Published in German daily “Welt” on 26 September 2010
Source (German):
English translation: @germantoenglish

By Richard Herzinger

The leaders of the Islamic Republic use the same trick over and over again. First, they stun the odious West with an aggressive rhetoric. Then, while the West is busy figuring out how to translate its outrage into diplomatic terms, the regime in Tehran quickly insinuates its readiness for more talks in the endless struggle over the Iranian nuclear program.

And indeed, it works out time and again. Obediently, Western governments and diplomats instantly start to scrutinize the alleged offer from Tehran, trying to discover nuances and semitones that indicate whether the offer can be taken seriously this time or not.

The same thing is now happening again. When president Ahmadinejad in his brazen appearance at the UN General Assembly warmed up the old conspiracy theory saying that parts of the US government orchestrated the attacks of 9/11, all Western diplomats could think of was to walk out of the audience. Why, one wonders, don’t those heroes just right away spare themselves the tirades of hatred uttered by the Iranian junta head?

No matter what Ahmadinejad says – whether he calls for the extinction of Israel, denies the Holocaust, seriously takes the fun around Paul the Octopus during the Fifa Worldcup as an evidence for the intellectual corruption of the West, or declares that Iran is the second world power next to the U.S.A. – none of his statements seems to be crazy enough to deprive the West of its vague hope that he is a rational person who might eventually change his mind. Thus, German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle was once more eager to announce that Ahmadinejad’s declared willingness for new negotiations are a “positive signal”. In fact, there is nothing left to negotiate, unless the Iranian regime suspends its nuclear enrichment and admits widespread control of its nuclear plants – as it was bindingly claimed by the UN Security Council many years ago.

Far beyond the fulfillment of these minimal demands, talks and discussions are just part of the procrastinating tactics that Tehran has used ever since to gain time for further advancing Iran’s technology to build nuclear arms.

However, the possibility that Iran could soon be in possession of nuclear arms, the fact that Iran destabilizes the Middle East by exporting terror, and is the major obstacle for peace in the Middle East are not the only reasons why the Islamic Iranian regime at present is the greatest threat and shame for civilized mankind.

Not only can a system that classifies internal critics as “enemies of God”, punishes them with systematic torture and executes hundreds of them, sentences women to death by stoning on charges of adultery and publicly hangs homosexuals, not be a “normal” partner for diplomatic talks. It is also impossible to have “non political” business- and trade relations with such a system. Especially Germany must be asked why German exports to Iran have despite sanctions increased by 14 % in the past 6 months, and why the European-Iranian Trade Bank in Hamburg has not yet been closed down.

For decades, well-intentioned strategists of détente have been dreaming of a gradual “liberalization” of the ruling system of the Islamic Republic. The opposite has come true. Iran’s religious totalitarianism has, if at all it had softened in the past, returned to the bestiality of its beginnings. This regime must finally be internationally isolated on all levels. The sanctions that have been imposed so far are not sufficient. The Iranian regime must be systematically cut off from all monetary flows, and there must be not one official contact with Iranian representatives in which they are not confronted with the crimes of their regime against human rights and human dignity.

These crimes, and not just the Iranian nuclear program, are the reason why the Islamic Republic must be forced to face consequences. If their destructive potential, that becomes even more unpredictable as the system is declining, can not be curbed, the Islamic Republic will hurl the Middle East – maybe even the entire world – into a disaster.

Published in German weekly “Die Zeit” on 5 September 2010
Source (German):
English translation kindly provided by Joul

4 000 Iranians have fled to Turkey last year. 50 of them were now granted asylum in Germany. We spoke to 3 of them.

By Vera Gaserow

Sepehr Atefi, Ali Kantouri and Hesam Misaghi in Berlin (photo: Tobias Kruse)

The apartment in the center of Berlin is hired. Ali gets the biggest room. Sepehr takes the brightest one. Hesam is happy with the smallest one that is overlooking the courtyard. In return he wants the corner of the corridor, because “that’s where the bar will be” – “No, that’s the place to meditate”, Sepehr jokes.

The three men take possession of their new home, they mark their territories – typical flat sharing rituals. While Hesam is opening the window he says: „When the Iranian intelligence shows up we can escape over the balustrade.“ All three of them start laughing – now that they are safe. They have started coming back to live after months of fear and uncertainty. They made it to Germany.

In summer of 2009, a controversial presidential election took place in Iran. The opposition movement is calling it a fraud. Powerful protests started in the streets of Tehran, until the government at last managed to crush the Green revolution movement. Activists were persecuted. 4 000 Iranians fled to Turkey where they now live in miserable conditions.

The UN refugee agency suggested to allocate them to other countries – but their proposal has virtually evoked no response. At first, the German federal government announced it would accept only 20 human rights activists, journalists, bloggers and students. By now, after all, the number has been increased to 50. Ali Kantouri, Sepehr Atefi and Hesam Misaghi are among the first refugees who arrived in Germany.

Hesam Misaghi still remembers the day when he arrived in Berlin. It was the 29th of July 2010. „I had a feeling of freedom that I never knew in Iran. It is the first time I can start to think of my own life and future again.“

At that time Hesam – a lanky student of Anglistics, whose dark glasses seem to dominate his appearance – had already gone through an odyssey for months. In his hometown, he had worked with the Committee of Human Rights Reporters. Sepehr Atefi, his friend, a high-school graduate, was active there as well. They were aware that it was dangerous to report about human rights abuses in Iran on their website.

When several of their combatants disappeared behind prison walls after the presidential election last summer, the two friends went into hiding. For a high amount of money, bootleggers helped them to cross the border to Turkey in winter, on impassable mountain trails. “Turkey was hell”, said Hesam Misaghi. They were five in a small apartment in the suburb of a satellite town, jobless and always in fear of the Iranian intelligence service.

The fear of being discovered – Ali Kantouri does not want to talk about it. The 29 year old prefers to talk about politics, about the lack of rights of Iranian workers, about the suppression of women. Hesitantly, he describes what he has lived through in the past years. “They did to me what they did to all of them.” The past makes him unable to breathe, causes him headaches, deprives him of his sleep.

Two and a half years ago, before the Green revolution movement came to life, the Iranian intelligence services had incarcerated him in the notorious section 209 of Tehran’s Evin prison, because he was a political and human rights activist. He was interrogated for several days and nights, blindfolded, beaten and humiliated by five men. They singed the genitals of his friends in front of his eyes. They forced his little brother to listen to his cries of pain on the phone.

Ali Kantouri talks about his sudden asthma attacks, and mentions that he has lost 15 kg of weight; he was dangerously ill. Only after his family paid 150.000 US dollar on bail he was finally released. His parents registered their entire estate as a guarantee for him. Now his family might lose everything, because he has fled from his 18 year imprisonment to which he was sentenced by the court for the charge of rioting.

His knees start moving restlessly under the table. It visibly exhausts him to talk about what he has been through. “Enough for now”, he says. Apart from that, it’s no big deal, he says. “I’m fine.” He now undergoes therapy at the center for treatment of torture victims in Berlin.

Ali Kantouri was lucky, and he knows it. He enjoys “this atmosphere of profound freedom” in his exile. “I am glad to be here in Germany, but it makes me sad that there are thousands of others who do not have this chance.”

That’s why every Friday evening he and his friends set off to the Brandenburger Tor where the Berlin Vigil for Iran has been demonstrating solidarity with the Green Revolution movement throughout the past year. One of their demands is to admit more Iranian refugees to Germany. The activists read out a list of names: “Missing in Iran since 8th of August 2010” – “Detained and tortured in Iran for fifteen months”.

Ali Kantouri, Hesam Misaghi and Sepehr Atefi are no longer on the list. They can make plans for their future now. Hesam Misaghi wants to study social sciences or “something related to films”. Ali Kantouri, who used to be a successful karate fighter, is going to resume practice for the first time in years. Sepehr Atefi wants to study and be a writer. They all dream of returning to Iran, one day.

Now they have to get acquainted with life in Berlin. “Wohnberechtigungsschein”, “Job Center” – these are their first bits of German officialese. German bureaucracy seems to be impermeable, but German and Iranian friends help them to cope with it. Moreover, they have a letter of recommendation from the Berlin senate. They were granted a special residence permit that allows them to work and study. And now, they even have an apartment.

Two weeks ago, the job center of the employment agency granted them an amount of money to be used to furnish their flat – “for a good start in Germany”, as the helpful lady at the job center said.

And what about the language? Sepehr Atefi learned that food in Germany tastes “lecker” [delicious]. Ali Kantouri likes the word “romantisch” [romantic]. Hesam Misaghi added a new phrase to his vocabulary this summer which his two friends know too: “Ich bin optimistisch” [“I feel optimistic”].

Edited by @germantoenglish