Max Miller, the "Cheeky Chappie" of Britain's music hall, liked to say that the great thing about comedy was that it was the only job where if you're really bad at it nobody laughs at you. The dead hand of the demographically exhausted German state is taking it to a whole other level:
The German government has approved a criminal inquiry into a comic who mocked the Turkish president, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced.
By law, the government must approve any use of an article of the criminal code on insulting foreign leaders.
Mrs Merkel stressed that the courts would have the final word.
You can take the girl out of East Germany, but you can't take the East Germany out of the girl. In the Eighties, Angela Merkel, was a board member of the FDJ - the "Free German Youth", the kiddie wing of the one-party state - and the local secretary in charge of "agitprop". So she has a deep understanding of how art and even humble jokes must serve the needs of the regime - in this case, kissing up to the new sultan:
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government granted Turkey's request to proceed with legal action against a German satirist who derided President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, risking a domestic backlash over freedom of expression.
"We're allowing this because we are confident of the strong justice system in our state," Merkel told reporters in Berlin Friday.
There's no end of grim soundbites in her press conference today. How about this one?
"In a country under the rule of law, it is not up to the government to decide," Merkel said. "Prosecutors and courts should weight personal rights against the freedom of press and art."
Bog off, tosser. A free society does not threaten a guy with years in gaol for writing a poem. If you don't know that that's wrong, you should just cut to the chase and appoint yourself mutasarrıfa of Erdogan's neo-Ottoman sanjak of Berlin.
What a disgraceful person she is, the worst German chancellor since ...well, I don't want to go all Godwin's this early in the piece. But a few years ago, when Maclean's and I had our triple-jeopardy difficulties with the Canadian "Human Rights" Commission, the Ontario "Human Rights" Commission and the British Columbia "Human Rights" Tribunal, the response of many of my fellow Canadians to the eventual outcome was along the lines of: "Well, I don't know what Steyn was making such a fuss about. The process played itself out and he was acquitted. So the system worked."
Some of these people were genuine innocents who've never been caught up in a time-consuming seven-figure legal battle before. But many others were making the argument cynically. They know that, if you can tie up a book or a magazine article in court, then there will be fewer books and magazine articles. As I wrote in my introduction to Geert Wilders' memoir, Marked For Death:
After I saw off the Islamic enforcers in my own country, their frontman crowed to The Canadian Arab News that, even though the Canadian Islamic Congress had struck out in three different jurisdictions in their attempt to criminalize my writing about Islam, the lawsuits had cost my magazine (he boasted) two million bucks, and thereby "attained our strategic objective — to increase the cost of publishing anti-Islamic material."
Just to confirm that, here's my friend Barbara Amiel writing in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo bloodbath:
When in 2011 I had the one and only column of my 37 years of writing for Maclean's spiked, it was on Dutch anti-Muslim immigration politician Geert Wilders. I thought it was pretty milquetoast writing since I was automatically self-censoring and pulling my punches but I really couldn't blame Maclean's. They were suffering from battle fatigue: nothing is more enervating and time-consuming than filling out the endless details and forms that human-rights complaints require. Not to mention the legal fees. "You'd win," said one of my editors. "We know that. But we just can't go there again."
And they never have.
As I said, people who say, well, we have a "strong justice system" so let's let the process play out are either innocents who've never been tied up in court or cold cynics. The German Chancellor can hardly be an innocent in these matters. Like the Canadian Islamic Congress, she has a "strategic objective" and regardless of the verdict this trial will help her achieve it: There will be fewer poems, fewer satirical sketches, fewer jokes - not just about Erdogan, but about Islam in general. To reprise my old line: The process is the punishment.
Don't believe that? First of all, the broadcaster has already deep-sixed the offending joke:
ZDF removed the video clip of Boehmermann from its website two days after it aired.
So the anti-Erdogan gag is history. Even if in Merkel's weaselly evasion "the courts will have the final word", the joke will not be coming back. Will Herr Boehmermann?
The public TV channel has decided not to broadcast his weekly satire programme this week because of the furore surrounding Boehmermann.
Ah. So the poem has vanished, and so has its creator. And, given the backbone ZDF are showing, what are the chances of them or any other German media outlet broadcasting any further provocations to Erdogan in the future?
At this stage, Ankara's strongman doesn't really need to win in court, does he? He's already nuked the gag, and damaged the guy's career. He has, in effect, imposed Islamic concepts of free speech on a major western power. Get used to it, because they've only just begun.
Frau Merkel has also achieved her "strategic objective". As noted earlier this week:
Chancellor Angela Merkel was caught on an open microphone asking Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to curtail speech critical of "the wave of Syrian refugees entering Germany."
So Jan Boehmermann will be put on trial pour encourager les autres. As Barbara Amiel well understood, for every protracted expensive court battle that ends in a free-speech victory there are thousands and thousands of other publishers, editors, writers, comedians, film-makers, playwrights, directors, producers, cartoonists, artists who get the message that discretion is the better part of valour. In my book Lights Out: Free Speech, Islam and the Twilight of the West, I put it this way:
These are the books we will never read, the plays we will never see, the movies that will never be made...
The lamps are going out all over the world - one distributor, one publisher, one silenced novelist, one cartoonist in hiding, one sued radio host, one murdered film director at a time.
Add to that daily lengthening list a German satirist on trial for mocking an authoritarian thug.
In a paradoxically witless suggestion to Congress this week, Bono proposed that we should fight ISIS with jokes - by dispatching Amy Schumer, Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen to Syria. If introducing comedy to Raqqa sounds a bit of a long shot, maybe Bono could try Germany first.
See also my recent speech in Melbourne on "last laughs":
~More from me on free speech in this piece on me by Brad Schaeffer at The Blaze.