FOUR HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN

A nice piece on Germany’s Center for Political Beauty and “Aggressive Humanism, by David Kretz.

The Center has risen to new national prominence during the recent refugee crisis. In May 2014 the German Ministry for Family Affairs, headed by center-left secretary Manuela Schwesig, announced on a new website that it would offer asylum to fifty-five thousand Syrian children—1 percent of the five million who would need it according to UNICEF. This was in the build-up to the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015, months before Merkel’s exhortation “We can do it.”

The website, which offered online forms for Germans to register as host families, went viral on social media. A video showed happy, grateful children in Aleppo thanking Secretary Schwesig for her initiative. Large crowds spontaneously assembled in front of the offices of the Ministry for Family Affairs in Berlin, celebrating and leaving an ocean of flowers and teddy bears. Such is the political beauty that the Center imagines. It was they who had created the website, as well as a complete Federal Emergency Program, including IT infrastructure, a ready-to-implement legislative framework, extensive PR materials, active hotlines with actors answering questions about the program, and contacts with schools and other organizations inside Syria—a hyper-real theater performance. The Ministry could have played along but chose not to. Embarrassedly and awkwardly, they declared a day later that, no, they would not save the children.

….

As is often the case in the Center’s work, the shining example comes with a warning: to underscore the beauty and nobility of some acts, they contrast them with the cynicism and brutality of others. As part of the Kindertransporthilfe, the Center set up an installation at Berlin’s central Friedrichstrasse Station, close to Frank Meisler’s bronze sculpture “Trains to Life—Trains to Death.“ Meisler’s work commemorates both the ten thousand children who were saved from the camps, and the 1.6 million who were killed in them. The Center set up two blue containers in front of the station with pictures of wounded and mutilated Syrian children. Each picture came with a phone number, which passersby could dial to vote on who should receive asylum and who should not: one in a hundred would be saved, the slogan went—and 99 would not. Nearby was a “medical tent” where Syrian doctors who had fled to Germany would take care of Germans for whom the pictures were too disturbing. While they treated them they told stories of the children they’d had to abandon in the ruins of Aleppo’s bombed hospitals.

FOUR HUNDRED AND TEN

From Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

“A thriving trade in electricity was under way in dark London, run by those who lived in pockets with power, and Saeed and Nadia were able to recharge their phones from time to time, and if they walked to the edges of their locality they could pick up a strong signal, and so like many others they caught up with the world this way, and once as Nadia sat on the steps of a building reading the new on her phone across the street from a detachment of troops and a tank she thought she saw online a photograph of herself sitting on the steps of a building reading the news on her phone across the street from a detachment of troops and a tank, and she was startled, and wondered how this could be, how she could both read this news and be this news, and how the newspaper could have published this image of her instantaneously, and she looked about for a photographer, and she had the bizarre feeling of time bending all around her, as though she was from the past reading about the future, or from the future reading about the past, and she almost felt that if she got up and walked home at this moment there would be two Nadias, that she would split into two Nadias, and one would stay on the steps reading and one would walk home, and two different lives would unfold for these two different selves, and she thought she was losing her balance, or possibly her mind, and then she zoomed in on the image and saw that the woman in the black robe reading the news on her phone was actually not her at all.”