On Friday the German satirical magazine Titanic will hit the stands with a new cover. The cover in question will depict Germany's former “First Lady” Bettina Wulff, either being threatened by an armed Muslim fighter or being defended by him, depending on your perspective.
It's a silly photo-montage, which demonstrates the magazine’s wavering and chicken-hearted stance. Is it all about Mrs Wulff and her desire, ridiculed throughout Germany, to get some media attention? This has been a non-subject for a long time, and this is also the problem Titanic has: it’s always serving up old chestnuts. Unless it isn’t some new attempt on the part of a handful of journalists to see how short the Muslim fuse is, to see whether they’ll actually do what you’d imagine: storm editorial offices of satirical magazines in France and Germany with suicide belts and so prove to the jolly japesters that their Student Union humour is more devastating than anything else going.
Because a few thousand people in Egypt, Syria and Iran are venting their rage against the Innocence of Muslims video, German politicians have expressed concern about Titanic’s upcoming “Islam issue”, and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is warning against adding fuel to the fire.
Christine Boutin, the French politician, plans to sue Charlie Hebdo magazine because she believes that the Muhammad cartoons it published amount to hate speech. And Green MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit, losing his temper on TV, called the publishers at Charlie Hebdo idiots and masochists who wallowed in their own fear. Well, well.
Seldom has satire been so much in the public spotlight as it has these days. Seldom have satirical drawings and cover pages in Germany and especially in France caused such a great stir. And rarely have so many supporters and opponents of satire popped up with a number of somewhat outrageous claims and warnings. Günter Wallraff (a famous German reporter) wants to flood the European media with anti-Islamic cartoons to ensure that the “demonstration of liberty” – and he really means it – is not just the concern of a few friends of freedom.
This vibrant audacity is, in truth, the quivering anger of an over-excited neo-bourgeoisie that believes that the liberal order can be toppled by crazed Islamists and that we can also defend our open society with art. Sharpened quills versus the scimitar.
This is a pity because satire, precisely at a time when there’s so much material, has seldom been as mediocre as it is today. The mediocre craftsmanship of Charlie Hebdo cartoonist, Charb, is not the problem here. What’s sad is the intellectual laziness behind all these sensationalist pictures, photo-montages and jokes.
No food for thought
The only thing sensational about them is that they are venturing into new territory entirely, which is so appealing because one can’t tell what will happen – will they put up with it, or will they set something on fire? There’s no point in taking aim at politicians — this should be left to TV comedians who no longer even notice that their material is as insipid as any politician’s speeches.
A satirist today can only really make the big time by attacking religious sensitivities. It will be a guaranteed success — the Pope will sue, the Association of Muslims whine that the religious feelings of its members have been hurt, and the reply of the satirist will be the usual fall-back — a free country cannot forbid satire.
Titanic's chief editor Leo Fischer says: “Muslims have to put up with jokes about them.” Yes, sure. That's as true as it is dull, and the way things look, they do put up with them, in the same way that we’ll have to put up with the fact that German political satire will give us no food for thought in the coming years. That’s something we’ve grown used to.