Opinion: Alternative punishment

POSTED: 09/12/11 12:31 PM

Germans don’t have a sense of humor but they appear to be jolly creative with alternative punishments. The following example proves this point: a sixteen-year-old girl has to read Anne Frank’s diary, write an essay about it and do twenty hours of community service.

What did she do to get this punishment? The Volkskrant labeled the teenager as a neo-Nazi girl. She had decorated 33 elections posters of a leftwing party with swastikas and the symbol of the Waffen-SS.

The judge wants to pump some decency into the girl with the punishment. The girl has ten days to read the book about the life-story of the Jewish girl who died in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen in March 1945.

We love the idea of punishing where it hurts most, but we wonder if it will have any effect. It’s a bit like sentencing Louie Laveist to reading the campaign program of the Democratic Party, force Gerrit Schotte to read the articles of incorporation of the Central Bank, or ask Francesco Corallo to write the draft of the Gaming Control Board.

We do wonder how on earth a kid of 16 gets involved with German neo-Nazi’s; at least she is sympathizing with their ideas, given the fact that she was found painting swastikas and other stuff.  The example shows that it is possible to ban a book (like Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf – still banned in the Netherlands) but that it is not possible to kill an idea.

The teenager who now gets Anne Frank’s diary forced down her throat will not emerge as a more decent girl after ten days of reading – at least, we doubt that very much. The judge issued his ruling with the best of intentions but he must also know that it won’t work.

We’re curious to read the essay the girl will write – though the court probably will not make that document public.

Why it won’t work has to do with the girl’s mindset. We don’t know anything about her social background – family history, education, relationships, that sort of stuff – and that makes it already a tad more complicated to put her in a box. But when you have neo-Nazi-sympathies when you’re just sixteen, you’re not a likely member of the local hockey club, that’s for sure.

Her mindset is akin to that of smokers, alcoholics, drug addicts and people with more frivolous addictions that we won’t discuss here. Smokers are confronted every time they buy their smokes with the message that smoking kills. For some people this adds an additional thrill to the process of slow suicide by nicotine poisoning. Alcoholics don’t read on every bottle of Johnny Walker yet that drinking kills, but the world around them is full of messages claiming that drinking is a bad idea. That doesn’t help either. And drug addicts, well, forget it. The more society fights against drug addiction with its ridiculously expensive war on drugs, the more drug addicts become confident that they are part of a precious sub-culture; and they won’t ever let go.

We suspect that the German teenager will read Anne Frank with a vengeance, and that she will carry the burden of her punishment as a badge of honor. The judge will probably be satisfied with the originality of his sentence (and that’s fine – kudos), but in the end it will not change the girl’s mindset. On the contrary.

 

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