Terror In Tehran, Who Gains From Ugly New Middle East Twist

Some children arrive with their own guns.
Iranian police officers in Tehran during Wednesday's attacks.

The two deadly suicide attacks in Tehran, at the Parliament and inside the mausoleum of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, appeared as the latest in the litany of woes terrorists have brought to the Middle East. It may also mark a whole new chapter in the region.

Iranians, in spite of the political and economic turmoil around them, have so far remained protected from the worst kinds of urban terrorism affecting countries like Iraq or Afghanistan. Until Wednesday's attacks, which killed at least 17, terrorism was something they watched happen on television in Baghdad or London — or on rare occasions have flared along the borders with their troubled neighbors.

Iranian front pages Thursday featured prominent and sometimes graphic photographs of the response by police and soldiers. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, brushed aside the attacks, for which the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility, as "firecrackers," and said it would take more than that to cow Iran.

But the public response often differs from the official one, even in Iran, where criticizing the regime is no easy thing. Many Iranians might have wondered in private how a state that controls so much could have let up so dramatically on security, at the parliament of all places.

Writing in Le Monde, Franco-Iranian professor Farhad Khosrokhavar explains that Iran's role in foreign conflicts, particularly in Syria — where it supports Bashar al-Assad's government forces — but also in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Yemen, makes Tehran a "target of choice for jihadist groups, which see it as the main Shia enemy to be eliminated." Interestingly, Khosrokhavar also notes that even among the Iranian population, there are radicalized groups (Sunni Muslims from the drug trafficking hub Balochistan and Kurdish) with enough reasons and resources to carry out such attacks.

Some already have suggested a murkier plot. The Iranian version of Voice of America noted for instance that some Iranians writing on social media expressed doubts that ISIS had truly perpetrated the attacks. An Iranian in France said his first reaction was that this was a "home job." The skeptics cited by VOA include the former reformist lawmaker Jamileh Kadivar, who tweeted that the attackers must have had "inside accomplices."

Who knows where the truth lies? But we live in an age of high-tech rumors and long before alternative facts became fashionable, Iranians already loved rumors as much as they dislike dictatorship.

More prominent were criticisms of the state broadcasting body, which apparently was reluctant to even report the events. It had its head in the sand as one suggested on Twitter. A columnist in the reformist daily Shargh asked whether it was normal for the broadcaster to continue its usual programs — one of them on kindergartens — even as the attacks were unfolding, when CNN and foreign media were all abuzz with Iran?

The other emerging concern is whether or not the attacks will mean more restrictions on Iranians. This is a possibility, as one journalist told the Persian-language Kayhan daily in London. Just two days earlier Tehran had seen various angry gatherings, one outside the parliament, concerning banking and investment fraud.

The authorship of the attack and its consequences are two questions that be looked at together. As the ancient Roman politician Cassius Longinus once said when looking for culprits, we must always ask: Cui bono? In the Middle East, it's getting hard to see if anyone will gain — in the long run, at least.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

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.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


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.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

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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