How to challenge extremist propaganda? What makes individuals turn to extremist ideologies? What practical solutions can challenge fundamentalism of all kinds—religious, political, economic—and how can we build multicultural communities that truly function?
These are among the questions that will be raised at the second presentation by Frankfurt Undercover: the umbrella name for the unusual initiative spearheaded by Danish writer Janne Teller which brings together international authors to debate political questions to see what insights writers have regarding some of the most difficult questions of the modern world.
It began last year with the enthusiastic support of FBF. Its director Jürgen Boos will join Teller on stage today, alongside Dr Andreas Görgen from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and moderator Jacko Augstein, publisher of newspaper der Freitag. Some 40–45 authors are involved from 30 different countries, with Teller explaining: “Ever since I first participated in the fair in 2010, it struck me how there was this immense resource of some of the most interesting and creative literary minds from the whole world, all present in one place—yet it was being put to no wider good than the promotion of their own books.
“So the insights that each writer has obtained from working constantly on various aspects of the human condition, from all different countries, cultures and personal angles, simply came and left Frankfurt with the individual authors themselves. I was convinced that fiction writers would have some new inputs to give to the political world. I imagined something like a ‘mini Davos’—just not for money and power, but for intellect and creativity.”
The discussions will continue under the theme begun last year—Border and Barriers, Culture and Crossroads—with a particular focus on challenging extremism. If last year’s (far smaller) meeting is anything to go by, it promises to be a fascinating, even inspiring session. “The whole basis of the Frankfurt Undercover debates is that we don’t have to agree on a text or statement,” says Teller. “Rather, all the new or interesting ideas to address the issues we’re discussing will be included in a Compendium of Ideas, even if they’re contradictory. I believe that very different solutions and policies may be needed to address the same problem at different times and in different countries. Thus our list of proposals should hopefully offer an input to some widely varied geopolitical and cultural circumstances.”
Personally, Teller believes that governments must talk to Islamic State. “You will never further peace and understanding unless one keeps the diplomatic dialogue open. That doesn’t mean, however, that one shall bow to any kind of war, violence or human rights abuse. So while talking—whether with the Taliban, ISIS leaders, Saudi autocratic kings
or any other local despots and tyrants— democratic governments must use all possible instruments to pressure the perpetrating powers to respect human and civil liberties.”
Born in Copenhagen in 1964, Teller trained as a macro economist and worked for the UN and the EU in conflict resolution and humanitarian issues before becoming a full-time writer in 1995. She has written eight books (a mix of novels and short story collections) and won numerous European prizes. She divides her time between New York and Berlin, and is currently working on a new novel. “I try to be disciplined enough to write a couple of hours each day, but when I travel or have too much on my plate, it just isn’t possible. I tell myself that after October, once the Frankfurt Undercover debates are over and I’ve been to Mexico and Chile to present my books, I’ll have time to write again.
“One good thing is that during this busy period where I’ve written very little, I can feel how new ideas have been building. The novel I’m working on is just waiting to get down on paper. All I have to do is find the peace and harmony . . .”
Picture: Anita Schiffer-Fuchs