April 10, 2012. On Sunday, Israel took the rare step of banning German poet Gunter Grass for the content of his most recent poem, What Must Be Said. Grass has accomplished what many poets set out to do. He sparked emotions and passions across the globe and elicited support as well as condemnation. The poet makes the accusation that it is Israel, not Iran, that has nuclear weapons and is dangerously close to using them. Thus, it is Israel, not Iran, that poses the most serious, dangerous and imminent threat to world peace.
Author of the poem, 'What Must Be Said', Gunter Grass, was banned in Israel Sunday over its publishing. Image courtesy of LoonWatch.com.
Israel’s Interior Minister, Eli Yishai, was quoted explaining the ban saying, “If Gunter wants to spread his twisted and lying words, I suggest he does it from Iran, where he can find a supportive audience.” Other Israeli officials simply accused the German poet of anti-Semitism. In Germany, it’s illegal to deny the Nazi Holocaust, along with other crimes against hate speech. Accusations of anti-Semitism, even if undeserved, can lead to prison. The poet’s critics point to his known past as a Nazi soldier during World War 2 as evidence.
84 year-old Nobel Prize winner Gunter Grass has found his defenders many and widespread. Almost none comment on the poet’s opinion or the sentiment of the poem, but instead unanimously reinforce Mr. Grass’ right to have an opinion and write a poem about it, without being anti-Semitic. A spokesman for Germany’s main opposition party, the Social Democrats, said Israel’s reaction was, “excessive”. “A democratic and pluralistic country such as Israel can also bear controversial opinions, especially because Guenter Grass’ views are not anti-Semitic,” the party’s top lawmaker on foreign policy, Rolf Muetzenich, told the daily Handelsblatt. He went on to describe the Israeli ban as, “a sign of hopelessness.”
Also in Germany, Der Spiegel called the Israeli decision, “absurd”. In England, The Guardian called the ban on Grass “state censorship”. The UK publication had an answer that we at Whiteout Press endorse, “Hit Gunter Grass with poetry, not a travel ban.” In the US, the Washington Post reprinted an Associated Press report that was absent any commentary at all. The Post and AP simply published the words, ‘Here is an unofficial translation of Gunter Grass’ poem, ‘What Must Be Said’ – that’s all - and then reprinted the poem in English.
For a glimpse of how Grass’ poem is being received in the Arab and Muslim Middle East, Aljazeera reported, “Grass breaks a long standing German taboo and publicly criticizes Israel for aggressive warmongering against Iran, identifies the Jewish state as a threat to world peace, accuses the West of hypocrisy, and denounces his own government for providing nuclear submarines to Israel.”
Here is the English translation of Gunter Grass’ poem, ‘What Must Be Said’, compliments The Guardian (as well as a number of other major news outlets), followed by a second translation from the German underground. Not speaking German and not having access to the original German text, we at Whiteout Press can’t confirm either translation. This author wonders if the first, mainstream media version, is closer to the actual text. While the second, underground version, is closer to the heart and true sentiment of the poem. The underground version of Gunter Grass’ poem also comes with an accompanying YouTube video, included at the end, at least until it gets blacked-out.
By Gunter Grass
From The Guardian
Why have I kept silent, held back so long,
on something openly practiced in
war games, at the end of which those of us
who survive will at best be footnotes?
It's the alleged right to a first strike
that could destroy an Iranian people
subjugated by a loudmouth
and gathered in organized rallies,
because an atom bomb may be being
developed within his arc of power.
Yet why do I hesitate to name
that other land in which
for years – although kept secret –
a growing nuclear power has existed
beyond supervision or verification,
subject to no inspection of any kind?
This general silence on the facts,
before which my own silence has bowed,
seems to me a troubling lie, and compels
me toward a likely punishment
the moment it's flouted:
the verdict "Anti-semitism" falls easily.
But now that my own country,
brought in time after time
for questioning about its own crimes,
profound and beyond compare,
has delivered yet another submarine to Israel,
(in what is purely a business transaction,
though glibly declared an act of reparation)
whose speciality consists in its ability
to direct nuclear warheads toward
an area in which not a single atom bomb
has yet been proved to exist, its feared
existence proof enough, I'll say what must be said.
But why have I kept silent till now?
Because I thought my own origins,
Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,
meant I could not expect Israel, a land
to which I am, and always will be, attached,
to accept this open declaration of the truth.
Why only now, grown old,
and with what ink remains, do I say:
Israel's atomic power endangers
an already fragile world peace?
Because what must be said
may be too late tomorrow;
and because—burdend enough as Germans—
we may be providing material for a crime
that is foreseeable, so that our complicity
wil not be expunged by any
of the usual excuses.
And granted: I've broken my silence
because I'm sick of the West's hypocrisy;
and I hope too that many may be freed
from their silence, may demand
that those responsible for the open danger
we face renounce the use of force,
may insist that the governments of
both Iran and Israel allow an international authority
free and open inspection of
the nuclear potential and capability of both.
No other course offers help
to Israelis and Palestinians alike,
to all those living side by side in emnity
in this region occupied by illusions,
and ultimately, to all of us.
Translated by Breon Mitchell and published by The Guardian.
The German underground version
with accompanying YouTube video.
Why have I been silent, silent for so long?
Our Generals have gamed it out,
Confident the West will survive.
We people, have not even been considered.
What is this right to, preventative war,
A war that could erase the Iranian people.
Dominated by its neighbor,
pulsating with righteousness,
smug in the fact that it is they, not Iran
who have the bomb.
Why have I so far avoided
identifying Israel by its name?
Israel and its ever increasing nuclear arsenal,
beyond reproach, uncontrolled, uninspected.
We all know these things.
Yet we all remain silent,
Fearful of being labeled
anti-Semitic, hateful, worse.
Considering Germany’s past,
These labels stick.
So, we call this ‘business’, ‘reparations’,
Take your pick.
As we deliver yet another submarine,
As we provide to Israel,
The means to deliver annihilation,
I say What Must Be Said.
Why did I stay silent until now?
Because I’m German, of course.
I’m tainted by a stain,
I cannot wash out.
I’m silent because I want so badly
To make it right.
To put my sins in the past,
And leave them silently there.
Why did I wait to say it until now?
I write these words
With the last of my ink.
Declaring that Israel
Threatens world peace,
Because it is true and it must be said.
Tomorrow will be too late.
We Germans now carry
A new burden of sin on our shoulders,
Through the weapons we have sold.
We are helping to carry out
This foreseeable tragedy
No excuse will remove
Our stain of complicity.
It Must Be Said.
I won’t be silent.
I’ve had enough of the hypocrisy.
Please shed the silence with me.
The consequences are all too predictable.
It’s time to demand
Free and permanent control
Of both Israel’s nuclear arsenal
And Iran’s nuclear facility,
Enforced with international supervision.
It’s the only way.
In a land convulsed with insanity,
Everybody will survive.
And we too, will survive.