Anti-Semitic Hip Hop In Germany

Anti-Semitic Hip Hop In Germany


Leonard Zwelling

I suspect that you missed this one.

Two German rappers, Farid Bang and Kollegah shared the Echo award, the German equivalent of the Grammys, for best hip hop album (apparently it’s based on sales). These two use Holocaust referrals and anti-Semitic implications in their rhymes. This would be very serious in the United States, but protected by free speech. Not so in Germany where any Holocaust denying or pro-Nazi rhetoric is a crime. Other German artists have turned back their prizes awarded on April 12, Holocaust Remembrance Day in protest. Talk about bad timing!

So what are we as Americans to make of these restrictions to free speech in a critical Western ally and what about any restrictions that we might place on free speech for some political reason?

I am not sure that America can quite grasp what Nazism means to modern Germany. The country is stuck having to own up to its past, try to get to its future, and forgetting neither. This becomes harder as the time distance between 1945 and now grows and many generations of Germans have been born since Hitler’s reign of terror ended. I myself noted a completely different relationship to WWII in Germany in 1993 vs. 2010. During my first visits to Germany, I had to implore my hosts to allow me to visit Dachau when I was in Munich. Later, the Holocaust Memorial had been built in Berlin and the Germans were far more transparent about what had happened in their country.

Yet, we in America have our own shame, that of slavery, that we deal with every day. The battle of race in the country was clearly not ended by the election of the first black man to the presidency and there can be no denying the racial overtones of the Trump campaign and the Trump Administration in how it got elected and how it has chosen to govern. Mr. Trump seems to thrive on appealing to our basest instincts.

Gerrymandering alone not to mention the latest attempts to limit voters’ rights by the GOP and its allies suggest that the battle for racial equality is not over in America, any more than the battle to squelch anti-Semitism is dead in Germany.

It is a very fine line that is drawn between offensive and free speech. We all agree that yelling “fire” in a crowded theater when there is no threat is a limit on free speech. What about what Sean Hannity did? Is he free to express his opinion when that opinion must be questioned once you know who his lawyer is? What about all of the lying by the President of the United States? He can’t get through a day without at least one whopper. And then there is fake news. Whose responsibility is it to make sure that what is in your Facebook feed is real? Is it up to Facebook? Or is it up to you to be more skeptical?

I don’t have an easy answer to any of those questions although I don’t think that the personalities on television ought to be commenting about the very people with whom they are doing private business. Surely the equivalence that Mr. Trump made of the two camps of demonstrators in Charlottesville was over the top. But so much of what he says is over the top. How do you ever know if what he says has any validity? His own U.N. ambassador can’t tell.

The decision about whether the freedom of expression in art can ever be suppressed is always going to be a tough one in America, where the right to offend, while not enumerated in the Constitution, is sort of inherent in the First Amendment. The Germans are going to have to figure this one out for themselves, just as we must. It surely doesn’t help that the Leader of the Free World has only a passing relationship with the truth.

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