It is strange to think that there was a time when I bought The New York Times every morning and pored through it over my coffee, genuinely convinced that I was reading the most reliable news source on the planet. In my defense, I was very young. And The New York Times was a better paper then, although nowhere near as good as I thought it was. It has, in any event, long since become a travesty – a propaganda sheet that systematically, and dangerously, distorts the truth about the most crucial issues of our time.
Case in point: a 14-minute “Times documentary” entitled “Seeking Asylum in Germany – and Finding Hatred.” Credited to Ainara Tiefenthäler, Shane O’Neill, and Andrew Michael Ellis, and posted front and center on the Times website last Thursday, it’s about Abode, a tall, lanky 22-year-old Libyan refugee who, at the beginning of the film, has been living in the Saxon town of Bautzen (pop. 41,000) for over two years.
From the outset, Abode is presented as an innocent victim of racist hatred. We see him in his room at the Bautzen asylum center, talking softly, his large brown eyes oozing sensitivity. We see a cell-phone video in which a young white woman half his size kicks and hits him, apparently without provocation. We see him rehearsing for a hip-hop stage adaptation of Romeo and Juliet in which he plays Mercutio; the theater director, a middle-aged woman, speaks of him glowingly.
Providing contrast to this peaceable young man, we see a ragtag neo-Nazi group in Bautzen’s town square, waving flags and praising Donald Trump. And we see close-ups of racist online comments (in German) about refugees.
Abode says that when he used to see pictures of Europe on TV, he thought it looked wonderful. But now he hates it. “Libya is the land of good,” he says. Germany, by contrast, is a land of Nazis.
“Nazi” is a word he uses a lot. He says he’s had “problems with Nazis and the police” ever since his arrival in Germany. Eventually we discover that he’s been described in the local media as the head of a gang of refugees who engage in rioting and violence. We see a newspaper front page featuring a picture of him aiming a machine gun.
But Abode has explanations. The picture with the gun, he says, was taken at a wedding, where the guests fired rounds to celebrate. He claims that he’s never started a riot, but only acted in self-defense. He admits to having committed an act of violence, but only because he “blew up” at the sight of a Nazi rally. The theater director makes a curious statement: “He is someone who steps to the front when there is conflict.” She makes it sound as if he’s some kind of peacemaker, trying to put an end to conflict – not a gang leader, inciting conflict.
Toward the end of the documentary, we jump to “three months later.” An intertitle reads: “Since last year’s clashes between far-right locals and refugees in Bautzen, the police have opened up two dozen investigations of Abode.” Clashes? Why haven’t we see any of these “clashes”? Investigations? Two dozen? For what? The film doesn’t tell us.
We’re told Abode has been identified as “a public safety risk.” Why? The implicit message is that Abode is a victim of untiring police harassment. We’ve heard him complain about his “problems with Nazis and the police.” The film seems to want us to equate the two.
Finally, we’re shown Abode on the asylum center roof, threatening to jump. An end title informs us that he didn’t jump, has been relocated to an asylum center in another town, and is banned from Bautzen for three months. Finis.
After seeing Abode depicted as an undeserving object of hatred in a town full of neo-Nazis, I turned to the local German newspapers. They told a different story. Abode’s real name, I discovered, is apparently Mohamed Youssef. (The papers do him the favor of reducing his surname to an initial, “T” for Targi.) He came to Germany in 2014.
Here’s one detail omitted by the documentary: our hero calls himself “King Abode,” just as a Mafia don in a Sicilian village might call himself its king. One source points out something that’s obvious from the first moments of the film: while Abode claims to be from Libya, he doesn’t look Libyan – my guess would be he’s really from Somalia.
According to the German papers, Abode has caused plenty of trouble in Bautzen: he’s committed robberies, sold drugs, harassed women, thrown bottles at cops. And more, much more. But town authorities have gone soft on him in the name of “peaceful coexistence.” His asylum application was rejected, but he can’t be deported because it’s on appeal. What’s more, in defiance of the ban mentioned at the end of the film, Abode has returned repeatedly to the asylum center in Bautzen. Instead of punishing him for this, town officials have tried to work out a compromise, such as allowing Abode to stay at the Bautzen asylum center but asking him to stay away from the town square.
To read these stories about Abode is to see the narrative of the Times documentary completely unravel. Far from being a victim of police brutality, he turns out to be a thug who thumbs his nose at the law. Instead of being Nazi bullies, the folks that run Bautzen prove to be toothless — scared to subject even the most dangerous of rejected asylum seekers to even the mildest of punishments. No surprise here, of course: if this town really were full of Nazis, as the film suggests, Abode would’ve beat a hasty retreat long ago — or ended up in a shallow grave in the woods.
The German newspapers make the facts crystal clear: this young man is a predator who’s been allowed to torment and terrorize an entire town for over two years, and whom multiculturalism-infatuated local officials, police, and courts have been terrified to touch.
That’s Germany today – the very opposite of what the New York Times wants you to believe.
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