Wednesday 26 November 2008

Baader-Meinhof, terrorism and antisemitism

The release from prison of Christian Klar, one of the leaders of the Baader-Meinhof gang, and the appearance of a new film about the German terrorist faction, have focused renewed attention on a dark chapter in the history of the European left. The New Centrist links to a timely article by Jeffrey Herf, 'The Age of Murder: Ideology and Terror in Germany', which is worth reading in full. Herf enables us to see the Red Army Faction not only in the context of the development of the '60s New Left, but also in the specific context of German political history, with its repeated themes of antisemitism and totalitarian violence.

It's ironic, to say the least, that far left sects such as Baader-Meinhof justified their use of revolutionary violence on the basis of the supposed fascist tendencies of capitalist postwar Europe, when (as Herf shows) their own ideology and actions exhibited many of the symptoms of fascist reaction, including a love of symbolic violence and an increasing tendency towards antisemitism, demonstrated in their alliance with Palestinian terror groups and their notorious treatment of Jewish passengers during the Entebbe hijacking.  Herf suggests that the antisemitism of the German far left, and particularly its caricature of Israelis as 'new Nazis' in their treatment of the Palestinians (sound familiar?), can be seen as part of the complex and tortuous process of expunging collective national guilt about the Holocaust.

I haven't seen The Baader Meinhof Complex but, if the reviews are to be believed, it conveys a rather heavy-handed message about the need to understand the underlying causes of terror, and draws predictable parallels with contemporary responses to Islamist terrorism. However, Herf's article is a reminder that the terrorists of the Red Army Faction and the perpetrators of 9/11 and 7/7 were similar, not in their experience of injustice and an idealistic desire to liberate oppressed humanity, but in their shared background as educated, middle-class ideologues, driven by an inflexible dogmatism and without a scintilla of human feeling towards those they were 'liberating', many of whom were among their victims.

One of the most poignant features of Herf's piece is his detailed listing of the innocent victims of Baader-Meinhof violence, something he argues has been missing from many accounts of the events, with their tendency to glamorise the perpetrators. This quotation from Gabriele von Lutzau, a stewardess on the hijacked Lufthansa flight to Mogadishu, when asked if she wished to meet one of her former captors in order to discuss her motives, can stand as a riposte to all those who urge us to try to 'understand' terrorism:

I'm not interested in the background, in her history or in understanding her. This woman acted without a single moment of humanity. Her attitude was 'we are better than you. We're going the righteous way against Western imperialism'. Her distorted view of reality is not one I ever want to face again.'


Anonymous said...

Nice post. Thanks for the link.

AE said...

when is this film going to be released in san francisco?

Martin said...

Sorry, I don't have that information. It's been on release here in the UK and Europe for some weeks. Suggest you look on IMDB?