he world knows Boris Becker best for two things: that he excels at tennis, and that he is German. But in December, he told the world that he no longer wished to be associated with his homeland. He was leaving Germany, never to return.
Why? Because, he explained, his wife is blackand he could no longer live with the discriminatory treatment she was receiving in Germany.
Certainly, Beckers situation is unfortunate and embarrassing for Germany. But it is not isolated.
Events in the Germany of the 1990s resonate with eerie echoes of darker times of the pasta period which remains not well understood and highly charged emotionally for those who remember it or who suffered by it. So much so that to address what is really happening today evokes avoidance and dismissal from some, especially those in Germany who bear responsibility.
But this is simply a trapa trap of ignorance which many fell into before. Just as there was much at stake then, there is much at stake today. And there is an opportunity to know the truth and bring a halt to what is happening which was not there to be had 60 years ago.
What exactly am I speaking of? That well-known American film actors and producers have seen German political parties rally to boycott the performance of their worksbecause of their religion. That children have been dismissed from schools and even kindergartenbecause of the religion of their parents. That bank accounts have abruptly been closed, employees dismissed, even musicians banned.
Although many are targets, the Church of Scientology and its members have been the subject of a level of mistreatment and discrimination unheard of in the second half of this century. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen calls it an odd obsession"one which is hardly reassuring given Germanys past.
Athletes, teachers, students, executives, artisansindeed, people in almost any walk of lifeknow that they risk losing their job, their business or other rights solely because of their religion. Scores already have. Political parties and activists have disseminated booklets which portray religious minorities as insects to be exterminated and specially-packaged condoms for the stated purpose of preventing the conception of new Scientologists; and letters, bearing the Nazi eagle, swastika and SS logo have been sent anonymously warning that Your Association is under observation by the SS; You are requested to cease your activities and retreat overseas!
Repressive measures continue to intensify despite findings by government authorities, including the German Federal Interior Minister, that no evidence exists to justify discriminatory actionsif even a justification were possibleand despite repeated censure from the United Nations, the State Department, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki and numerous other governments and human rights bodies. The State Departments 1996 Country Report on Human Rights, released January 30, 1997, devoted extensive space to Germanys mistreatment of Scientologists, specifically focusing on discriminatory policies and abuses authored by German federal and state governments: Many political parties exclude Scientologists from membership.... Artists have been prevented from performing or displaying their works because of their membership in the Church. In releasing the report, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy John Shattuck noted that We have expressed serious concern about discrimination against Scientologists in Germany and will continue to do so.
Dr. Stephen Feinstein of the University of Wisconsin has said that many of the attacks and representations of Scientology bear more than a slight resemblance to the misuse of art during the Third Reich in the anti-Semitic campaigns against the Jews.
What all of this suggests, Feinstein observed, is that modern Germany, while professing to be a democratic republic with a clean human rights record, has, in fact, one of great contradiction. Nowhere is this more evident than in cases involving many newer religions....
While the Church of Scientology and its members continue to speak up for the rights of all persecuted peoples in Germany, the officials responsible for the discriminatory acts and edicts continue to dismiss the existence of discrimination and refuse to look at the evidenceand encourage others to do the same.
The burning questions remain: Why the discrimination? Why does it seem that German officials have forgotten important lessons of the past?
There may be many answers. But, as you will read in this issue, most fundamentally it seems to come down to money. Not in any conventional sense; indeed, we think Americans will be astonished at what we expose, for it speaks to a form of alleged democracy which is utterly at odds with what Americans think of when they hear that wordand with what Americans intended when they set Germany on a course of tolerance, human rights and peace following World War II.
The information we present here should also be seen for what it means to the future of Germanyand, indeed, of Europe as a whole. If the intolerance and the pattern and practice of violating human rights cannot be brought to a halt, what will it mean for a unified Europe, where, according to the public statements of German officials, Germany will be the dominant state?
On the eve of conflict, Franklin Roosevelt put it well: Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.
To that high concept there can be no end save victory.