German Cultural Agency: Feel Like Attacking America? Let’s Talk!

Posted by John Rosenthal

In “Teaser: More on Germany and ‘Paradise Now””, I mentioned that one of the German public agencies that provided support for the making of “Paradise Now” is the Federal Cultural Foundation. The Cultural Foundation was established by the German government in 2002 and is “dedicated to the demands of art and culture in the 21st Century” [source: foundation website; link in German] . Its governing council is presided over by the Minister of Culture (currently Cristina Weiss) and, symptomatically, includes a representative of the German Foreign Ministry (currently State Secretary Jürgen Chrobog, who was, incidentally, Germany’s Ambassador to the US from 1995-2001). The Cultural Foundation, which enjoys an annual budget of some 38 million euro [source: German Federal Government], is, in short, an instrument of what in German has long been known as Kulturpolitik – “cultural politics” or “cultural policy”. Contrary to what an English speaker would be inclined to think in hearing such an expression, in the German context, Kulturpolitik is understood as being essentially a component of – and indeed an essential component of – foreign policy. 

The Cultural Foundation’s website includes a listing of all projects that have been awarded grants in 2005 or that were awarded support in previous years and are still underway. The number of projects displayed can be pared down by making a selection in a dropdown menu of categories, including such entries as “graphic art”, “German reunification”, “research project”, “globalization”,“music”, etc. (The classification system is somewhat reminiscent of the mythical Chinese encyclopedia of which Borges wrote and that classified all animals into categories such as “belonging to the Emperor”, “suckling pigs”, “fabled”, “stray dogs”, “just knocked over the vase”, and so on.) 

One of the categories in the dropdown menu is “September 11, 2001”. When it is selected, the full list is pared down to the following two projects:

West-Eastern Divan [an allusion to a collection of poems by Goethe - JR]: Cultural Exchange Between German and Arab Authors

MIDAD Online Forum and Travel Scholarships for Exchange with the Arab World

Alluding to the authors of current German foreign policy in their contribution “Talking With Islamists” in the Trans-Int Quarterly [registration required], Thomas von der Osten-Sacken and Thomas Uwer observe that “if one asks… how terrorism is to be effectively combated…, the answer one usually gets is: ‘through dialogue’.  Dialogue is the magic word invariably deployed whenever concrete political measures are demanded.” The Federal Cultural Foundation’s projects “on” 9/11 provide a striking illustration. It is worth emphasizing, moreover, that such a response – as Von der Osten-Sacken and Uwer show in detail – serves, in effect, to elevate Islamist partisans of jihad to the legitmate representatives of “the Arab world”, while marginalizing liberal and modernizing currents.

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