Scientology: Media blitz launched in modern religious war

Germany has become alarmed at the success of the Church of Scientology's propaganda campaign in the US. Angered by the Nazi slur, Bonn is about to launch a media blitz of its own, reports Imre Karacs.

The gloves are off. The German government is preparing an "information offensive" in the US against its greatest adversary, the Church of Scientology. The full battle plans are currently being drawn up in the foreign ministry in Bonn, and the first missiles will strike at the heart of America in the "very near future".

The embassy in Washington, which has kept aloof from the skirmishes of the past year, has been ordered to join the fray. Complaining of a "huge lack of awareness" among US politicians, Klaus Kinkel, the foreign minister, has instructed his ambassador to start spinning US decision-makers and opinion-formers.

"Through our embassy and through the media, we shall try to spread information through America so that these false assertions do not surface in the future," Mr Kinkel told yesterday's Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper.

Mr Kinkel was shocked to discover during a tour of the US last week that many American politicians had accepted uncritically the Scientologists' assertion of "religious persecution in Germany". Germany's image reached its nadir on Sunday, when the US Congress took a vote on a motion condemning Bonn's treatment of "minority religions".

The Church of Scientology is not recognised as a religion by the German government, and is therefore not entitled to tax-free status. With the support of all main political parties, the government in Bonn has placed the sect under observation, in order to assess whether it seeks to subvert the country's democratic constitution.

Several other European countries have refused to extend Scientologists the full "church" status, but Germany has gone further than most in trying to stifle the sect's activities. In several lander, moves are afoot to ban Scientologists from public service. In a series of pamphlets explaining its case, Bonn has accused the Scientologists of being nothing more than a profit-driven commercial organisation, whose members are sucked in gradually and then prevented from leaving. The "church" claims 30,000 members in Germany.

Sunday's vote in Congress was defeated, but not by the margin Germany and the US administration had hoped for. The 101 votes in support were immediately seized on by the sect as a victory.

"I find it a very impressive number," said Helmuth Blobaum, President of the Church of Scientology in Germany. "It shows a lot of people are very concerned about what is happening to religious minorities in Germany."

Friends of Germany in the US establishment were exasperated. "I think it is important that we do not have Tom Cruise and John Travolta setting foreign policy in this country, and I think that is the driving factor behind this legislation," commented Doug Bereuter, a Republican Congressman. Cruise and Travolta, both prominent Scientologists, have been spearheading the campaign against Germany. They were among 34 Hollywood personalities who signed an "open letter" addressed to Chancellor Helmut Kohl earlier this year.

Their statement, published as a full-page advert in the International Herald Tribune, drew on perceived parallels between the Nazi persecution of Jews and the current treatment of Scientologists. "Like the book burning of the 1930s - your party has organised boycotts and seeks to ban performances of Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Chick Corea and any other artist who believe in Scientology," they wrote.

"Extremists of your party should not be permitted to believe that the rest of the world will look the other way. Not this time."

True to their promise, the rest of the world - meaning the US - has been bombarded with this kind of enlightenment ever since. The sect is promising to bring the motion back to Congress later this year, and meanwhile has other stunts up its sleeve.

The best so far is the report, fed to the New York Times last week, that Florida authorities had granted a German Scientologist "political asylum". That would have been a massive propaganda coup for the sect, but so far both the US and German authorities have been unable to confirm the story. Its source: the Church of Scientology.

But some claims do contain an element of truth. The "boycott" of Tom Cruise, for instance, consisted of no more than a group of young Christian Democrats distributing leaflets outside cinemas showing his film, Mission Impossible. But Chick Corea was indeed prevented from performing at a publicly-funded concert in Bavaria because he was a Scientologist.

The Germans argue that, precisely because of their history, they are duty-bound to defend democracy with greater vigilance than might be acceptable in the Land of the Free. The mere suspicion that Scientologists might be trying to subvert public life is justification enough for the government to keep a close watch on the sect.

This is the message that Bonn will now hope to convey, presumably with a little more efficiency and finesse than in the past.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York