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"IS Doesn't Need a Reason to Kill Us!"

Jacques Tilly's appeal to defend the "liberal dream"

Illustrator and carnival carriage builder Jacques Tilly (trustee of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung) was awarded the Jan Wellem Ring by the City of Düsseldorf last Thursday for his cultural services. In his acceptance speech, Tilly, who made headlines last year with his "Charlie Hebdo Float", called for defending the open society with even more courage, humanity, and humour. Below, we document excerpts from this speech, which, as gbs spokesman Michael Schmidt-Salomon explained, "sums up the stance of the Giordano Bruno Stiftung on the debate about Islamism and xenophobia and clarifies the fundamental differences between rational enlightenment and reactionary propaganda".​

(...) The refugee question, which has been omnipresent for months, led to an extreme polarisation. We have to witness broad sections of society abandoning the democratic consensus. In the environment of the AfD ("Alternative for Germany", right-wing political party) and Pegida ("Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident", far-right political movement), the "system" is openly questioned, the media is denounced as "fake news", paranoid world views and conspiracy theories poison the social climate, entire sections of the population propel themselves into a crazy parallel universe without any connection to reality.

A few days ago, AfD politician Beatrix von Storch demonstrated this most vividly when she rambled about our chancellor soon being driven into exile in South America, just like the Honecker spouses. But the great hero of these friends of true freedom of opinion and the press is - of all people - Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin.

There is nothing wrong with that in principle. A constructive culture of debate is the essence of every democratic decision-making process. It is terrible, however, with what kind of hatred, with which lack of measure, prudence, and humanity this battle is fought. The prevailing lynching mood towards the media and politics in large parts of the German east is alarming. A few months ago, we could still dismiss these people as freaks. But New Year's Eve in Cologne and the pitiful cover-up attempts accompanying it helped to turn a minority position into a rapidly growing mass phenomenon. AfD ranks in current surveys nationwide at an incredible 13 percent.

What we see in Germany is only the expression of an international phenomenon. Eastern Europe is putinising itself, Poland is disregarding its own constitution, the Arab spring is ending in civil war and military rule, in the USA a completely crazy political right is destroying any reasonable discussion, parts of the Islamic world are mutating into violent fundamentalism and are dominating more and more regions, as is now the case in Libya and other states, especially in North Africa.

We all feel that something started to shift especially in the last year. We get a rather uneasy feeling when we try to imagine where all this may lead us. But what exactly is going on? What is happening right now? How can this development be understood, reduced to a simple denominator?

The authoritarian and the liberal dream

Even if this little acceptance speech now risks to take on the character of a political lecture, allow me to present the explanatory model recently introduced by historian Philipp Blom.

In any case, it helped me a lot to develop a greater degree of understanding and orientation. Philipp Blom was invited by the "Düsseldorfer Aufklärungsdienst" (DA) at the end of last year and gave an excellent lecture in the Jazzschmiede. (Our local press, which of course was also invited, had simply slept past another high-quality Düsseldorfer Aufklärungsdienst event).

The authoritarian dream is overwhelmed by the challenges of the modern age. It idealises pre-modern forms of society in which each individual is assigned their role. There is a clear and binding canon of traditional values for all.

According to Blom, quite different actors share this dream: Pegida and AfD, Putin, Orban, Kaczinsky, Anders Breivig, Hindunationalists, the unspeakable Donald Trump, the Tea Party, radical US Evangelicals, the Front National, Erdogan, the clerical fascist regimes in Saudi Arabia and Iran, and, last but not least, the mass murderers of IS. They all share a common hatred for the liberal dream. They only have scorn and contempt for it.

So, what is the liberal dream? It consists, for example, in postulating the universal validity of human rights. It consists in the ideal of a truly pluralistic society in which each individual is given the greatest possible degree of self-determination. This right to self-determination protects the individual from collective coercion and paternalism by the state, religion, family, and defined gender roles. It is the responsibility of the state and the judiciary to guarantee the liberal regulative framework in which the most diverse forms of life can coexist peacefully and civilised. It is a dream in which, to give an example, neither the state nor society, and certainly not any religious community, is concerned in the slightest bit with any adult human having sex in mutual agreement with whomever and in whatever way. It is the dream of modernity, nurtured by the values of humanism and enlightenment.

It goes without saying that we in the West have failed to realise this liberal dream in the past with slavery and colonialism, and still undercut it in many ways (keyword: Guantanamo). Yet it is worthwhile to proactively continue defending these ideals and, especially today, to become aware of their fragility and vulnerability.

Pegida and Salafists have greater similarities than they would like to admit

The liberal dream is currently on the defense. It is being libelled and stylised into a new totalitarianism of an out-of-control political correctness. Unrestricted liberality, as they say, comes only with naïve do-gooderism, gender madness, homopropaganda, the loss of honour and masculinity, of spirituality, of homeland and ethnic belonging.

The Western, liberal model of society leads directly - so the interpretation goes - into a meaningless hedonism far removed from God, leads to a decline in values and decadence. Putin, Pegida, Akif Pirincci, and Salafists genuinely agree on this. Even if Pegida and Salafists believe they are mortal enemies, their intersection is much greater than they would like to admit.

All these people simply can't keep up with the modernisation boost of a globalised world. Basically, they are all engaged in a desperate and ultimately hopeless battle of retreat. They long to return to the supposedly intact world of closed and authoritarian tribal societies. This was exactly the recipe for the success of European fascism in the 1930s.

And admittedly: Freedom is quite an imposition. A life purpose, a binding life model is not provided and not to be found in pluralistically organised societies. Everybody has to make their own efforts. Freedom can mean emptiness and disorientation for those who are simply overwhelmed by it. For this reason so many young people run to IS and submit themselves with pleasure to the security that a total lack of freedom can offer.

There could be no objection to that. If they enjoy it ... The problem is only that IS, this most extreme form of contemporary authoritarianism, wants to force all of us, the entire rest of the world, into total oppression as well - by resorting to the greatest possible brutality.

Appeasement is not a solution

How are we supposed to deal with this threat? This question can be asked in general, but also regarding the upcoming Carnival Monday processions.

Certainly not by appeasing adaptation. The absurd and absolutely ridiculous veiling of the naked statues on the Roman Capitol three days ago during the state visit of the Iranian president to Italy was certainly the wrong sign against an intolerant ideology. And it would also be wrong to "moderate" oneself now in ridicule and satire in order to not irritate anyone. After all, where should this adaptation ever end? When would we have adapted enough in the eyes of jihadists? When all women worldwide threw on a burqa?

Charlie Hebdo's chief editor, Gerard Biard, recently said: "Stopping being ourselves will not protect us from terrorism and totalitarianism. To change ourselves would be pointless. IS doesn't need a reason to kill us."

He is right. The mere existence of us all here, who are gathered in this room, is in itself a crime worthy of death. Because they hate everything about us, our whole way of life, our laughter, our freedom, our whole being in all its livable facets. According to their contemptuous view we all deserve to die. No matter how we behave.

Being as unimpressed as possible is the most effective tool against terror. Stay calm. Keep going. We should not even get involved in their cruel game of fear, hysteria, vengeance, and hatred. The reaction of Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg to the terrorist attack by right-wing radical Anders Breivig in 2011 was exemplary. He didn't talk about war, stricter laws, or blame. He simply said: "Our answer is more democracy, more openness, more humanity".

And, as a Rhinelander, I add: more joie de vivre, more carnival. Helau!

Ricarda Hinz, Jacques Tilly, Mayor Thomas Geisel at the award ceremony of the Jan Wellem Ring by the City of Düsseldorf.

Photo: Krudewig/City


"The True Decline of the Occident", Tilly 2015

"Three Muslims", Tilly 2015