Sunday, January 13, 2008
No Smoking = Holocaust?
If ever there was an example of an entire people perceiving themselves to be one thing and in reality being another, it's the Germans. And no, I'm not talking about that.
Here's the way Germans see themselves: Internationally well-informed, morally upright and concerned about what is going on in the world. The German version of politically correct is "Gutmensch" (Good-Person): Someone who is concerned about hunger in the Third World, the injustices of capitalism, etc. The American war in Iraq was a feast for Germans: They complained about it so much and still are complaining about it that it has become clear even to some of them that what they are really saying is not so much that the Iraq war is bad (no one in Germany is complaining this loud about the slaughter in Darfur, for example), but that: We're better than Americans.
Germans love to see themselves as the morally correct-est people on earth.
The problem with that is: It's easy to be good and right if you don’t do anything. America was clearly wrong going into Iraq and Bush's current attempt to solve the Mideast problem is embarrassing. But the Germans have never tried to solve the problem in the Mideast and were more than willing to accept Saddam Hussein as long as it meant they didn’t have to do anything. While the Americans say they are not interested in what's going on in the world around them, they are still the only people on earth making a huge (and often hugely wrong) effort to change things. They are always talking about women's rights, but the percentage of women in business is lower than in most other countries in the western world. They often complain about the racial problems in the US, but the access that Turks have to German higher education is just as low as among Afro-Americans.
To be fair: The Germans are also among the highest contributors of money to charity organizations and to non-government organizations worldwide. But what does it take to get Germans out of their armchairs and onto the streets doing something about the mass injustices in the world? How many people worldwide have to die before German Talk becomes German Action?
Ah, just recently, the Germans have turned their Talk into Action. They got out of their chairs and have taken to the streets once more, for the first time since they protested the Iraq War. And what is it that has inspired them to action? Iraq? Iran? Darfur?
Of course not! What are you thinking. It's the smoking ban, silly
Over the past months – most recently here in Berlin – the German states have begun instituting a smoking ban in restaurants and bars. An all this took place about – hm, let me calculate there here – ten years after the rest of the western world has done it? Who says the Germans are a little bit slow?
It's the smoking ban that has enraged Germans more than I have seen for a long time. In Frankfurt, bar owners and their patrons took to the streets to protest in a series of "Monday Demonstrations". "Monday Demonstration", if you don't know, were the regular peaceful mass protest marches in East Germany that the communist government could not stop and that grew to such proportions that it finally brought down the regime and with it Communism. Monday Demonstrations were a major part of world history. I mean, big. So, what they're saying is: the smoking ban is just like a communist dictatorship. I'm sure politicians in Berlin are quaking in their boots, reserving open plane tickets to Argentina and generally counting the minutes before the government is brought it its knees.
But they don’t stop there. Some people have begun producing and wearing t-shirts with yellow stars on them with "smoker" written in the middle – the yellow star is of course the star that the Jews were forced to wear under Hitler. Yes, there are Germans who think the smoking ban is just as bad as the Holocaust. (On the other hand, maybe they know something I don’t know – was smoking allowed in the concentration camps?)
You might think this is all silly, of course, but for me, it touches my heart. It's been such a long time, you see, since Germans have found something they can really believe in.