Brought to you by the same folks who brought to the world the concept of Gleichschaltung as government policy, this observation by the German interior minister: freedom of opinion is not without boundaries. And because Beschimpfung of religions is prohibited there (understandably, given the particulars of their history), the government’s just going to have to examine very carefully whether this hack-assed film about Mohammed is going to be permitted to be shown in Germany, either on a nation-wide basis or locally on a case-by-case basis. For the moment at least they’re not thinking in terms of a blanket prohibition. But locally, where “Sicherheit” (security) and “Ordnung” (jeez; talk about dog whistle words) may be endangered by permitting the film’s showing, there may be implications from the perspective of German law on freedom of assembly.
Well, that’s a comfort. Got that? We’re not going to restrict your speech; we’re just going to prohibit you from speaking publicly to more than a person or three at a time. Gotta have our Sicherheit and Ordnung, after all.
And here’s where the word Beschimpfung (the noun) and its definition become rather important. Duden, Germany’s analogue of the OED, a copy of which I happen to have in arm’s reach, gives two definitions for beschimpfen, the verb. The first is to denigrate “mit groben Worten” — “with coarse words”; the second is simply “beleidigen” — “to insult.” But the latter is not, in practice, synonymous with the former. To illustrate, if one publicly observed that the present occupant of the White House is with the arguable exception of Warren G. Harding the least qualified — experientially, mentally, and morally — person to hold that office ever, that he only holds it by result of a very concerted effort to blot from the public sphere all hard information on his personal actions, associations, and background, and that in office he’s run an administration that is every bit as personally corrupt as Harding’s, that’s an insult. Happens to be true, but it’s still defamatory (remember that untruth is not an element of defamation; truth is an affirmative to defense to what’s unquestionably defamatory). But if one were to go all amended to read: Sen. Byrd on our present Dear Leader, using every epithet that 300 years of racial animosity have cooked up, that’s to denigrate with coarse words.
It is easily understandable why Germany would prohibit the Beschimpfung of particular religions. We did, after all, hang the editor-in-chief of Der Stürmer at Nuremberg, and that little rag was about little other than Beschimpfung of Judaism and Jews. But it is simply logically indefensible to equate a film showing in an unfavorable light a specific historical personage who’s been dead for nearly 1,300 years with Der Stürmer or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. If that were true then every book, film, play, or speech denigrating Jesus (and those are enormously popular, in Germany as here) would likewise need to be suppressed.
Oh, but there’s a difference, you see. Piss Christ can stay on public display until it rots, and the Christians of any country will not slice off anyone’s head, nor burn anyone’s embassy, nor torch any quarter of a city. The difference is that the adherents of one particular religion, and only one, will do all those things and more. When they annihilate Ordnung, it’s not they who ought to be rinsed off the streets with water cannon, it’s we who should shut up, stay at home, and mind our p’s and q’s.
What this sort of reaction from the forces of public decency does is teach a lesson: The lesson it teaches is not “respect for all peoples and cultures.” It teaches the much simpler lesson that Violence Works. Two words, very easy to absorb and utterly destructive of civil society. Violence Works. If you teach it long enough, and provide full-color, live-on-your-television-screen tutorials in it often enough, you get entire slices of your population who internalize it, for whom a nice riot in the streets is precisely the way to get what you wish from someone who’s not legally or morally obliged to give it to you. When the slices of the population carrying that lesson in their souls get big enough, you get 1933. You get the Sicherheitsdienst (the SD, which was the SS’s foreign-service counterpart to the Gestapo) and the Ordnungspolizei, a key player in the domestic surveillance culture.
You get Gleichschaltung.