Some Anti-Cynicism from Die Zeit

A welcome antidote to the half-hearted support for Coalition (and particularly American) efforts in Iraq of Frenchman Georges Suffert, discussed in my last €S posting, comes from Germany, and specifically from Richard Herzinger writing in Die Zeit: Der Moralismus des Zynikers, or “The Morality of the Cynic.” The key fact so often overlooked by Germans watching from the sidelines, Herzinger claims, is that, slowly but surely, real progress is being made in Iraq. Rather than view events through “the eyeglasses of an anti-imperialistic resistance-romanticism,” as he accuses many of his compatriots of doing – or worse, actively hoping for failure there, so that German resistance to the war against Saddam Hussein can in the end be proved “right” – Germans (and all Europeans) have a duty to support the occupation authorities to ensure that Iraq is ultimately rebuilt as prosperous and democratic, a goal which lies no less in the interest of the Old Continent as it does of America.

This is a welcome voice of support to hear, given the riots breaking out in the last few days in what had been the quiet British occupation sector around Basra. (The Guardian account in fact details the British Army’s increased exasperation with the lack of developmental help coming from the outside, which they see as directly responsible for the continuing shortages of fuel and electricity which sparked this recent unrest.) Yes, the Americans make mistakes, Herzinger writes, but the signs of progress there are unmistakable: Iraqis no longer have to live in fear under a police state, and the Iraqi economy is no longer hobbled by the plundering of autocrats in power or by crippled international trade as a result of UN sanctions. He might have added as well the profusion of newspapers and other publications, as Iraqis can now freely find out the news (not just the dictator’s version of it), express their opinions on it, and engage in public discussion via these new media. Then there is the Governing Council: not democracy itself, of course, but a good first step in that direction, and in any case the most-representative public authority that Iraq has enjoyed in a long, long time. I especially like Herzinger’s discussion of the first act of that Governing Council, which of course was to declare 9 April, the day of the fall of Baghdad, a holiday as a day of liberation; in contrast, he notes, German authorities did not acknowledge 8 May 1945 (the date of surrender of German forces at the end of World War II) as a day of liberation until 1986, when then-Bundespresident Richard von Weizsäcker did so in a commemorative speech before the Bundestag.

Yet many German intellectuals (ein erheblicher Teil – “a considerable portion” ) refuse to recognize this progress and fall back instead on a Schadenfreude (that is, gladness at the misfortune of others) that hopes that the “hated Bush-Americans” in Iraq will be taught a good, bloody lesson. “It is particularly contemptible,” he goes on to say, “because they [these intellectuals] issue this obstinate Schadenfreude as the expression of a morally-superior position.” Herzinger devotes much of his text to railing against one particular representative of what he considers these “contemptible intellectuals” – namely a certain Ivan Nagel, who wrote an article in the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung of Tuesday last week (I can’t find it on-line) which apparently gave expression to this Schadenfreude – but in any case his general point is clear. Basically, he has been (secretly?) reading up on NYT columnist Thomas Friedman on the side – namely, that the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime has presented the entire Middle East with its greatest opportunity for decades to create political freedom and prosperity, in a crucial state situated in the middle of the Arab world and Arab culture which, if it succeeds, will be an irresistible pattern for other Arab states. If Germans think that the Coalition effort there is in trouble, Herzinger writes, then the response should not be secret satisfaction but rather pitching in to help, perhaps guided on the way by a new UN resolution on Iraq that he claims is in preparation. And not only militarily: “logistical help, assistance for civil reconstruction, the dispatch of technicians, jurists, teachers, these are the thinkable possibilities for an active engagement.”

This is nice to read after the weekend’s French comment from Le Figaro. Indeed, whether Herzinger read M. Suffert’s piece or not, Der Moralismus des Zynikers I find to be nonetheless an apt reference to the Frenchman’s opinions.

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