Silly Schily II

29.10.2001

Weekly Review: Call it a Halloween Special. Otto Schily is baaack.

As early as the day of September 11 itself, a common refrain heard around the world was: Everything has changed. That all would be different from the moment those planes smashed into those buildings was immediately recognizable. But how would everything change? In what ways would everything be different? A few weeks ago, such questions were still up in the air. Now, a few answers at least are beginning to take shape.

On the home fronts of those countries that see themselves as targets of the al-Qaeda network and its sympathizers -- the US, obviously, its allies, and those assisting the international coalition in the "war on terrorism" -- the clamp-down in civil liberties has begun. Just days after 9/11, it was feared in the abstract. Now, the specifics are in. Give a perfunctory glance at the batch of anti-terrorism proposals either on the table or already on the books in the UK or France, or the bill President Bush just signed on Thursday in the US, and you might get the impression that American and European lawmakers are looking over each other's shoulders and copying from each other's work. One way or another, all these packages promise more listening on phone calls, more email interception and electronic surveillance in general, more unwarranted and arbitrary searches, tighter controls at the borders, redefinitions of who gets in and who stays out as well as what an acceptable religious group is or isn't, and a closer governmental eye on everyone's bank accounts.

But of course, each government has its own unique laundry list and Germany is no exception. It's now seen not one but two "security packages" from Interior Minister Otto Schily.

The example of Germany also demonstrates that each of these packages plays into a different cultural and historical context. There is a healthy sensitivity among Germans to all forms of state control which, for one thing, makes Schily's party affiliation rather important. In a way, he's a walking case of the "Nixon in China Syndrome." Just as only a Republican could have gotten away with dining with Mao, so, too, can only a Social Democrat (SPD) like Schily, a lawyer who once defended members of the RAF (Red Army Faction), get away with such silly slips as proposing a Europe-wide riot squad, or for that matter, posing for this photo. A conservative Christian Democrat (CDU) might have stood a decent chance of being howled out of office.

In a rather confrontational interview with Schily appearing in this week's Der Spiegel, the editors suggest in no uncertain terms that he is trampling on the German constitution with his new "second anti-terror package," and rubbing salt into the wound by granting the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution (BfV) the right to know "who has telephoned with whom when, who has written a letter to whom when -- all without judicial control."

The Greens, junior partners in the governing coalition led by Chancellor Schröder's SPD, have had their qualms about this package. Particular sticklers have been broad powers Schily proposed granting to the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) and the fingerprints he's wanted in all future passports. After a nine-hour meeting that stretched late into Saturday evening and probably only concluded because Schily was heading for India and China early Sunday morning, a compromise was found. Lack of judicial control? A misunderstanding, Schily now claims. Fingerprints? Let's just settle on some sort of "biometric control" and let the parliament argue out the details when they meet to deal with the proposal on November 7.

One can only hope parliamentarians might follow this train of thought: Unprecedented infringements on individual freedoms are being rammed through various congresses, propelled by the notion that these are unprecedented times. Well, unprecedented they are, but how long will they remain that way? Britain's Admiral Sir Michael Boyce has recently speculated that the military action in Afghanistan alone might last three to four years. As for the "war on terrorism" itself, oh, maybe 50 years?

No doubt about it, everything has indeed changed. We need to hold in mind what sort of society we want to be for a long, long time.

In Telepolis

Germany, Austria and Switzerland's Big Brother Awards were announced on Friday. As Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti writes of the German award, "Who could be surprised that the author of the anti-terror package, Interior Minister Otto Schily, would win the main prize this year?" The BB Awards are, of course, anti-awards, in the sense that Orwell transformed a term suggesting familial trust into one of fear and loathing.

Elsewhere

Researching an article for The New York Times Magazine on what makes suicide bombers tick, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Joseph Lelyveld traveled first to the Middle East but wound up in Europe: "I had taken in a lot in Gaza and Cairo, but it was in Hamburg where I really got a jolt," he writes. The result of his journey is a deeply disturbing sequence of encounters leading up to a consideration of the central point of contention between Otto Schily and his opponents: "A looming question, I was coming to believe as I walked around Hamburg, was how you smash terrorist networks in conditions of an open society, which allow them to operate on our ground far more confidently than they ever could on their own."

Earlier in the week, Schily was in Washington to discuss at least one terrorist cell based in Hamburg with US Attorney General John Ashcroft. That cell appears to have spawned all three pilots of all three planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon while three more suspects are now described as "fugitives." Click on the photo of Schily in this Associated Press report to watch a video of Schily's press briefing in English.

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