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Opinion: Germany and Iran Need to Understand Each Other

Protestors attacked the German embassy in Tehran on Tuesday with stones and fire bombs. The latest act in a wave of demonstrations could seriously harm German-Iranian relations in the long-term, says DW's Peter Philipp.

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Caricatures published in a German daily sparked new protests in Tehran

The demonstrators in front of the German embassy in Tehran on Tuesday were particularly angered about a caricature published in the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel last week.

It showed four Iranian soccer players with bombs strapped around their stomachs alongside four German soldiers under the headline: "Why the German army absolutely must be deployed for the World Cup."

The newspaper has stated that it wanted to illustrate a domestic issue with the cartoon, namely the debate about deploying German troops during the World Cup.

But this message has not really reached Iran correctly. Now, the attacks on the German embassy in Tehran have strained German-Iranian relations.

Self-interest rules German-Iranian ties

The traditionally close and good relations between Germany and Iran have seen -- and survived -- many a strain in the course of their history: The German student protests against the Shah, the dispute over entertainer Rudi Carrell's insult of Khomeini, but also the implications surrounding the murder of Iranian Kurdish dissident exiles at the Mykonos restaurant in Berlin in 1992.

Freundschaftsspiel Deutschland - Iran: Fans mit Fahnen

German and Iranian soccer fans get along fine in the stadium

Again and again, the two sides found their way back to a peaceful and friendly modus vivendi. But most of the time, they didn't come around because of insight and reason, but rather self-interest.

Iran is interested in German imports and the German economy in the Iranian market. In times of recession, that's reason enough not to bear a grudge.

Understanding should play a greater role

Self-interest also relegated to the fringe an aspect, which should actually play an important role in international relations: The attempt to understand the opposite side. Without such understanding, conflicts are practically pre-programmed.

New aggravations are imminent for this reason. This could have strong consequences on future relations.

Germany placed itself uncompromisingly on the side of the United States in the nuclear dispute with Iran, even though there is no evidence for Iran's alleged ambitions to possess nuclear weapons. Chancellor Angela Merkel refers to Iran as "a danger for democratic states" and Tehran hits back with harsh words: Merkel is to be equated with Hitler and she works for the Zionists -- try to imagine this combination.

There's a difference between letters and fire bombs

Now, there is the dispute over the caricature in Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel. The artist simply wanted to criticize the question of deploying German troops during the World Cup. Yet he presented Iranian soccer players as suicide bombers.

Mahmood Ahmadinejad Umschlagsbild der Wochenzeitung News Week 13. Februar 2006

This week's issue of "Newsweek" deals with Iran's relations to the West

It isn't just an insult towards the Iranian embassy, which is demanding an apology and threatening with legal action, but also for Iranians living in exile. They are bombarding the cartoonist with hate mail and death threats.

In Tehran, the mob attacked the German embassy -- which had been spared the recent protests -- with stones and Molotov cocktails.

But there's a difference whether anonymous threatening letters are written in Germany or whether a foreign embassy is attacked with fire bombs in the more than "safety-conscious" Tehran.

The letter writers have to expect legal action if they're caught. The rioters in Tehran on the other hand do not. Those few dozen -- a marginal few in a city of eight million -- can be certain that nothing will happen to them. For they belong to the Bassij -- paramilitary vigilantes -- supported by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Palestinian politicians told Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier that they regretted the recent riots in Gaza, which were also aimed at German facilities. At the same time, in Tehran, that attack on the German embassy was organized with the call "Death to Germany."

That's not how you should treat one another -- especially not friends.

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