Ahmadinejad, Germany, and the "right ideology"


A meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad is not going to be without controversy. Detractors say: to give this person a platform means to accept all of his opinions, or perhaps even to kneel in front of him. They call for isolating him, and for marking him as an outcast.

I can understand some of these concerns, but ultimately this kind of attitude is the problem. Not to talk with each other means not to know each other, and this leads to a point where people blindly follow their ideologies.

Perhaps this is a comfortable way to think, offering black-and-white clichés about problems, but unfortunately the world is too complicated to divide it in good and bad states. As a German, I know what it means to follow an ideology. More or less the whole 20th century, Germany was involved in one war after another; we even built up walls between our own people. Of course, this was all done in the name of the "right ideology."

The Second World War was the biggest crime in human history, a crime which was justified by an ideology. For avoiding this it is necessary to have a view inside other nations, for this it is extremely important to connect people with each other. But the first step is always to notice each other and to start talking to each other.

Now Germany is well integrated in the European Union, accepted by its neighbors, working together with them. Through the overcome of hate between the European nations, Western Europe entered an era of peace and wealth.

But also we must remember that behind Hitler was 30% of the German population who had voted for him, and not without reason. Many Germans felt humiliated, and that's why they turned to voting for extremists.

To avoid extremist reactions, the most important thing is to start talking with each other and trying to understand the other side. A policy of threats and of pressure will only create an extremist backlash. A regime fighting with its back to the wall will take desperate actions. In the current case, this could mean Iran will start trying to get an A-bomb for any price, because the regime will think this is the only way to protect itself against a preemptive U.S. strike.

Perhaps conversations won't immediately solve the problems, but in the long-term view they are much more effective. To talk to Ahamdinejad and the Iranian regime is the first step to destroying the cycle of escalation. This was the meaning of last week's meeting.

Johannes Sauerland is an 2008-09 intern with the U.S. Fellowship of Reconciliation, and is a member of FOR-Germany.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
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