The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Fear of Sociology: Freedom of Speech and Anti-Terrorism in Germany

Posted by rantingkraut on August 22, 2007

Firebombing a country’s army is usually seen as more than a lack of good manners. A nascent terrorist organization in Germany –the ‘militante gruppe’- has been doing just that and several of its suspected members have now been arrested. Two of these arrests, however, have sparked international protests from colleagues in the UK and the USA as well as Germany itself. Strange as this may seem, it is an event of which readers in the UK should take note.

Towards the end of July 2007 two German academics, Dr Andrej Holm and some Dr Matthias B, had their flats and offices raided. Dr. Holm was subsequently placed in pre-trial detention for supporting a terrorist organization, although no specific charges have been made public to date (source).

Two Views

There are so far two versions of the events. Germany’s public prosecutor merely states that Dr. Holm and others have been detained and are suspected of conspiracy to commit arson attacks against the German army. It is further stated that no further details can yet be made known in order not to endanger the ongoing investigations.

This is not entirely implausible. Arson attacks on army vehicles have in fact taken place and the suspected academics are known to be radical left wing activists who had personal contacts with people suspected of direct involvement in these attacks.

Another view of the proceedings has surfaced in the German press [1] as well as in the Guardian. According to this version, the two academics have been targeted because they used key expressions that were also employed by the ‘militante gruppe’ –expressions such as inequality and gentrification. (two German sources: (1) (2))

These words are, of course, standard sociologist jargon and were contained in published work by the authors, so that no involvement with any organization would have been needed for them to be picked up by the arsonists.

A second allegation was, that the academics concerned had access to library facilities and were sufficiently intelligent to author some of the documents attributed to the terrorist group in question. This allegation should be easy to check and, aside from the questionable attribution of intelligence to sociologists, is most likely true. True as it may be, it would also cover just about any academic.

Contacts between the two academics and other suspects are not normally denied in this context. They are however described as being unrelated to any of the crimes. It has also been reported that the meetings were seen as suspicious mainly because the revolutionary sociologists did not carry their mobile phones.

Civil Liberties

Last but not least, there are some civil rights issues involved. These should be of concern independently of which version will eventually turn out to be closer to the truth. The paragraph of the German criminal code used in this case is §129a. This paragraph deals with membership in a terrorist organization. The definitions, both of involvement in the organization and of the activities covered, are rather loose. Thus, the law covers intellectual contributions supporting terrorism, without specifically requiring incitement. Its reach also extends to crimes against the environment [2] in addition to conventional terrorist activities.

Most obviously, the wide reach of this law and the fact that Dr. Holm is being detained without having been formally charged are themselves problematic.

As a by-product of detention under this paragraph, the suspect is largely deprived of outside communication and has all correspondence and conversations with his lawyer screened by the authorities. Regardless of whether the accusations are true, this clearly limits the possibilities of preparing a defense strategy and thus affects the fairness of a later trial.

Meanwhile, fellow academics from several countries have called for an immediate end to the investigation in an open letter to Germany’s public prosecutor. Given the conflicting versions of events, it is difficult to know what to make of this.

The prosecution may indeed know more than they say at present and the combination of far left activism with personal contacts may of course give rise to suspicion. On the other hand, there may well be innocent explanations for such contacts. Even amateurish terrorist outfits will not advertise who is individually responsible for which crime, but they are unlikely to completely cut themselves off from society. They may maintain informal contacts with other activists of the left’s lunatic fringe and these could well be unaware of their comrades’ violent antics.

For a final judgement on the case and the conduct of the German authorities, one will then have to wait until more is known. That will probably mean waiting for the trial.

One conditional statement should, however, be possible at this point in time: If any of the sociologists currently suspected should eventually be punished because words or phrases from publicly available writings were picked up by the ideologues of a terrorist group then Germany would indeed be facing a scandal of major proportions.

What does this mean for the UK?

There are two reasons why readers from the UK should pay attention: Schadenfreude and European integration.

As for Schadenfreude: Britian’s left wing Journalists have for a while been more than happy to promote censorship, so long as it is motivated by some form political correctness. It is nice to see how their view of civil liberties suddenly changes when one of their comrades is affected.

The more serious aspect is European integration of course. There are already basic elements of European criminal law in provisions such as the European arrest warrant. The introduction of the European Constitution –even if disguised as yet another Treaty- will pave the way for EU wide criminal law enforcement. Put this together with a recent German initiative for EU wide censorship laws, and it should be clear why this case ought to be watched carefully.

[1] The information below has been reported in a variety of German publications, not all of them left wing.

[2] These are formally limited to environmental crimes involving poisons or harmful substances which endanger others.

Update [23 August 2007]: Andrej Holm has apparently been released pending further investigations into his case.

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