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Human rights 'not a zero-sum game,' says award-winning journalist

Carolin Emcke received the German Book Trade's peace prize for this year. In her acceptance speech, Emcke openly addressed the debate around personal rights, including homosexuality and the Islamic veil.

Nearly 1,000 guests, including German President Joachim Gauck, were present during the award ceremony at Frankfurt's St. Paul's Church on Sunday.

In a speech honoring Carolin Emcke, philosopher and social critic Seyla Benhabib praised the journalist as a "great narrator." In her work, Emcke created a unique mixture of reportage, philosophical reflection and literary composition, which made a clear "moral" statement not only about human suffering in violent conflict, but also about other forms of human hardship and silence, Benhabib said.

In her acceptance speech, Emcke called upon all those present to stand up for a free and democratic society. "Pseudo-religious and nationalistic dogmatists" want to silence everyone who speaks for the freedom of the unique and atypical individual. In reality, these people don't really care for Muslims, refugees or women, the 49-year-old author said.

Fighting for freedom and democracy is tough, Emcke admitted, and there would always be a conflict between people's ways of doing things and their convictions. "But why should it be easy," she asked, adding that individuals all needed to "speak and act" in an increasingly menacing world." Everyone, "young and old, unemployed or less educated, drag queens and pastors, entrepreneurs and officials" can contribute to this cause, she argued.

In this essay, roughly translated as 'Against hate,' Emcke addresses contemporary issues such as racism, anti-migrant and anti-democratic sentiments

In this essay, roughly translated as 'Against hate,' Emcke addresses contemporary issues such as racism, anti-migrant and anti-democratic sentiments

The journalist also spoke about her personal religious convictions and her homosexuality. It is a "strange experience" that something as personal as love "is so important for others that they take it upon themselves to encroach upon our lives and tell us about our rights and our worthiness," Emcke said.

The recent debate about the hijab - or the Islamic veil for women - was similar, she insisted, saying that people against Islam spoke about the veil as if the item of clothing was more important than the actual people whose decision to wear it was autonomous and natural.

Human rights were not a "zero-sum game," Emcke said.

"No one loses their rights if everyone else has theirs," she said. The journalist has written several books and essays in German on topics including racism, human rights, anti-democratic ideas, war and conflict.

mg/sms (dpa, KNA)