Tuvia Tenenbom Among the Refugees

Tuvia Tenenbom is an usual animal in the European menagerie: a liberal Polish-Jewish-German who supports the right to free expression and the importance of being able to hold and voice independent, politically incorrect opinions.

Many thanks to Egri Nök for translating this interview from Der Spiegel:

Tuvia Tenenbom among the refugees

“You Germans really think you are something better”

The controversial author Tuvia Tenenbom on the most controversial topic of German policy: For his new book, he was “Alone among refugees” — and he met neighbours, Akif Pirinçci, and Gregor Gysi.

[photo caption: Tuvia Tenenbom (second from right) with Syrian refugees in Gräfenhainichen, photo: Isi Tenenbom]

An interview by Kaspar Heinrich

Tuvia Tenenbom, born in 1957 in Tel Aviv, is from a German-Jewish-Polish family, and has been living in New York since 1981. He works as a journalist, essayist and dramatist, and has written for numerous newspapers in the USA, Europe and Israel, among others for Die Zeit. In 1994 he founded the Jewish Theater of New York. His most recent books were “Alone among Jews” (2014) and “Alone among Germans” (2012) and “Alone among Americans” (2016).

Tuvia Tenenbom answers questions about his new book Alleine unter Flüchglingen (“Alone Among Refugees”) in the Alte Handelsbörse in Leipzig. During the conversation there is discontent in the audience; not everyone agrees with the author’s provocative statements on right and left in Germany. Some of his wording raises eyebrows; some of the audience even leaves the room.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Tenenbom, how is it going for the media landscape and the freedom of opinion in this country?

Tenenbom: There is no journalism anymore, particularly not in Germany. Instead, there is activism. Journalists do not report anymore on what is happening, but what we ought to think. Carolin Emcke, who received the “Peace Prize of the German Book Trade”, is an activist, not a journalist. She preaches.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So for you, the best journalists are those…

Tenenbom: … who report about the facts. Not those who tell us what is wrong and right.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But isn’t it essential to stand up against hate, like Emcke did?

Tenenbom: No. You can do that in your private life, but not in journalism. If I were a jeweller and selling you a diamond, I do not do so only when you believe what I believe. It is not a journalist’s task to preach to the masses. The jeweller should sell you what you want, and the journalist should tell you the truth. No more.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What exactly is changing right now in the media landscape?

Tenenbom: The New York Times is on a mission called liberalism — whatever that means. For these liberal minds, it is: my opinion counts, yours doesn’t. It is even more pronounced in Germany, as you can see with the example of Akif Pirinçci. Think of him what you want, but he has a right to his opinion. The large publishing houses had to admit in court that they had misquoted him. But he is still under boycott. Random House cancelled their contract with him; you cannot even buy his cat books anymore.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Random House is a private company. The publisher has a right to select their authors.

Tenenbom: But if they were to decide to publish only white authors, no blacks, it would go to court, and they would be stopped there. This is the same. No company has the right to damage others.

[photo caption: Vandalized entrance to the house of Akif Pirinçci, photo: Isi Tenenbom]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But besides his ambiguous KZ-quotation, Pirinçci apparently has racist and inhumane opinions.

Tenenbom: On first glance, correct, on second, wrong. Yes, he insults Muslims and Islam. But he is a Turk, and dark-skinned. When a light-skinned German insults Christianity and mocks Christ and the Pope, he will end up as the director of one of the best German theaters. When a Christian insults his own religion, he stays a free man, he will even be applauded for his free spirit. Pirinçci did exactly the same, but as a Muslim. So is he a racist now?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: One does not make the other better. It remains: Pirinçci has racist opinions.

Tenenbom: Then withdraw his racist books from circulation. But this man is also the author of love stories and cat novels. How can you condemn all of his works? If you do that, condemn Wagner too. He was a Nazi beyond doubt.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In your book you call Pirinçci a “free spirit”, the alt-right editor and publicist Götz Kubitschek a “nice chap”. Aren’t you being naïve?

Tenenbom: I am not naïve. I am well aware of what they say and think. But in order to meet someone respectfully, or to like them, I do not have to share their opinions. And besides: What Götz Kubitschek says, and also, what Lutz Bachmann says, is what every second person in the USA thinks.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: That does not make it better.

Tenenbom: What I want to say is: Are we supposed to treat all Americans that way? No. And do you know what? Many Germans think the same, but they are afraid to say it aloud. So what? All these people may call themselves Europeans. There is a conflict between one attitude, which is older, which aims at preserving your own culture — call this narrow-mindedness if you wish — and another movement, who does not want borders and national states and wants to mix cultures. Those are two legitimate opinions, two legitimate desires. Let the vote decide! But don’t call people Nazis just because they wish to preserve German culture.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You spoke of liberalism. What does it mean to you?

Tenenbom: Diversity of opinion. We have an open door for everyone, everyone has the right to his opinion. Lutz Bachmann just as much as Gregor Gysi. And I think I treated them both the same. I do not see a difference between them. There is one, contentwise, of course, but it does not make one better than the other. Democracy ultimately means: the majority makes the rules. If the majority abuses their power, the highest court will decide against them. This is how it should be. But not by insulting people, boycotting them, or smearing them, just because their opinion is not politically correct.

[photo (not shown): Tenenbom at the EM public viewing in Hannover, photo: Isi Tenenbom]

SPIEGEL ONLINE: For your book Allein unter Deutschen, you travelled through Germany for six months in 2010. Last year, you were on the road again, this time “Alone under refugees”. How do you experience the country today?

Tenenbom: We have the really extreme case here of a country that was not an immigration country, and now suddenly has decided to be one. To walk through the streets and hear so many people speak Arabic. It is quite an extreme change. The whole West is moving in one direction — God knows where — but Germany is moving ten times as fast.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How did the Germans meet you?

Tenenbom: Many told me how proud they were of what their country is doing. They were proving that they are good people, better than others. And I thought to myself: Deutschland über alles. You really do think that you are better than others. We are all the same, when will you finally get it?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think Germans are liberal?

Tenenbom: No, I do not buy it from them. Not what I mean by liberal. There still is anti-Semitism here, and if I just argue long enough with someone, I will be “the Jew” in the end. That is how it is, and I cannot do anything about it. Even when the Germans welcome the Syrians, they do not welcome me. Of course not all of them, don’t misunderstand me. There is no “all”. But there is this attitude.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some things in your books appear quite simple. What would you say to the allegation that you simplify in your assertions?

Tenenbom: I spent fifteen years at a university. If you want me to dress everything in smart phrases, I can do that, sure. But the most important lesson that I learnt from my religious studies from the Rabbis was: If you can’t explain it in simple words, you did not understand it. I try very hard to explain things simply, even if they aren’t simple.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Isn’t that dangerous?

Tenenbom: No, why?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Because the world is complex.

Tenenbom: All people are complex, and I can make everything more complex all the time. But the final question is: “Do I like ice cream?” And the answer is: “Yes, I do.” Could I explain in complicated expressions why I like ice cream? Yes. The reasons are manifold, it has to do with biology, with chemistry, all sorts of things. But what counts in the end? Instinct. That is why people go to war, that is why they marry. In the end, we do not think in complex ways, because we have the ability to leave the complicated aside and focus on the simple.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In your book, you describe the terrible conditions in German refugee shelters, the lack of privacy, broken toilets with no paper or water, the bad food.

Tenenbom: Germany took in the most refugees in all of Europe, but the way they did it was plain bad. They did not understand a lot of things. People were packed together with the murderer or rapist of his brother or sister. Basically, to accommodate Sunni, Shia, and Christians in the same room is criminal. I did not expect a paradise, but these living conditions are unacceptable. Germans should only have taken in as many refugees as they can handle.

28 thoughts on “Tuvia Tenenbom Among the Refugees

  1. Yes, Germany “should have taken in only as many refugees as they can handle”. But how boring would that be for the superior German mentality which still insists on showing the world the “right” way to do things? So in their haste to be the best asylum in all of Europe they became instead the insane asylum and they forced their refugees to live like animals.

    But I’ll bet the paper trail is bureaucratically fantastic – though we may never get to see a page of it.

    So much of Europe is at the self-harm stage. The juncture at which the patient is hauled off for a rest before anything bad happens.

    • My view is that the Germans:
      – are free to do what they want with their country.
      – if they are so interested in getting refugees, why do they insist that these people participate in an ‘Amazing Race’? Fly them in.

      The problem I have with the Germans is that they insist on forcing others to join them in committing suicide. The Swedes have a similar attitude but lack the economic power to compel others. The Germans on other hand have the power.

      • As soon as the Germans have funded a high wall around Germany, with the barbed wires pointed INWARDS, then I’m fully in agreement.

        The old East Germans have the know-how to build such walls.

        Then they can fly in the whole world.

    • I think the naive assumption on the German side was that those coming were people who were fleeing a war, and had escaped with their bare lives, and that they would be grateful and happy to have a roof over their head, a bed, and 3 meals a day.
      Who would have imagined in their wildest dreams that it were fortune seekers, people who sold their house and quit their job to come to the land were milk and honey flows?

    • I think Germany did it deliberately. It seems, honestly, to be a new version of Nazism. The way they’re acting is VERY similar in overall style, but different in superficial outline- which is a bit of a sign of a deliberate effort, in itself.

      I really don’t think a lot of people see the Germans as “bad,” largely because of the way they look- white (doesn’t equate with darkness in the sense of shadow, which tends to have that kind of connotation), big (not small/secretive), very rigid (their seeming addiction to schedules & rules gets looked at as “safe”- generally not the case in any situation), and they would be a likely suspect from a historical standpoint.

      I’m not trying to slam all the Germans, but there IS a major streak toward the politically narcissistic & I think that urges a lot of their recent behavior. It’s a noticeable thing that there’s a threat against countries that don’t take in migrants- invasion, done by proxy instead of an army.

      • I agree. There’s something amiss in the culture, but this is just an extreme case of what happens in much of Western Europe.

        I even wonder if some with nazi leanings aren’t subconsciously seeking out a different totalitarian ideology, and finding it in islamism.

  2. If the questions are a representation of the majority German mindset, I tremble for them.

    • — the questions by the interviewer I suppose?

      No, they aren’t. “Der Spiegel” is as PC as you can get. Now, under the impact of the “refugees”, PC theory and daily experience collide more and more for ever more people. Being mostly rather rational and pragmatic the majority cares less and less of PC. That’s why the “elites” are getting nervous; trying to punish “wrong” thinking/speaking.

  3. Sweden did the same thing but out of self-loathing. There it’s the attitude: we are worthless, Swedish culture doesn’t exist, what does exist should cease and be overwhelmed and made into something better. This is the elites talking, of course. Maybe self-hate and self-love are just flip sides to the same pathology. It’s clear there’s some psychological issue at play, a thanatonic urge to destroy and disappear. This is repellent b/c it sacrifices future generations who have no say.

    • “Maybe self-hate and self-love are just flip sides to the same pathology.”

      Disagree. Self-love is necessary for forging ahead in this world that is at best indifferent and more often hostile to an individual. Just to be clear, self-love is not narcissism. It is not swooning over ones mere existence. Rather it manifests itself as a healthy but not overbearing dose of self-confidence.

      On the flip side a certain amount of skepticism about ones own motives or achievements is also healthy. But that falls far short of self-hate, which truly is pathological.

  4. These muslims should not be here in first place, I agree with Oriana Fallaci when she said Europe must “close its borders to middle easterns and let them stew in their juice” I agree because I don’t think they give Germany anything necessary/indispensable/irreplaceable to justify having to put up with their uncivil/criminal manners, whatever virtues these people may have are totally outweighted by their vices, let them live in the hells they have built.

    • We built those hells. We as the West are responsible for the chaos and war in the Middle East. Does that mean we should invite them all here? No, i think not. Our cultures are too different for that to really work. But we still have a responsibility to help end the nightmare we created. Stop funding the mercenaries, stop selling them weapons and stop meddling in their affairs. We [interfere] with them, take what we want and then we should just leave them in the hells they did NOT build?

  5. No.
    Putting Sunni, Shia, and Christians in the same room is NOT ‘criminal.’

    Taking in ANY muslims at all that behave as they do–THAT is what’s criminal. Inflicting them on a defenseless and vulnerable population is even worse.
    Stifling and PUNISHING one’s own population for criticizing the policy is the worst of all.
    (And no–the few Christians do not seem to be much of a problem.) (Hint.)

    • It’s important to remember that Christian refugees from the Middle East can be a problem. A Swedish town (it might be Södertälje, I can’t remember) took in a lot of Assyrian Christian migrants, and they behaved almost as badly as Muslims — i.e. gangs, crime, violence, etc.

      The point is that any non-Muslim group that has experienced many generations of persecution as dhimmis under Islamic domination will have absorbed a significant portion of the habitual behavior patterns of their oppressors. This is a normal human tendency.

      This is not a condemnation of Christian refugees from the Middle East, just an observation. It should be kept in mind as we formulate our refugee policies.

      The important difference is that it is possible to change the behavior of Christian newcomers, especially with the second and subsequent generations. Christian culture has different rules, different ideals that it elevates and displays as what should be emulated. The newcomers can be reminded over and over of what their Gospels tell them. They can be held to account, and be expected to modify their destructive behaviors.

      The same is not true of Muslim immigrants — there is no hope of persuading them to give up their bad habits as long as they remain Muslims, since those bad habits constitute the core of Islamic doctrine.

      • You hit the nail on the head, christians from middle east in Europe often act as bad as muslims commiting crimes and ignoring western norms of hygiene, if christianity were the magical solution then the vastly christian latin america would not be the most violent place in earth, in Brazil and Venezuela crime takes more lives than wars in middle east. Europe must rekindle with the idea of our exceptionality and protect it from barbarians.

        • Yes, I agree. I don’t think it has to do with religion, not complete,we talk a lot about muslims because they are the only ones who are planting bombs (for now) but here in France there immigrants from non muslim countries who behave terribly: there gangs from central america that have been causing trouble in Spain for a decade or so and now they are here in France too and just like muslims they target women, children and elderly people, there are non muslims from Africa who respect nothing and the disgusting things they do defy imagination, also Haitians who practice voodoo and when they peform their nightly noisy rituals which often include the sacrifice of chickens and nobody can sleep in those neighborhoods because of the chants, the screams, the drums and if one calls the police they say they can’t do anything because it’s their culture and can’t be censored.. third world immigration is the complete picture of this problem, not only muslims.

        • So these western European countries, known for their high IQs, who caused their own ruin, did so because they’re intelligent?

          I live in a mostly average IQ community, no doubt some of them would not score high on any scholastic tests. But they’re law-abiding and raise their children to be the same. When the spectre of drugs can be avoided, they all do quite well.

          A high IQ is necessary for some things but it’s not sufficient for most. And,as has been proved by the neuropsychologists, there are different kinds of “intelligence”.

      • I am afraid to say that you seem a bit ignorant. Go back a couple hundred years and you will find Christians that commit murderous atrocities, atrocious wars, torture, enslavement, rape and mass genocides, all in the name of GOD. The Christian God that is. It was us, Europeans with the blessings of the Church that managed to enslave and murder millions and millions of people around the world. The Muslims, if you so choose to categorize everybody by their religion, are little innocent children in comparison.
        The problem is not Islam, but the culture and background they come from. Violence and Fear rule in their world, it is a small wonder that they are how they are. I wonder how you might have turned out if you had been born in a different situation.
        Is Islam being used by evil men who crave power, and have only hate in their hearts? Absolutely! Islam as a religion, however, is merely the medium or channel they use to spread their message of hate. The same way Christianity was used for hundreds of years to enslave others and to justify wars and genocide.
        So please, do not be like so many ignorant, hateful people and categorize and judge by religion.

  6. Taking in refugees is not new- but these are not refugees. They are young men who think of themselves as conquerors in disguise, blessed by Ollie who has given them shelter in this strange place Germany. Their religious minds do not allow them to see what is evident: they were the beneficiaries of European humanism. They were spared death not by the intervention of Ollie but by the efforts and money of Europeans. Ollie couldn’t be bothered to leave his home in the clouds to help. But he’ll get all the credit. Worse, the followers of Ollie are now claiming Germany as theirs – because they are there and not somewhere else.
    The refugees are angry, vindictive free – loaders. Germany will regret far into the future the stupid, loathsome policies of Merkel & Company. They gave assistance to hundreds of thousands of young men who will hate Germany and Germans, attack them in the streets, and ruin the social life of their ” adopted country “. A joke as bad as this couldn’t have been written.

    • Have you met any of these “hateful, free-loaders”? I wonder, how calm would you be if your whole life was violently turned upside down? If those you love were killed? If you had to live and fear and leave everything you have and know behind, and go to a strange country where you are told that everything you know and believe is wrong? Before the war, many Syrians were well off, not starving desperate people. At the same time they come from a long history of hate and violence, where Islam is used as a medium to channel hate. Do not be so quick to judge them! Of course many young men are violent and restless and unruly. This has much to do with their history and background; they need help and guidance! Do you think people like you pointing fingers and hating them, will make things better? Is your hate of them any different than what you judge them for? I assure you, they are like everyone else, trying to make a better life and to live in peace. Have some of them been somewhat brainwashed by truly hateful people? Yes! Is the solution to shun them and look down on them? That would only fuel their confusion and fear, which translates to hate and eventually to violence. These people need help, not in the form of money and shelter, but understanding and kindness. They need to see an alternative to how they were raised. I can promise you, that if you and I were born there, or if we had experienced what many of these people have, we would be no different.
      I don`t mean to endlessly preach to you, but i encourage you to take a step back and see past your hate, fear, and misunderstanding of them. They are very different than us in many ways, but we have far more in common than you might think. Try to understand where they come from. I have worked with thousands of refugees and I can tell you that this is a massively complicated issue that goes far beyond them needing or wanting money and shelter, and beyond religion and culture. At its roots, the issue is with human psychology and their loss of identity and dignity. A fearful, doubtful person who lost everything and comes from a tumultuous background and who has low self esteem, will revert to anger and violence as a defensive means. Money, shelter and food will not help, in many cases it will only make it worse. It is our policies and terrible integration methods that will fail us, and will create a parallel society filled with fear and anger. We have to see past that. We have to be better.

  7. Once upon a time I was PhD student. When I was talking to supervising committee, they asked me to summarize the article I was writing in two sentences. If you can do that, you may have clear idea what you are talking/writing about. If you cannot do that, you don’t have clear idea and need to think about it. So yeah, his rabbi certainly is right and Der Spiegel “journalist” is talking male bovine manure.

  8. “And I thought to myself: Deutschland über alles. You really do think that you are better than others.”

    Mr. Tenenbom is confused. The Talmud clearly states that Jews are superior, and all gentiles are inferior; in fact, gentiles are barely a step above beasts.

    Mr. Tenenbom is very good at swinging the Nazi club. Overuse of this device to play on German guilt is pretty much why so many refugees are currently domiciled in Germany; not because Germans think they’re better than others, but because they’ve been taught that they must continue to somehow make up for the mistakes of previous generations (Merkel is currently preparing the road for mass migration of Africans by beating Germans about the head and shoulders with the guilt load from German colonialism in Africa (such as it was) a hundred years ago.)

    Since Mr. Tenenbom is so enamoured of simple answers, I’d like to hear his take on exactly how Germany should have stopped the masses of migrants crossing the borders? Shoot them, perhaps, as suggested by a smuggler shortly after Merkel opened the border in Sept 2015? (Smuggler was asked how to stop the migrants. His response: If you shoot 300 of them at the border, they’ll stop coming.

    As for broken toilets and horrific living conditions, it’s been reported often enough that toilet and furnishings are destroyed by migrants, sometimes merely because they don’t like what they’re given, even when brand new.

    • “As for broken toilets and horrific living conditions, it’s been reported often enough that toilet and furnishings are destroyed by migrants” Yes, here in Austria we say that the first sign of a new muslim neighbor is an abbandoned toilet in front of their new houses, I am amazed that Mr. Tenenbom isn’t aware of the problems that muslims have with western toilets. The cleaning personel from Hotels, Bars and Restaurants know this very well since muslims often ignore the water closets and defecate on the floor, anywhere around the WC not to mention the ever increasing sight of middle eastern men and occasionaly women defecating on the streets in broad daylight.

      • So perhaps we should educate them not judge and hate them. Is it really their fault they come from a desperate background and have lived a very different life? Also for your information, we in the West are backwards with our toilets and still use primitive toilet paper, where as in many parts of the world, including Asia and the Middle East, they use bidets which are more efficient and more hygienic. But yes let us not help the refugees because they do not know how to use our toilets.

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