Monday, April 09, 2012
I read 'The Tin Drum' many years ago. The main character who refuses to grow up is gifted with a piercing shriek which can be used as a weapon. It seems his creator is recalling old skills in the nadir of his long and illustrious career. Günter Grass is undeniably Germany's most famous living writer. A Nobel prizewinner - the inevitable passport to comment on global politics - his postwar emergent role as the country's moral conscience was rather undermined in 2006 when it became known (much too late) that the teenage Grass had served in the Waffen SS. But 'with his last drop of ink' Grass has triggered a furious row with a poem which criticises Israel. How very European and moralistic of him and how beautifully timed. The European tradition of accusing Israel of mass murder at Passover is hardly original. Grass raises the unlikely spectre of Israel "annihilating" the Iranian people – using a German verb, auslöschen, which comes dangerously close to evoking the Holocaust. To call him antisemitic is naïve – instead he seems to have a pathological need to be thought of as one, banging his tin drum being nothing more that attention-seeking. He seems remarkably unaware, as so many European commentators are, of the real state of affairs in the Middle East, in consequence the weight lent to the propaganda machine in Tehran by his remarks is likely to add fuel to a smouldering ember rather than extinguish it. He suggests, quite disgracefully, that there is a moral equivalence between the Israeli position and that of Iran – Netanyahu has had little choice but to bang his tin drum as aggressively as the mad despot in Tehran whose puppet masters tell him what to say in respect of Israel and its right to exist. Quite rightly, neither country is prepared to allow the world to use it as a chessboard to reconfigure the realpolitik of the region simply because they wish the problem would go away. Will the Israelis strike pre-emptively? I think not; they merely bang away as loudly and aggressively as their enemies - the latest being Grass is persona non grata in Israel and there are howls to strip him of the Nobel. The ayatollahs in Persia realise only too well, however, that their enemies are capable of sending them all back to the Dark Ages in a flurry of gamma rays.