British Delegation Finds Germany a Hotbed of Arrogance and Prejudice
delegation of British human rights leaders, recently returned from Germany has reported finding a volume of official arrogance and politically-endorsed intolerance that was both “astonishing” and “perplexing.”
The five-man committee—two members of the House of Lords, accompanied by professors of philosophy and sociology and a religious scholar—say they were astonished by the stark contrast between what they personally observed and the blunt German denial of the same facts.
Despite clear evidence gained throughout the tour of widespread violations of international human rights agreements to which Germany is a signatory, officials interviewed by the delegation all maintained that there was “no discrimination” in Germany.
And they say they were perplexed because no one, not even the German officials with whom they spoke, was able to explain why such disruptive social conditions are not only not addressed, but are actually fostered from within Germany’s major political parties.
Although the committee did not fully resolve this issue, its report states that “It is worth noting that in September 1996, the former Minister of Justice, Sabina Leuthheusser-Schnarrenburger, criticised proposed measures specifically against Scientologists as a tactic to set aside ’constitutional principles, the rule of law, [and] the restriction of the authority of the state’ in order to erode individual rights and introduce a ’thought police’ in Germany.”
“In other words,” the committee noted, “the former Federal Justice Minister is saying that the attacks against the sects are simply a device to dismantle constitutional safeguards for all Germans.”
The committee felt that this at least was a plausible explanation for what is otherwise an inexplicably irrational and unconstitutional campaign condoned by the German government.
Old Churches Off the Mark
The delegation consisted of Lord McNair and Lord Hylton, Professor Anthony Flew, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Reading University, Dr. Dennis O’Keefe, senior lecturer in the Sociology of Education at the University of North London, and David Rosser-Owen, a writer and lecturer on religious affairs.
As the “Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate Discrimination Against Religious and Ethnic Minorities in Germany,” the delegation was formed in response to the serious criticism of Germany’s recent human rights record in documents such as the 1994 and 1995 reports to the UN by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Application of the Declaration on Eliminating all Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Conviction, and a 1995 publication by Human Rights Watch/Helsinki entitled “Germany for Germans—Xenophobia and Racist Violence in Germany.” (See “United Nations Condemns Germany Again,”.)
The investigating committee visited Germany in September and interviewed representatives of 17 minority groups which have experienced politically-motivated discrimination, and also met with officials from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the Ministry of Justice.
The committee also investigated evidence that much of the hysteria generated to discourage people from looking for new approaches to spirituality comes from the state-supported Catholic and Lutheran Churches, which have been suffering declining attendance for years. Evidence of their concern is that they have appointed at least 140 “sect priests” whose entire function is to disseminate negative, generalised propaganda about “sects” throughout Germany.
Despite the prior reports of human rights abuses, the published report of the investigating committee begins by stating that its members felt “completely unprepared for the sheer scale of prejudice, discrimination and even persecution which our witnesses recounted.”
The committee also expressed surprise “at the millions of DM and the thousands of man hours that are being poured into this campaign against minority religions.”
“Our inescapable conclusion,” continues the report, “is that the might of the state and church apparatus has been brought to bear on these minority religions and an uneven playing field has been created in an attempt to destroy them.”
The committee found that many of the groups persecuted in Germany are acknowledged in other parts of the world for their good works.
The Christian Church of Cologne, for example, is a Charismatic Christian church whose religious doctrine is no different to that of “several well-loved churches in England” according to the report. Yet here they have been targeted as an extremist “sect,” and after a relentless campaign in the media they received bomb threats, members were threatened with being shot, and one of their clergy was actually attacked by a man with a knife.
The Cologne authorities have also issued a “de-registration order” to retract the church’s tax-exempt status, claiming that “they did not contribute to the cultural, religious, social or spiritual value of German society.” Yet the church has been ministering to the people of Cologne for many years and has an average weekend attendance of 1,200 people—a significant size congregation of German citizens who apparently feel that their spiritual needs are being cared for.
Germany Out of Step
One of the groups visited were German adherents of Sri Chinmoy, a Hindu philosopher, athlete and meditation teacher whose followers seek to spread a world peace message through literature, art, music and athletics and through meetings with world leaders.
Members visited by the investigating committee provided evidence of discrimination including concert venues and sporting facilities being closed to them without explanation. One sports centre, for example, even forbade them to use its shower facilities even though the group had organised a local marathon.
The Sri Chinmoy representatives met by the delegation presented letters of greeting and welcome to their founder from leaders around the world. Pope Paul VI told Sri Chinmoy, “This meeting of ours has been most essential. Your message and my message are the same.” And Pope John Paul II wrote, “I am very grateful for your visit. God Bless You and all your contemplative activities.” The message from German leaders is so diametrically opposite as to be irrational.
The British team also interviewed two distinguished German academics – Professor Loew from the University of Bayreuth and Professor Krumholz from the University of Berlin. Both expressed consternation and dismay over the intolerance at large in Germany. Both felt that the accusations levelled against minority religions in Germany are witch hunts which are echoes from the 1930s.
Officials met by the committee emphatically denied any comparison with Germany’s dark past. Yet the committee noted striking parallels. And with officials who seemed unable to concede that discrimination existed at all in Germany, the committee expressed an “inescapable feeling” of what the officials concerned actually felt: “Hitler got it wrong in the way he dealt with sects, but we have not. We are setting about it in a strictly legal way.”
“Skinheads in Nice Suits”
The committee also met the Chairman of the National Council for Jews, Mr. Ignatz Bubis, at the Bundestag (German parliament).
The committee asked Bubis to comment on reports in the British press shortly after reunification that indicated a steady rise in attacks by skinheads against foreigners, foreign workers [gastarbeiters], asylum seekers and the disabled. Bubis said the number of actual skinheads was in fact very low, and the real danger in Germany are the “skinheads in nice suits"—referring to the famous quote by author Gunter Grass. The level of support for anti-Zionist ideology has increased greatly in the past few years, he said, but rather than openly supporting fascist ideas, these people talk about “law and order.”
As examples of anti-Zionist voices in Germany today, Bubis mentioned Professors Vuemann and Nolte, both historians at the University of Berlin. Nolte, said Bubis, wrote a book about the Nazi party in which he said that the Jews “declared war on Hitler,” and that the policy of killing ten Jews in retaliation for the death of one German soldier was “perfectly justified.”
The report concludes that its purpose “is to provide constructive criticism and doable recommendations, so the German government, being at the centre of dynamics which are unique and have a long tradition, can see where it can improve. Only then can it correct itself and those under its charge and become effective in building a strong base for democratic stability and progress for the 21st Century in an increasingly ‘smaller’ Europe where we, more and more, depend on, and have to be able to trust, each other.”