Mehdi Hasan airbrushes the Stasi from history

Posted on June 21, 2012

To say the new edition of the New Statesman gives Angela Merkel both barrels would be an understatement. At the hands of Mehdi Hasan, the outgoing Political Editor, the German Chancellor gets the full Rasputin treatment – poisoned, shot, beaten and then thrown into a freezing river to ensure the job is done.

The cover splash describes her as “Europe’s most dangerous leader”, while inside the magazine Hasan’s article is headlined with the claim that her “mania for austerity is destroying Europe”. The piece itself takes the verbal assault even further, arguing that Merkel’s refusal to support a Keynesian solution to the sovereign debt and Eurozone crisis “has brought the continent, and perhaps the world, to the edge of a second Great Depression”.

Strong stuff, but not necessarily a surprise – I doubt I will ever be surprised to learn that Mehdi and I don’t always agree on economics.

(The one element of their coverage that I sympathise with is their portrayal of her as the Terminator – though while this is intended to imply she’s destroying everything, I prefer to interpret it as saying she has been sent by the children of the future to stop 2012’s politicians running up crippling debts that they will have to pay off.)

But he then goes further, shifting from hyperbole to the downright ridiculous.

“Merkel is the most dangerous German leader since Hitler.”

Yes, let’s read that again: The. Most. Dangerous. German. Leader. Since. Hitler.

To Hasan’s credit, he does acknowledge the risk of fulfilling Godwin’s Law (“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1”) up front.

But that’s not what bothers me – it’s the historical ignorance, wilful or otherwise, involved in making such a claim.

Let’s consider the proposition: who were the other German leaders since Hitler?

To be charitable, we’ll start by assuming he really meant “The most dangerous German leader since the Nazis”, given that Hitler’s two immediate successors were Josef Goebbels and Admiral Donitz, who even Mehdi must surely recognise were pretty dangerous. I guess “since Hitler” simply sounds catchier.

And after Donitz? Well, there were the Chancellors of West Germany – Adenauer, Erhard, Kiesinger, Brandt and Schmidt – all a rather inoffensive bunch overall.

Then there was Helmut Kohl, who oversaw the reunification of East and West Germany.

He was followed by Gerhard Schröder, not a dangerous man per se (though if the New Statesman thinks Merkel is dangerous for her attempts to solve the Euro crisis, surely some blame should be allotted to the man who led Germany into the Euro in the first place?).

If we accept Mehdi’s core belief that austerity in the face of a sovereign debt crisis is dangerous, then perhaps Merkel is indeed the most radical of that list. But that list is only half the story.

Somewhere along the way he seems to have forgotten (or ignored, or absolved?) the leaders of the entire other half of Germany between 1949 and 1990. That is to say, the GDR, commonly known as East Germany.

Those men – Erich Honecker, Walter Ulbricht, Egon Krenz and plenty of others in the confused hierarchy of single-party East Germany – were truly dangerous.

Under their authoritarian regime, the Stasi spied on East Germans on a scale and with a rigour that even the Gestapo never reached, with some estimating that they gathered over 1 billion pages of information on a population of 16 million people. Thousands were tortured, murdered, kidnapped, beaten and even allegedly irradiated to induce cancer for the simple “crime” of not supporting the regime.

They attempted to run a prison state, constructing the Berlin Wall and killing those who tried to flee to freedom.

If domestic terror and oppression isn’t enough to qualify them as more “dangerous” than Angela Merkel, perhaps the run-down of their international activity might bolster the case. Among their crimes abroad you can count: setting up Idi Amin’s secret police, funding neo-Nazis in West Germany, providing supplies and a safe haven to Carlos the Jackal, and sponsoring the murder and bombing campaign of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group. There are plenty more crimes where those came from, too.

So it seems Mehdi’s charge against Merkel is just plain wrong.

This isn’t a flippant point, it matters that these crimes are remembered, rather than brushed aside for the convenience of bringing a shocking-sounding charge against someone the New Statesman disagrees with on economic policy.

How close are we to seeing an anti-cuts terrorist group?

Posted on March 29, 2011

It’s pretty clear now that Saturday’s riots – like most riots – were counterproductive for the anti-cuts movement. That’s good news; had the public somehow been moved to support violence and vandalism there would be something very wrong indeed.

It does raise a serious concern, though. How will the hard core of anti-cutters and so-called anarchists (who actually want a bigger state, which is far from anarchism as you can get) react as their failure becomes clear?

The psychology of these agitators is complex but worrying. They have a persecution complex, they fetishise violence and crime and they are utterly convinced that everyone agrees with them, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

In their world, any Government that doesn’t do what they want must be a Gaddafi-style dictatorship, and any indication that the public don’t back them is a sign of an oppressive bourgeois establishment who are just as bad as the totalitarian Government. They seem increasingly divorced from the real world and antipathetic to wider society.

Add into that the hefty leavening of sociopaths who gravitate toward extremism and wanton destruction and you have a potent mix.

I fear that this core – not, I should emphasise, the wider halo movement around them – could easily tip over the edge from public order crime to much more sinister activities.

They have already started widening their list of targets whom they judge legitimate – just look at the absurd attack on charity-owned Fortnum & Mason.

Only a few years ago, SHAC (Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty) were following scientists and investors far down the business chain to their homes and attacking and intimidating them and their families. Plenty of people in the anti-cuts hard core will be students of that terror campaign – and even the small core of the anti-cuts mob have more people and resources than SHAC.

Back in the 1960s and 70s, on the Continent a mass leftwing movement spawned groups with a very similar psychology and rhetoric to the rioters we see in Britain today. Their response to failure after failure was to become more and more extreme – shedding those who thought they were going to far, and following their “war against society” philosophy to its logical conclusion: terrorism.

It’s not inevitable – it may not happen in this case, or if it does it could be stopped – but we don’t seem too far at all from spawning a Baader Meinhof Gang or a Red Brigades for the 21st Century. 

That’s a scary prospect, and everyone, from the police and the Government to the Unions, UKuncut and the vast majority of peaceful, democratic anti-cutters, must work together to nip any tendency like that in the bud.

A good start would be for the Left to denounce the violence we saw on Saturday – something UKuncut signally failed to do on Newsnight last night.