Germany and Scientology
The 2007 Tom Cruise controversy in Germany was not the first time that Germany and Tom Cruise have been at loggerheads.
In late June 2007, when German authorities announced that Tom Cruise was not going to be permitted to film a story about the unsuccessful 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler by the German officer Claus von Stauffenberg, it was déjà vu all over again. One of the reasons given was Cruise’s religious affiliation: Scientology. Although some Germans, notably award-winning director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), came to the actor’s defense, the ban made Germany seem intolerant to most outside observers. (Cruise and his team were later allowed to film Valkyrie on location in Berlin.)
What is the German obsession with the “cult” of Scientology? We can get an idea from a similar incident in 1996 (below).
Germany versus Tom Cruise - 1996
A series of Scientology ads like this one appeared in The New York Times in the fall of 1995. Intended to boost the movement’s image in Germany, it proved counterproductive. But that didn’t stop a Hollywood group from trying the same thing on behalf of Tom Cruise in 1996 — with similar results. (Ad image courtesy CNN Online.)
Germany and the United States declare war! This time it was a war of words, but the dispute over Scientology and the Germans aggravated German angst concerning its Nazi history and exposed glaring differences in American and German thinking. A bizarre combination of movie boycotts, alleged discrimination, a U.S. State Department human-rights condemnation of Germany, full-page newspaper ads, and perhaps more heat than light brought the issue of the Germans and Lafayette Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology into the media spotlight in late 1996 and early 1997. Although many people in both countries remained oblivious to all the fuss, the Scientology issue brought unusual tensions to German-American relations.
Anyone paying attention could follow the skirmishes in the American and German media. Time magazine headlined: Don’t Mess With Tom: Hollywood defends the religion of its top star (Jan. 20, 1997). CNN carried stories about how Germany’s CDU political party has excluded Scientology members from its ranks, the German Mission Impossible boycott, and Bavaria’s move to ban Scientologists from state jobs. The Feb. 1, 1997 issue of the New York times carried a prominent story with the headline: “Germany Says It Will Press On With Scientology Investigations.” Articles in the German press put more emphasis on the evils of Scientology and on what they felt were unfair comparisons with Germany in the 1930s. In fact, German reaction to the U.S. criticism was, loosely translated, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” American reaction to the German reaction ranged from puzzlement to anger. Hot words from both sides put a definite chill on the normally cordial diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Germany.
At first glance it may seem that this Scientology furor is new, but in fact the organization’s problems in Germany and the U.S. go back to the church’s founding in 1954. The U.S. government has only reluctantly granted Hubbard’s Dianetics movement tax-exempt status – a benefit it does not enjoy in Germany. There Scientology has long been labeled a cult and accused of pressure tactics and brainwashing. The movement has not been without detractors in the U.S. either. Scientology recently lost a lawsuit over a 1991 Time magazine cover story that termed the group a “cult of greed.” But Scientology’s troubles in the U.S. are nothing compared to those in Germany.
The Los Angeles-based Church of Scientology has had a constant struggle since setting up its German headquarters in Hamburg in 1970, but in recent years the pressure has intensified. The German federal government and all of Germany’s 16 states, most notably Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, and the city-states of Berlin and Hamburg, have openly conducted anti-Scientology campaigns. North Rhine-Westphalia even has an official constitutional protection Web site that extensively details (in German) the evils of Scientology. In 1994 a 288-page polemic with photos, tables and extensive data, Scientology: Ich klage an (Scientology: I Accuse), by arch-enemy Renate Hartwig was a German bestseller. The Catholic Hartwig, who says she has suffered Scientologist persecution, also wrote another attack entitled Scientology: Die Zeitbombe in der Wirtschaft (“Scientology: The Economic Time Bomb”). At least four other anti-Scientology books have been published in Germany.
The German fight against Scientology is not, however, limited to words. In 1993 the American Jazz pianist Chick Corea, “as a propagandist for the Scientology sect,” was banned from performing at a Stuttgart concert a discriminatory act that was repeated recently for a 1996 Bavarian concert. Every few months, if not more often, new articles about Scientology’s flaws appear in the German press. Using vocabulary such as “Psychokonzern” (psycho-concern) and “Tarnorganisationen” (cover organizations), the articles expose alleged efforts by Scientology to discredit or persecute “Aussteiger” (ex-members) and to secretly control the German economy and German society. In the last several years, various spokespeople for the German government have openly called for either banning Scientology altogether or, at the least, excluding Scientologists from government or party positions.
The German Minister of Labor, Norbert Blüm, has been one of the group’s most outspoken government opponents. In 1994 Blüm issued a decree preventing Scientologists, as members of a “criminal association,” from obtaining a license to operate newly permitted private employment agencies. In two different 1995 news magazine articles the labor minister called Scientology Germany’s “most dangerous sect,” claimed that Scientology members were "infiltrating the economy" and suggested they be banned from any occupations that “intersect with society” (which would seem to include just about any job in Germany).
Around the same time the Berlin Senate began requiring all companies wanting to do business with the German capital city to declare in writing that they have no association of any kind with Scientology or its teachings. Several other states have called for prohibiting Scientologists from holding civil service positions. In 1996 the state of Bavaria recently took this recommendation to heart and barred anyone connected with Scientology from any government job. Although such bans may eventually be ruled unconstitutional, they indicate just how strong the anti-Dianetics mood is in Germany.
The interior ministers of all 16 states recently called for tougher measures against the “cult,” unambiguously labeling it “an organization that combines elements of business crime and psychological terror against its own members with economic activities and sectarian traits, under the protective cover of a religious group.” In response, at the end of 1996 Kohl’s government announced the implementation of specific anti-Scientology measures. These included the creation of a central office to coordinate state and federal actions against the sect, as well as possible covert surveillance to keep tabs on the movement. In light of such obstacles, it is rather surprising that Scientology has been able to enroll about 30,000 members in Germany (of 8 million world-wide).
Many of Scientology’s problems are self-inflicted. Ever since Hubbard first published his Dianetics book back in 1950, the movement has refused to lie low. Hubbard’s bizarre claims of a German conspiracy of psychiatrists against him and his church, and strange explanations of how and why the Jews were persecuted didn’t help. Up until his death in 1986, Hubbard considered Germany his number one enemy and a painful thorn in his side. A 1995 article in the German news magazine Der Spiegel outlined how the Church of Scientology had tried to carry out a program to undermine the German economy and bring discredit to the country. American journalist Robert Vaughn Young, a former Scientology member, described the anti-German “Operation Snow White” that he had helped run for Scientology with little success. Der Spiegel claimed it had been under attack from Scientology in an effort to discredit Young ever since the magazine’s association with the ex-Scientologist began. Young left the movement in 1989.
More recently, in 1994 and 1995, in an effort to improve its position in Germany, Scientology decided to take the offensive against its German detractors. A series of ads appeared in two influential U.S. newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Sponsored by the London-based International Association of Scientologists, the full-page ads, using language like “fascism on the rise again,” only fanned the flames of German anger. Then, in December 1996, responding to the Mission Impossible boycott, Tom Cruise’s lawyer placed an ad in the International Herald Tribune, sponsored by 34 mostly Jewish artists, writers, and executives. It decried the persecution of Scientologists in Germany. This new “Hollywood” ad, combined with the past Scientologist publicity offensive, provoked vitriolic reaction in Germany.
Just how did German-American relations reach this new postwar low? (before the lows of the Iraq war)
First, Tom Cruise made the mistake of telling an interviewer...
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