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Gunter Grass and the Freedom of Speech


I really don’t want to deal with politics, but again I have to speak my mind. This time about the infamous poem of Gunter Grass, apparently most known for being a German intellectual and a former member of a Waffen Panzer division. And now also for confusing Israel and Iran (at least it seems like that for me).

Now, Grass has received a lot of criticism for his latest poem, where he accuses Israel for being a thread against world peace, posing a threat against the Iranian people, possibly wiping out the whole population of Iran, as well as other like accusations. Needlessly to say, Israel didn’t take this light, nor did many other reactions show too much of support for Grass’ thoughts as they were expressed in the poem.

Of course I have my thoughts on his poem, and on his stance as well, especially his confusion of who wants to eradicate who, having Israel threaten to attack targets in Iran, true, but never threatening, as Iran has, to “wipe of the country of the map.” But that’s not so much my focus here. My focus is more on the reactions, some of which I find wise, and others I find, well, less wise. Okay, not wise at all.

One thing is the reactions against his poem. That is fine and well, I sincerely do believe that his poem and thoughts should be reacted to. Another thing is the demand to censure him or – as is the case now here in Israel, after Eli Yishai’s rather childish reaction – to prohibit him to enter.

One of the foundations of Democracy is free speech. That freedom should be given to anybody, whether one agrees with them or not, also Gunter Grass. He is in his full right to express his opinion, no matter how wrong or stupid we might find it, as well as we are in our full right to react to his opinions and statements. That is what creates a healthy debate in democracies. If we disagree with a person, then it should be expressed orally. Therefor it goes counter to what we believe in, when we believe in the freedom of speech and Democracy. That is one thing.

Prohibiting Grass from entering Israel is not only childish, it is also stupid. Rather instead he should be invited to Israel, so he could see for himself how life really is here. Instead we prevented ourselves (or Yishai did) to show him that he is wrong, to instead maybe even cause him to think that he actually is right. If Israel doesn’t have anything to hide (and here I’m not thinking about security matters or the like), then we shouldn’t prevent people from seeing the country and the society, no matter how twisted and wrong their views might be, especially not if that is the case. If they indeed are honest, then they will admit their erroneous views, as for exampel was the case for Nicky Larkin.

I’m against silencing people, no matter how annoying I find them, how much I disagree with them, or how much I have to shake my head in disbelieve caused by their lack of knowledge of simple facts (or refusing to acknowledge them). They are not being shown their errors by trying to silence them, rather that would enforce them in their believe that they are right. They are being shown their errors by pointing out their errors. This is the way a Democracy deals with differing opinions.

1 Comment

  1. john ulvang says:

    great points all, thanks for the sanity!

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