When Heroes Go Down: Tyler Brûle and the Fear of the Fictional Other

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It will be no secret to regular readers of this blog that our Creative Director & CSO was and remains a huge fan of Tyler Brûle – the editor-in-chief of what is possibly still the finest magazine in the English language, Monocle – and it was precisely because of this admiration that he was so surprised at the content of one of the iconic Canadian’s more recent Financial Times columns, On the migrant train to Munich (12th-13th September 2015), avidly caught up with over the Christmas and New Year break.

In this late summer piece, Brûle openly questions whether the people of Germany (estimated population: 81,083,600) are as enthused as certain parts of the global news media appeared to suggest by the arrival of a few hundred thousand refugees (a great proportion of whom are likely to be ultimately deported) fleeing the increasingly dystopian military conflict in Syria and Iraq. This could have been exemplary journalism – questioning a seemingly broadly-accepted narrative is rarely a Bad Thing – but then Brûle posited the following:

‘The juxtaposition of kiosks selling lederhosen adjacent to Syrian and Iraqi families boarding buses almost looked like this was part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fast-track programme to get people integrated into German life as quickly as possible. But I’m not sure Ali and Leila from Aleppo were quite ready for Oktoberfest, let alone knee-skimming deerskin shorts or dresses that magically push cleavage up under the chin. And therein lies one of the main issues that are being whispered by Germany’s middle and upper classes but which isn’t out in the open just yet: how much will a wave of largely Muslim refugees impact German society?’

It is genuinely difficult to know where to begin in analysing this excerpt. For one, Brûle’s choice of the fictional Ali and Leila’s city of origin betrays a basic lack of knowledge about Syria: Aleppo is a city which for most of its >7,000-year history has been a byword for innovation, cosmopolitanism and commerce; its denizens are certainly not known for their insularity and are unlikely to be existentially freaked out by a skirt, particularly given that ‘Eastern’ religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Taoism have traditionally embraced the erotic, notably within the context of mysticism.

But wider questions must be raised, not least about Brûle’s knowledge of contemporary German culture. Is he aware that immigrants from Southern Europe – many of them Muslims from countries such as Turkey, Albania and (ex-)Yugoslavia – are credited with making (West) Germany’s postwar economic miracle possible? Does he know that footballers from the Islamic religious community have been attending Oktoberfest with their wives and girlfriends for many years, sometimes drinking the same alcohol-free brews that constitute one of the few growth spots – 200% in the seven years to 2014 – in Germany’s declining beer industry? (Bottled water overtook beer as Germany’s most popular cold drink back in 2002.)

Perhaps most worryingly, is it not simply a little bit presumptuous to assume – purely from someone’s name, place of birth and stated (non-)religious identity, whether Christian, Atheist, Muslim or Shinto – what they think? Because if the genuinely amazingly amazing Tyler Brûle cannot grasp this point, then one of the great illusions of our strange postmodern times has been shattered: spending hundreds of days a year travelling the world on business is no guarantee against parochialism.

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Filed under Economics, Politics

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