Jürgen Todenhöfer– the hero we deserve (and the one we need right now)

In the most daring, death-defying move of journalism the world has seen over the last five years, German author, politician, journalist and peace-advocate Jürgen Todenhöfer travelled the ‘Islamic State’ for a whole week. Now – having risked his life while reporting from the most murderous region of the world – Mr. Todenhöfer is being attacked by the German press. The man who was not satisfied with an outside view has to fend off some incredible accusations.

Spiegel magazine (German term for mirror) called the journalist an “IS-propagandist” in a recently published article. And as mirrors do, they twisted around right and left completely.

They dare attack a man, who defended the actual, peaceful message of the Quran to the faces of IS-fighters – while in the ‘Islamic State’. The dare refer to the man who showed his personal condemnation for IS-atrocities (while in the ‘Islamic State’), an “IS-propagandist”. In w91kwvubmselritten and video form, Todenhöfer documented his travels. His book “Inside IS – 10 Tage im Islamischen Staat” is one huge condemnation of the twisted IS ideology. But it is not just that. It details, in an impressively calm and collected tone, the organisation of daily life in the ‘caliphate’. It details with meticulous attention how Daesh fighters try to justify the ‘Islamic State’s’ inhumane practices of slavery, segregation and glorified murder. It gives us all an inside view into the army of terror. And in every single shocking and drenching chapter, Jürgen Todenhöfer formulates a massive attack on IS practices and ideologies. The author (who deserves more than just being called ‘journalist’) would later go on to pen a moving, rationally and emotionally unsettling open letter to the Caliph of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

He made himself a target for Islamic terrorists by openly calling for their condemnation by all. How so? As opposed to almost all other criticism against ISIS (which is of course justified) he not only condemns the human rights infringements of a brutal terror-regime, but attacks the sickening ideology from multiple fronts. He calls out brutal practices (some of which were only brought to public attention through his reporting) tears apart the blatant religious hypocrisy and doesn’t rely on emotional assessment to create one of the strongest criticisms of ISIL to date. Jürgen Todenhöfer’s work against the Islamic State is the strongest argument to come out of the international community. It is, because he doesn’t just echo old arguments of moral superiority. He voices what no other person can voice, with the exception of his two admirable travelling companions. He voices the horror of actually living inside IS.

It was his book that convinced me that this new crusade against civilisation is the biggest threat to the world since the National Socialist party of Germany. It was also his book that shocked me and shook me – how can the global community stand by and watch, while 500,000 civilians lose their lives over just three years? How can the global community stand by and watch, while thousands are sold into slavery? How can The United States of America and the Russian Federation insist on haggling for the Syrian throne? How can we, as Europeans (and Germans in my case) just echo the US policy in this brutal war? Dropping 25,000 bombs over just one year will not solve anything. Alienating the people of the Middle East will not solve anything. Todenhöfer’s book brings up one essential fact:

The fear of Russian and US air raids allows ISIL to portray themselves as the saviour of the Sunni population. They paint themselves as the defenders of religion, fighting against Christian crusaders.

And there are thousands of Sunni Muslims who resist the straglehold of the brutal IS ideology. But without propaganda help from US, Russia and EU, ISIL would be robbed off a lot of influence. That is why, after the coup on Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaida following grew from 700 to 18,000 (that is a factor of 26) – Bush’s war on terror was a recruitment gift for terrorists. And the west is making the same mistakes all over again. Todenhöfer is ruthlessly attacked for pointing that out.

Dear Mr. Todenhöfer and team: I watched your TV appearance on Saturday. I still am very impressed. By your dedication. Your conviction. Your fearlessness. Your multilateral approach. Two of your insights will forever stay with me:

  1. We must talk to every and each side of each conflict. No matter how much we want to send one of the conflicting parties to hell. We need to understand the ideology of every party to fully understand a conflict.
  2. We can’t fight a conflict by using the reasons of this conflict. It was the invasion of Iraq that led to the creation of ISI (“Islamic State of Iraq”) in 2003. It was the fear of bombings that fuelled the IS propaganda machine. Don’t feed them more. Don’t give them the fuel they want, the fuel they need.

Dear Mr. Todenhöfer, Mr. F. Todenhöfer and Malcom: You are admired and looked up to. You’ve already made an impact and we are impressed because you continue to do so. Don’t give up! Every person reached, every voice awakened is a victory in itself. Even if I don’t agree with absolutely everything you have said to date, the policy of “talk to everyone” is necessary in times like these. ISIL is an abomination that needs to be destroyed – but dropping bombs in Syria won’t destroy it. Valid criticism should never be met with an image-destruction campaign such as the one “Spiegel” has launched against JT.

Want more information about one of the most selfless journalists, politicians and activists of our time? Check out his website!

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Two Flaws of German Secondary Education

 

I’ve lived in Poland for four and a half years. Having spent nearly half a decade abroad, I must say: The educational policies of Germany have their benefits – our schooling system certainly isn’t inherently flawed. But to try to assert perfection – that would be a resounding misrepresentation.

 

A “Broken” System of Schooling

The first, integral and dominant error: The unhealthy authority of the 16 small German states. Regional municipalities and regional governments have a say in all things education. They make their own exams, they set performance standards. Why is that such a disaster? Well, a German citizen, on average, moves to a different state every eighth year. Germany is the World Champion of residential mobility. And yet, a German family has to risk having their juniors repeat a year of school whenever they relocate to another state. Even if a child is allowed to move up into the next grade, he or she will have to battle with a completely new curriculum – while trying to adapt to an utterly new social context. Fun.

The fractured take on teaching (A relic of the attempts to rob Germany off a national identity post-WW2) isn’t done perpetuating problems once one is done with school. A Bavarian Abitur is acknowledged and praised by employers and Universities, graduates from Bremen aren’t viewed as favourably. Germany – a country with global economic ambition – creates unnecessary obstacles for part of its youth – and consequentially for its own future.

From an organisational point of view, cutting the educational institution up is a whole new issue entirely. Rather than invest the financial resources into one centralised set of secondary school qualifications, we burn away money by repeating the same process 16 times. Furthermore, attempting performance evaluation must be a nightmare for any state employee. Seeing as it is essentially impossible to evaluate the relative need for improvement, how can a government be expected to make the choice of where to invest?

The fractured take on teaching is a relic of another time. In this regard, Germany is frustratingly backward compared to much of the globe.

 

Misguided Priorities with Regard to Teaching

This second mistake is comparably backward. Germany – let’s face it – is a Mecca for engineering and technology. Despite this, our educational ministries seem to be reluctant to accept “highly progressive” subjects such as IT. Our highly catholic, undoubtedly conservative neighbour Poland offers four years of ICT in secondary school. German IT students and up-and-coming software engineers on the other hand have as much know-how after two years of studying as their French and British counterparts after semester one.

At the same time, Religion class is obligatory. When I was visiting the Gymnasium Papenburg, the number of teachers for Religion shadowed that of Mathematics teachers. Don’t try to tell me that knowledge about Religion is more important a skill in the 21st century than Maths.

Up until the last two years of graduation, business does not show up anywhere in the curriculum, either. Wouldn’t it be an idea to introduce the future of our country to motivational and teamwork-competence? Aren’t skills like financial planning and effective decision-making part of the everyday repertoire for any citizen, young or old?

Dear policymakers: give our youth a bit of a head start. Our educational system is effective as it is – why not make it even better?

Cologne 01.01.2016 – What should it mean for Germany?

 

As many of my fellow Germans this week, I am shocked. I am stricken.

I am fighting for the appropriate words to articulate what I feel in light of the disgusting crime committed on New Year’s Eve. On the 1st of January this year, a mob of between 500 and 1000 mostly North African and Middle Eastern men went rampant in the city centre. The police in Cologne has received 90 criminal complaints – including one count of rape. I will not attempt to whitewash any of it. This is a heinous crime and must be identified as such. Justice must be served – but we must make sure that necessary justice does not degrade into generalised injustice.

Still I strongly believe that Germany with benefit from effective integration. In my personal opinion, paraphrased in the words of Angela Merkel:

It will be integral to not follow those who, with fear or even hatred in their hearts want to claim Germanness for themselves and only themselves, those who seek to divide us. It will be integral to keep striving to be a nation, in which we are confident and free, social and open-minded – with a will to achieve, with the will to do our very best.

But effective integration will never be achieved if we close our eyes to the sad, shocking recent realities. As a German nation, we must strive to be confident and free, social and open-minded – and in order to do so, we must uphold our values of lawfulness and coexistence, respect and human dignity.

Our values, our traditions, our righteousness, our language, our law, our rules – they uphold our society, they are the foundation for an exemplary, peaceful coexistence of anyone and everyone in our country, a coexistence governed by mutual respect of all in our country.

Effective integration will never be achieved for those who effectively don’t want to be integrated. We can not close our doors to those who have risked their everything fleeing from a cruel war. But we can not accommodate to those who defy the values of our society.

We should show solidarity, but we must remain reasonable. So, let us do the following:

  1. Register every migrant upon entry into Germany.
  2. Pass on the personal information to a separate office for a thorough vetting process. The perverse Paris attacks have shown that, while we certainly shouldn’t rush to generalisations and racism against migrants, Europe does face a threat of terror. For two decades, the German police and Bundeswehr have secured sustainable stability in Germany. Let us keep it that way.
  3. Closely monitor the criminal record of every registered migrant for four or five years. Should this record stay clean (with the exception of potential parking tickets, minor speed limit infringements and similar infringements), let us welcome the migrants with open arms. In the case of a condemnable criminal offence however, let us show consequent leadership. Effective integration will never be achieved for those who effectively don’t want to be integrated. They would have had their chance. As the perpetrators of the disgusting Cologne attacks, they will have wasted their chance. They must be expelled from the country.
    1. Administering just blame effectively in a mob of 1,000 people is impossible. So how to deal with occasions of collective guilt? My proposal is as follows – issue an official warning to avoid similar events for the period of five years. In the case of a repeated fallback, the individual in question must be expelled from the country.
  4. After the four to five-year-period, ensure that every migrant who has made the effort to become German is fully naturalised. Embrace those who embrace our values, our traditions, our righteousness, our language, our law, our rules.
  5. Internationally, push for the adherence of all EU member states to reasonable refugee quota. This is not only a relief for Germany – it is crucial to not overload one nation’s logistical capabilities and consequentially provide catastrophic conditions to those in need.

My fellow citizens – voice your opinions. Voice your thoughts. Our Germany is a free nation. It’s a strong nation. It is confident, social and open-minded. It is our duty to contribute to the peaceful coexistence in our country. That means to help those that are in need of our help.  It also means to ensure that our progressive cultural identity is preserved. Let us keep being open, let us keep engaging in meaningful dialogue. Only by exchanging ideas, considering everyone’s perspectives openly and respectfully can we keep a country on course.

To the many peaceful refugees who sought security in Germany – I (and countless others) know about the shame and disappointment you must feel. You are not personally responsible for these cruel crimes. Those who hold you personally accountable let fear and hatred evoke unjust generalisations. And to the refugees that I know personally – you are all commendable human beings, an enrichment for our society. Just keep up your attitude. Say no to segregationism. Say no to racism.

Let us not be divided by fear or even hatred.

Angela Merkel’s New Year’s Speech 2015/16

New Year’s Speech on the 31st of December, English Interpretation

Dear Citizens,

a year ago already, on New Year’s Eve 2014, we had to look back at a year dominated by far too many wars and crises. Some, such as the Ebola catastrophe in Africa, have long since vanished from the headlines. Some of what moved us in 2014, however, has lost none of its pressing importance. Sadly. The war in Syria and the brutal slaughtering by the terrorist organisation ISIS are such crises.

A year ago, on New Year’s Eve I said: Direct and dire consequence of these crises and wars are refugee numbers that have been unseen since World War Two. Many of these refugees literally barely escaped death. The one and only thing to do is to help them and offer refuge to those seeking refuge with us. This evening I am repeating that crucial idea. Hardly has there ever been a year in which following up words with action was so crucial for Germany and all German people. But the year 2015 was such a year. And this is why, on this New Year’s Eve, I want to say just one thing: Thank you.

Thank you – for the overwhelming and incredibly moving wave of spontaneous altruism which we were allowed to witness this year – a year in which so many people embarked on mortally dangerous journeys to seek refuge with us. Thank you – to the countless volunteers for their warmth of heart and engagement, which will forever be associated with the year of 2015. Thank you – to the many fulltime helpers; every soldier and every policeman deserves our thanks and respect for their helping hand; every state employee, whether in country, state or municipality administration deserves our gratitude. Your willingness and effectiveness to aid by far outshines your duty to help. You all, volunteers as well as employees, have achieved the outstanding so far and are achieving it still – even at this very hour.

It is out of the question that the immigration of so many people will continue to be a challenge to us. It will cost time, energy and money – especially keeping in mind the integral task of integration of those who will stay for good. In this, we want to, we will and we must learn from the mistakes of the past. Our values, our traditions, our righteousness, our language, our law, our rules – they uphold our society, they are the foundation for an exemplary, peaceful coexistence of anyone and everyone in our country, a coexistence governed by mutual respect of all in our country. It must be the prerequisite for anyone who wants to live here.

Nations have always profited from well-organised immigration – economically and socially. It is out of the question that our country has overcome many great challenges in the past and always has grown from it. On the 3rd of October we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the German reunion. Is it not fascinating to see where we stand 25 years later? We grew together as a nation. We are witnessing the lowest rate of unemployment and the highest employment in the history of our united Germany. We have not made any additional national debt for the last 2 years. The effective wage is growing, the economy is robust and innovative. I am convinced: If tackled correctly, even the huge task of immigration and integration is a chance, a possibility for tomorrow. This is because we are witnessing a great engagement from our citizens and because we are applying a multilateral array of political strategies. Nationally, Europe-wide and on the whole globe we are working for the protection of Europe’s external borders, working to turn illegal immigration into legal migration, working to fight the source of the refugee crisis to reduce the number of refugees effectively and sustainably. In the fight on the Islamic State, Germany is making vital contributions. Our soldiers protect our values, our security and our freedom with their body and with their life. I am thanking them with all my heart.

In the next year one thing will be integral: staying united. It will be integral to always listen to the reasoning of both sides, even if they value opportunities and woes differently than oneself. It will be integral to not let anything or anyone divide us. Not our generations. Not socially. Not into ethnic Germans and internationals. It will be integral to not follow those who, with fear or even hatred in their hearts want to claim Germanness for themselves and only themselves, who seek to divide us. It will be integral to keep striving to be a nation, in which we are confident and free, social and open-minded – with a will to achieve, with the will to do our very best. Economically, with employees and employers, so that the force of social Business can continue to flourish; as well as in science, arts and culture. Everyone, in their own lives. Of course also in sports, when our athletes will fight for Medals and personal records at the Olympic and Paralympic games or when our World Champions of football want to become European Champions as well.

Dear Citizens, it is true: This is a very distinct time to be living in. A time full of challenges. But, dear citizens, it is true: We can do this, because our Germany is strong.

 

I wish you, and I wish us all health, strength, confidence and god’s blessing for the year 2016.