„Satire has no bounds“ is quoted by those who haven’t read Tucholsky with more vehemence than those who have read him. However, there is one thing that satire must not do: apologize!
Do you remember the film „Innocence of Muslims“? Segments of this amateurishly produced film were shared in 2012 on YouTube. Those shared segments led to violent demonstrations in several Arab countries. Militant extremists attacked American embassies and consulates. They said the film was a provocation because it insulted the prophet and all Muslims worldwide. The riots resulted in the deaths of at least thirty people, including the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens. All because of a satire, that in my opinion did not have a single punch line. It was the Islamists who were playing with fire!
And how did the Western world react? By apologizing!
In response to the film, the American government produced an apology clip, bought airtime in Pakistan and had it televised there. In the spot, shown on seven TV stations, the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed that the US government had „absolutely nothing“ to do with the „Islamophobic“ video. She added: „We absolutely reject the content and the message.“ In order to emphasize the official character, the spot ends with the emblem of the United States.
Hillary Clinton stated: „To us — to me personally — this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose — to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.“
Do you know the artwork „Piss Christ“? It dates back to 1987. It was made by the American artist Andres Serrano showing a crucifix floating in a glass filled with urine. No American president produced a filmed apology to reassure Christians. No American Secretary of State felt compelled to denounce the denigration of Christianity. Instead, the artwork won the „Awards in the Visual Arts“, sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Art. This center is funded by the United States government with tax money. Just imagine if there had been a „Piss Mohammed“. Who would have apologized?
In Germany, the SPD praised the apology from Obama and Clinton for the film „Innocence of Muslims“. Many journalists in Germany even suggested that the makers of the satire were complicit in the murders. Die Zeit wrote:
„Concerning the film, which was used as an excuse for the murder of Stevens, I can’t think of anything. Defending freedom of speech doesn’t mean that you have to defend this nonsense. Of course, it was a targeted hate attack. (…) Nowadays, even such an unspeakable idiot can set the world on fire.“
The Süddeutsche Zeitung even wrote:
„It is pointless to distinguish between offenders and victims. This time American extremists were the provocateurs and Islamist fanatics responded in like.“
Apologizing is the appeasement policy of the 21st century. In response to twelve Mohamed cartoons which were printed on 30 September 2005 in the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, violent demonstrations in the Islamic world resulted in the deaths of more than a hundred people. At the time, the German government did not apologize. On February 2, 2008, Interior Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble said:
„Why should the government apologize for freedom of the press? If the State intervenes, that would be the first step in limiting freedom of the press.“
However, apologetic appeasement has already set foot elsewhere. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated that „freedom of expression should be exercised responsibly and in a way that respects all religious beliefs“. During the next years, appeasement gets worse.
After satirists had been murdered in the editorial office of Charlie Hebdo by Islamic terrorists because they had lampooned Mohamed, Bernd Matthies alleged in Der Tagesspiegel, that Stéphane Charbonnier, editor of the weekly, is because of his stubbornness somehow complicit in his own murder. He also explained that Charbonniers may have „contributed to the escalation“ by reacting against „any protest, any threat and finally the 2011 arson attack with even sharper ridicule“.
In April 2016, the satirist Jan Böhmermann, wanted to show „where the boundaries of satire are in Germany” on his show Neo Magazine Royale, in reference to an earlier piece criticizing the Turkish President on the public television station, NDR. The Turkish government then summoned the German ambassador and demanded that Jan Böhmermann’s piece be censored. Mr. Böhmermann reacted with the following poem, which was emphasized as being defamatory and may therefore not be allowed to be broadcast in Germany:
„Incredibly dumb, cowardly and repressed,
That’s Erdogan, the president.
His breath stinks like Turkish döner,
Even pig farts smell better.
He’s the man who beats girls
And wears rubber masks in the act.
He enjoys fucking goats
And oppressing minorities.
Kicking Kurds, hitting Christians
And watching kiddie porn,
And even at night, instead of sleep,
He dreams of fellatio with a hundred sheep.
Yes, Erdogan is fully and completely
A president with a small dick.
One can hear Turks whistle:
The stupid pig has shrivelled balls.
From Ankara to Istanbul
Everyone knows, this man is queer,
Perverted, liced and zoophilie,
Recep, Fritzl Přiklopil.
His head is as empty as his balls.
He’s the star at every gang bang bash
Until his dick burns when he takes a leak:
That’s Recep Erdogan, the Turkish president.“
No question, the poem –out of context – feeds every anti-Turkish neo-Nazi troll and is probably shared on extreme right wing forums, as has unfortunately happened repeatedly on YouTube.
Jan Böhmermann’s poem does have a context. He is satirizing prejudice. With an abusive poem, he’s referring to a question which Kurt Tucholsky stated in the previous millennium, “What is allowed in satire?“ The public television station ZDF answered the question by removing the video from its online library. The chief prosecutor in Mainz also answered the question by initiating an investigation on the suspicion of insulting a foreign statesman, which can be punished by up to five years imprisonment, according to §103 of the Criminal Code. Even Chancellor Angela answered the question by phoning the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to explain that she agreed the poem about President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was „deliberately hurtful“.
More of an official response can hardly be given to the question „What is allowed in satire?“
Erdogan likes to take action against German satirists, be it Jan Böhmermann, extra 3 or the Carnival parade in Düsseldorf! In spring 2016, Jacques Tilly’s motto wagon in the Düsseldorf carnival parade was politically scandalous. Erdogan clinks mugs full of Kurdish blood with an Islamic State terrorist. The Turkish ambassador, Sule Gurel, demanded the wagon be either removed or „veiled“.
I personally would have preferred the two men be put under a burqa. The parade was postponed, but a few weeks later the carnival wagon was actually veiled.
The concealment was nothing more than another exaggeration by Jacques Tilly, which was no different from Böhmermann’s reading a libelous poem about Erdogan. The reactions were all acceptable. The ZDF is allowed to delete what it wants (freedom of the press), the prosecutor in Mainz must investigate allegations (legal security) and people may say what they want about Jan Böhmermann (freedom of expression). However, it’s not acceptable when the German Chancellor phones Erdogan to apologize for satire. She wasn’t voted into office for that. Satire is allowed everything except apologizing.