Last Thursday Al Arabiya News announced that Raghad Saddam Hussein, the eldest daughter of the late Iraqi dictator, is currently looking for an international publishing house for her father’s memoir that he handwrote in jail. This would not be a posthumous beginning to Hussein’s “literary” career – prior to his death he published four erotic novels, including Zabibah and the King, upon which Sasha Baron Cohen’s latest movie The Dictator is based.
The idea of a dictator writing erotica is kind of hilarious. I hope no one worries about readers getting brainwashed by Zabibah and the King (which includes a bestiality scene) or any of Hussein’s other romances – even if they are allegories of his regime. Instead, the publication of his memoir will probably cause more of a stir for very obvious reasons: most won’t be fans of Hussein’s daughter making money off the memories of her insane, murderous father.
What happens with Hussein’s book remains to be seen, but it’ll be interesting to watch it play out in light of another recent announcement. For the first time since 1945, the German government will allow publication of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
I’ve never read Mein Kampf, though I know a number of people who have read the English translation. Far from being crazy Neo Nazis looking for validation, these acquaintances are interested in a deeper understanding of the brainwashing of German society. After all, most of the world has always been able to access Hitler’s manifesto (just go on Amazon and you’ll see multiple translations of the book). But it hasn’t been as simple for Germans. The copyright has been held by the German state of Bavaria since 1945, and the government has banned it from publication. But come 2015, the copyright expires, and Germans will be able to access Hitler’s racist musings without downloading the credo from the Internet or searching used books stores. The Munich Institute of Contemporary History will be publishing a scholarly edition containing annotations and commentary.
It’s not a shocker that this decision has sparked widespread debate – the worry being impressionable readers will take Hitler’s words to heart and turn anti-Semitic. Wolfgang Benz, the historian and former head of the Center for Research on anti-Semitism at Berlin’s Technical University, has argued against the publication due to its “personal, hate-filled tirades without any additional insight.” Of course, most don’t disagree with Benz on that point; the defeat of the Nazis didn’t mean that all those who bought into the propaganda were saying, “OK, I changed my mind. All people are equal.” And his argument made some sense in the past as having a copy of Mein Kampf on the coffee table was not the best way to encourage young people to avoid their parents’ troublesome belief system.
But it’s 2012, and I’d like to give Germans the benefit of the doubt. The book’s present-day publication is not going to lead to the rise of a new Nazi party. It will be a scholarly version, providing people with an insightful unmasking of Hitler’s thoughts (i.e. rants), and in turn illustrate why he was, to put it simply, completely nuts. Come 2015, pro-Nazi groups will be able to publish the book with their own dark-side commentary. Why not cut them off at the pass?
This educational edition is as much of a preventative measure as anything else. So when groups such as the teachers association in Bavaria argue against a version being taught in schools, I can’t help but roll my eyes. Especially when they’re using arguments such as teaching about Mein Kampf is the equivalent of giving children alcohol so they can learn about alcoholism. Since when is giving kids a round of shots the same thing as critical thinking about how one man’s views eventually translated into the murdering of millions?
Even the Central Council of Jews in Germany, after initial reluctance, agrees this publication is a necessary step. Stephan Kramer, the General Secretary of the council has acknowledged that people already have access to the book anyway. “It is all the more important that young people should see the critical version when they click on to Mein Kampf on the web,” Kramer said in The U.K. newspaper The Independent.
There is one more thing to consider. Mein Kampf, by all accounts, is boring as hell. So boring, in fact, even Hitler’s buddy Benito Mussolini thought so. So we mustn’t worry of mass stampedes once it becomes available. Intellectuals will discuss it, students will complain about reading it and, if Germany is anything like the U.S., every year some parents will fight to ban it from their school’s reading list. Then Germans’ lives will go on, and somehow they will manage not to descend into fascism.