Tarik Cyril Amar – Germany’s Annalena Baerbock – The Debility of Evil?

Germany is participating in its third genocide in 120 years, although as they were fervent Nazis they committed a triple genocide: against the Jews, Romani, and Russians

Tarik Cyril Amar (@TarikCyrilAmar) is a historian from Germany, currently at Koç University, Istanbul, expert on Ukraine, Russia, and Europe, and the author of “The Paradox of Ukrainian Lviv. A Borderland City between Stalinists, Nazis, and Nationalists.”

Cross-posted from Tarik Cyril Amar’s substack


At this years Davos meeting of our global non-elites (or would that be “anti-elites”?), the German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, already widely known for her frequent blunders and faux pas, has surpassed herself. Most likely carefully done up by expensive stylists, comfortably seated on a shiny white chair on a state-of-the-art podium in a small town in Switzerland brimming with power, money, and, last but not least, partying, she explained her position regarding the ongoing genocidal Israeli attack on the Palestinians in Gaza.

A “sustainable ceasefire,” she declared, is what is needed. That is, of course, code for “no ceasefire.” Her preference is for the fighting – really, mostly, massacring – to continue, because, as she pronounced, ceasefires do “not fall from the sky.” Many have already commented on just how much obtuse cynicism it takes to reach for a “sky” simile, when telling the world why you think a genocide committed largely by bombing (although there is of course also much starvation, the promotion of diseases, repeated dislocation…) must not stop.

But we have long known that Baerbock is a past master of malapropisms. Remember that “360-degree turn” Putin was supposed to perform to become a different man, her casual declaration of war against Russia, and, of course, that “bacon of hope” thing in, of all places, South Africa?. In particular, her particular combination of incompetence in proper German and even greater incompetence in English makes for breathtaking results when she bravely tries to transfer (“translate” does not seem to be quite the word) her cogitations from one to the other.

What is much more important is the cold-hearted brutality she felt no need to hide. In the manner of a strict governess telling off a gaggle of quarrelling children, she decreed that the genocide – which doubles as a mass slaughter of children, of course – must go on, until… until what, really? Until something she calls “sustainable” – as if shopping in an upper-class organic food store for a bottle of decadently expensive Kombucha – has been achieved. By which she means, in effect, genocidal apartheid Israel’s victory, and the end of any resistance from the victims. In the bad old days, Germans used to call such a thing a “Siegfrieden” (a victory peace).

What to make of the larger meaning of this atrocious moment? While morally and intellectually anything but significant, Baerbock is, after all, Germany’s foreign minister – presumably, a diplomatic master from Germany to address the world, no less.

And does she represent! The question is what? History may help.

In 1963, Hannah Arendt argued that there was something deeply banal about a key perpetrator of genocide, the Nazi Adolf Eichmann. She did not mean to diminish the horror of his crimes, of the Holocaust as whole, or his responsibility and guilt. Rather, her Eichmann, a chief organizer of the Holocaust who was executed in Israel in 1962, emerged as in many ways stunningly ordinary, while still vigorously engaged in superlative evil.

That interpretation, of course, was as much about Eichmann as the Germany and, more broadly, the modern world in which he lived and made a steep career by his enormous crimes. Where that type can appear “normal,” clearly, the “normality” he lives and thrives in must be anything but.

Arendt’s take on the evil of Nazi genocide was controversial as well as often badly (including, I believe, deliberately) misunderstood. In addition, those sharing a déformation professionnelle with me, nitpicking historians, have plausibly argued that their sources show them a different Eichmann: less ordinary, even slightly less ill-educated, and more ideologically driven.

Arendt’s main point, however, still stands: There was, as you would expect, something extremely disturbing about the genocide perpetrator Adolf Eichmann. But that something was not what many would intuitively expect, or at least not only: Apart from fanaticism, cynicism, and sadism, there was – notwithstanding Eichmann’s initially lackluster school and professional record – a high degree of conformism and careerism, of fitting-in successfully: a good team player in a world of mass murder.

Eichmann was, of course, a textbook perpetrator. He played a crucial role in making a large part of the Holocaust run on schedule, quite literally. He also visited murder sites extensively. He was not, literally, what Germans call a “Schreibtischtäter,” a desk-bound perpetrator but a hands-on manager of mass murder in the field.

None of the above could be said about Baerbock. Her case and that of Eichmann cannot be compared or, even less, equated. And yet, if we take the 1948 UN Genocide Convention seriously, then Baerbock’s viciously callous statement cannot but make us think of Arendt’s resonant phrase. For the Convention explicitly outlaws not only the crime of perpetrating a genocide, but also that of complicity in it. The Convention also demands that signatory states prevent genocide.

This is not a court of law, and there is no presumption here to replace one (while I do believe that a court should get to work on the whole German government). But it is my opinion that Baerbock has done nothing to prevent a genocide, thus failing not only in her basic ethical but also legal obligations as a representative of a Convention signatory state with special responsibility for foreign policy (which, of course, does not mean, other members of that government are off the hook). Further, I also believe that a compelling case can be made for accusing Baerbock of complicity in genocide.

The genocide I am referring to is, obviously, the one already mentioned above, currently being committed by Israel against the Palestinians. It would be tedious to recapitulate, once again, the arguments for qualifying Israel’s actions as precisely that. No, this is not “ordinary warfare” or “self-defense”; and the nature and extent of these heinous, premeditated actions as well as the intent that is openly, almost compulsively displayed – quite literally ad nauseam – by the Israeli perpetrators mean that we are dealing not “merely” (for want of better words) with war crimes and crimes against humanity either. Make no mistake: Israel has a sterling and constantly growing record of those too. But the totality of its actions amounts to what the Holocaust and genocide expert Raz Segal has called a “textbook case of genocide.” (For those still in need of a detailed, thorough summary of this totality, so as to finally face reality: Please consult South Africa’s 84-page Application to the UN’s International Court of Justice.)

Against this background, the German government has taken a position of unconditional support for the perpetrators state Israel: Germany has escalated its arms sales during the ongoing genocide; German authorities have been viciously aggressive in suppressing and smearing as “antisemitism” criticism of Israel and resistance against its crimes; German media have gone out of their way to follow that government line. And, last but not least, Germany has gratuitously and revoltingly, leapt to Israel’s side in the ICJ proceedings in The Hague, for which Namibia, a victim of a German genocide, has roundly and rightly condemned Berlin. Thankfully, Stefan Talmon – Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College – has already explained in detail in just how many ways the German government’s abominable initiative also makes no sense.

Against this backdrop of moral and intellectual failure, of which Germans will live to be ashamed, again, Baerbock is nothing special. She simply corresponds to the German mainstream and average, displaying her lack of individuality and conformism. There is your banality.

But that is not all. There also is something perversely over-achieving about her performance. A crudeness that can only emerge when great moral failure meets massive intellectual deficiency. Or to be more polite, when an abject lack of compassion has the redeeming feature of being accompanied by a blunt lack of sophistication, and, thus, the truth will out. With brutal “frankness,” if that is the word.

What can we call this? My guess, the debility of evil.

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1 Comment

  1. Now, as far I remember, Arendt’s “banality of evil” was expressively not about Germans. It could happen everywhere if circumstances had it so, including Israel, she said. And gosh, how the Zionists hated her for saying that.

    I suppose Germany – or the Germans – isn’t worse than another capitalist EU member (people). It is all about how scared they are.

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