Welterklärer, verzweifelt gesucht" makes this and many other interesting points, but also opines that US think tanks are full of 30 year olds who explain the world and know exactly what has to be done and are often wrong. This is much different in Germany:

"Zum Management der Supermachtrolle existiert eine echte außenpolitische Elite, mit lebhaftem Austausch zwischen Regierungsjobs, Privatfirmen, Universitäten und Think Tanks. Die Denkfabriken sind nicht nur zahlreich, sie sind auch privat, meinungsfreudig, zum Teil hoch ideologisiert. Die kesse These wird geschätzt; Washington steckt voller 30-Jähriger, die einem die Welt erklären und genau wissen, wie sie regiert werden soll. (Dass es dann öfter nicht stimmt und nicht klappt, steht auf einem anderen Blatt.)"

Still, I think the ZEIT article has a rather positive assessment.

Another difference to debates in Germany is the fear factor:
Zakaria: Newsweek International Editions - MSNBC.com
"Washington has a long habit of painting its enemies 10 feet tall—and crazy":

"It's 1938, says the liberal columnist Richard Cohen, evoking images of Hitler's armies massing in the face of an appeasing West. No, no, says Newt Gingrich, the Third World War has already begun. Neoconservatives, who can be counted on to escalate, argue that we're actually in the thick of the Fourth World War. The historian Bernard Lewis warned a few weeks ago that Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, could be planning to annihilate Israel (and perhaps even the United States) on Aug. 22 because it was a significant day for Muslims.
Can everyone please take a deep breath?"

There is less fear in Germany and more optimism or shall we say: naivite or sleepiness?

My opinion: Germany needs more serious debates and strategic thinking.
However, I don't want to see tons of think tanks and newspapers full of know-it-alls who use fear tactics and somehow gain serious influence on the government and Bundestag members.

The increasing popularity of blogging in the US and German could have a positive influence, because on blogs you can substantiate your arguemtents by linking to relevant documents, statistics, and studies. And everybody can check your claims. This is a big advantage of blogosphere over talkradio and TV talkshows etc.

However, most bloggers and commentators don't participate in serious debates, but just exchange opinions and or use blogging to prove how wrong/stupid/biased the MSM is. Not bad, but still.
Well, I guess, it depends on the blogs. I just remembered the "The Israel Lobby" controversy. I have only seen a few good threads on blogs, but of course there are not just discussions within a single thread, but also in the wider blogosphere. Blogger do not just debate something with their commentators, but also with other bloggers.
Likewise, blog readers do not just read and comment on one blog, but on several blogs. Thus the debate stretches across blogs in the blogosphere. And yes, I have seen many good articles pro and contra the Israel Lobby paper by Walt/Mearsheimer.

Joerg said...

any suggestions for improvement?
How to get more and better real debates?
In the blogosphere and the "real world"?