PARIS — President Donald Trump's executive order banning entry into the United States of citizens of seven different Muslim-majority countries has prompted outrage both at home and abroad. But the drama comes with extra layers of intrigue and import for one country in particular: Iran.
For the pragmatic government of President Hassan Rouhani, who reached a momentous deal with Trump's predecessor and other Western leaders on Iran's nuclear program, the ban is a clear sign not to expect an easy ride with the new Republican administration. Rouhani was quick Friday to share his reaction on Twitter.
Let's help neighboring cultures, not build walls between nations. Let's not forget what happened to the #BerlinWall.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 28, 2017
Still, it is difficult to know the full scope of reactions within the regime, especially among hardliners who seemed to be welcoming a return of the old confrontations that are of use in domestic politics. Indeed those directly affected by the ban, a minority who might have otherwise have had entry rights into the United States, are not typically people who support the regime (and vice versa).
What makes Iranian sentiment even harder to gauge, in spite of the regime's anti-Western slogans of 35 years, is that many in Iran suspect that officials and politicians have obtained their own second passports, or even U.S. green cards, reflecting their aspirations to one day retire in, or to have their children schooled in the United States or elsewhere in the West. So the ban could affect members of its nomenklatura, at least on an individual basis that very few officials would want to reveal.
The most prominent Iranian affected now was the film director, Asghar Farhadi, who reportedly cancelled plans to attend the coming Oscars ceremony. The reformist daily Shargh carried a front-page picture of Farhadi and the actress Taraneh Alidusti, highlighting their decision not to attend the Oscars.
Alidusti, the daily noted, was praised for this by the conservative parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani. It is rare for Iranian officials to praise actresses, for anything. On January 29, Larijani was reported as dismissing the entry ban over terrorism concerns as seeming "more like a joke." The U.S. government was "gripped by fear of itself," the newspaper Resalat reported him as saying.
On Monday, Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said that Iran would also impose visas on U.S. citizens visiting and defend the rights of Iranians worldwide. His statements seemed rather meaningless, since U.S. citizens must already obtain visas to visit Iran. If fighting the ban's intention is fight terrorism, he added, Iran was already fighting terrorists "backed by America and certain regional states," meaning Salafists or Al-Qaeda, which Iran insists are creatures of the West. Banning the entry of U.S. citizens was the "least" the government should do, the hardline daily Kayhan urged in a headline.
The U.S. ban, it should be noted, could have negative consequences for Iranian-Americans traveling to Iran, exacerbating a recent trend of selective harassment of Iranians with double nationalities traveling to Iran. French daily Le Monde visited the neighborhood in Los Angeles dubbed "Little Persia," with one longtime Iranian-born resident sharing a bitter joke going around: "We can't go to the house of God (Mecca) because Saudi Arabia doesn't want us, now we can't go to the home of Satan because the United States doesn't want us either."
Among the many protests in the U.S. after Trump's executive order — Photo: Daniel Cuadra
A deputy-speaker of parliament, Mas'ud Pezeshkian added that the ban showed the United States' defense of human rights to be a sham. "America should speak of democracy when it stops putting up walls against other peoples," he told IRNA.
Meanwhile alluding to domestic politics, an editorial in the reformist daily Aftab-e Yazd, titled "What Trump's Madness Has To Do With Rouhani," reflected that while the ban was "dirty in humanitarian terms," for certain elements in Iran it could be "delightful."
These, it specified, were a "crazy lot of people" opposed to the Rouhani government and its nuclear deal. "They don't need to waste all their energies' bashing the deal, it stated, because their "collaborator on the other side of the world" would "kick" the deal "until it becomes useless."
A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.
BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.
Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.
The incident at the cemetery
They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."
There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.
It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.
The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.
The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender
Crimes against Jews are rising
Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.
Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.
Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.
And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?
Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously
This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.
That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.
Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.
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