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Scientology: Tom Cruise Banned from Filming in Berlin?

A fierce controversy has arisen since Germany’s defense ministry allegedly banned Tom Cruise from filming on certain locations in Berlin. Cruise is to act Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the German Reichswehr officer who attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20th1944. The reason for not allowing Cruise into the government building called “Bendlerblock”, according to a spokesman of the ministry: Mr Cruise having “publicly professed to being a member of the Scientology cult”.
This is as quoted by Antje Blumenthal, a member of parliament and expert for sect issues in the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party – and that’s part of the crux. As it turns out (link is in German), the producers haven’t even asked for permission to film anywhere yet; also, the location in question might not fall under the jurisdiction of the ministry of defense, but of the ministry of finance. So a (possibly overzealous) politician talked a (possibly naïve) ministry official into promising something that does sound to many as religious discrimination or even persecution. [see the lively debate on Atlantic Review]
Needless to say, accusations of religious persecution cast a poor light on us Germans, perpetrators of the Holocaust – of all peoples. Comparisons with the Nazi regime are abound on the internet; Stauffenberg’s son is being quoted in newspapers all over the world:  “It’s bound to be rubbish […] He should keep his hands off my father.”; whole interview in the original German; hints are being dropped of Berlin losing millions of Euros and 500 jobs of the movie were to be filmed elsewhere – in short: a “bureaucratic farce” turned into a political scandal.

While Scientology is officially recognized as a religion and enjoys tax-free status in the US, the German government considers it a profit-making organization and a dangerous cult, which is under surveillance of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, Germany’s internal intelligence service. The US government has repeatedly criticized Germany for their “discrimination” of certain religious groups, including Scientology; they consider Germany’s handling of the controversial American organization as human rights infringement, e.g. in their 2005 human rights report.
So should we, as Time Magazine suggests, simply “ agree to disagree” on the issue? I’d say no. This incident has raised a couple of questions that should be addressed.
1. For the benefit of all people around the globe, both countries should take the lead in making transparent what Scientology is all about and how it should be treated.
2. Disagreements over Scientology have overshadowed German-American relations for too long already. We shouldn’t let any private organization, may it be a reputable church or a dubious sect, divide us.
3. Most importantly: Both our countries could do with an honest, open debate about religious freedom and the separation of church and state, cornerstones of our respective constitutions and shared values of our civilization. It’s never easy to get it right.

US Think Tanker Considers the German EU Presidency Successful

Wess Mitchell, director of research at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington DC, grades the German EU Presidency. Merkel gets a B for "re-starting [European] integration and As for "re-calibrating ties with Russia" and "re-energizing transatlantic relations," because:
Many Germans wanted Merkel to do the same on CIA overflights and missile defense. Her decision to downplay these disagreements and focus on common interests has given U.S.-EU ties their biggest boost in a decade.
Perhaps the CIA renditions will create some tension in the US-German relationship in the next few weeks, if (!) the Spiegel article mentioned in the Atlantic Review post Will Merkel Request the Extradition of CIA Agents? accurately reflects the perception in Washington DC.

Wess Mitchell's column let to an interesting discussion on the German-Polish relationship in the comments section. Read it all in the Atlantic Community. Full disclosure: I work for this new Open Think Tank on Global Issues. I'd appreciate your comments here on Atlantic Review and on Atlantic Community. Registration at the latter is real fast.

Personal comment:
Germany has worked hard on reconciliation and a deepening of ties with Poland. Besides, without German support, Poland might not have been able to join the EU in 2004. The German and the Polish people get along much better than our politicians do. I think, the current problem in German-Polish relations are the Kaczyński twins and the obnoxious German association of displaced persons led by Erika Steinbach. When both parties have left the political scene the German-Polish relationship will be much better.

More Americans Believe that Saddam Was Directly Involved in 9/11

The Raw Story
A new Newsweek poll out this weekend exposed "gaps" in America's knowledge of history and current events. Perhaps most alarmingly, 41% of Americans answered 'Yes' to the question "Do you think Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq was directly involved in planning, financing, or carrying out the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001?" That total is actually up 5 points since September 2004. Further, a majority of people couldn't identify Saudia Arabia as the country of origin of most of the 9/11 hijackers, even given the question in multiple choice format. 20% answered Iraq, while 14% believed the hijackers came from Iran.
Full numbers at Newsweek. The results of this Princeton Survey Research Associates International poll are based on telephone interviews with 1,001 adults, 18 and older, conducted June 18-19, 2007.  "Results are weighted so that the sample demographics match Census Current Population Survey parameters for gender, age, education, race, region, and population density.  The overall margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4 percentage points."

Personal comment: I have seen these polls for quite a while now, but I still find them shocking. Likewise, many Americans are shocked when they learn about polls that say 45% of Germans consider U.S. more dangerous than Iran. Perhaps bloggers complaining about Anti-Americanism/Anti-Europeanism need to be more concerned about their fellow citizens' political views than with the political views across the Atlantic or at least notice how common ignorant perceptions are.
Still, I am wondering whether in the next few months even more Americans will believe that Iran was responsible for 9/11.

Will Merkel Request the Extradition of CIA Agents?

Officials in Washington have since realized that the German investigation is more than just a symbolic act. This week in Berlin, a group of senior officials from the interior, foreign and justice ministries will meet to discuss the sensitive issue of how the German government should handle the Munich petition for "arrest for the purposes of extradition." There is general agreement within the government in Berlin that the request should be promptly delivered to the Bush administration, which would be tantamount to an official request for the arrest of the men being sought. (...)
At a recent lunch in the German Embassy in Washington, Michael Hayden, the new CIA director, complained about the "bottomless criticism" from Europe that the US government faces for abducting suspicious Islamists. One US diplomat calls Germany's approach the "German double standard."
On the one hand, he says, the Germans seek to benefit from information gleaned by the CIA. On the other, they are careful to keep their hands clean. According to US diplomats, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made it clear to her German counterpart, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, that the investigations of the agents present a serious problem.
Apparently, the German prosecutors discovered the real names of the CIA pilots involved in the "renditions":
The US agents were not as smart as the police had assumed -- or perhaps criminally negligent. Thanks to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), all it took was a simple computer search for the investigators in Old Europe, without any official assistance from the US Department of Justice, to determine the real names of "Captain James Fairing," "Eric Fain" and "Kirk James Bird."
UNRELATED: "Verboten: Germany Bans Tom Cruise" reports ABC News:
Germany has barred the makers of a movie about a plot to kill Adolf Hitler from filming at German military sites because its star Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, the Defence Ministry said on Monday.

Americans are World Champions in Philanthropy

USA Today:
The biggest chunk of the donations, $96.82 billion or 32.8%, went to religious organizations. The second largest slice, $40.98 billion or 13.9%, went to education, including gifts to colleges, universities and libraries. About 65% of households with incomes less than $100,000 give to charity, the report showed.
"It tells you something about American culture that is unlike any other country," said Claire Gaudiani, a professor at NYU's Heyman Center for Philanthropy and author of The Greater Good: How Philanthropy Drives the American Economy and Can Save Capitalism. Gaudiani said the willingness of Americans to give cuts across income levels, and their investments go to developing ideas, inventions and people to the benefit of the overall economy. Gaudiani said Americans give twice as much as the next most charitable country, according to a November 2006 comparison done by the Charities Aid Foundation. In philanthropic giving as a percentage of gross domestic product, the U.S. ranked first at 1.7%. No. 2 Britain gave 0.73%, while France, with a 0.14% rate, trailed such countries as South Africa, Singapore, Turkey and Germany.
Philanthropy is on the rise in Germany, and various organizations and media outlets describe the US as a role model for Germany.
One reason, why Germans do not donate as much as Americans could be that the German welfare state is bigger, i.e. Germans pay taxes rather than donate money to help the poor, the sick, and to finance religious groups. German solidarity is organized via taxes rather than donations. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages.
Still, Davids Medienkritik has a good point: "Why aren't these amerikanische Verhältnisse headline news in German media?"

Related posts in the Atlantic Review:
Learning from America: Philanthropy and Immigration
Importing the American Spirit of Civic Responsibility to Germany
Americans donate and volunteer a lot for good causes abroad

Putting the Death Toll in Perspective

Prose Before Hos looks at civilian death statistics:
Every 9.62 days, there is an equivalent amount of casualties in Iraq & Afghanistan as September 11th. (...) In 11 days as many Iraqi & Afghani civilians are killed as the entire amount of American military personnel killed since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2002 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
I guess, the message is: Given the huge influence 9/11 had on the American psyche, it is hard to underestimate the impact of war on the Iraqis. Likewise, I have read somewhere: Although many more Turks died in PKK attacks than Americans died on 9/11, Turkey has not invaded Northern Iraq yet, but the pressure is increasing and the United States is trying hard to prevent an invasion. If people are attacked, esp. if they lose family members, then there is an (irrational) urge to hit back.

• Different topic, but also about statistics and demographics: Reader ArnoNymus recommends the Economist article "Suddenly, the old world looks younger: Reports of Europe's death are somewhat exaggerated" as a contrast to Mark Steyn

Increased Terror Threat: Germans in Pakistani Terror Camps

ABC News:
German authorities called for increased vigilance on Friday against possible terror attacks, saying the kind of threat detected before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States had resurfaced. Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the threat was "serious" and that suicide attacks were possible on German soil. (...)
German state broadcaster ZDF reported earlier the government had evidence 10 to 12 people from Germany had joined militant training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three of them, including two people considered dangerous, were arrested in Pakistan as they attempted to travel back to Germany, ZDF said, without identifying the source of its information or giving more details. "We have indications that people who have lived in Germany and who have roots in Germany -- some of whom hold German citizenship -- are in Pakistan spending time at training camps," Hanning said.
Related posts: U.S. Citizen Indicted for Training Al Qaeda Operatives in Germany and US and German Officials Issue Terror Threat Warnings