Now I’m a belieber

15 Apr

It started as a joke. A joke about a silly story.

I was struck by the angry reactions in the media following Justin Bieber’s visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. Bieber had put on a show in The Netherlands the day before and he’d also gone to Amsterdam to get a guided tour of the house where the 13-year-old Jewish girl Anne Frank had lived until she and her family were betrayed, taken away by the Nazis and sent to the concentration camps. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen, and 19-year-old pop sensation Justin Bieber had just finished learning all about her story, wandering through the attic where she’d hidden away for years, when he penned in her guestbook the following words.

“Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber.”

A belieber. One of the million screaming teenage girls who pray for a chance to see Justin Bieber in concert. Immediately the world media poured scorn over him. Huffington Post -normally not the most politically correct of websites- had as its headline:

Justin, no. Just No.

But I was struck more by the outrage people were expressing than by Bieber’s words. So I went on the internet myself and started tweeting about it. Why? That’s a good question. At some point I asked it myself and couldn’t find a good answer. I’m 47 years old and I couldn’t find one good reason why I would spend an evening writing about ‘Biebergate’ as the New York Times was by now calling the event. Swept up, however, in amazement by the all the emotion this was unleashing, I kept on tweeting. I congratulated Justin for going to the Anne Frank House and prompting millions of teenage girls to ask themselves who the hell Anne Frank was (and where, precisely, Amsterdam is).

I got some angry reactions, and that fuelled my fire. Jews for Justin, I said. That’s the name of my new fanclub. OK, I was kidding… But yeah, I’m Jewish. And no, I’m not insulted by the Bieb. I promptly got a call from the other Beeb. The BBC. Would I like to comment on the air about the latest Frankoversy? Sure, why not. So I did, and I repeated on air, twice, that I agreed with the Bieb. I believe Anne Frank would’ve been a belieber, I said. No doubt I pissed more people off. But I still didn’t realize why I was doing it. After hours of social media madness, perversely proud that I had managed to drag dozens of rational adults into a conversation about Justin Bieber, I went to bed.

In the morning, I knew why I had said it.

It was because of the reverence with which the masses now insist we speak of Anne Frank. Justin Bieber treaded upon a sacred name. And that’s what’s wrong with this picture. Anne Frank, and I know this because I read her diary, was a normal teenage girl who wanted to lead a normal teenage life. Justin saw the fading pictures of movie stars on her wall in the attic, and rightly perceived the spirit of that young girl. She longed to be like other kids her age. To go to movies, see the stars. Stars like…Justin.

But there’s a body of opinion out there – god knows how this works – that clicks into action when someone has said something entirely human about someone who’s supposed to be more than human. It’s not allowed. People start to forbid, to shame, to shun the messenger. No, Anne Frank was not a teenager, they seem to suggest. She was a saint. We must keep her on her pedestal. A martyr. A victim who in her suffering spoke out, and did so in the name of freedom, justice, the human spirit, et cetera.

But Anne Frank was just a girl. A girl with a plain face. A flesh and blood teenage girl who had sexual feelings and a crush on the boy living in the secret annex with her family. She was not a saint. And her power lies in the fact that she was just a girl. Like all victims of crime, big or small, they have far more impact on us if we see them for what they are. People. With faults and freckles. Let’s neither isolate Anne Frank as if she lived to be a museum attraction, nor elevate her into a religious icon.

Justin unwittingly did a great thing. Thank god the reverence had not gotten to him. Yet. He is now being flogged in the media and forced to repeat a thousand times I do worship Anne Frank, I do worship Anne Frank. Don’t do it!

Stay a belieber, Justin. You’ve got at least one Jew on your side.


NRC Handelsblad, 16 maart 2013

18 Mrt



NRC Handelsblad, 11 februari 2013

27 Feb



De omslag

23 Dec

De omslag

Een verzwegen leven
Auteur: Robert Chesal
Bertram & De Leeuw Uitgevers, Amsterdam
ISBN: 9789461560957