These past days a dissonant voice has been heard about the buzz that has been settling down in Europe during the past nearly four years. An unwritten rule is broken. Günter Grass, former member of the SS and Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, has published a poem about current tense situation between Israel and Iran. It has not taken long for an avalanche of criticism from all sectors, both Israeli and German, to appear. The Iranians may not have been even aware (consequences of censorship to which they are submitted on behalf of the “Loudmouth” and company…), otherwise they would have also entered the judgment to the poem.
The poem in question, “What must be said” is entitled, is available here.
It was an issue that struck me while reading the newspaper. My first impression was: “I think it’s great. The appropriate title. Israel, as the little brother and protegée of that in charge (who put it in charge?) to ensure world peace, generally receives few and timid criticism of its actions and policies. The poem can make the audience rethink the positions taken”. It challenges the hypothetical Israeli preemptive strike on Iran. Under my view, it is justified to question any preemptive strike, because if a preemptive strike was always justified, it would be equally justified preemptive action to prevent pre-emptive strike (“- Right, call me loop! – Can you tell me why?” ). The logical thing, or at least so it seems to me, is that someone in favor of nuclear disarmament and self-confessed in favor of the rejection of any action against it abets the International Community to initiate those actions necessary to end this type of arsenals, punish any state sponsoring them, etc. In this sense, Israel cannot be considered as the perfect banner to lead a process of nuclear disarmament. “You want me to take off my tie, well, you take it off first,” seems logical.
The problem comes when our argument inadvertently rests on two pillars of questionable strength. It is not because the argument is justified with two misleading ideas. But for two circumstances (in my opinion are circumstances), one implicit, one explicit, that cloud a message that in the mouth of a, let’s say, Australian, it would still be something objective and perhaps somewhat legitimate to someone who is alien to the conflict: the origin of authorship, and a too brief and inadequate adjective “Loudmouth” was “the party of of the second part”.
Starting with the explicit fact stated in the text that has squandered the message proposed by Grass, that of the ”the party of of the second part”, it is not enough to call Ahmadinejad a “loudmouth”. A character that systematically denies the Holocaust cannot be called loudmouth. A character who thinks (no matter the state under this view) that either state “is a cancer that must be extirpated” cannot be called loudmouth. A dictator who applies extreme censorship to his people cannot be called loudmouth. Maybe Mr. Günter Grass has planned to write a “What must be said too”, not precisely “shedding praise” -ironically- on the man with a Persian carpet in the head (and if he has not thought about it yet, after seing the consequences of this poem, somebody will get him to write it…), or maybe it is that “loudmouth” is the most savage description that a refined and renewed German intellectual can think about to include in a poem. If so, everything would be solved by giving him the entire collection in paperback format, so he can read it constantly without his being afraid to mess up the covers, of Don Camilo’s classics (José Cela), including a manual on anal absorption. Then he would learn to do literature using terms more adjusted to reality, some nonchalance verbal and scatological lexicon. Maybe, some time ago, politicians thought the same of a monster called Adolf Hitler, “Oh, that’s a loudmouth more…” And here I link to the origin of the authorship of the poem.
Any representation, whatever its format and intensity, against Israel and from a Germanic origin will INEVITABLY awake ghosts of the past. Even more if the source is related to Nazi Germany during World War II. This is a fact. It is the burden on the German people since 1945. It is not enough asuming they condemn the Holocaust.
In “El País” (a Spanish newspaper) there is an article where you will find the different reactions after the poem was published.
“It is deplorable that someone like Günter Grass proves to have learned nothing [about German history],” he was criticized. To me, on the other hand, I find it deplorable that we continue to preserve this view of the problem and we have not changed anything.
In a way, I feel bound to Germany. I like german people. It’s amazing the ability of that society, twice destroyed in half a century, and today, outstanding as the float of a Europe adrift by the current crisis. It is true that the people I interacted with (yes, I know, that was not so much, so often or so long…) does not fit the profile of Günter Grass and therefore they might have a very different opinion in all aspects, but all of them are supporting the same burden and serve the same sentence. Of course there is taboo. German society is lifetime censored on certain issues and that what Günter Grass is writing about. West, as he says, suffers from a ridiculous hypocrisy. It has nothing to do with the Jewish people. It has nothing to do with the cultures or people anywhere. Let’s read the message with a filter to “hide its authorship”. Günter Grass has possibly spent much time building and digesting many thoughts about Israel policies (as other countries). But because of this censorship, that burden, that taboo that does exist in Germany towards Israel, has never seen the light. It might have had something to do with it that endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which the International Community, Europe, United States, in short, the West, they have washed their hands. That is the hypocrisy Günter Grass criticizes. And it is then, the moment when the little brother keeps insisting that it is necessary to act, while the older brother, finally free of a “redneck” being in the lead, insists on exhausting diplomatic channels, when Mr. Grass’ last ink has popped the pressure cooker.
From today, Günter Grass is persona non grata in Israel, as stated by the Israeli Minister of Interior. “Grass’s poems are an attempt to ignite the fire of hatred toward the State of Israel and the Israeli people and to advance the ideas of which he was a public partner when dressed in the uniform of the SS” he says. I read the poem again and again and can not find the attack on the Jewish people. I do see, however, victimization and personalization (one more) of people (the Jews, in this case, although the example could fit perfectly for the mulsil or christian community, etc.) who, at least partially, does not justify or share any bellicose policies of their (political) leaders. It is unfortunate that the only way the political caste has to respond to criticism of its policies and justify their actions is transforming those political attacks into an attack on people, on an identity.
Surely there are many talking heads at the moment who have raised similar questions. Perhaps, some from ignorance and others from true knowledge, will conclude that the International Community has exceeded the consent of certain attitudes and policies. Can it be that infinitely hard childhood lived by this little brother is evolving into a spoiled and pampered teenager? Is it right the roughly unconditional support as a tribute to the damage sufferef? Do I have the right to speak out against?
The Literature Nobel laureate in 1996 and ex-SS will have time to explain himself, for sure, in the coming days, on his criticism to Israel, the “trivialization” of the crimes of World War II and his slovenliness when sentencing the Loudmouth. Meanwhile, we, far outside the conflict, will mature the idea and try to process it and squeeze it as much as we can…