TIME has just announced its Person of the Year for 2015:
“For asking more of her country than most politicians would dare, for standing firm against tyranny as well as expedience and for providing steadfast moral leadership in a world where it is in short supply, Angela Merkel is TIME’s Person of the Year.”
Each year, the magazine profiles a person (or sometimes a group, idea or object) that “for better or for worse has done the most to influence the events of the year.” I think it’s a great choice. I assume the accompanying inspirational message about civil courage and leadership is meant primarily for TIME’s American readership, but it’s nice to think it might provide a bit of moral support to my friends and former neighbors in Germany.
More than 3 years after moving back to the United States, some things still make me feel like I’ve landed on the wrong planet. One is the current discussion surrounding immigration, both legal and illegal. It’s nothing new, but it never ceases to amaze me how xenophobic this nation of immigrants can be.
The latest wrinkle concerns Syrian refugees. President Obama has committed to taking in 10,000 of them in the coming year – about one for every 32,000 Americans. Republicans are up in arms. Unperturbed by the lack of any supporting evidence, they have determined that Syrians fleeing the Islamic State are a threat to national security. Thirty of fifty governors say they will obstruct efforts to relocate any of them to their states.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, it was an American woman, Eleanor Roosevelt, who led the effort to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948. Article 14 states, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” Nearly 70 years later, it is a German woman, Angela Merkel, who has emerged as the defender of human rights law. Sometime in the next few days, the number of migrants reaching Germany since the beginning of 2015 will reach 1 million. That’s one migrant for every 82 German residents. Many of them are asylum seekers from Syria. Those granted political asylum will be able to bring their families to join them in Europe, so the total number being resettled could grow exponentially.
Hoping to get some perspective on things, I asked friends and former neighbors in Germany about their view of the situation and their experience so far with the refugee crisis. Since fear is the driving force behind so much of the political rhetoric in the United States, I asked my German friends about their fears:
Words that can’t be directly translated are often especially revealing. In honor of the 25th anniversary of German Reunification [Wiedervereinigung], here’s an East German word that is rapidly disappearing from use: Sättigungsbeilage.
In case you haven’t heard, the Vatican has a new leader, and he is a rock star! Pope Francis visited Philadelphia this weekend, and it was sensational. Catholics and non-Catholics alike say they have been moved and inspired by the Pope. One of his key messages is that we must combat climate change and protect the natural environment. But is anyone really listening?
Of course, living in Germany is very different from visiting as a tourist. For one thing, when you live there, you have German neighbors. And if you have German neighbors, it’s only a matter of time before you learn one of my favorite German words: Sichtschutz.
Sicht means “sight”, and Schutz means “protection”, so you might naturally think of safety goggles or annual eye exams. However, Sichtschutz isn’t protection of your vision but, rather, protection from being seen by other people.
Some of you have already read the text of the speech I gave in a German church on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 . (Some of you even remember hearing it!)
I was preceded that day by a history teacher from the local high school, who had been asked to comment on the September 11th attacks in historical context. What I remember most about his talk was his assertion that, in the long run, the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011 would eclipse 9/11 as an event of greater consequence.
I was skeptical of his thesis then, and I’m even more skeptical now. Millions of Afghans and Iraqis have been displaced. Civilians in both countries are being killed daily in terrorist attacks. Here in the United States, we’ve been quick to accept as the “new normal” security measures that should give us pause.
Meanwhile, StoryCorps has expanded its commitment to preserving the stories of 9/11. It’s a great resource for sharing with our teenagers – the babies we held extra close 14 years ago.
Among our neighbors in Bad Homburg was the minister of the protestant Church of the Redeemer (Erlöserkirche). One day, he asked for our help with a special event at the church. He was planning a memorial service to mark the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. He already had a speaker lined up to talk about the meaning of the attacks in the greater historical context, and he wondered if I would be willing to represent the point of view of the victims. (more…)