Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ghost Stories
The Campfire

Remember when you were a kid and you'd sit around a campfire with a group of people and tell stories, and someone would inevitably relate a story about the time a friend of a friend saw a light turn off and on by itself, or maybe a room suddenly became freezing cold. Yes, then another kid would chime in and tell of how after his grandma died, everyone could hear her walking through the house at night and bumping into things.

Before you knew it, it seemed everyone had a ghost story to tell, and before you knew it, you absolutely believed them all. There was something about sitting around a campfire with the outer darness ringing you, and the repetition of the stories. You just knew that any second a ghost was going to leap into your midst.

Watch now and see the same dynamic at play in the Islamic community of Germany. Substitute anger at Western Civilization for the campfire, and subsitute Islam for the ring of darness:

This just in: The Lebanese men suspected of having deposited bombs on German trains last month were hired hands — in the employ of the German government itself.

That, at least, is what one 27-year-old from Saudi Arabia believes. “It’s all a Protestant crusade,” the man explains. “All of northern Germany is Protestant, isn’t it? And so is President Bush.” Then the man launches into a melange of confusing arguments and historical facts. The bubonic plague, Martin Luther and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl all make a cameo. It’s all connected somehow, the man is sure of it.

The young Saudi Arabian’s views may make little sense from a Western point of view, but you can meet him and talk to him at a street corner in the middle of Hamburg, right by the central station. Foreigners from all over the world live in this neighborhood, called St. Georg, and a large number of them are Muslim. Several mosques have been built in the neighborhood. Many nearby stores carry no alcohol — but they do have electronic memory aides for Koran students on offer.

And then there are the conspiracy theories. They are everywhere — dozens of them — including some to explain away Germany’s recent terror scare. The others — some mutually contradictory — have pat explanations for what’s really going on in the world.

The Saudi Arabian’s crusade theory is being hotly debated on Steindamm, one of the main streets in the neighborhood. “It’s not about religion, it’s about money,” says an Algerian wearing a Lacoste shirt. A man from Tunisia immediately agrees and asks, “Why else have German soldiers been sent to Congo?”

In their struggle for money and oil, Western states will use whatever means they can, according to the theory. That the USA knew about the September 11, 2001 attacks before they happened but chose not to prevent them is a widespread view. “We think the United States needed those attacks so they could start the Iraq war,” explains Mahran Abdulwahab, a Lebanese graphic designer with a Hamburg accent.

Asked what they think of the suspects arrested for the foiled train attacks, many respond with remarks like: “They’re crazy.” Few have more to say. Abdulwahab also thinks such attacks are sheer madness. “It only harms people like us who live here,” he says.

But even he — whose views are quite moderate and who even had a Jewish girlfriend once — can’t help claiming you’ll never get the whole truth from the Western media because “their reporting is just too pro-Jewish.” Many such anti-Semitic remarks — and worse — can be heard around Hamburg’s central station.

Or on television. Just a few days ago, a 17-year-old Kurd from Bonn espoused the following theory on SPIEGEL TV: “What happened first,” he said, talking about the recent conflict in Lebanon, “was that the Jews raped a child, or something like that.” Later he claimed to have learned from a credible source that Jews once systematically shot six-year-olds in a kindergarten. “They let the teacher live so she would become mentally ill,” the young man said.