Interview with Saad Shahriar: “German society is going through historical censorship”

Photo: Saad Shahriar

ODAK: Hello. We would like to talk to you about the process since October 7th. We will enter the third month of the war. There have been many anti-Zionist demonstrations in the West, and millions of people have taken to the streets. What is the situation in Germany? How does society view the war?

Saad Shahriar: I think we are pretty well informed on how the repression is going on in Germany, as well as in other European or Western countries who are allied with Israel. But Germany’s repression rocketed high brutally through its manufactured guilt and weaponization of anti-semitism that aim to justify an apartheid regime, settler colonial state and Israeli state terrorism that is committing a genocide – responsible for killing over 20000 civilians, with over 40% being children. Undoubtedly, Germany is fueling the dehumanizing process of Palestinians.

I cannot tell much about the whole German society about their view on the current barbaric situation. But I can share some of my observations: when the Ukraine-Russia war started I saw many people, especially whites, protesting against Russia in support of Ukraine, but when Israeli armies are killing civilians in Gaza, even before October 2023, I can barely find the same whites on the streets chanting slogans against Israeli aggression. Just putting that into the current context, German society is going through historical censorship. Since its education system is very controlled and discriminating or classist, state manufactured history imposed on that society. So rather than understanding, let’s say very basic facts – the difference between anti-zionism and anti-semitism, the blindfolded society is lost into the manufacture of guilt.

I think October 2023 is the reopening/revisiting phase of history chapters for Germans to know/acknowledge 75 years of colonialism, now it is a great chance for them to reject historical disinformation and resist against their ruler and prevent not to reproduce their past.

ODAK: We see that the Western states are trying to manipulate the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, as they did with Ukraine. Newspapers, TV programs and public figures are using propaganda to justify/normalize Israeli aggression. What do you think about this?

Saad Shahriar: We are living in the age of the propaganda-based media industry. Ownership of media is in the hands of corporations, who work together with authoritarian, totalitarian or fascist rulers, even though in most cases media control is the ultimate reality. So the concept of free press is a very rare breed of this industry. Around the world, free press has been neutralized and is being used for the propaganda of different power structures. From October onwards, along with the mainstream, social media joined the propaganda forces. We are experiencing shadow banning, censorship, banning profiles of Palestine solidarity. On the Palestine issue the propaganda based media not only justifies and normalises Israeli aggression, it is dehumanising Palestinian lives.

Few days ago, I was scrolling for news and one of the Deutsche Welle news reels appeared that said in the description, “An Israeli airstrike hit central Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp, killing at least 70 people, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. The IDF said it is reviewing the incident.” So for the audience DW here criminalises the fact by playing with words, ‘Hamas-run Health Ministry’, so those who swallow western propaganda through the media, they can easily digest it, by ignoring the fact. Since the west are trying to justify this genocide by putting the name ‘Hamas’ in the frontline, then how it can be authentic for the audience when they are seeing that the source is Hamas, to whom the west declared a terrorist group? Even in the thumbnail of that reel showing the title, “Hamas says 70 killed in Israeli strike on camp”. This is the example of hyper-unethical journalism or let’s say propaganda based journalism that consciously creates doubt amongst its audience. So whenever the audience is repeatedly fed by doubt, obviously they will not consume doubtful facts. This is just one example I am mentioning, western press is continuously doing even worse than that. Which are crimes committed by western press against humanity.

Also we can’t overlook the responsibility of western people, let’s say journalists, academics, social or political scientists to understand all these problems and build awareness against it, rather than swallowing propaganda and being silent. It is very necessary to have media watch structures that will enable the justification system for those who are fooling its audience or readers.

The positive side is that, amongst unethical propaganda based media, there is a significant rise of independent media and citizen journalism as well that mirrors the true facts of the situation.

ODAK: In Germany, we see that solidarity demonstrations with the Palestinian people are banned and prevented. Germany used to say that it was the most “free” country in the world. What would you like to say about the freedom of the West?

Saad Shahriar: Freedom is a joke in the west, freedom is highly controlled by the state here! If we just talk about Germany, registering a demo with the police is a nasty example of how you are forced to surrender your freedom to such a kind of authority. So if you want to protest against the police, you need to register that demo and the police will decide if it is allowed or banned. This is savage!

Let’s give another example, I was having a discussion with a Palestinian journalist based in Berlin. That journalist shared with me that on October 10, a student from a gymnasium was assaulted and hit by the teacher for wearing Palestine flag and later he was suspended. When the parents and other people wanted to protest against it, it was banned. So we can understand how so-called constitutional rights of peaceful assembly are controlled.

For the past few months we have been repeatedly witnessing how the German state is violating people’s fundamental rights of peaceful assembly! Police were banning numerous numbers of Palestinian protests throughout Germany. Even the most recent demo in Berlin on the new year eve has been banned by police. But the state is always trying to fabricate by using the media that is trying to hide the state atrocities. But the truth is during New year eve Berlin was full of police and their checkposts and 390 arrests!

We saw riot police with machine guns in the demonstrations. So state suppressing unarmed protesters and pointing bullets? This kind of situation indicates that they will not hesitate to use guns towards racial minorities?

Last month I was interviewing one artist, educator and activist who has been accused of being anti-semitic. The irony is his family were Holocaust survivors! He lost his job from the university, he said that the ministry pressured the university. Even a photography biennale was canceled due a curator’s social media post in support of Palestine!

Banning demonstrations was the very starting point of state oppression that spread out through racial police profiling, brutal police acts on protesters, seizing placards or banners, censoring slogans, and arresting people no matter if they are minors or women or even Jews who are taking part in the demo. Even students from the university seminar room who were forcibly evicted from a non-violent occupation and arrested afterwards. German police operations continued with house raids, one of them was the Hanau killing survivor [The Hanau killing was a racially motivated terror attack occurred on February 19, 2020, when a gunman reportedly motivated by xenophobic views opened fire in and outside of two hookah bars, killing nine people, all of whom were of foreign descent. The perpetrator, with apparent far-right motives, later killed his mother and himself. The attack raised concerns about rising extremism and prompted discussions on combating hate crimes in Germany].

On top of that, criminalising and silencing voices raising against ongoing genocide and for the free Palestine that mirrors a clear character of being police state. These are horrific signs of fascism that are recreating the climate of fear, and the state is activating it by suppressing freedom of expression.

I think in the west those who are favoring Israel have more or less the same replica of abusing power against its residence. We cannot say freedom exists in the capitalist world – the choice of earning or buying is not freedom, it is reproducing capitalism.

ODAK: What does the German left think about these issues? Do you have any information on this?

Saad Shahriar: Who the German left actually is can be a very good research topic. And it is a very necessary research question too. I have seen that in some of the so-called German left scenes debating on the Israel-Palestine discourse is a taboo! Also there is a very subtle tendency of supremacy amongst them regarding the knowledge of middle east issues, as if they are the one who have the best knowledge. At the same time in some cases their knowledge reflects stereotypes.

In reality the German left is divided in three parts I would say in this time period; pro Palestine, pro Israeli and no position or self censored left. So obviously pro Israeli German left are carrying forward the legacy of Angela Markel’s “the security of Israel is part of our reason of state”. So on Israel question Pro Israel German left and right wing German parties are ideologically co existing or not contradicting. So when the left and right align together, that is the most dangerous situation for the society.

The problematic point of pro Israeli left and no position left is that they are somehow legitimising the German state oppression on freedom of expression and police brutality against Palestine solidarity voices. This is undoubtedly a shameful double standard of those on the left. Because in France when a black person is killed by police, ‘German left’ are protesting like hell, but when police brutally assaulted people in the pro- Palestine demo for the last few months, those on the ‘left’ remained silent. So it is a very ‘safe political activism’, or NGO mindset. Same replication of silence remains in the left bubble when their fellow left groups were criminalized by the state through baseless media trials.

On November 2023, I got an inbox message from a self proclaimed ‘German left activist’ in response to my post on social media written “Stop Genocide”, when the whole world started expressing the same, and he wrote, “It is still not a genocide. Even if you say that over and over again. It is a war.” After seeing that I gave my phone to my friend to reply to him, my friend kept writing to him in a sarcastic way. But for me it was alarming to see how inhuman those people can be by formulating their doubt while a genocide happening. That moment made me very curious to know about what the ‘left with doubts’ were doing during fascist period? Okay lets skip this historical study part, do we want to believe anymore to those ‘left’ who are openly fall in line to support Israeli genocide? Don’t people look at them very suspiciously, when they will crocodile tearing for humanity, social justice and migrants issues?

ODAK: How do progressive people in society, especially progressive journalists, feel? Can we say that freedom in the West is threatened by the state?

Saad Shahriar: Surely freedom is threatened by the state and it is exposed very nakedly.

ODAK: What is the last thing you would like to say?

Saad Shahriar: In 1998, at the end of a lecture Edward Said talked about the conflict between Palestine and Israel. He explained how it is a classic example of colonization, saying, “There will never be peace, because you can’t continue to sweep away the fact that Israel was constructed on the ruins of another society and by the mass dispossession of another people who remain unacknowledged as just sort of obscure natives in the background, ‘back to the desert, let them go to one of the other Arab countries’. That’s been the position. The Oslo Accords say specifically that Israel bears no responsibility for the costs of the occupations.”

Our ancestors fought against colonialism, while in the west their ancestors were colonisers. Even in the neo-colonialism era the legacy is established, so if the current generations of the west stays silent about it, colonial continuity will happen for sure. Then it will be only us, the whole global south, who needs to clean the darkest colonial garbage from the world.

Free Palestine, end apartheid and end settler colonialism.

Who is Saad Shahriar?

Saad Shahriar is practicing mainstream and alternative platform of journalism as a non-fiction writer, visual journalist, documentary-ethnographic filmmaker, Content Producer and broadcast content developer. He began his career by contributing to local daily newspapers of Bangladesh in 2003. 

He studied Journalism & Media Studies, and Broadcast & Cross-Media Journalism in Dhaka, Bangladesh; also studied and practiced Contemporary Documentation in Berlin, Germany. Currently, he is exploring Visual Anthropology, Media & Documentary practices at the University of Münster, Germany. 

In November 2022, Saad Shahriar founded Unrest Radio — an autonomous space for socio-political documentation of unheard voices, which is a podcast project that focuses on socio-political oppression within German society.


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