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Böhmermann Scandal: When The Right For Satire Is Killed In Germany

ICE Graveyard 15/04/2016 Oliver Kalkofe

Question of the day: Should Jan Böhmermann go to jail?

  • Because he's said such nasty things about the respectable Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?
  • Because instead of subtle satire he's delivered a verbal spew of fecal humor?
  • Because he's finally deserves it, that vain jerk?

And the second question: Was Böhmermann's poem satire, or not?

Is it permissible to name a sympathetic Turkish Grand Mufti a "goat-f*ck*r," without real evidence of a possible sexual liaison? (In order to avoid further complaints and any Facebook blocking, the two vowels of a dirty word have been replaced with a *. Place two vowels of your choosing there, try "u" and "e" or some other combination...)

Is such concatenation, nasty, racist vulgarity artistic, or simply vulgar speech?

Okay... let's figure this out: Hello! I don't give a damn!

The completely absurd state-affair surrounding the barely significant poetic and verbal derailments of a thin, pale boy is perhaps the most bizarre, frightening and -- in my opinion -- dangerous discussion regarding free speech we've encountered in a long time.

What is happening here is tragically common... the reactions are just unbelievable, sad, very stupid, and not thought out.

First and foremost:

It is utterly unimportant what any individual thinks about Böhmermann's poem. It is equally unimportant, whether it is a satire or not. Because: it is deliberately hurtful, mean and qualitatively speaking, it is by no means a grandiose pole vault. Nor should it be regarded as such.

The satirical platforms throughout history have never been absurd, repeatedly recited, and completely unimportant poems, but the actions they provoke. And these resultant actions have been completely left out of the discussions surrounding this event.

This is what resulted:

In an attempt to comment on the steaming outrage caused by the well-composed satirical Erdoğan song (created by the German TV station Extra 3), and the resulting outrageous request by the Turkish President that the German government should banish or forbid these kind of attacks, German comedian and TV presenter Böhmermann further stoked the fire by declaring that freedom of speech, free expression of one's opinion and satire is, like it or not, very well accepted in Germany.

This was not a malicious defaming-criticism, it was only meant to be an insult -- just like the quoted Erdoğan Poem, which Böhmermann distanced himself from afterwards.

Clearly -- the poem was only meant as a provocation. Without a doubt.

And only as a provocation, which raises a verbal middle-finger in rightful indignation towards a raging despot and says:

"Listen carefully, Rumpelstiltskin, you can rage and foam at the mouth angrily, because you think your supposed petty-narrow-minded honor has been tarnished, and you feel insulted -- fortunately we live in a land in which humor isn't prohibited yet, where we can speak freely. And we do it skillfully, we can make you even angrier, without even needing to offend you so obviously. For this is at the core of satire and free speech!"


It's just disappointing that this game works at a meta-level that was apparently a little too high-brow for most people, who only saw the (easier emotionally actionable) libel in the poem. The fact that such a cheap provocation and cheap toilet humor could work at a higher level was not easily imagined.

The reaction of ZDF and Angela Merkel, who unconsciously (in fact, ignorantly) approached the outraged strong man with hurried submissiveness, was the deadly sting in the heart of satire and free-speech, which they both have purported to defend.

Prematurely and with ill-consideration they said as much as:

"Yes, dear Mr. E, personal savior in the refugee crisis, you are quite right: satire and freedom of speech must have their limits, government and media must wield their influence. Every freedom always ends right where we don't get the joke. In that regard, we aren't that different from each other, right? Btw, perhaps we could have a few more refugees? And if Turkey doesn't make it into the EU, could we perhaps join you? (Winky-smiley-face)."

Once again, to be clear: Must you like the action of Böhmermann?


You're allowed to find his actions crappy, or a complete failure. You're also allowed to welcome and celebrate the poem as a clever satirical coup.

It doesn't matter.

You may like, dislike, love, hate, or not waste your breath on Böhmermann. You may think the poem is funny, terrible, witty, disgusting, or whatever you want.

Honestly: You should think the poem is disgusting and offensive -- it was planned and intended to have that effect!

But: You may not make a state affair of Böhmermann over your feelings towards it.

You may not accuse him, or like a politician, open the possibility of a trial against him -- because this would not be a process about a possible insult/defaming criticism towards a person, but it would be about the right to satire and freedom of speech, which then could be prohibited if the addressee of a joke simply did not understand the joke.

ZDF and the German government may, of course, comment that they abhor the content of the joke and distance themselves from it -- everyone has that right -- but they must admit that location counts, and here we have the fundamental right of freedom of speech and satire.

It's even possible to apologize for a misunderstanding, but not for the situation! What is happening here is tragically common... the reactions are just unbelievable, sad, very stupid, and not thought out.

Actually, it's almost funny in its absurdity, but will it be funny, when the right for satire is killed?

This post first appeared on HuffPost Germany. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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