March 17, 2004
Admittedly, I did not expect to encounter a monster, after having read his book and after all the observations which I had made for a longer spell of time. And still, Jamal Karsli surprised me when I met him face to face for the first time, in a simple house somewhere in the Ruhr area where he is living together with his wife and the two kids. Somewhere inside of me I did have a slight prejudice and thought this man might be arrogant, a little at least. Yet my experiences with him during these six hours, which he had generously granted me, were completely different.
The first hello was friendly, as I had indicated to him in advance that I am informed about the German press so far that I know their feelings. Besides, my 108 pages study "The Reproach of Antisemitism in critical Reflexion" is online-published since February. How is Jamal Karsli doing? He is doing quite well. He could have withdrawn into privacy at this stage, as long as the provincial parliament salary is paid, but he chose a different way. Founded a party which especially - but not only - supports the concerns of migrants and the human rights. Would you like to drink tea or coffe, he asks. The same that you drink. We move into the kitchen where I can smoke and while he tells me about his visit to Turkey and I tell him about my visit to Egypt, he puts plates with snacks on the round table between us. Smoking and carelessly I turn the pages of a huge file with collected newspaper articles, public letters and similar things, quite chaotic, contradicting my sense of chronological order; here an article about the monster, there an article about the human rights activist, and over there a photo of him with the pope. "For some people I am a treasoner, for others a hero."
We drink tea out of glasses. I have to go to the loo, again. He said "hero". If he said that in the press, so I think by myself while the water is splashing, then I'd know what would happen. Heroism, the Nazis! We got used to that. Recently, I have read one of those freaks who wrote about my hobby subject of "E-Music and U-Music" (The German differentiation between "ernest/serious" art and "entertaining" art). Goebbels was reported to have supported the abolition of this differentiation, this is how the argumentation went, thus the liberalisation of this sector would be latently, at least associatively, Nazi. Oh, you wear socks. Didn't you know that the Nazis also wore socks?! This number. Then the people come and think to themselves: no, if this could have anything to do with Nazis then I better keep away of that thing.
"And why treasoner?" I ask him, back at the table, tasting an Italian fried sweet made by his wife and consisting of small yellow balls. "For some of the Greens", he replies, opening a cigarillo which he had brought with him from Turkey. "Normally I don't smoke. Sometimes water-pipe, but this here is a special kind." I sigh. Smoke too much. Time to substitute the substitute satisfaction with real satisfaction... Oh yes, some of the Greens, of course. They are the right ones for blaming others. Confidence question (Vertrauensfrage)... Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Palestine. It is still the question who remained faithful to the own principles, him or some of them Greens.
I look at Jamal Karsli, who quickly had offered me the informal "Du", and I have to grin. How much fantasy the sober German press can develop! When you consider how much energy and passion had been spent by dozens, no hundreds, maybe thousands of journalists, politicians, photographers, "intellectuals", and institutions in order to paint this man with their colors and to attach labels to him which are so far away from Jamal Karsli that one really wonders where these monster images come from and what harm they do. All those newspapers, TV and radio stations, antisemitism "research" institutions. An unbelievable proceeding. "It had been especially bad for my wife. She is a teacher and listens to the news on her way to work. For about eight weeks it had been really hard." In the meantime, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of Germany's biggest newspapers, had published an article about him which he found quite OK. I meet Franca, a slim Italian who surpasses her husband in body height. The children also pop in to say hello. Sofia and Sami. He speaks with them in Arabic. She in Italian. With each other they speak German. Sami says a sentence to his mother in which the word "fumare" occurs, I understood that. I have known the word ever since I am riding trains. It was there on a sign, together with other languages. A bit like on the razor foam can, only with different text. Or on the Rosetta stone.
After three glasses of tea and a cup of coffee we climb the narrow winding stairs up to his study. Rather chaotic, he murmurs, but it isn't. At the computer he shows me pictures from his last journeys to Israel, Palestine, and Egypt. Here it is true, chaotic, everything mixed together. Some real cool photos. With Amr Moussa, the General Secretary of the Arab League, or this one here, with Uri Davis and Ilan Pappe, two known Israeli human rights activists (see below). Lots of photos. I show Jamal the new Arabic front page of Anis Online and a couple of links. Take some pictures, too.
"When there is a problem, then people have to talk about it", he says. "There is no point in closing the door and ending the dialogue." I think the same. Some people think the same. Probably this is what the problem is about. We live in a society which seeks to avoid conflict discussions, not in a Streitkultur. This is what I also call for, that conflict parties openly deal with each other and that they don't exclude each other, for this is the only way how we can reach the social peace that we are missing. Everything else is no use. For example, the Attac folks could sit at one table with the liberal party in order to discuss things. But here the mainstream sneers, although the debate could well be effective.
Again the cell-phone rings. Sometimes he talks in Arabic, sometimes in German, sometimes in Turkish. "When you were in Turkey, did you do all the interviews and encounters in Turkish?" I ask him. "Mostly yes. But the top official things I did in German. The Turks, by the way, are very concerned about the protocol. I don't really need that. But it went quite well. I traveled as the head of the FAKT Party and spoke with human rights activists, politicians, and journalists." Evening falls. I do not want to take his time any longer, I heard a lot and spent some very interesting hours. "We could drop by the Turkish restaurant around the corner", Jamal says. OK, sure. The evening was not over yet.
With the hat and the coat he looks different, I think while we leave the house. We drive some minutes in his Volvo. Arrive at a Turkish diner restaurant and sit down, after the owner has said hello to him and shown him the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet from today, in which there is something written about him. Then Jamal mostly talks about his time in the petition committee. He really had been able to move something. Many Arab, Turkish and other families would have faced major problems without him. Jamal Karsli did not resign. Has not grown bitter, either. A bit disappointed he is, but he continues. Felicia Langer has written a short introduction to his book "Muzzle for Germany", in which he explains and analyses his own perceptions of what happened, considering many sources.
While we are waiting for the mixed grill plate I want to know if he has always been a politician, maybe even as a child. He smiles. "Yes, indeed. I have a big family in Syria. I am the youngest son of the first of two wifes of my father's and have eleven siblings and half-siblings. Sometimes I had protected the children of the second wife, especially the girls, whenever I felt that they were not treated equally." I wonder how the West wants to get to peace with the East if people like Jamal Karsli are not approached. This would be a rejection of peace in the country and in the world. For the opinion of Jamal Karsli in many things represents the opinion of a considerable part of the population here and abroad. This also holds true for the occupation of Palestine which does not belong to the right of existance of Israel and never did. One cannot just throw out all the people who take the human right of the Palestinians seriously, whether the Central Council of the Jews in Germany is pleased by that or not.
There are lots of legends about Jamal Karsli. That he has something to do with Nazis is big nonsense. On the contrary, Nazis are defined by their hostility towards foreigners, therefore they are far away from the things which Karsli has been fighting for in the last twenty years. He also has nothing to do with Islamists, inasfar as his policy is not determined by Islam. Still he is a Muslim and does not hide this fact. Similar to me Jamal is ready to talk with groups which are different in this respect. Similar to the way that our foreign minister is not embarrassed to speak with right-wing radical Israelis. For the worst thing for society is when groups or individuals are excluded from communication and from democracy.
As I drive back the seventy kilometers to my parents, in Dad's car, something has changed. It was Saturday, the 13th of March, 2004.
Jamal Karsli visiting the ruins in Jenin, 2002
Jamal Karsli with Uri Davis and Ilan Pappe in Israel, 2002
Jamal Karsli and the General Secretary of the Arab League, Amr Moussa