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Iran Manipulates Cartoon Conflict, Germans Say

Hardy Graupner (win)February 8, 2006

The decision by Iran's biggest newspaper to start a contest for Holocaust cartoons has been met with disbelief in Germany. Policy-makers and political scientists speak of a despicable reaction to the Mohammed cartoons.

Is Ahmadinejad using the cartoons to divert from the current nuclear crisis?Image: dpa

Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler said he's gravely worried about the Holocaust cartoon contest in the Iranian newspaper Hamshari. The daily claims that the contest would reveal just how serious the West really is about the freedom of the press.

Karikaturenstreit - Proteste im Iran
Iranian protestors burn Danish flags in front of the Austrian Embassy in TehranImage: AP

But Erler said he believes that the Iranian government is behind the Holocaust competition, as it is clearly capitalizing on the current conflict for its own political purposes.

He added that it's not a surprise to find this attitude from the Iranian leadership around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who himself denies Israel's right to statehood and claims the Holocaust is an invention of Zionism.

Bahman Nirumand, an exiled Iranian journalist living in Germany, said that the intercultural conflict is playing into the hands of Iranian fundamentalists.

Iran Atomstreit Isfahan techniker mit Schutzanzügen und Atemmasken
Iran's decision to resume nuclear research has disappeared from headlines in recent daysImage: AP

"I think the Iranian government is using every possible pretext to divert attention away from the problems it's facing at present," he said. "There's this huge row over the country's nuclear program and Tehran just can't get on top of it.

"The intercultural conflict between the west and Muslim countries is a welcome instrument to shift the focus away from internal problems," he said.

Failure of dialogue?

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Paul Spiegel, said he's shocked at the Holocaust cartoon contest which in his view will exacerbate the current conflict in a frightening manner.

Die Halle der Namen
The pictures of some of the six million victims of the Holocaust hang on the walls at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in JerusalemImage: AP

He added that every attempt to belittle the horrors of the Holocaust was simply heinous. Spiegel added that the ongoing violent riots in the Arab world just go to show that the political and inter-religious dialogue of the past few years has ended in complete failure.

Nevertheless, he urged all sides to return to more respectful ways of communication.

But Gudrun Krämer, director of the Institute for Islamic Studies at Berlin's Freie University, said this will remain wishful thinking for quite some time to come.

"What we see happening in certain countries is clearly and inflamed by certain groups who have an interest in sharpening the conflict of the West against Islam," she said.

Increased World Cup security?

Fußball-WM 2006 Spielort Leipzig Zentralstadion
Is there a need for additional police presence at World Cup games?Image: picture-alliance/ ZB

Against the background of heightened tensions between the western and Muslim worlds, Bavaria's conservative interior minister, Günther Beckstein, has urged the government to revise its security concept for this year World Soccer cup in Germany.

He called for certain travel restrictions with regard to potential visitors from Muslim nations and Iran in particular.

Beckstein said security officials had to look very carefully at who'd be coming to Germany, assuming that not everyone might be just a sports fanatic, but a radical fanatic of a political nature.