Occasional musings, Geistesblitze, photos, drawings etc. by a "resident alien", who has landed on American soil from a far-away planet called "Germany".

Monday, July 1, 2013

Words of the month: Sippenhaft, Sippenhaftung

Word of the Month: Index

A Sippe is an extended family, a clan. Haftung means "liability" and Haft "imprisonment" or "confinement." Sippenhaft and Sippenhaftung refer to the principle that every member of a clan can be held responsible for any crime committed by another clan member. It was practiced in the Middle Ages in German-speaking countries and is also known from other cultures. It is fundamentally in conflict with the modern notion that individuals can be punished only for acts they committed themselves, which did not prevent the Nazis from reviving Sippenhaft as a means to terrorize the population. [Source]

Why do I bring up this seemingly outdated notion? It’s because I see Sippenhaft, in a vastly extended form, at work wherever I look. For example, the Boston bombers explicitly justified their actions against Americans with the claim that (other) Americans had committed crimes against Muslims. Conversely, more than one Sikh was murdered in the aftermath of 9/11 by an American who considered wearing a turban and a beard a sure sign that someone was a Muslim. In both examples, the killers were willing to ‘murder the innocent,’ and this makes this modern form of Sippenhaft so repulsive to me. In traditional societies that subscribed to Sippenhaft, the member of a clan who committed a crime or who was aware of a crime committed by a relative knew, at least, what was coming, whereas the spectators at the Boston Marathon did not.

Sippenhaft in its extended form becomes grotesque when one realizes that a person typically belongs to more than one group. Take me as an example: I’m male; I’m German; and I may be perceived as being a Christian. This may make me simultaneously the target of certain feminists; of people who suffered under the atrocities committed by Germans all over Europe during WWII; and of radical Islamists. Never mind that I oppose patriarchy in all its forms; abhor the German war crimes; and am appalled by the conduct of Western powers in the Muslim world, from the Crusades to recent times.


Ulrich said...

Here's an article that illustrates a particularly absurd version of the extended concept of Sippenhaft my post talks about: Tele-evangelists seek to explain, as a matter of course, every disaster that hits a community by the ways in which this community—supposedly—has offended God. In other words, their God holds all people living in a certain area responsible for everything some people in the area (may) have done, where the 'sin' consists always of one of the old bugaboos of the extreme right, most often homosexuality or—horror of horrors!—women wearing pant suits (as explained in the linked article). It does not get crazier than this!

Ulrich said...

Here's another recent example of the type of Sippenhaft I'm talking about: On April 4, the prize-winning German photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus was shot and killed in Afghanistan by a police officer (!) who explained that he wanted to avenge the bombing of his village by NATO forces. In other words, in his view, every citizen of a NATO member country can be held responsible for any act performed by NATO, no matter if that person did or did not approve of the act, or even know about it. This is as grotesque as it is real!