Kermit Snelson on Mon, 5 Nov 2001 19:53:15 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Der_Spiegel_Interview_with_Guenter_Grass


Interview with GŁnter Grass
Der Spiegel, 10 October 2001
http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/0,1518,161444,00.html
(Translated from German by Kermit Snelson)

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think this war is justified, Mr. Grass?

GŁnter Grass:  There's a politician who has described very cleverly how a
civil society should react to an attack like that on New York: civilly.  It
was Johannes Rau [currently Federal President of Germany -- trans.]

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  And how civil is this military attack?

GŁnter Grass:  Military attacks are never civil.  Dropping packages of food
doesn't obscure that fact.  What the UN had been accomplishing in that
country, together with other relief agencies, doing far more to alleviate
misery -- that was civil.  But now they can no longer be there or work
there, for fear of the attacks.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  Now even the Green Party is arguing for a limited military
strike.  The only party that hasn't is the PDS. [The PDS is the now renamed
party that ruled the former East Germany - trans.]

GŁnter Grass:  The PDS hardly gave it a second thought.  But the Greens
really struggled to reach the right decision, and I admire that.  And I
agree with their conclusion, although with qualifications.  The limited
strike must assume that bin Laden's whereabouts over the next 24 hours are
known.  That's very difficult, given the skill and mobility of his field
staff.  But striking out militarily at random, well after bin Laden has
already moved on, will hit innocent people.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  Do you distrust what we've been seeing on TV since Sunday
evening?

GŁnter Grass:  I'm afraid this will lead to exactly what's been already
announced: a constant state of war, lasting years, chasing villain after
villain and, in the parlance of the US government, rogue state after rogue
state.  There's no sense in supporting that.  I think military strikes are
ineffectual and can lead only to despair.  And despair leads to a failed
policy.  Four Afghan UN workers, who were working to clear mines left by the
last war, are now victims of such a failure.  But at least we knew their
names, their deaths were noticed.  The other deaths weren't.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  They're being reported now, however.

GŁnter Grass:  Not the ones who died before the bombing began, nor the ones
who are still dying because of this action, just not directly by bombs.
Even before the so-called retaliation began, the excessive deployment of
four aircraft carriers and troops in the region caused a situation that
itself killed people, every day.  It created millions of refugees:
children, women, elderly people.  It's not true that we've had no civilian
casualties to worry about until now.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  So far the military intervention has been considered
limited.

GŁnter Grass:  How do we know?  This military action has already
destabilized a very fragile region.  If you destabilize Pakistan, then India
will intervene in the Kashmir situation.  These things tend to spread.  I
used to think that America understood this, and that the more thoughtful
people, like Secretary of State Powell, had prevailed.  He learned in Iraq
what the effect of hitting the wrong targets can be.  But after Sunday
night, I changed my mind.  Now I think another false hit is entirely
possible.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  This military action started for a very concrete reason.
Namely, the attacks on New York and Washington.  Don't the USA and its
allies have the right to retaliate?

GŁnter Grass:  There can be absolutely no justification for these
unprecedented acts of terror against the American people.  That must be
stated unequivocally.  However, American policy must still be open to
criticism.  My sympathies are with the victims of terrorism, but nobody can
force me to express sympathy for the American government.  Not for any
government, even my own.  There's a difference.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  Well then, what are you accusing the US government of?

GŁnter Grass:  Bin Laden was trained and financed by the CIA, along with the
other Mujaheddin.  They did it deliberately as an operation against the
Soviet Union.  And that wasn't the only such case.  The CIA were for all
intents and purposes a terrorist group themselves, and assassinated
politicians.  That has to be recognized, and it doesn't make sense simply to
point fingers at others.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  That doesn't change the fact that Islamic terrorism is
currently a threat.

GŁnter Grass:  But US government has simply incorporated that into their
across-the-board division of the world into good and evil according to their
own perspective.  Even back when the USA and the USSR were playing the role
of global police, they were both over-extended.  Now there's only one
superpower left, but this has only increased their self-centeredness, their
slight regard for the rest of the world.

I've noticed this even among many of my good friends in the USA, very
intelligent people.  They see everything from the perspective of a world
power that has to keep everything under control.  Many Americans tend to
view everything primarily in terms of their own interests, which are mostly
economic interests.  But now, after justifiably condemning these terrorist
acts, American intellectuals are also starting to ask why their country is
so hated throughout the world.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  You're running the risk of being scolded by politicians,
just as Ulrich Wickert was after his criticism of George W. Bush.

GŁnter Grass:  Being scolded for criticizing America is complete nonsense.
I will come to Ulrich Rickert's defense.  The Indian author Roy, a fantastic
woman, made a very penetrating and accurate analysis from the perspective of
the Third World, as we condescendingly call it, in which she compared Bush
to Bin Laden.  Wickert quoted her, and it's his right to do so.  What's
wrong is to be constantly beaten over the head with this eternal objection
that any criticism of the United States amounts to anti-Americanism.  That's
not only silly and defamatory, but it's also false friendship.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  Wait a minute.  Criticizing America is an act of
friendship?

GŁnter Grass:  I consider myself a friend to many Americans and their
country.  And true friendship means that you try to keep friends from making
a mistake, and that you bring something to their attention if it can help
them avoid making or repeating one.  I consider such open criticism to be
loyalty.  If you write that off as anti-Americanism, the discussion stops.
We can't defend freedom if we curtail our own, especially freedom of speech.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  Isn't it necessary to put up with some restrictions on
freedom during times of crisis?

GŁnter Grass:  No.  As soon as we start curtailing our freedoms, we start
doing the terrorists' work.  The introduction of computer-aided profiling
[Rasterfahndung] is exactly the kind of disproportionate measure I'm talking
about.

We've already made this mistake once before during the wave of RAF [Red Army
Faction - trans.] terrorism here in Germany.  But the leading German
terrorists were captured because of their own mistakes, not because of
computer-aided profiling.  Such excessive measures only show a basic lack of
confidence in ourselves and in the rule of law.  And so, in the wake of
these new terrorist attacks, we are creating new injustices.  Countless
people who have committed no criminal act are being detained.  We're living
with violations of our Constitution every day.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  You're currently planning forums on the North-South
conflict for the Berlin Academy of Arts.  What's that about?

GŁnter Grass:  It's to avenge the fact that people like Willy Brandt have
never been listened to.  Nevertheless, he managed after his Chancellorship
to achieve pioneer status as chairman of the North-South Commission.  In
that capacity he compiled two definitive reports that were ignored.

In these reports, Brandt presented a precise analysis and prediction:  once
the East-West conflict is resolved, the North-South conflict will be upon
us.  He also called for a new domestic policy and a new world economic
order, neither of which has ever been implemented.  He argued that Third
World countries should be treated equitably.  But none of that ever
happened.  And we have to regard these sins of omission as among the primary
causes of the terrorism that we're now experiencing.  Even in countries that
have repudiated terrorism, there's a growing rage against the rich countries
and their leader, the USA.  And this rage, stemming from frustration, is
justified.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  Do you see Willy Brandt as a forgotten visionary?

GŁnter Grass:  Absolutely.  I was there in New York when Willy Brandt spoke
before the UN, the first time a German Chancellor had ever done so.  He
said, "Hunger is war, too."  The audience applauded this remark, but its
full import was not understood.  We Germans, with our pathetic levels of
foreign development aid, didn't understand it either.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Americans are now saying that they're dropping
humanitarian aid along with the bombs, and that they've allocated 320
million dollars for that purpose.

GŁnter Grass:  That's fine, but it's still less aid than was being
distributed before.  And unfortunately they're doing it because they're
under a certain amount of pressure.  Exactly for the same reason that
they're only now paying off the shameful amount of dues to which they're in
arrears to the UN.  They're doing it to gain support for their military
operation.  It's cynical.  But I hope it leads to more.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  For example?

GŁnter Grass:  One thing that's urgently needed is to convene a world
economic conference based on Willy Brandt's North-South reports and
dedicated to the consequences of globalization.  That process has primarily
damaged the nations of the South.  If we ignore this issue, we'll never be
free of terrorism.  Military action and criminal investigations won't
overcome these problems, and computer-aided profiling certainly won't
either.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  But these terrorists are obviously well-off and not at all
concerned about hunger or material living conditions.  Their causes are
political injustice and the frustration of the Palestinians.

GŁnter Grass:  Acting to diminish that frustration would be a good policy.
As long as there's a cause for this growing hate, as long as this rage and
partially justified revolt continue, nothing will change.  That means Israel
must find the courage to end its decades-long policy of occupation.

But it's not enough for Israel to evacuate the occupied areas.  The seizure
and Israeli settlement of Palestinian land are criminal acts.  They must be
not only stopped, but reversed.  Otherwise, there will never be peace there.
Israel must meet these requirements.  Continuing today's "eye for an eye,
tooth for a tooth" policies will only escalate the anger further and ensure
an endless series of future Bin Ladens.

SPIEGEL ONLINE:  Criticism of Israel is generally considered taboo in
Germany.

GŁnter Grass:  I think it's a proof of my friendship for Israel that I allow
myself to criticize that country -- because I want to help it.  In doing so,
I'm in solidarity with my Israeli colleague Amos Oz and many friends in
Israel who are doing the same thing.  What's got to stop is criticizing the
very act of criticism.  That's just as stupid as dismissing any criticism of
the war in Afghanistan as "anti-American."  After all, America is defending
freedom.  And freedom begins with freedom of speech.


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