Westerwelle's Moral Hara-Kari: Ditching Principles for Diplomacy

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is openly gay and likes his partner to accompany him on foreign trips. However, he now says that he will travel alone to countries where homosexuality is an offense. He wants to promote tolerance, but not "imprudently." That's a disgrace. A Commentary by Henryk M. Broder.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (left) with his partner Michael Mronz (right). Zoom
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German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (left) with his partner Michael Mronz (right).

Germans have many things they can be proud of. One is the fact that the mayor of Berlin is openly gay. And so is the current foreign minister.

Anyone who remembers the social conservatism of the Germany of the 1950s and 60s, the mutterings about then Foreign Minister Heinrich von Brentano, a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union, who, according to Wikipedia, lived "as an unmarried Catholic with his mother," or the words the conservative Bavarian politician Franz-Josef Strauss uttered in 1970, when he said "I'd rather be a cold warrior than a warm brother" (in German, the term "warm brother" is slang for "gay man"), knows that a society's stance toward homosexuals is a measure of how civilized it is.

It isn't an issue of tolerance, because tolerance is an act of mercy that can be revoked as quickly as it is granted. Most Germans couldn't care less whether a politician is gay, straight, a vegetarian or an avid cyclist. Guido Westerwelle, the leader of the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), wasn't voted into office and appointed as the country's foreign minister because he's gay, nor is he in his current position despite his homosexuality. Voters simply didn't care about his sexual preference one way or another. And that -- one would hope -- won't change until the day he is voted out of office again.

Not Pushing Our Luck

But now Westerwelle has outed himself, not as a gay man, but as a diplomat. He has announced that he will not take his partner with him on trips to countries where homosexuality is a crime. Why? Because "we want to promote the concept of tolerance in the world. But we also don't want to achieve the opposite by behaving imprudently."

One doesn't have to read his remark twice to understand what it signifies: Tolerance is a wonderful thing, but we shouldn't push our luck. This is more than the usual hot air from a politician. Westerwelle's words are an example of moral hara-kiri in slow motion, and they're a disgrace for Germany.

Homosexuality is a statutory offence in at least 75 countries, but the penalties for being gay run the gamut from the mild to the severe. The love between two men is punishable by death in Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania, Somalia, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. In Iran alone, more than 4,000 men who were allegedly or actually gay have been hanged over the past 30 years, since the beginning of that country's "Islamic Revolution" in 1979. Some would say that at least they are treated less severely than "adulteresses," who are stoned to death, but such subtle distinctions are only relevant to experts on Islam, like Dr. Katajun Amirpur, who give preference to hanging over stoning.

It also isn't entirely clear whether Westerwelle truly considered the potential impact of his statement or was simply babbling away. How does he intend to "promote the idea of tolerance in the world" by making allowances for the intolerance of his hosts? From his office at FDP headquarters? By giving the opening remarks at the Christopher Street Day event in Cologne?

Or perhaps by covering up his partner in a burqa on overseas trips?

Westerwelle isn't malicious or stupid. He just has a shocking tendency to speak without reflecting. The very idea that we ought to behave prudently so as not to "achieve the opposite" is wrong. This way of thinking begins with the desire not to provoke anyone, in the interest of preserving the peace, and ends with self-abandonment.

Globalized Moral Standards

The people Westerwelle doesn't want to provoke are out to control more than just the behavior of their own subjects. They have globalized their standards. They become incensed over the supposed lack of morality in other countries, they seek to kill cartoonists they know only by reputation, and they impose fatwas on writers whose books they cannot read. Anyone who behaves "prudently" under these circumstances, so as not to achieve "the opposite," is operating on the erroneous assumption that he is responsible for the behavior of his counterparts; that, for example, the situation for homosexuals in Iran would only worsen if he openly displayed his own homosexuality.

But the situation for homosexuals in Iran would not even change if Westerwelle were to hire every one of Hugh Hefner's bunnies as escorts for a visit to Tehran. The only way to improve their situation would be to take Iran's leaders to task for their treatment of homosexuals at every opportunity. Even dictators and despots don't want to be disparaged as scoundrels. That's why Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during a visit to the United Nations in New York, explained that there is no persecution of homosexuals in his country, because there are no homosexuals there. As idiotic as the statement was, it did show that Ahmadinejad was anxious not to lose face.

In contrast, Westerwelle's declaration of intent -- "We want to promote the idea of tolerance in the world" -- is merely yet another element in a spectacle whose participants are risking nothing but a black eye: the gays who complain about homophobia in Germany, the anti-fascists whose protests only become louder as the number of fascists declines, and the peace activists who have settled comfortably into their nuclear weapons-free designer kitchens while Iran is quite possibly seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

They're all behaving very prudently. Just as prudently as the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences did when it recently bestowed the Immanuel Kant Award on the governor of Riyadh, the Saudi Arabian capital, for his achievements in promoting education and science on the Arabian Peninsula.

One of the official duties of the governor of Riyadh is to confirm death sentences, which are then carried out in public -- presumably as a means of promoting education and science.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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'We Want to Promote the Concept of Tolerance'
DPA
Guido Westerwelle (right), Germany's openly gay foreign minister, told the magazine Bunte earlier this week that, in the future, he would not take his partner, Michael Mronz (left in photo), with him on official trips to countries where homosexuality is a prosecutable crime. "We want to promote the concept of tolerance in the world," he told the magazine. "But we also don't want to achieve the opposite by behaving imprudently." At the same time, he said, it is important that "we live according to our own measures of tolerance and that we do not adopt the sometimes less tolerant measures of others."

Westerwelle's homosexuality was a widely discussed issue before he took over the helm of the Foreign Ministry in October of 2009. Since then, he has traveled to 50 countries, including nations known for homophobia like Saudi Arabia. His partner Mronz has occasionally joined him on trips abroad.

Westerwelle reminded readers of the magazine that homosexual activity is still punishable by death in seven countries: Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Mauritania, Somalia, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. And there are still 75 countries in the world where homosexuality is a crime.

The foreign minister added that he did not feel limited in his ability to do his job by his homosexuality. At the end of July, Westerwelle opened the eighth international Gay Games in Cologne, one of the world's largest gay and lesbian sporting events. Appearing together with Mronz, he said: "For my partner and me, it is a privilege that we can meet here without fear. But we cannot forget those who do not have this privilege and who are oppressed."


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