[Reader-list] tariq ali in counterpunch
ravis at sarai.net
Wed Oct 31 11:06:44 IST 2001
Germany's Green Police State
Busted in Munich
By Tariq Ali
At 7am, on 29 October I was arrested at the Munich airport. After a day of
interviews and book-signings and another two spent at a Goethe Institute
seminar (on 'Islam and the Crisis'), I was exhausted and desperate for a cup
of coffee. I checked in. Soon my hand-luggage was wending its way through
the security machine. No metal objects were detected, but they insisted on
dumping its contents on a table.
Newspapers, dirty underpants, shirts, magazines and books tumbled out in
full view. Since news always reaches Germany a day after it has appeared in
the US press, I thought the locals might be unaware of FBI and CIA briefings
to the effect that Bin Laden or Iraqi complicity in the anthrax scare was
extremely unlikely and were on the look-out for envelopes containing powder.
There were no envelopes of any sort in my bag.
The machine-minder brushed aside the copies of the Sud-Deutsche Zeitung
(SDZ), the International Herald Tribune and Le Monde Diplomatique. He
appeared to be very interested in the Times Literary Supplement and was
inspecting my scribbled notes on the margin of a particular book review.
I suggested that if he wanted my views on the present crisis he could read
them in German in the SDZ which had published an article of mine. I pointed
it out to him.
He grasped the text eagerly and then, in a state of some excitement, rushed
it over to the armed policeman.
Then his eyes fell on a slim volume in German which had been handed to me by
a local publisher. Since I'd had no time to flip through the volume, it was
still wrapped in cellophane.
The offending book was an essay by Karl Marx, 'On Suicide'. It was the
reference to suicide that had gotten the policemen really excited. They
barely registered the author, though when they did real panic set in and
there were agitated exchanges.
I was slightly bemused by the spectacle, waiting for them to finish so I
could read the morning papers. This was not to be. The way they began to
watch me was an indication of their state of mind. They really thought they
had got someone.
My passport and boarding card were taken from me, I was rudely instructed to
re-pack my bag, minus the crucial 'evidence' (SDZ, the TLS and the offending
text by Marx), after which I was escorted out of the departure area and
taken to the police HQ at the airport.
On the way there the arresting officer gave me a triumphant smile. 'After
September 11, you can't travel with books like this', he said. 'In that
case', I replied, 'perhaps you should stop publishing them in Germany or
better still burn them in public view.'
Inside the HQ another officer informed me that it was unlikely I'd be
boarding the BA flight and they would make inquiries about later departures.
At this point my patience evaporated and I demanded to use a phone.
'Who do you want to ring?'
'The Mayor of Munich', I replied. 'His name is Christian Ude. He interviewed
me about my books and the present crisis on Friday evening at the Hugundubel
bookshop. I wish to inform him of what is taking place.'
The police officer disappeared.
A few minutes later another officer (this one sported a beard) appeared and
beckoned me to follow him. He escorted me to the flight which had virtually
finished boarding. We did not exchange words.
On the plane a German fellow-passenger came and expressed his dismay at the
police behaviour. He told me how the policeman who had detained me had
returned to boast to other passengers of how his vigilance had led to my
It was a trivial enough episode, but indicative of the mood of the Social
Democrat-Green alliance that rules Germany today. It is almost as if many of
those who currently in power are trying desperately to exorcise their own
While Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was in Pakistan insisting that there
could be no pause in the bombing and that the war of attrition would
continue, his Minister for Interior, Otto Schilly, was busy masterminding
the new security laws, which threaten traditional civil liberties. Schilly,
once a radical lawyer and a friend of the generation of 1968, first acquired
public notoriety when he became the defense lawyer for the Red Army Faction,
an urban terrorist network active in the Seventies. It was said at the time
that he also supported their activities.
In 1980 Schilly joined the Greens and was their key spokesman in the fight
against the stationing of Cruise and Pershing missiles in Germany. In 1989
he moved further by joining the Social Democrats. Today he is busy
justifying extra powers to the police and infusing a sense of 'realism' in
his Green coalition partners. One of the "realist" proposals being discussed
is granting jurisdiction to the Federal Office for the Protection of the
Constitution (the German equivalent of the FBI) so that it has the right to
spy on individuals it suspects of working against the 'causes of
international understanding or the peaceful coexistence of nations.'
And since in the debased coinage of the present 'peaceful coexistence of
nations' includes waging war against some of them, I suppose that my
experience was a tiny dress-rehearsal for what is yet to come.
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