A certain degree of censorship is generally accepted in Germany. But when a media outlet takes it to a whole new level by self-censoring, the outrage becomes personal.
A Düsseldorf publisher backed out of printing a murder mystery because of fears that the subject matter of the book – an honor killing – would put its employees at risk of an Islamic retaliation, according to news magazine Der Speigel.
The Droste Verlag was supposed to release Wem Ehre Gebührt, or “To Whom Honor is Due” on the shelves this September. However, shortly before it went to print, the publisher removed it from its list because author Gabriele Brinkmann – who writes under the pseudonym W.W. Domsky – refused to tone down certain phrases.
Speigel reported that Brinkmann refused to change a line of dialogue from “You can shove your Koran up…” to “You can shove your honor up…” She reportedly told Bild am Sonntag that she was outraged by the decision, saying that it’s “a scandal for a publisher to tuck its tail between its legs” and that it was an act of “anticipatory obedience”.
Company executive Felix Droste reportedly had asked an expert on Islamic society to review the manuscript for things that might cause extremists to want to harm his family or his business. The expert had suggested changing that line.
“After the Mohammed caricatures, one knows that one cannot publish words or drawings that defame Islam without incurring a security risk” to his staff or family, Droste told Spiegel.
A spokeswoman for Dusseldorf-based Droste said that the company has a tradition of publishing controversial books, but would not publish those that insulted religions – whether Islam, Christianity or others.
A Israeli-German news site said that willingness to self-censor in this context could work two ways: That it might “please” the feelings of Muslims, but it will once again prove that Westerners are “whimps” who aren’t willing to defend their own ideals.
“Und die Islamisten können sich darin bestätigt fühlen, dass es sich bei diesen Westlern ja doch ganz überwiegend um Weicheier handelt, die nicht einmal ihre eigenen Ideale zu verteidigen bereit sind.”
An American pundit called the publisher’s actions “cowardly” and its reasoning a “lame excuse”.
FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHT VS RIGHT TO AMEND
While Germany, like America, has constitution that guarantees freedom of speech (it also has a very established freedom of the press), it does have some harsh censorship laws, some of which seem entrenched in the history of the country.
Wikipedia writes: Membership in a Nazi party, incitement of hatred against a segment of the population, or Volksverhetzung, and Holocaust denial are illegal in Germany. Publishing, television, public correspondence (including lectures), and music are censored accordingly, with harsh legal consequences, including jail time.
The country also takes measures to protect its youth from violence or ideology that the government thinks might be harmful. The BPjM, or Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons, censored popular American game Command and Conquer Generals and Zero Hero, citing that it idea of war in the game was too real. Its creators got around the censors eventually by changing human characters in the game to look like cyborgs.
In this case, author Brinkmann is not budging. A forum user on thelocal.de wrote: “I could almost understand if the book was printed and then removed due to controversy, but to not even release the book for fear is simply cowardice.”
Was the German publisher being too paranoid? Do you think this book would have been published in the US? Is it fair to ask authors and producers to alter their works to met censorship guidelines?